One of the most challenging aspects of choosing to go vegan can be figuring out how to cook for yourself or your family on a day-to-day basis. Everyone has a pantry system that they are used to keeping stocked with certain staples so they can toss together a quick and reliable meal at any moment. Naturally, this is no different for a vegan pantry, but figuring out the staples might be a long and intimidating process for a person new to the lifestyle. This list is by no means comprehensive, but tries to suggest some delicious staples to get your vegan pantry started and help you create a great base for you to find your own favorites and variations as you go along.
A quick tip for stocking your pantry: you’ll save yourself a lot money if you buy as many ingredients as possible in bulk. Luckily, lots of vegan staples lend themselves very well to bulk buying.
Vegetables, Tofu and Fruit
Of course vegetables are going to be a significant part of your diet once you embrace veganism, the key is in picking vegetables that are packed with nutrients as well as flavor. Skip the iceberg lettuce and similar ingredients that are not only fairly devoid of nutrients but rely on being drowned in other ingredients for flavor. The key to delicious cuisine lies in using ingredients in such a way that their natural flavors develop and compliment other flavors in the dish. Vegetables have an abundance of natural flavor, most of the flavors you develop in your dishes will come from your vegetables and a certain few will likely be integral to the flavor base for almost every dish you make.
Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Celery and Peppers – The combination of carrots, onions and celery will be the foundation for many of your dishes, especially soups, stews and homemade stocks. Add garlic and bell peppers (or spicy peppers if you like heat) to get different, delicious flavor profiles.
Kale, Spinach, Chard and Collard Greens, etc. – These hearty greens are packed with nutrients and vitamins and are a good source of fiber. Thankfully, they are also delicious and can be prepared in a multitude of ways on their own as well as being added to dishes. Eat them raw, braise or sauté them, or add them to soups and other dishes. One thing people tend to overlook is that you can eat the green tops from beets, turnips and other root vegetables, so experiment with numerous greens and see which ones are your favorites and how you best like to prepare them.
Pumpkins and other Squash – Uncut pumpkins and other squash can be kept for a long time, so they’re easy to keep accessible. Hearty and filling, squash makes a tasty soup base and when roasted the natural sweetness of most squash truly blossom.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes almost deserve a category unto themselves because they can be used in so many different forms. Most cuisines from around the world use tomatoes in some form, whether fresh, canned or even sun-dried. Though tomatoes are offered in stores year round, their true peak (and optimal flavor period) doesn’t last for long. So, if you’re adventurous, buy up a bunch of tomatoes during their peak for your area and can your own to have access to an endless array of dishes throughout the year without sacrificing flavor.Avocados – Healthy and versatile, avocados are a great staple for any meal. Sliced on toast for breakfast, added to salads or veggie wraps for lunch, a baked in addition to your dinner, and of course, mashed into guacamole for a delicious, fresh snack. Avocado can truly find a satisfying place in nearly any dish.
Mushrooms – A great substitute for the hearty flavors that meat would add to a dish, the umami of mushrooms fully rounds out a savory dish.
Tofu – Tofu is underrated and often unfairly derided. Tofu is not just the default meat substitute that so many people bemoan as some punishment for going vegan or vegetarian. Tofu adds texture and can adapt to the flavor of any dish. Superb in soups and stir-fries, tofu has a life far beyond what people give it credit for and can be a great staple in your kitchen.
Lemons – Of course, all types of fruit are delicious as a snack or in desserts and other dishes, but lemons have potential beyond most other fruits. Lemon works great as the acid in many dishes to create and enhance bright flavors.
Vegetable Stock and Broth – Though not a vegetable in itself, vegetable stocks and broths collects the essential flavors of vegetables so you can conveniently make delicious soups, sauces, gravies and marinades. You could make your own from scratch using your own favorite mix of veggies and keep it in the freezer, or buy pre-made boxed broth (opt for low fat and low sodium).
Beans - Beans tend to be a huge staple in many a vegans diet, and for good reason! Beans have a wonderful, creamy texture and can add heartiness to a dish. Beans will likely become one of your main sources for protein in all sorts of dishes. Able to be kept for a good length of time in both canned and dried forms, you can easily keep your favorite varieties of beans stocked and at the ready.
Chickpeas – Great in curries, stews and hearty soups. Dried chickpeas have a little more flavor once rehydrated than their canned counterparts and are optimal for making falafel that won’t fall apart. Still delicious, canned chickpeas are a wonderful fast option to add pop and flavor to salads and other quick dishes.
Black Beans – Dried, canned or refried, black beans are delicious in just about any and every Mexican dish.
Kidney Beans – Kidney beans have a deep, meaty flavor that can add heartiness to your favorite dish.
Lentils – Keeping and preparing dried lentils is so easy, they soften perfectly after 30 minutes on a stovetop (much more quickly than other dried beans) and from there they are ready to be added to any dish or salad. For a creamy soup base set your lentils to a low simmer once they have reconstituted and let them slowly cook down.
