Plant-based pantry staples
During the short time that we had lived in Ireland, I had a lot of time on my hands. Maybe too much time on my hands. (Que Styx). So one thing I liked to do was to walk to the nearby library a few times a week, hang out there and read, and check out books. One day I started browsing the cookbook section. Now before this particular day, I’m not sure how many cookbooks I had cracked open. Maybe three in my entire life. But something made me stop and reach for a cookbook. When I got home I started looking through it and wrote down the recipes that I thought Adam and I might like or the ones that had the most appetizing pictures.
In almost every recipe, there was at least one ingredient that I had never heard of before. Some were hard to find at the grocery store, and at times I wondered if I really needed it for the recipe, or if I could simply substitute it with something less fancy-sounding, or leave it out all together. Nutritional yeast? Blackstrap molasses? Kombu? Agar agar? How important were these things to the recipe and what actually were they, anyways?
With no prior cooking experience I felt at times frustrated (why did the recipe not turn out?), overwhelmed (I don’t even know what half of these ingredients are!), excited (my first quiche!)….and the list goes on.
But now, after a number years of cooking a healthy plant-based diet, I’ve settled on a system to how I stock my pantry, and I’d like to share it with you today.
Keep in mind that there are some items that may not be on the list below, but I’m just including the ones that we eat most often.
When I’m not following a recipe, my typical meal consists of a mixture of one grain, one legume, a couple of veggies, and some nuts or seeds, the last two which are most often blended with a milk or water to make a sauce.
Grains are a huge staple in my plant-based diet. I’d say 95% of my meals contain at least one grain. I always try to rotate the ones I eat as to avoid boredom as well as make sure I get a complete source of protein.
Always on hand:
Quinoa (technically not a grain but included here anyways), brown and white rice, bulgur, pasta (whole wheat, white, and others such as lentil, buckwheat, rice, etc.)
Used less often: Couscous, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, spelt
Legumes include beans and lentils. With at least one meal a day I try to add a legume to the meal in some form or other. If I had to choose just one of each it would probably be chickpeas and red lentils, but they are all so tasty and versatile! You can find them in cans, bulk, or in plastic bags. For me, bulk is the most ideal as you can take as much or as little as you like, and you avoid the plastic. But sometimes I will buy in cans, just be sure to rinse them. If they’re not canned and pre-cooked, be sure to soak them-I like to soak them overnight. Read more about soaking times here.
Always on hand:
Beans: Canellini, Broad, Kidney, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), Black
Lentils: Beluga, red, French/green lentils
Used less often:
Beans: Mung, Adzuki, soy,
Lentils: yellow, brown
I don’t make it a point to buy that many superfoods. One they are so expensive, and two I seem to get along fine without them. Depending on the superfood, I might add them to my breakfast smoothie or cereal (re: cacao powder/nibs, hemp seeds, chia seeds) or on top of my meal (re: nutritional yeast, chia, and hemp seeds)
Always on hand: Nutritional Yeast (not technically a superfood but still pretty super nonetheless), Cacao powder cacao nibs, hemp seeds, chia seeds
Used less often: Chlorella, spirulina, and maca powder are all a bit expensive and therefore I don’t buy them that often, however all three make great additions to smoothies and are a huge powerhouse of nutrients.
I love toasting nuts in the oven or pan, or just soaking them before blending to make a sauce for a meal. You can also sprout them!
Always on hand: cashews, almonds, walnuts
Used less often: pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts
These little guys are great toasted as a snack or as toppings on salads-or really any dish! Always make sure to buy them raw and not toasted.
Always on hand: sunflower, sesame, flax, pumpkin/pepita
Used less often: hmm….
I don’t rely on substitute meats often, maybe once a week or every other week.
Always on hand: Tofu, vital wheat gluten (to make seitan)
Used less often: tempeh, lupin, jackfruit
Always check the smokepoint of an oil. When an oil is heated too high, it has reached its smoke point and the structure will start to go cray cray, producing free radicals (which are bad for your health).
Always on hand: olive, flax, coconut
Used less often: Grapeseed, avocado, hemp (simply because of price and/or availability in Germany)
Vinegars add that tangy acidic flavor to a meal. Tip: If you find yourself making a recipe that calls for white wine vinegar or rice vinegar and you don’t have it in your cupboard, you can sub in lemon for one of the two!
Always on hand: Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar (used for pickling veggies)
Used less often: Rice vinegar, white wine vinegar
I don’t always have them on hand, but the ones I use most often is nori or wakame to add to a salad. I’ve also tried seaweed “noodles” which were…interesting. They’re growing on me.
I try to use as little white flour as possible and instead reap the benefits from the other more nutritient-packed flours. Be sure to never buy refined flours. To get oat, buckwheat, or spelt flour, I simply grind the grains whole in my coffee grinder or in the blender and voila!
Always on hand: chickpea, spelt, whole wheat, oat
Used less often: buckwheat, white, almond
I switched over from refined sugars to natural sweeteners a long time ago and have never looked back. That means there is no white sugar in our pantry. About 90% of the time I use maple syrup as my sweetener.
Always on hand: Maple Syrup, brown Rice Syrup, and sometimes brown cane sugar
Used less often: coconut sugar, dates, honey
Other ingredients to have on hand:
Light and dark Miso: Fermented grains or beans (usually from soy or rice) that are a great addition to sauces and marinades
Tamari Sauce: Soy sauce but with less salt
Agar agar: A vegan substitute for gelatin. I don’t find myself using it very often, in fact I think I’ve used it just twice….
Arrowroot powder: Always have on hand. It can be used to thicken a sauce or coat tofu before frying in the pan. A healthier substitute for cornstarch.
Baking soda and baking powder: always buy aluminum-free
Canned diced tomatoes: I try to have at least 3-4 of these in my cupboard at all times! Sometimes when I’m not sure what to do I’ll mix in a can or two with some grains and beans and call it a meal.
Black strap molasses: You can read more about it here. I often use it in baking, my morning cereal, and in smoothies.
A good mustard: I like Dijon with the little mustard grains in the jar if it’s to spread on a sandwich, otherwise plain Dijon mustard for sauces, dressings, etc.
Dried fruit: Raisins, apricots, and dates. They work well in energy bites and bars, and in granola.