Following a vegan diet is not always easy and, depending on where you live, finding good quality plant-based restaurant meals at a decent price can be challenging. In my experience, it’s often better to do more cooking at home where you have full control over the ingredients so you know exactly what you’re eating and can ensure you get all the nutrients needed for a healthy, balanced diet.
There are certain key items that I always keep stocked in my kitchen. Some of which I hadn’t even heard of before I went vegan, but now they have become essential ingredients I rely on regularly to create wonderful and wholesome plant-based meals.
This A to Z list is a fun way for me to share with you some of the must-haves that I keep in my pantry, and why they are all so important to keeping me healthy and happy. I do break the rules occasionally and add more than one entry for some letters, however each additional entry is worth mentioning as they are all essentials in my kitchen cupboards.
Read on for part 1 of this A-Z or jump straight to part 2.
Almonds help keep your heart healthy and lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). They are loaded with vitamin E, magnesium and potassium and are also a good source of calcium. I often add a handful of almonds to porridge or just eat them as a snack. It’s pretty straight-forward to make your own almond milk at home too.
Agave syrup is a natural sweet liquid that comes from the agave plant and is a great replacement for honey. I often use it instead of granulated sugar in baking as it’s sweeter which means you can use less for the same sweetness level. Other vegan syrups which you can use instead of honey include those made from rice, coconut and maple. If you’re wondering why honey isn’t vegan, read more about the honey industry on the vegan society website.
I eat one brazil nut every day before breakfast which gives me the perfect daily dose of selenium. Selenium is an important mineral that our bodies need to regulate the thyroid and boost our immune system. These nutrient dense tree nuts are also a good source of magnesium, zinc and copper. Another benefit of eating Brazil nuts is that they are full of healthy fats which help keep our heart strong.
Cashews are a vegan cheese-lovers best friend. These delicious nuts are versatile and replicate the creamy flavour and fatty consistency of cheese very well. I often set aside a bowl of cashews soaking in water in preparation for creating some kind of creamy sauce or cheese. You can make a simple soft cheese in minutes by throwing soaked cashews into a food processor with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt and nutritional yeast. If you’re patient enough you can even experiment making your own fermented or cured cashew cheese at home. What’s more is that cashew cheese is much healthier for your heart than all the cholesterol you’d get from dairy cheese. Cashews are a low sugar and high fibre protein source which also provide copper, magnesium, and manganese.
The humble chia seed is truly a superfood. These small seeds pack an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. They are loaded with potassium, and are a good source of calcium, dietary fibre and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. I add a spoonful to cereal, smoothies and porridge. In the summer I make a refreshing drink called chia fresca in Mexico. Mix chia seeds with cold water, a squeeze of lime juice and a drop of agave syrup then leave to chill in the fridge for around 10 to 15 minutes before drinking.
Dates are excellent for adding natural sweetness to your breakfast or desserts so you can avoid consuming processed sugar. Aside from being a great source of fibre, they also provide a decent dose of potassium and antioxidants.
Ok so I’m cheating a bit here because Edamame (immature soya beans) are usually bought fresh and served in the pod so they are not really a pantry food. However, I couldn’t think of anything else for the letter E, and it gives me a nice excuse to talk about soya beans instead! Soya beans are such a great pantry food because they are versatile and have several uses in food. I keep dried soya beans in my pantry which can be soaked overnight, then used as a base for soups and curries.
A diverse range of soya-based products can be used in cooking to replace meat, or simply to add texture and protein to your plant-based meals. You can kept soya in your pantry in the form of tofu, tempeh, soya sauce and textured soya protein. I only buy soya products that are certified organic to avoid consuming potentially harmful genetically modified crops. The beans themselves are rich in protein which contains most of the essential amino acids that humans (and animals) need.
Flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) are another highly nutrient-dense addition to a healthy diet. I keep my fibre intake in check by adding a spoon of flaxseeds to my morning porridge. They are a good plant-based source of omega-3 as well as being high in antioxidants. For maximum absorption of all the goodness, buy ground up seeds or powder rather than the whole seeds which our bodies cannot absorb easily. If you can only find whole seeds in the supermarket, whizz them up in a food processor before storing. One great use for flaxseeds is as an egg replacement in baking. Leave a spoon of the ground seeds soaking in water for 10-15 minutes and you’ve got yourself a ‘flax egg’. Add to your cake mix in place of an egg to help bind the other ingredients together.
Garlic might put a lot of people off because of the smell, but in my household we rarely cook without it. We even go so far as to add raw chopped garlic on top of pasta or rice dishes in addition to adding a couple of cloves when cooking. The medicinal properties and health benefits of garlic have been well known for hundreds of years. It’s a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese. It can also help cure symptoms of a cold and boosts your immune system. Freshly chopped garlic is surprisingly good when served in hot water as a tea too!
Ginger has long been praised for its medicinal properties. Ginger root tea can help alleviate cold or flu symptoms as it’s a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Aside from the tangy spice it can add to cakes and curries, it can help with digestion, improve brain functions and even protect your body against cancer.
Hazelnuts are a delicious and nutrient-rich nut which are easy to incorporate into your diet. Like many other nuts they are a good source of healthy fats which help keep your heart healthy and regulate your blood pressure. I sometimes add a few whole hazelnuts to my breakfast cereal or add them sliced or ground to cakes.
Inca berries have a sweet and sour flavour and are much higher in fibre than other dried fruit. They are a great source of potassium, vitamin C and protein as well as being full of antioxidants. It’s easy to incorporate them into your daily diet by adding them to breakfast cereal, salads or eat as a snack.
This exotic fruit is the largest tree fruit in the world and comes from the tropical regions of South India. Perhaps one of the most convincing ways to replace meat, its fleshy fruit can be used to mimic pulled pork or chicken. You can buy the young fruit pieces pre-cooked in jars, cans or in a vacuum-pack. To cook, simply season or marinade it in your favourite flavours. It’s much healthier than real meat too as, instead of cholesterol and saturated fat, it has lots of fibre and a wide variety of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Kala namak salt
If you miss the taste of eggs then this Indian black salt is a must-have in your vegan pantry. You just need to add a small amount to your tofu scramble, chickpea omelette or vegan egg salad to get a subtle sulphurous egg flavour. Its low sodium content makes it a healthier choice than regular salt. It’s thought to have many health benefits due to the high mineral content, although more research is needed for conclusive proof.
I have become a little obsessed with lentils since cutting meat out of my diet. Dried lentils are cheap, easy to store and filling. They come in so many colours and variations so you can create a wide variety of meals with them. All types of lentils are rich in protein, and minerals such as iron and fibre. I use black beluga lentils in rice dishes and salads, whereas red or green lentils are the ideal base for curries or soups.
This Japanese seasoning made from a base of fermented soya beans is a useful item to keep in your pantry for flavouring various dishes. Although it is high in sodium, research suggests that it doesn’t have the same adverse effects on our body as table salt. It’s a low cholesterol food that is a good source of manganese, vitamin K, copper and fibre.
There you have it, we made it to the middle of the alphabet! Read part 2 of this A-Z. Are there any items I’ve missed off this list that are essential in your vegan pantry? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, happy cooking!