Pinto Beans – Already wonderful in their whole form, refried pinto beans is where things go to a whole new level of tasty convenience. Make your own and freeze for extended shelf life or buy it canned (make sure to read the label, some canned varieties contain lard) and you’ll always have the start of a delicious meal on hand.
Hummus – Truly, who doesn’t love hummus? As a quick and delicious snack hummus serves its purpose perfectly, but don’t hold yourself to thinking the limits of hummus are met by baby carrots and crackers for dipping. Get creative by baking a hummus layer into a casserole, stirring a few scoops into soups or stews, or even making a flavorful dressing by adding a little oil and vinegar. Traditional hummus is made with chickpeas, but, once again, don’t limit your homemade hummus by sticking completely to tradition. Plenty of other beans can make a perfectly delectable hummus. If you really want to up your hummus game for your next get together (or just an extra tasty snack for yourself), start off your hummus batch by pureeing a roasted beet into your chickpeas and proceed as usual. You can also give our zucchini hummus a try (sometimes featured in our goodie boxes).
Grains and Flours
It’s tempting for someone new to a vegan lifestyle to rely heavily on grains as the bulk of their diet when they’re first starting out; they fill you up quickly and may keep you feeling full for longer. It’s imperative to maintain a balanced diet to keep yourself in the best health and turning too often to grains as a staple of your diet is not the healthiest way to embrace your vegan diet. Grains can still play a role in a healthy and balanced vegan diet. Opting to keep grains to side dishes or allowing them to take a back seat in a main course is the best way to incorporate delicious grains into your diet without allowing them to be the main focus of your meals.
Rice - The majority of people are most familiar with white rice, but they’re missing out on the wonderful flavors and textures that brown rice and wild rice offer.
Quinoa- One of the few plant foods that is a complete protein and also packed with essential amino acids, quinoa’s nutty flavor and distinctive texture make it an option that is both tasty and healthy in any number of dishes.
Pasta – Pastas may be beloved, but is one of the largest culprits in an individual focusing a dish too heavily on grains. To keep pasta in your life in a health way (because, let’s face it, it’s delicious), use pasta as an element of texture in a dish that focuses predominately on vegetables and sauce. It’s often recommended to “reverse the ratios” of pasta with other elements you might usually use in a dish. Do you typically put a small bed of roasted vegetables on a heap of pasta? “Reverse the ratios” making the vegetables the star of the dish with your pasta serving as more of a textural accent. If you're also gluten-free, there are some great alternatives for finding vegan-friendly and gluten-free pastas at local stores like Durango Natural Foods and Nature's Oasis.
Tortillas (Corn) – Tortillas are a great alternative to breads as a way to make other ingredients shine. And, of course, there are endless vegan taco and burrito recipes to keep you happy for days.
Rolled Oats – Naturally, breakfast pops to mind when oats are mentioned. While oatmeal is a yummy breakfast option anytime, oats also lend themselves to granola and cookies as a way to gain awesome textures, whether crunchy or tender. You can also blend oats up into an oat flour to use in numerous other dishes.
Flours – Essential for many baking projects and a plethora of other recipes, flour is always a sure bet to keep in stock. But, wheat flours are not the only useful flour available. If you choose to pursue a gluten-free diet (and even if you don’t) there are many options to meet your needs including but not limited to buckwheat, chickpea and brown rice flours.
Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruits
A blessing as yummy and healthy snacks, nuts, seeds and dried fruits can also add a potpourri of flavors and textures to your favorite dishes. To extend the shelf life of nuts keep them in the freezer and you can expect them to keep for an outstanding length of time.
Dried Fruits and Berries – Cranberries, dates, figs, mangoes, apricots, the list is near endless of fruits and berries that can satisfy a sweet tooth once dried. Drying often concentrates and deepens the sweetness of fruits which can then easily provide the sugary flavors you seek in a dish such as your morning oatmeal.
Nuts – Peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts will likely be the nuts you most often reach for, though there are bunches of other nuts that have wonderful deep and earthy flavors. Use nuts to add extra protein and crunch to soups, stir-fries, baked goods, salads and of course they’re wonderful eaten on their own. A food processor will help you make your own pestos and nut butters! (Much like hummus, pesto has a “typical” list of ingredients. You can play with different nuts and herbs to make a unique pesto that is all your own.)
Seeds – Flax seeds, pepitas, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are a good start for venturing into the full world of seeds and the versatility they offer. Seeds can pack a lot of fiber and nutrients into their tiny packages. Add nearly any type of seed to baked goods for a satisfying nuttiness to compliment the sweet. Pepitas and sunflower seeds are particularly tasty on salads, and smoothies get an extra nutrient boost from flax and chia seeds. Flax seeds specifically have outstanding properties, but keep in mind that to garner the full nutritional value of flax seeds they are best used ground. They boast high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids which are important for many processes in your brain and body such as maintaining a healthy metabolism. As if all those benefits weren’t enough, you can combine ground flax seed with a bit of water to make an egg substitute for baking.
