My Vegan Pantry Essentials: Part III
Nuts and Seeds
Let’s start today’s post off with one of my favorite food groups and my all-time favorite word: nuts.
I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I have the maturity (and upper body) of a pre-pubescent boy. And with that, let's talk about the nuts I always keep in my pantry (or fridge or freezer).
If you talk to a vegan foodie, chances are they cashew-obsessed. And for good reason. Cashews have a smooth buttery texture, they are an incredibly versatile nut, and they taste hella good.
Here are just some of the dishes I use cashews in: raw vegan cheesecake, vegan desserts, cashew cream, cashew parmesan cheese, cashew cheese sauce, cashew sour cream, cashew mylk…are you getting the point?
Here's my recipe for cashew sour cream! Just blend all of the ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender until thoroughly combined and you have a thick, creamy texture.
Cashew Sour Cream
3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained in water overnight
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1 teaspoon nutritional yeast (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Almond milk may be all the rage, but let's not forget about the actual almond! I know this sounds boring, but my favorite use for almonds is as a snack. They’re high in protein, fiber, and lots of vitamins. Plus, if you Google “almonds are the perfect snack,” you’ll learn that they “beat the flab,” and who doesn’t want to beat the flab??
In addition to snacks, I use almonds to make homemade almond butter (sooo good), toast them for salad or grain bowl toppings, add them to bliss balls, and use almond meal or almond butter in certain grain-free baked goods.
If cashews are my most used nuts, then walnuts are the nuts I wish I ate the most. They’re a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which support your brain, heart, and mental health.
And here's a pro tip for you: the texture of walnuts is softer than almonds, so if you want to make nut flour or nut butter but don’t have a high-quality food processor that can finely crush almonds, it’ll be easier to use walnuts.
I’m just going to say Nutella and leave it there.
Okay, I’ll say a bit more. Hazelnuts are probably my favorite nut, and I’d eat them all the damn time if they weren’t so expensive.
Next time you buy hazelnuts, go home, take them out of the bag, and toast them. It will smell like someone has put a huge fan next to a vat of Nutella, and the resulting aroma is permeating throughout your house. Literally the best smell ever. Toasted hazelnuts go well in both sweet and savory dishes, from salad toppers to rich chocolate desserts.
Honestly, sunflower seeds remind me of gross people spitting them out at baseball games. But once you get over that image, they’re really a great seed to keep in your pantry. A ¼ cup serving provides you with over 80% of your daily Vitamin E needs, which is the secret to beautiful skin and hair. So, indulge your vanity and eat some sunflower seeds.
I like to add sunflower seeds to granolas, loaf breads, muffins, and as a salad topper. And sunflower butter is the best replacement for peanut butter if you have a nut allergy. Or if you have a child enrolled in school in New York City, where peanuts and peanut butter are prohibited because of rampant allergies.
Pumpkin seeds are the walnuts in the seed category. Like walnuts, pumpkin seeds have incredible health benefits but are so underrated. They’re packed with magnesium and zinc and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
So, when fall rolls around, don’t discard the inner seeds from a pumpkin. Pick them out, toss them with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast them in the oven for a crunchy, healthy snack. Or just buy them at the store and save yourself some time.
I’ll keep this section short since I already talked about flax eggs in this post about vegan egg replacers in baking. In addition to baking, I top salads, pastas and Buddha bowls with a hefty sprinkling of flaxseed meal to boost my daily intake of Omega-3 fats.
No discussion of seeds would be complete without my favorite seed, the hemp seed. I love the nutty taste and soft texture of hemp seeds and, better yet, they are a “perfect protein” containing all 20 amino acids + 9 essential amino acids.
I typically use hemp seeds as a topper for salads, smoothies, pasta or quinoa, but you can also make mylk or yogurt out of hemp seeds!
It’s 2017, so I’m going to assume you’re familiar with chia seeds. Not only can you make incredibly popular chia pudding by combining these seeds with plant-based mylk, you can also make an egg substitute out of chia seeds + water, similar to flax eggs. Or add them to your smoothies. They help regulate things down there, if you know what I mean (poop-wise).
Sesame seeds are another favorite of mine. How many favorites can I have, you ask. As many as I please, damnit! After all, sesame seeds are the sole ingredient in one of my all-time favorite foods, tahini.
I use tahini on everything, as discussed in Part I of this series, and I use sesame seeds to garnish a wide range of dishes from Asian dishes and curries to avocado toast and bagels.
No discussion of a vegan pantry would be complete without mentioning superfoods. Why? Because vegans love trendy shit like superfoods.
What the hell are dulse flakes, you ask? Dulse is a type of seaweed, a red seaweed to be specific. Unlike the wet stuff in the ocean that gets tangled in your legs and momentarily makes you think that an octopus has trapped your leg, this stuff comes in dried flake form, somewhat similar in texture to nutritional yeast or dried herbs.
Dulse tastes faintly like the ocean, which is not surprising since that's where it comes from. And according to the nice people over at Bon Appétit Magazine, if you pan-fry dulse, it will taste like bacon. I'm not so sure about that, but you can try it if you're optimistic!
