My Vegan Pantry Essentials and Staples: Part I

I'm often asked what I eat/cook on a regular basis, so I decided to share My Vegan Pantry Essentials and Staples in my vegan pantry. Today we’re talking strictly condiments, but you can find more of my pantry staples in Part II and Part III of this series.

And if you want to see what I eat on a regular basis, I made a Youtube video featuring the five meals I eat nearly every week!

If you see a photo that strikes your fancy, just click on it to be taken to the recipe!

1. Tahini

I was recently asked if I could name my five favorite foods. It took me a while to come up with a list because the question was so vague. For instance, does Thai cuisine count as a food? If I say tacos, do I need to specify what kind of tacos? The questions were never ending. However, I never doubted that tahini would be on my list. That’s because I LOVE tahini, and since it’s a relatively underutilized ingredient, I want to hype it up!

Tahini, which is simply sesame seed paste, is sort of like peanut butter but it tastes more unique IMO. It has a similar texture to other nut butters but without any sweetness and with a bit of sharpness. It’s also nut free, so it’s a great option for those who have nut allergies or live with those who have nut allergies. And it pairs incredibly well with both savory and sweet dishes. Here are some of my favorite ways to use tahini.  

Smoothies

I always add a tablespoon or two of nut butter or seed butter to smoothies. I treat morning smoothies as a full meal replacement so they need to have sufficient calories and be packed with protein and healthy fats. Tahini makes a great addition to any smoothie, but I think chocolate tahini is the most magical combination. For a smoothie that tastes like a chocolate milkshake, combine the following:

1 cup oat, coconut, or cashew milk + 1 frozen banana + 1 1/2 tablespoons raw cacao powder + 2 tablespoons tahini + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract + a dash of cinnamon

Sauce/Dip/Spread

I use tahini as a sauce/spread for all kinds of savory meals. I drizzle it on Buddha bowls, salads and falafel; lather it on pita bread and toast; use it as a spread on sandwiches and wraps; and even as a dip for raw vegetables when I need a healthy snack. One of my go-to 2-minute meals is toast (or a baked sweet potato) topped with hummus, salad greens, chickpeas, and hemp seeds, with tahini drizzled on top.

Wild Rice Stuffed Squash with Tahini

Wild Rice Stuffed Squash with Tahini

Desserts

You can use tahini in all kinds of desserts from brownies and blondies to cookies and muffins. And because I love you, I’ll even share my two-minute lazy girl dessert with you. You can thank me later.

Mix 2 tablespoons of tahini + ½ tablespoon cocoa powder + ½ -1 tablespoon maple syrup + a pinch of cinnamon + a tiny pinch of sea salt. Stir until it has a spreadable consistency and serve with frozen banana slices.

Pumpkin Tahini Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Tahini Chocolate Chip Muffins

Salad Dressing

I also use tahini to to make an oil-free salad dressing. I typically combine tahini with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (but you can use red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar), a tiny bit of coarse grain mustard and maple syrup, some crushed garlic, and salt & pepper to taste. Add a few spoons of warm water to thin it out from a thick sauce to a pourable dressing.

2. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is the granddaddy of vegan condiments, acting as the secret ingredient in so many veganventions (i.e., vegan inventions) like cashew cream and vegan lasagna. It yields a savory, umami, almost cheesy like flavor, making it the perfect ingredient in vegan cheese recipes.

So what is nutritional yeast exactly? It's deactivated yeast that grows on a food source and is then harvested and dried. It is typically sold in yellow flakes and has a nutty, cheesy flavor. You can find it in natural grocery stores, though it is has become increasingly mainstream and is available in many standard supermarkets as well.

And the added bonus? Nutritional yeast is super healthy and boasts a healthy dose of complex B vitamins. It also happens to be one of those rare foods that’s gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, salt-free and sugar-free but isn’t water. Here are some of my favorite ways to use nutritional yeast.

Cashew Cream

Cashew cream is my favorite easy condiment and takes just five minutes to pull together. It imparts a rich creaminess to every dish, and I always have some in the fridge. If you want to make this yummy cashew cream but you’re worried about the price of cashews, Trader Joe’s has the cheapest raw cashews (and most other nuts) that I’ve found in stores and online. And here's my tried and tested cashew cream recipe:

Cashew Cream Recipe

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 8 hours 

  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp water (or plant-based milk for an extra creamy version)

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste 

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper + more to taste 

  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice 

Directions

  1. Blend cashews in food processor until broken down.

  2. Add in the remaining ingredients and blend until completely smooth, thick, and creamy.

Cashew Cream Pasta

Cashew Cream Pasta

Vegan Cheeses

If you want your homemade vegan cheese and cheese sauces to have that cheesy mouthfeel, you gotta use nutritional yeast. I mean, how good does this melty cheesy pasta look??

