My Vegan Pantry Essentials and Staples: Part II
In Part I of this series on my Vegan Pantry Essentials and Staples, I talked about some of my favorite vegan condiments that I keep in my pantry. Today, I’m dishing on some of the other staples in my plant-based pantry. And when you’re done here, head to Part III of the My Vegan Pantry Essentials series!
My earliest memory of beans is this childhood rhyme on the playground:
Beans, beans, the magical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot!
I’m not gonna lie. This song had a nice ring to it, and sometimes I still get that jam stuck in my head.
Farts aside, beans are a vegan’s best friend. They’re a completely natural source of protein packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
I highly recommend cooking beans from scratch, especially if you have an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker. With an Instant Pot, you don’t have to soak beans (though sometimes I still do because it can help minimize those aforementioned farts), and you don’t have to babysit the pot to make sure the beans don’t burn.
I put beans in everything, from salads and stews to pasta dishes and even desserts (when I’m trying to be healthy). My favorite beans are cannellini, garbanzo, and black beans, but I'll give any bean a try.
Black beans are best in Latin-inspired dishes, IMO. I like to make my own spicy refried black beans with pre-cooked or canned black beans. Just follow this easy recipe to see for yourself.
Heat a bit of olive oil in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat.
Sauté diced onion, minced garlic, and jalapeño until the onion is softened.
Add ~2 cups of cooked black beans along with any cooking liqiud (or 1 15-ounce can of black beans with its liquid) along with salt, pepper, ground cumin, and cayenne pepper.
Let the beans come to a gentle simmer and cook on low heat for 15 minutes, stirring and mashing the mixture often.
Is there anyone who doesn’t like the humble chickpea? Chickpeas are so versatile. You can add them to salads, grain bowls, and pastas, or you can turn them into hummus, use them to make gluten-free brownies or blondies, or bake them in the oven until crispy. AND, you can even use them in quesadillas, because, well, look how good these look!
These are mellow, soft white beans that are quite versatile. They have a very creamy texture, which is great for making bean dips and purées. When I get tired of the usual hummus, I simply substitute cannellini beans for chickpeas for a white bean hummus.
I especially love pan-frying cooked white beans because it gives them a crunchy, crispy exterior but the beans still have that rich, creamy interior.
I love beans, but I might love lentils even more. They’re incredibly cheap, packed with protein and fiber, and can be used in a wide range of dishes, from soups and stews to curries and salads.
I’m a fan of all lentils, which is probably attributable to my Indian genes. We Indians sure love our dal. But you should know that not all lentils cook in the same way. For instance, black beluga lentils hold their shape during cooking, making them ideal for salads, grain bowls and side dishes. In contrast, red lentils get mushy, making them perfect for Indian dals.
If you want to know how to cook lentils in the Instant Pot, I have a whole video AND blog post all about that!
Nearly every week, I make a big batch of whole grains using my Instant Pot so that I can enjoy veggie grain bowls throughout the week.
This is one is a bit obvious, I know. Is there a single vegan out there who hasn’t eaten quinoa? I mean, what is this, 2007? However, I couldn’t write a pantry essentials list and not mention quinoa.
My tips for quinoa are (1) toast your quinoa if you have the time - it tastes nuttier; (2) use a bit less than a 2:1 liquid:grain ratio, as more water makes for soggy quinoa; (3) try cooking your quinoa in vegetable broth instead of water and add in flavorings like smashed garlic, peppercorns, and fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs.
Quinoa is extremely versatile. You can use it as a base in grain bowls, use it to stuff bell peppers, tomatoes or winter squash; replace rice with it in a pilaf; cook it in plant-based milk and mashed bananas to make a breakfast porridge; or add it to granola bars, soups, or burger patties
Despite its confusing name, buckwheat is not actually wheat or a grain, but the seed of a plant. I typically buy raw buckwheat groats, but you can also buy toasted buckwheat (kasha). Buckwheat is gluten-free; has a crunchy texture when uncooked; an earthy taste; and is chock full of nutrients like iron, magnesium, and essential amino acids.
If you’re using raw groats, you should soak them in water for at least one hour or overnight. You can use them in lieu of oats in overnight oats and porridges, and I also like to add them to smoothies. Like oats, groats add volume and nutrition.
You can also cook buckwheat kasha on the stove, as you would any another grain, and serve with your choice of vegetables, proteins, sauces, etc. Buckwheat tends to be a bit dry, so I recommend adding some vegan butter or olive oil to improve the texture and mouthfeel.
I know some of you may avoid pasta because it contains gluten and refined grains, but these days you can find all kinds of pasta varieties, from whole grain and spelt to quinoa- and bean-based pasta.
When I’m cooking for a weekly meal, I typically use a whole grain or bean-based pasta so that I feel healthier. This is my favorite bean-based pasta brand. But if I’m cooking on a weekend or ordering out at a restaurant, I happily enjoy a regular gluten-heavy white pasta (provided it is egg-free).
Farro is an ancient grain that has a very nutty taste and a complex texture that is both firm and soft. It's my favorite grain but under utilized in most kitchens.
My favorite way to use farro is in a grain salad. I like to mix cooked farro with a light vinaigrette, a protein, vegetables, and add-ons. One of my favorite combinations is farro with chickpeas or cannellini beans, toasted hazelnuts or walnuts, dried cherries or apricots, chopped parsley, and a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, orange juice, maple syrup, and extra virgin olive oil. You can eat the salad alone or stuff it into baked winter squash, tomatoes, or bell peppers.
And I also love using farro instead of rice for an equally creamy but healthier version of risotto!
This is another obvious one, but I couldn’t not mention my favorite breakfast food. Oats are naturally gluten-free but may be contaminated with gluten during processing. Luckily you can buy gluten-free oats, including at Trader Joe’s, which sells a 2 pound bag of gluten-free rolled oats for like $3. In addition to making oatmeal and porridge, I also add oats to smoothies. It adds bulk and nutrition, which helps me stay full.
Canned or Jarred Goods
My list of canned/jarred goods could easily be longer, but I will limit it to just a few of my faves so I don't bore you to death. I know some of you may be freaking out about canned goods and BPA lining, but the good news is many of these goods are now offered in glass jar form and/or in BPA-free cans.
I am almost always too lazy to cook a whole artichoke, but I will lay into a jar of artichoke hearts like nobody’s business. You can find canned or jarred artichoke hearts, the latter of which are typically marinated in some type of oil. They have a meaty texture, so they feel substantial when you eat them. Plus, artichokes have higher antioxidant density than blueberries or kale or even dark chocolate!.
These are another life-long favorite of mine. The chewy texture of sun-dried tomatoes is just amazing, and I love the rich umami flavor they impart. Even my tomato-hating boyfriend loves sun-dried tomatoes.
Unsurprisingly, I add sun-dried tomatoes to pasta, but I also use them in sauces and dips, like sun-dried tomato pesto and sun-dried tomato cashew cream. For sun-dried tomato cashew cream, simply add 3-4 chopped sun-dried tomatoes to my standard cashew cream recipe (which can be found in Part I of this series).
I use canned coconut milk in everyday cooking as well as in baking. I use it in Thai and Indian curries, to give soups a velvety finish, and to give smoothie bowls that luscious thick texture. If you’re calorie conscious, you can try lite canned coconut milk or a coconut milk beverage (“drinking milk”), but it won’t be as creamy. I also use it in lieu of ingredients like milk and cream in baking applications with delectable and equally indulgent-tasting results.
Hope you enjoyed Part II of My Vegan Pantry Essentials and Staples! What kind of essentials do you keep in your pantry? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!