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Melissa Joulwan's top 10 paleo must-haves

Cookbook author and paleo expert Melissa Joulwan

Cookbook author and paleo expert Melissa Joulwan

by Melissa Joulwan

When I made the switch to eating paleo in 2009, the food I mourned the most—ridiculous as it seems—was my morning bowl of blueberries with cottage cheese. I'd already been grain-free for a year, so the grief over the loss of bread and rice had long passed. But that 1/2-cup serving of cottage cheese felt like the last fetters of the food world I knew falling away.

Eventually, I learned that a hash made from butternut squash and ground beef, then topped with a fried egg, was just as delicious and far more powerful for breakfast. I also came to understand the importance of keeping the kitchen stocked with go-to foods for those I-need-to-eat-right-freaking-now moments.

Here are the foods that I always have on my weekly shopping list, so they're never missing from my fridge and cabinets.

1. Ghee

For cooking, organic ghee is my first choice. It lends a rich, toasty, buttery flavor to dishes and can be used at high temperatures without oxidizing (which means it remains good for you, even if you turn up the heat). You can use it 1-to-1 to replace any other oil or fat in a recipe — and try this Better Butter flavored with aromatics.

2. Organic, Unsweetened Coconut Flakes

Eaten on their own as a snack or sprinkled into and on top of dishes, coconut flakes add another dimension of flavor and texture. They're lovely, little wisps of good-for-you fat that can go savory or sweet. I like to toss a few on top of Thai curries or sprinkle them on a bowl of fruit and coconut milk for dessert. Try these Caramelized Coconut Chips!

3. Full-fat Coconut Milk

Equally at home in sweet and savory dishes, coconut milk is an excellent replacement for heavy cream or yogurt in curries and creamy sauces. It's also luscious when whipped into a creamy cloud and served over fresh fruit; the Thai Kitchen brand works great for this. Organic brands are best—and definitely go for the full-fat version. It's okay if the ingredient list includes guar gum, but avoid brands that contain sulfites or added sugar. Use coconut milk in these Coconut-Almond Green Beans, Piña Colada Chicken, Rogan Josh Curry, or Berries with Whipped Cream.

4. Organic, Grass-fed Ground Beef

If I have a few pounds of grass-fed ground beef in the fridge, I know I'm only about 10 minutes away from a delicious dinner. Browned and seasoned with garlic and spices, ground beef is like a blank canvas that can be turned into just about any ethnic-inspired meal. Stir-fried with veggies and five-spice powder, it's instantly Asian. Formed into a burger and piled on top of a big salad, it's all-American. Wrapped in a lettuce leaf with cucumbers, jalapeño, lime, and garlic, it's a Thai wrap. Try these Plantain Nachos, Old School Italian Meat Sauce, Chocolate Chili, or keep it basic with Garlic-Browned Ground Meat you can use as a building-block for quick meals.

5. Sardines Packed in Olive Oil

These little fish are perfect on-the-go food. My super-secret lunch weapon is a can of sardines, a red bell pepper cut into strips, a cucumber cut into coins, and a juicy pink grapefruit. Just a little oily and not too fishy, the sardines are power food—and the leftover oil is perfect for dipping raw veggies. If you want to get a tiny bit fancy, try these Pan-Fried Sardines. They're one of my most popular recipes!

6. Collard Greens or Kale

Kale seems to be the superstar of the paleo world, but I'm here to make a case for collard greens. They're a little sturdier, and they tenderize during cooking without disintegrating into mushy territory. They can be braised in a coconut milk curry, wrapped around meat fillings and baked in tomato sauce, or sautéed in oil with seasonings to make a vitamin-packed side dish. They're also mild enough to taste great at breakfast with eggs and leftover protein. This Creamy Spice Market Kale can be made with either green, and it's excellent as a side dish for dinner . . . then mixed with eggs for a power breakfast the next morning.

7. Cauliflower

Cauliflower might be the most versatile vegetable in the kitchen, so I always have two heads in the fridge at all times. Grated in a food processor and sautéed with fat and spices, it's instant "rice." Or boiled in broth and mashed with coconut milk, it transforms into mashed "potatoes." It also adds a big crunch when chopped raw in salads, and becomes crisp-tender when roasted in the oven. Try this Cocoa-Toasted Cauliflower, Mashed Cauliflower, Golden Cauliflower Soup, or three different, delicious rice options: fragrant pilaf, Coconut Cauliflower Rice, or Citrus Cauliflower Rice.

8. Frozen, Unsweetened Blackberries

Low in fructose and high in antioxidants, blackberries are loaded with nutrition and flavor. I like to eat them frozen with coconut milk drizzled over the top as a go-along with eggs for breakfast or as dessert after a paleo dinner. Because they're not too sweet, they don't trigger the sugar demon, but they're sweet enough to feel like a treat.

9. Jicama

To be fair, jicama isn't a nutrition powerhouse, but it's not doing any harm either. I love its crisp texture and almost-sweet taste. Peeled, cut into matchsticks, and kept in the fridge, jicama is a refreshing addition to a crudité platter. Julienned, it makes a lovely salad mixed with lime juice, diced avocado, and slivers of red bell pepper. Its mild taste makes it great at breakfast, too! You can also use it in recipes traditionally made with potatoes, like Jicama Home Fries.

10. Free-Range, Organic Eggs

Great any time of day, eggs are an eggcellent (sorry!) source of fast protein. I like to keep a dozen hard-boiled on hand for egg salad or deviled eggs made with homemade mayo. When my day has been long, and I want something comforting, an omelet does the trick — and gently scrambled eggs with zucchini noodles are amazing comfort food in a flash. You could also try these Scotch Eggs, Mexican-style Machacado and Eggs with Avocado Relish, Middle Eastern Sabich, or a Scheherazade Omelet.

BONUS: Turn It Up To 11

Spices and seasonings can transform ordinary ingredients into magical meals. I have an extensive collection of spices, and spice blends are an easy, fast way to add zing to basic ingredients like ground meat, roasted chicken, and vegetables. Commercial blends sometimes include sugar or MSG, so homemade blends are the way to go. They take about 2 minutes to make, and they make your kitchen smell amazing: Moroccan Ras el Hanout, Italian Sausage Seasoning, Sunrise Spice, Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, and French-Moroccan Merguez Sausage Seasoning.

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Melissa Joulwan is the author of the best-selling Well Fed cookbook series and the blog www.MelJoulwan.com, where she writes about her triumphs and failures in the gym, in the kitchen, and in life. Her newest cookbook is Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes Or Less.

After a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and food as the enemy, Melissa found the paleo diet in 2009 and has been happily following it ever since. That year, she also underwent a thyroidectomy. In the aftermath of the surgery and recovery, she became particularly interested in how diet affects hormones, body composition, mood, and motivation. These days, Melissa’s workouts are just as likely to include yoga and meditation as lifting heavy things and sprinting to stay ahead of the stopwatch.

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