My Vegan Pantry Essentials: Part II
In Part I of this series, I talked about some of my favorite vegan condiments that I keep in my pantry. Thank you for all your comments on that post - it looks like many of you are as obsessed with tahini as I am. Today, let’s talk about some other staples in my plant-based pantry. And when you’re done here, head to Part III of this 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.
If you are short on money but long on time, buy dried beans and cook them yourself, as they are more cost effective than canned beans. However, I typically buy canned beans. Not because I am long on money but because I am lazy. Whole Foods’ 365 brand sells canned beans at an affordable price, typically $0.79 for a can of conventionally grown beans and $0.99 for a can of organic beans. Also, Trader Joe’s sells inexpensive canned beans.
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, IMHO. I like to make my own spicy refried black beans with canned black beans. Just follow this easy recipe to see for yourself.
Sauté diced onion, minced garlic, and jalapeño in olive oil until softened.
Add a 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 in gluten-free blondies, or bake them in the oven until crispy.
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. Here is a quick protein-packed salad that I make when I'm pressed for time. Leftovers stay good in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Combine all of the following ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped finely
½ cup each fresh basil and mint leaves, chopped finely
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
¼ cup toasted walnuts or nuts of choice
salt and pepper to taste
Though lentils are technically a legume and not a bean, I would be remiss to not mention them. They’re incredibly cheap, packed with protein and fiber, and can be used in a wide range of dishes.
I’m a fan of all lentils, which is probably attributable to my Indian genes. We Indians sure love our dhal. 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 dhals.
If you’ve seen my Instagram, you know that I am a fan of carbs, so let’s talk about my favorite carbs in the pantry.
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. I cook a big batch of grains every week, and quinoa is probably the most common.
My tips for quinoa are (1) soak quinoa in cold water beforehand to get rid of the bitter taste; (2) toast your quinoa – it tastes nuttier; (3) use a bit less than a 2:1 liquid:grain ratio, as more water makes for soggy quinoa; (4) cook in vegetable stock 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 Buddha bowls, use it to stuff bell peppers, tomatoes or cabbage rolls; 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 quiona- 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 and definitely under utilized in the kitchen.
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 cannellini beans, toasted hazelnuts, dried cherries, 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.
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 generally 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, they 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 blend the following in a food processor until smooth and creamy:
1 cup raw cashews, soaked 8 hours
½ of a lemon, juiced
½ cup water
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 sun-dried tomatoes, excess oil removed
½ teaspoon sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Canned or jarred tomatoes
You can find a whole assortment of canned/jarred tomatoes, but I have to say the crushed tomato variety is my favorite. The umami from the tomato is far more concentrated than in diced or chopped tomatoes, so it tastes like a less intense version of tomato paste. If a recipe calls for diced tomatoes, I almost always replace it with crushed tomatoes.
Here’s my easy peasy spicy marinara sauce (shhh, I don't use fresh tomatoes):
Cook 4-5 garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons olive oil until golden brown.
Add in a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, along with a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, a sprig of basil, a teaspoon of dried thyme, a scant teaspoon of brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.
Let the sauce simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
This last one is a bit of a cheat since I already talked about my love for coconut milk in baked goods back in this post. In addition to desserts, I use canned coconut milk in everyday cooking. 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, but it won’t be as creamy.
What kind of essentials do you keep in your pantry? I would love to hear from you. Stay tuned for the final part in this series!