When switching to a vegan diet you are likely to see the most changes come about in your refrigerator. No more meats, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise and other dairy products. Milk may be among one of the things you miss most once you transition. Coffee and cereal simply aren’t the same without some sort milk, and luckily there are plenty of milk alternatives available to keep these staples in your life. You have soy, almond and cashew nut milks, rice milks and coconut milks to give you plenty of variety to experiment with and find what best compliments your tastes. These days most varieties of these milks are a standard product in nearly every grocery store, so it won’t be hard to keep these milk alternatives around.
Condiments, Sauces and Oils
Having a wide array of condiments and sauces at the ready will help to add a little pizazz and an extra layer of flavor to any meal.
Oils and Vinegars – Keeping high quality oils and vinegars around is just common sense for any kitchen. Oil is essential for cooking many a dish and vinegar brings acid and tang to the table in order to brighten up dishes. Olive oil is an absolute must, but there exists an array of other oils such as grape seed oil, safflower oil and avocado oil that you will find delicious in many different dishes. Worth mentioning on its own, coconut oil has a near endless list of uses that range from cooking to beauty applications. As for vinegars, balsamic, apple cider, sherry and wine varieties are standards worth embracing and keeping on hand. Whisk together an oil and vinegar of your choice to makes a health salad dressing or a base to which you can add herbs and spices for a more complex dressing or dip. An additional tip regarding apple cider vinegar is to mix it with a non-dairy milk and allow the mixture to rest to make a great substitute for buttermilk.
Mustard – Don’t underestimate the uses of a good mustard. Toss green beans in a coating of oil and mustard and roast in the oven for a richly flavored side dish.
Soy Sauce and Tamari – These sauces offer an explosion of salt and umami flavors in every splash. Use these in lieu of salt to provide an added depth to your savory dishes.
Miso – Another umami bomb, miso has additional natural flavors that make it a great option as a soup, dip or marinade base. Different varieties provide different strengths of flavor, so if you’re just starting to experiment with what miso has to offer it may be best to begin with mild white miso for a lighter flavor.
Hot Sauces – If you like spice you’re bound to keep a few different hot sauces around. You have your standard chile and vinegar varieties as well as sriracha types to satisfy your craving for heat.
Agave Nectar, Maple Syrup and Molasses – Many people don’t realize that they’ll be leaving honey behind in a vegan diet. Not to worry though, you are not stuck with just sugar as a sweetener from now on. You can use agave nectar, maple syrup and molasses while baking or in other instances in which you might have used honey in the past. Experiment to see if the added depth of molasses or the distinct flavor of maple syrup will be most welcome in pies or breads or if you prefer the straightforward sweetness that agave nectar offers.
Herbs & Spices
There won’t be much change to the herbs and spices you typically keep stocked in your pantry as you transition to a vegan diet. Have some fun experimenting with your usual flavor profiles and how they transform in the new dishes and meals that you’ll be exploring. It is worth mentioning an item that is not strictly an herb or spice, but is healthy and adds delicious flavor to dishes. Nutritional yeast is often overlooked, or never even heard of for many, but try stirring some into soups or sprinkle on potatoes or popcorn for an unexpected almost cheesy flavor that you’ll love.
It’s understandable that many aspects of a vegan lifestyle can be intimidating for someone to dive into. We know that it’s not feasible to eat EVERY meal at Earth Girl Goodies, no matter how tempting it may be. Knowing that you can still reliably and happily cook at home once you commit to your new diet is a big part of being able to thrive. Hopefully this list has provided a glimpse into just how easy it is to keep your home stocked and ready to make delicious meals at any time.
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Spring makes one think of the color green as plants and produce awaken from their winter slumber. It’s a time to lighten up on both flavors and textures — but not on nutrition. This time of year it’s great to think about eating lots of cleansing foods that still satisfy and satiate.
Start every morning with a great fresh green smoothie. It’s important to get lots of nutrients into your system first thing in the morning. Liquids are easy on the digestive system, and when you can get your first does of green before 8 am, you can’t lose!
Expert tip? Leave the skin on the cucumber to get the extra nutrients, but you may want to ease into this raw food lifestyle by peeling it. I also prefer to use a frozen banana so that there’s a bit of chill to the drink. Enjoy!
Emyrald Sinclair, former co-owner of Earth Girl Goodies, wrote a beautiful piece in EPIC Magazine about a simple, easy, do-it-yourself 3-day detox! Have you ever wanted to try a safe, healthy detox? Don't know where to start? Emyrald brings you an easy, simple recipe. Read more about it here.