Aside from its potential bacon implications, dulse contains fiber, protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. I like to sprinkle dulse flakes on all kinds of savory dishes, but especially dishes that that complement the flavor of ocean (i.e., I use it as a soup topper or sprinkle it over popcorn with some nutritional yeast and sea salt). Seriously, though, it adds a unique, slightly earthy depth of flavor to your dishes. I buy my dulse flakes on Amazon.
If you're a foodie on Instagram, chances are you've seen those beautiful mermaid smoothie bowls. You know, the ones that have this incredibly mesmerizing turquoise color that's the same shad as Ariel the Mermaid's fin? Well, you can thank spirulina for that magical color.
Mermaids aside, spirulina is a great item to keep in your pantry because it's one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. Like dulse, spirulina is also a seaweed-based food, a blue-green microalgae to be specific.
Spirulina comes in tablet form or a dried powder (which is what I use). A tablespoon of this stuff has 4 grams of protein (a complete protein), lots of B vitamins, as well as iron and copper, and just 20 calories, making it possibly the most nutrient-rich food in the world. It also boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Basically, you should consume as much spirulina as you can. Except beware because it's pretty concentrated and has a funky ass smell. If dulse smells like a faint trace of a summer's ocean breeze, then spirulina smells like the depths of the deepest seawater in which Ursula brews her poisonous ink clouds. Have I taken this Disney analogy too far? Forgive me, it's 11 p.m. and I'm delirious.
I put a teaspoon or so of spirulina powder in smoothies, but if your tastebuds are more daring, you can just mix it with water and drink as is. And if you're adventurous, you can even add a little bit into your desserts. Just add a little though - nobody wants to eat cake that smells like microwave-reheated fish. Btw, if you're one of those people who microwaves fish in an office kitchen, you should be fired.
Raw cacao nibs
Moving away from the ocean and all related odors, let's talk about raw cacao nibs, which are roasted cacao beans that are are removed from the husk and then broken into smaller pieces. Cacao nibs are a superfood, as they're packed with fiber (9 grams in 1 ounce), magnesium (one of the richest sources of it), antioxidants, and feel good chemicals (natural ones, of course). To summarize: chocolate is a superfood and you can eat as much of it as you want.
I like to add cacao nibs too all kinds of desserts and as a topper for smoothies or porridge, but you can even eat them raw as a snack. It won't be the same as eating a bar of chocolate, but you can't always have your cake and eat it too.
I have many more "superfoods" in my pantry, but at the risk of completely boring you, I will end with turmeric because it holds a special place in my heart. We Indians love our turmeric and use it as a multi-purpose weapon, just like Gus Portokalos uses Windex for everything in the critically acclaimed film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When my sister was a child and sprained her ankle, my aunt--instead of wrapping her ankle in an elastic bandage--spread a turmeric paste onto her ankle and wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag. When I'm sick, I drink hot water with turmeric and lemon. And when my mom wants to make her famous "yellow rice" dish, she throws in a shit ton of turmeric.
If you got lost in my anecdotes, to recap, turmeric has anti-inflammation properties, increases your body's antioxidant capacity, and has a beautiful golden color. It can also protect your body against various cancers, heart disease, Alzheimers, and diabetes.
While I prefer fresh turmeric to the dried powder, it can be hard to find the fresh variety in ordinary supermarkets and the dried powder is much more convenient. Just be sure to add slowly and don't add to cold food or beverages, as it won't mix in and will have a chalky taste.
Occasionally, I use turmeric to make the ultra popular "golden milk" (my ancestors would be rolling in their graves right now if they had graves, but they were cremated). More often, however, I add it to curries, soups and savory dishes.
Because I like to end my day with something sweet, I'll end this blog post with something sweet as well.
My pantry would be sad and lonely without maple syrup. Maple syrup is my go-to sweetener for desserts and breakfast alike. I buy pure maple syrup because it has an amazingly rich flavor and I don't want any nasties in my maple syrup. Aside: I recently tried Aunt Jemima's pancake syrup after a decade and I nearly vomited. Sorry, Auntie J, but that shit tastes like chemicals.
Raw coconut nectar
Raw coconut nectar is the sweet sap that comes from the coconut palm blossom. Unlike maple syrup or agave syrup, it's raw, which means it's perfect for fully raw vegan baked goods. It's also a low glycemic sweetener with a GI Index of just 35 (in contrast, white sugar has a GI index of roughly 60).
I also love the thick, viscous-y texture of raw coconut nectar. If you're looking for a substitute for honey but finding that maple syrup is too watery, raw coconut nectar or brown rice syrup are great substitutes.
Dates (Medjool or Deglet)
I'm saving the best for last because dates are one of my favorite foods. Mostly because they taste like adult candy. I know that "adult candy" sounds a bit risqué, but I mean it in the most G-rated sense, like candy that adults would eat, as opposed to candy like Sour Patch Kids. Just kidding, I eat Sour Patch Kids too, even though the name of the candy clearly indicates it's for children.
My favorite easy dessert is to slice open dates, stuff them with almond butter, and top with cinnamon. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll drizzle on melted chocolate too.
I also use dates as a sweetener in raw vegan desserts (both in the crust and filling), as well as in bliss balls, raw cookies and the like. And my favorite way to use dates is to make a salted caramel date sauce. It's soooo good and I have a recipe for that over on Youtube!
I hope you enjoyed this final series on my vegan pantry essentials! If you did, drop me a line - would love to hear from you.