12 March 2010

Stocking a Vegan Kitchen

True, I am a mere dorm-residing college student, bound to a required meal plan and without much more than a mini-fridge and a microwave for a kitchen. The microwave doubles as a table for my printer, and the mini-fridge is usually stocked with fruit I "liberate" from the dining hall and really not a whole lot else. However, in my dream world I would have a big kitchen and it would be full of all the wonderful wholesome necessities of a vegan diet.

Luckily, the caterers for my school take vegan-ism into account, so I don't have to scrounge very hard to find decent things to eat. I still keep a few of my favorite things on hand though, for those times when I can't stomach another cube of poorly roasted tofu or slice of gelatinous berry pie. Following is a list of not only my favorites, but also pretty much everything else that is essential for a vegan or vegetarian kitchen- for all you who have to go grocery shopping on a regular basis.

Dry goods- for some unknown reason, a long time ago manufacturers thought we would only like food if it was white and soft and loaded with sugar. This is dumb. Not only does this strip the food of any nutritional value, but it doesn't do much for the taste or the texture either. Stuff like white pasta, white bread, and white rice hardly benefits your body at all and turns almost entirely to sugar as soon as it enters your system. For that reason, all pasta, bread, rice, and other carbs get a bad rep, and ridiculous things like the Atkins diet surface. However, whole grains that haven't been bleached and stripped are good for you- they digest slowly and provide you with energy for several hours. Every kitchen, vegetarian or otherwise, should always have these healthy carbs on hand.
  • Whole wheat, brown rice, spelt, or vegetable pasta (see below)
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat or spelt bread, bagels, English muffins, etc.
  • Dried lentils, black beans, etc.
  • Whole wheat or spelt tortillas

Canned Goods- Usually I think it's better to always use fresh ingredients, but there are some canned goods that taste just as good as the fresh stuff and make life a whole lot simpler. It's always good to have some stuff on stock so you can whip up a quick meal whenever you need to.
  • Beans- Black beans, kidney beans (white and red), garbanzo beans, pinto beans, they're all awesome and incredibly versatile.
  • Tomatoes- in juice, whole, diced, crushed, and sauce forms.
  • Vegetable broth- if it comes in a carton, even better.
  • Coconut milk
Fresh Goods- This is a given. Everyone needs lots and lots of fresh fruits and veggies in their diets. Buy as much as you think you can use before it goes bad, or just buy as much as you can and freeze it, can it, or use it up in stock recipes like pasta sauce and jams. Always try to buy extra of things that are in season, and keep some of these staples on hand at all times.
  • Apples- who doesn't love a fruit that comes in so many different varieties and can be used in pies and paninis alike?
  • Oranges- I seriously eat like 4 of these a day. It's usually the best tasting fruit I can steal from the dining hall, so whenever I have a snack craving I grab for one.
  • Bananas
  • Grapes and other in-season berries
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Kale, spinach, romaine, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Bell Peppers
  • Onions
  • Garlic (Is this a vegetable? Well either way, it's a necessity for life.)
Meat and Dairy Substitutes- Some veggies frown upon fake meat and dairy products, other lavish praise upon them. I choose the middle of the road- It's probably not that good to eat the super processed stuff, but it can't hurt to buy it every once in a while. That is, it can't be worse than the animal-torturing alternative, right? Plus, a lot of it is awesomely delicious.
  • Tofu- silken and extra firm. They both have entirely different uses and are used in TONS of recipes.
  • Tempeh or Seitan- I don't use either of these very often. It's up to you if want to keep them on hand or not.
  • Soy, Rice, or Almond milk- I go for the plain organic stuff, just beans and water. Stuff like Silk, while yummy, is full of sugar and preservatives. However, they do make a soy creamer which can be useful in recipes that usually require heavy cream.
  • Brand name frozen stuff- Morningstar, Gardenburger, and Boca make lots of meat substitutes. Careful though, lots of their stuff will be meat-free but still contain eggs or dairy. Read the ingredients.
  • Vegan Cheese- Careful now, a lot of this really sucks. So far my brand of choice is Vegan Gourmet by Follow your Heart. They make four flavors, and it melts- but honestly, vegan cheese just isn't going to taste like real cheese if you slice it right off the block. In recipes it's fantastic though.
  • Toffuti or Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese and Sour Cream
  • Earth Balance- Not to be confused with your average margarine. It's a butter substitute made from all the good oils and none of the bad. Tastes just like real butter- not gross like margarine.
  • Nutritional Yeast- This isn't really a dairy substitute, it's just a non-rising yeast that usually comes in yellowish flakes (see below). I put it here though, because it is incredibly versatile, as well as being my single most favorite vegan ingredient EVER. I use it on everything. It has an interesting, nutty flavor and is often described as a Parmesan substitute. It's great as a garnish (I've lived off of noodles, earth balance, and nutritional yeast alone), and also as a cheese substitute in recipes. I've made queso dips and pasta sauces with this stuff that totally fooled the most skeptical omnis. It's flakey, delicious gold.
Baking Goods- You probably already have most of this on hand, but it's always good to keep a stock. Also, there are a few healthy alternatives to the flour-sugar-fat mix that create equally decadent desserts.
  • Whole wheat pastry flour- another of my favorite ingredients. Light and soft like all-purpose flour, but without all the bleach and with all the nutrients. Bob's Red Mill makes some that comes in big bags just like regular flour, so you won't run out (see below).
  • Sucanat or Turbinado Sugar- natural sugar, before it's been bleached and stripped of the molasses and nutrients. It can be substituted for white sugar in any recipe.
  • Ener-G egg replacement- Made up from a few different starches, this is a powder that you can mix with a little water to easily replace raw eggs in any baking recipe.
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Baking Powder and Soda
  • Extracts (Vanilla, peppermint, almond, etc)
  • Salt
  • Molasses
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Unsweetened baker's chocolate
Other Stuff
  • Applesauce- not only is it an awesome snack, but you can substitute it for oil in baking recipes to make them a bit healthier
  • Vegenaise- Also by Follow Your Heart. I don't even like mayonnaise, but this stuff is still good in recipes and tastes just like the real thing.
  • Fresh and dried herbs
  • Agave Nectar- good for a honey substitute in recipes, drinks, and as a garnish
  • Tahini- Homemade hummus. Need I say more?
  • Peanut Butter
  • Favorite Condiments- like mustards, ketchup, vinaigrettes, etc. As for creamy dressings like ranch and Caesar, there are vegan options out there but I've had some pretty good luck making my own.
Obviously there are TONS of other things out there that will really fill out your vegan kitch. The above are just some of the most important, that you can easily use to whip something up whenever you need to. Definitely try to go out and find new things to experiment with.

Oh, and if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise, you should start reading the ingredients on the stuff you buy. I try to follow the "if you can't pronounce it (or know what it is), don't eat it" rule. Sure it's tough sometimes, but I feel a whole lot better if I know I'm not eating a bunch of strange chemicals. Also, animal products sneak in in weird places- casein and whey are still found in some soy cheeses, "natural flavorings" often means "came from meat", and gelatin is made from boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones from cows and pigs with water. Ew. Read the ingredients. For more information on why a vegan lifestyle is seriously kick-ass, more weird animal derived ingredients, or just more ideas about living and eating healthfully, you should check out the book Skinny Bitch. It changed my life.

Well, that's all for now- hope it's helpful. I'm going to go wish I actually had a kitchen to stock, and money with which to do it :) Someday, right?

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