The must have
red chili flakes
vegetable or chicken broth/stock - I like the one-cup tetrapaks now available from some companies
sea or kosher salt
fresh herbs -- especially basil and cilantro
nuts -- almonds, cashews, pine nuts
good Italian cheeses -- esp. Parm and Asiago
whole spices (coriander, cumin, etc) and a good grinder
hot sauce, at least 3 varieties
canned tomatoes and tomato paste
several varieties of rice
limes and lemons
oils -- olive, peanut, sesame
Because it's just me and the boyfriend, we buy things like meat egg and most fresh vegetables on an as-needed basis but we seem to always have:
Blended seame/soybean oil
Pure roasted sesame oil
Fine, medium, and coarse ground red chili powder
Soy bean paste
White, black, and brown rice
Soy Sauce, Both light and dark
Clear noodle (sweet potato starch noodle)
Dried fern sprouts
Dried doragi (bellfower root)
Fresh Asian herbs/roots as needed NOT the powders.
A couple must haves are Kosher and/or sea salt and pepper corns for grinding fresh.
That's just the start. Depending on the food you cook regularly, or plan to cook, the list increases according to your needs. When I am about to use a recipe for the first time, I read through it, go into the pantry, check to make certain I have all the necessaires, buy what I need, proceed to cook. It just does not make sense to me to have herbs and spices, et al, sitting on a shelf unused. You'd be surprised just how fast your pantry cache builds when you begin cooking in earnest.
Depends on what you cook, but here are my additions:
sage, rosemary, thyme
instant espresso/coffee powder (for baked goods and marinating meats)
oils: extra virgin olive, sesame, grapeseed, and canola
garlic and onion
sun dried tomatoes
dried wild mushrooms
rice, both white and whole wheat: sushi, jasmine, basmati, and regular medium-grain
pine nuts, walnuts, and almonds
*Personally am hardly ever without goat brie
Living alone, so mainly keep bread, meats, and fish in the freezer in single portions.
Smoked chiles in whole or powder form. Yeah. Yeah. Everyone is bored with chipotle this and chipotle that, but I find that we use a lot of chipotle (pods and powder) and smoked Spanish paprikas (both sweet and hot powdered) in our kitchen. If you're bored with chipotle per se and are looking for a smoked chile flavor with less heat, try pasillas de Oaxaca.