10 Top Ingredients for No-Cook Meals

To prepare meals without actually cooking, it helps to have a pantry stocked with items that add flavor but don't require cooking.

Here's my top 10 list of pantry staples for keeping the kitchen cool:

1. Bottled Roasted Red Peppers, Bottled Artichoke Hearts, Bottled Hot Peppers, Bottled Eggplant, Sun-Dried Tomatoes Packed in Oil. The packagers of these vegetables have done all the work for you -- trimming, cooking, seasoning. All are great in salads, on sandwiches and pureed to make dips and spreads.

2. Canned Tuna. Even people who don't ever cook usually have a can of tuna in the cabinet. Tuna is great on sandwiches and in salads. You can do a lot more with it than mix it with mayo and chopped celery. Tuna packed in olive oil and imported from Italy is rich and delicious, but if you're counting calories, tuna packed in water is fine.

3. Canned Beans. These are a wonderful help in preparing healthy, no-cook meals. Puree them for dips, toss with dressing for salads, use them in no-cook burritos.

4. Dried Chilies. I love cold food spiced with chilies. I keep a variety around so that I can prepare ''hot'' no-cook dishes at a moment's notice. Most often, I'll turn to my trusty bottle of hot red pepper flakes. I also love canned chipotle chilies in adobo.

5. Dried Fruits. Raisins, apricots, figs, dates, and prunes are all packed with flavor. I use dried fruits often in both sweet and savory dishes when I want them to be extra rich and exotic without being high in fat.

6. Frozen Shrimp. If you buy cooked, frozen shrimp, all you need to do is place them in a colander and thaw them out under cold running water for five minutes before using. I keep a couple of 12-ounce bags of cooked frozen shrimp in my freezer, so that when the urge strikes, I can put together a quick seafood meal in minutes.

7. Lemons. I always have a few lemons in the refrigerator. I use fresh lemon juice and zest to flavor all kinds of salads, sandwich dressings and fruit desserts.

8. Nuts. Nuts add rich texture and flavor to sauces, salads and desserts. They contain a lot of oil and will turn rancid if stored at room temperature. But they will stay fresh for three or four months if packed in zipper-lock plastic bags and frozen.

9. Olives. Olives are indispensable in cooking and in showing hospitality. I always have black and green marinated olives on hand to offer with a drink to unexpected visitors. I chop them up to put them on salads and in sandwiches. I make olive paste for pasta and pizza. Pick up jars of black Kalamata and green Sicilian varieties at the supermarket and keep them in your refrigerator.

10. Oil and Vinegar. Extra-virgin olive oil gives an uncooked dish body that plain vegetable oil can't. It is expensive, so I look for jugs of extra-virgin Bertolli brand at my local warehouse discount club. I keep red wine, balsamic and sherry wine vinegar on hand to use with the olive oil. In addition, I always have toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and fish sauce for Asian-flavored dressings.

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