My Vegan Pantry Essentials: Part I

My Vegan Pantry Essentials: Part I

I'm often asked what I eat/cook on a regular basis, so I decided to share some of the essentials I keep in my vegan pantry. Today we’re talking condiments only. Of course I always keep things like nuts and grains in my pantry as well, but that’ll be for another day.

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 IMHO. 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 two (or more) tablespoons of nut butter or seed butter to my 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 1 cup cashew milk, 1 frozen banana, 1 1/2 tablespoons raw cacao powder, 2 tablespoons tahini, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, a dash of cinnamon, and any superfood add-ons of your choice.

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. When I’m lazy (often), my go-to dinner is toast with hummus, salad greens, chickpeas, hemp seeds and tahini drizzled on top.

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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. Simply mix two tablespoons of tahini with ½ tablespoon cocoa powder and ½ -1 tablespoon maple syrup (or sweetener of choice). Add in ground cinnamon and a very small pinch of sea salt. Stir until it has a spreadable consistency and serve with frozen banana slices. You can thank me later.

Salad dressing

I also use tahini to amp up flavor in my salad dressings. Just add a spoon of  tahini to any oil-based vinaigrette. I typically combine tahini with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, coarse grain mustard, maple syrup, crushed garlic, and salt & pepper.

2. Nutritional Yeast

Is there a vegan out there who doesn’t love 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 store, though it is becoming increasingly mainstream and may be available in 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.

Cashew cream

Cashew cream is my favorite easy condiment and takes just five minutes to pull together. It imparts flavor 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 and drained
  • ½ of a lemon, juiced
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Fresh black pepper

Directions

  1. Blend cashews in food processor until broken down.
  2. Add in lemon juice, water, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt & pepper. Blend until completely smooth.

Nut-and soy-based 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 bubbling cheesy lasagna look? 

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Soup

You can sprinkle nutritional yeast flakes on top of any soup for a cheesy taste and crunchy texture.

3. Sir Kensingtons’ Chipotle Fabanaise (Vegan Mayo)

This is the only specific, branded product on my pantry list, and I included it for good reason: it’s liquid gold. Sir Kensingtons really hit the jackpot with this creamy aquafaba-based mayo. SK has an original vegan mayo flavor which is good, but add in this chipotle flavor, and you have a real winner.

I received some Sir Kensingtons products from a friend, and the minute I tried them, I was hooked. I started putting the chipotle mayo on everything. Literally. Here are some examples.

Chickpea salad

Mash chickpeas with a fork, add in chipotle mayo, lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper, and red chili flakes for the easiest salad ever. Stuff in pita pockets or eat by itself.

Wraps

Okay, here’s another lazy girl secret: slather this chipotle mayo on tortillas, pita bread or wraps and dig in. Okay, bread + mayo sounds a bit gross on it own, so if you really want, you can add additional ingredients. I usually add roasted veggies, leafy greens and hummus for a light meal, and I’ll add thinly sliced tofu or tempeh for a heartier option. Or just top your wraps/pita bread with the chickpea salad I mentioned earlier.

Dipping sauce

Use this liquid gold as a dipping sauce or ketchup replacement for french fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, chips or crackers. All carbs welcome. No discrimination here.

4. Coconut Aminos

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 as a gluten-free, soy-free substitute for soy sauce when I thought I had a soy intolerance. These days, I use coconut aminos, soy sauce and tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) interchangeably, but since everyone knows what soy sauce is, let’s talk about coconut aminos instead.

Coconut aminos has a deep umami flavor, similar to soy sauce, but 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 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.

Stir-fry

This one might be a bit obvious, but you can use coconut aminios in a stir fry, just as you would use soy sauce.

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 14 or 16 ounce block of extra firm tofu for at least 30 minutes to remove excess water (lay tofu on a cutting board, top with lots of paper towels, and then top with a heavy book or pot); (2) chop the tofu into cubes; (3) toss tofu with 1 ½ tablespoons of coconut aminos (or soy sauce or tamari) along with 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil and red chili flakes; (4) add in 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch and toss to coat; (5) spread tofu cubes out on a parchment paper-lined baking tray; (5) Bake at 400 degrees Farenheit for 25 minutes until crispy and golden on the outside, tossing halfway through cooking time.

Dipping sauce

I also love using coconut aminos to make an Asian-style dipping sauce for rice paper rolls. Try this nut-free, soy-free dipping sauce the next time you make spring or summer rolls! Just whisk the following ingredients until smooth.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce Recipe

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha or chili sauce
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • Warm water to thin sauce
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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 (though I did recently find a sundried tomato pesto from Eataly that was 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, cashews, or pistachios. And while I love the fresh, lemony scent of basil, I also like experimenting with different herbs and even 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 some of my favorite pesto variations.

Basil-parsley-walnut

Pulse basil leaves, parsley leaves, walnuts, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast in a food processor; drizzle in extra virgin olive oil while the motor is running.

Kale-macadamia

Pulse torn kale leaves, macadamia nuts, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast in a food processor; drizzle in extra virgin olive oil while the motor is running.

Thai pesto

Pulse cilantro leaves, cashews, garlic, fresh ginger, lime juice, lime zest, diced Thai chili pepper, and soy sauce or coconut aminos in a food processor; drizzle in toasted sesame seed oil or neutral tasting oil while the motor is running.

Are you hungry yet? Hope you found this list to be helpful! Let me know what your favorite vegan condiments are!