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Soups

You can sprinkle nutritional yeast flakes on top of any soup for a cheesy taste and crunchy texture. Or, for blended or pureed soups, add some nutritional yeast towards the end of cooking and blend it together with the rest of the ingredients.

3. Tamari and/or Coconut Aminos

Tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce, and I love it because it has a more balanced flavor than soy sauce, which usually tastes overly salty. I use reduced-sodium tamari so I can control the salty flavor more precisely.

Coconut aminos is a salty, slightly sweet condiment made from fermented nectar from coconut palm and sea salt. It's commonly used in Paleo and gluten-free cuisine as a soy sauce substitute. While soy and gluten are perfectly fine in a vegan diet, I started using coconut aminos many years ago as a gluten-free, soy-free substitute for soy sauce when I thought I had a soy intolerance (I do not have such an intolerance). These days, I use coconut aminos and tamari somewhat interchangeably.

While coconut aminos has a deep umami flavor, similar to tamari, it is slightly sweeter and less salty. In fact, it has more than 70% less sodium than soy sauce. If you want to use it as a soy sauce (or tamari) substitute, you may want to add a bit more salt to your dish to balance out the sweetness. Here are a few ways to use coconut aminos. Here are some of my favorite ways to use tamari and/or coconut aminos.

Crispy Tofu

I LOVE crispy tofu. I can’t get enough of it. For an easy way to make your own crispy tofu at home, simply do the following.

  1. Press a block of extra firm tofu for at least 30 minutes to remove excess water (lay the tofu on a cutting board, top with lots of paper towels, and then top with a heavy book or pot and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.

  2. Chop the tofu into cubes and toss them with 1 ½ tablespoons tamari or coconut aminos + 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil + crushed red pepper flakes + 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder, and toss to coat.

  3. Spread the coated tofu cubes out on a parchment paper-lined baking tray.

  4. Bake at 400°F (204°FC) for 25 minutes until crispy and golden on the outside, tossing halfway through.

Dipping Sauce

I also love using tamari or coconut aminos to make an Asian-style dipping sauce for rice paper rolls or to make a thick sauce to coat Asian-style noodles.

Sesame-Cashew Soba Noodle Salad

Sesame-Cashew Soba Noodle Salad

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is my go-to neutral vinegar and it has a variety of applications. I use it in vinaigrettes; to finish cooked beans, soups, and vegetables with a splash of acidity; and as an aid to leavening in baking.

And the #1 way I use it is in my morning daily beverage. I start every morning with warm water with a spoon of apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I add some turmeric and ginger for those antioxidants!

5. Pesto

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love pesto? Unfortunately, most store-bought pesto contains parmesan cheese and therefore isn’t vegan. Luckily, making pesto could not be easier, particularly if you have a food processor.

Traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but pine nuts are outrageously expensive, except at Trader Joe’s (will they hire me as their PR person already??), so I usually use walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or cashews. And while I love the fresh, lemony scent of basil, I also like experimenting with different herbs such as cilantro, and even adding in greens like kale, spinach, or arugula.

Since you probably already know how to use pesto (as a pasta sauce, pizza sauce, crostini spread, etc.), I thought it’d be more useful to share how to alter a traditional basil + pine nut pesto recipe with my favorite variations.

Basil-Parsley-Walnut

  • Use 50% basil leaves + 50% parsley leaves;

  • Swap out pine nuts for walnuts;

  • Add garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste, and nutritional yeast;

  • Pulse in a food processor and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil while the motor is running.

Kale-Macadamia

  • Swap out basil for kale;

  • Swap out pine nuts for macadamia nuts;

  • Add garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste, and nutritional yeast;

  • Pulse in a food processor and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil while the motor is running.

Thai Pesto

  • Swap out basil for cilantro;

  • Swap out pine nuts for cashews or peanuts;

  • Add garlic, fresh ginger, lime juice, lime zest, a green chili pepper, and tamari;

  • Pulse in a food processor and drizzle in toasted sesame oil while the motor is running.

Cilantro Pesto

Cilantro Pesto

I hope you found this list of My Vegan Pantry Staples to be helpful! Let me know what your favorite vegan condiments are!