By Stephanie Rogers, EcoSalon
Stock up on these 10 basic essentials for your vegan pantry including beans, whole grains, non-dairy milk and a variety of seasonings.
Contrary to the assumptions of many a meat eater, vegans don’t solely subsist on lettuce and carrots. But what, exactly, should be stocked in a vegan’s pantry? Anyone looking to make healthy, nutritious meals that are free of animal products should have a few basic ingredients on hand at all times to provide protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals – and let’s not forget flavor. These 10 pantry essentials make sticking to a vegan diet easy and interesting, from beans and whole grains to truffle oils and agave nectar.
Beans, Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan
If there’s one nutrient that Americans tend to focus on when it comes to healthy diets, it’s protein. But no matter what meat-obsessed fad diets imply, it’s easy to get plenty of protein from vegan sources. Beans and tofu are two lean, cholesterol-free options for protein, and they’re incredibly versatile. Canned beans are convenient, but dried beans are cheaper and don’t come with the risk of hormone-altering BPA in the lining of the can. They simply need to be soaked overnight before cooking, or you can whip them up rapidly with a pressure cooker. Firm tofu can be marinated and tossed into just about any dish, while silken tofu is a nutritious addition to smoothies. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and has a meaty texture reminiscent of chicken, and chewy tempeh is a vegan sandwich staple.
Whole Grains & Flours
The difference between whole grains and refined grains goes beyond increased fiber and nutrients. Whole grains are packed with flavor, which translates into tastier dishes and baked goods. Brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, spelt, oats, millet, barley and wild rice are a few examples of whole grains that you can incorporate into your diet, and most of them are available in flour form, too. Flours made from quinoa and oats aren’t just for people avoiding gluten – they impart their own particular flavor and texture to recipes like chocolate amaranth quinoa cake.
Who needs cow’s milk when there’s almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and soy milk? Stock your pantry with your favorite varieties of non-dairy milks, each of which has its own particular flavor and texture. Coconut milk and soy milk tend to be richer and heavier, frothing up a little more for satisfying beverages. Rice milk and almond milk have a natural sweetness, and heart-healthy almond milk is appropriately nutty. Soy milk is the highest in protein, and hemp milk has lots of omega fatty acids. Avoid the flavored varieties to cut unnecessary sugar and calories. You can easily make your own almond milk with nothing more than raw almonds, water and a blender.
A Variety of Oils and Vinegars
No kitchen is complete without extra virgin olive oil and white vinegar, no matter what kind of foods you like to eat. Beyond those two absolute basics is a wide variety of vinegars and oils with all kinds of different uses and characteristics. Vinegars include balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice and malt. Coconut oil is great for high-heat cooking and baking, sesame oil has lots of flavor for stir-fries and salads, and truffle oils are a luxurious treat. Try oils and vinegars infused with herbs, garlic, chilies and even fruit, too.
Nuts, Seeds & Butters
Head to the bulk bins at your local natural foods store to stock up on a wide variety of nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. You can actually use cashews, macadamias and other types of nuts to make your own vegan ricotta cheese. And when it comes to nut and seed butters, don’t be afraid to branch out from the standard peanut and almond varieties – try cashew, hazelnut and sesame.
Missing cheese? Aside from making your own nut-based ricotta, you can add a cheesy flavor to all kinds of foods using nutritional yeast. This inactive yeast is a great source of vitamin B12, which can be difficult for vegans to get from other sources. Light and flaky, it can be added to popcorn as a topping, melted into margarine and/or non-dairy milk for a cheesy sauce or just tossed into any dish you like.
Most condiments are processed junk full of fat, sugar and sodium. But there are some healthy condiments that can add complex flavors to your vegan dishes, elevating a simple meal to the sublime. Mustard, soy sauce, miso and hot sauces add a huge punch of flavor with just a few drops. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, a great vegan source of amino acids, is a popular way to add a little bit of savory “umami” flavor to any dish. Agave nectar is a popular vegan sweetener, and fruit preserves are almost always free of animal products.
Herbs and Spices
Like condiments, oils and vinegars, herbs and spices simply make everything taste better. If you’re new to cooking and/or using spices, buy a variety and experiment to see what you like. Most herbs, including parsley and basil, are best used fresh, but some – like bay leaves and oregano – retain lots of flavor when dried. Spices, which are usually the dried seeds, bark or buds of plants, tend to stay fragrant a bit longer. Some basics include chili powder, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper. Dried mushrooms are another delicious source of umami flavor.
Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Canned goods generally aren’t the best when it comes to flavor and texture, with many canned veggies – like green beans – barely resembling their fresh or frozen brethren. But they do have their use, especially as emergency back-ups and for quick meals. Home-canned fruits and vegetables tend to be superior in flavor to commercially canned goods. Tomatoes are one item that change in a positive way when canned; their flavors become richer and more concentrated, making them ideal for sauces.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
While most fresh fruits and veggies need to be refrigerated, some are ideal for pantry storage. The dark, cool and dry environment of a pantry (or a shelf out of direct sunlight) can help preserve onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash. For best flavor and texture, tomatoes should also be stored at room temperature until ripe.
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