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5 Must-Have Ingredients for Vegan Recipes

A plant-based diet is centered around, well, plants, but having these ingredients on hand in your pantry will make vegan cooking easier and tastier.

Although our approach to a plant-based diet is centered around, well, plants, a supplemental pantry makes cooking vegan recipes easier and more varied. Omitting meat, fish, and eggs can lead to concerns about adequate protein in your diet, so keeping a stock of protein-rich items like tofu, nuts, and beans is essential. Whole grains and starches pair very well with fresh produce, will never leave you hungry, and are both economical and easy to prepare. Non-dairy milk, either store-bought or homemade, is also a must for vegan cooks in baked goods, savory dishes, and, of course, coffee and tea. Here, the 5 staples you need for your vegan pantry.



1. Tofu

This protein-packed ingredient has been used in Asian cooking for centuries and can be found in most grocery stores. Made from curdled soy milk formed into blocks, tofu comes in two varieties: silken, which is very soft and dairy-like, and regular, which is more solid, and is sold in soft, firm, or extra-firm classifications. Treat regular tofu as you would meat -- marinate itgrill it, or slice it into a salad. Use silken tofu as a dairy or liquid-replacement, whip it into  smoothies and dressings or mix it into a base for dishes such as vegan French toast. Keep at least one type of tofu on hand, it's a vegan staple.


Use Silken Tofu in Vegan Banana French Toast

2. Beans and Lentils

Not only are beans and lentils inexpensive, simple to prepare, and widely available, they're also low in fat, high in protein, and a rich source of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Dried beans requiresoaking but they're otherwise easy to prepare. Canned or dried, beans add heft and texture to warming soupsatisfying dips, and homemade veggie burgers. Lentils do not need soaking before cooking and they star in soup, curry, and salad recipes. For ready pre-cooked lentils we prefer vacuum-packed lentils over canned lentils, try them in this fast, healthy bowl recipe.


Make our Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew Recipe

3. Whole Grains and Starches

Filling and generally inexpensive, starches like  farrobarleypasta and rice are an indispensable part of the vegan pantry. Whole grains provide nutrients and act as a satisfying energy-booster, while rice, and pasta keep you full and mix well with a bevy of ingredients. Whether you're experimenting with a wild rice salad, or exploring the ancient South American seed quinoa (do try this hearty bowl recipe), these whole grains and starches are versatile and delicious -- and keep very well so you can enjoy them at lunch the next day.

Try these Grain Salad Recipes



Learn More About Different Grains With our Glossary.
Photography by: Jonathan Lovekin

4. Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters

When cooking vegan, nuts and seeds provide an essential hit of protein and healthy fats. Nuts and nut butters, made from varieties like cashewsalmonds, and of course peanuts, add flavor, texture, and substance to vegan recipes both savory and sweet, and make a great (and portable) snackSeeds of all kinds, including sesame, pumpkin, and poppy, are a simple, fiber-filled food enhancer that find their way into so many dishes, including saladsroasted veggies, and smoothies.


Try our Homemade Nut Butter

5. Non-Dairy Milk

While replacing milk may have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, the rise in lactose intolerance diagnoses and alternative diets has pushed non-dairy milk to the forefront in many kitchens, grocery stores and, of course, coffee shops. Made from soy, rice, seeds, or nuts, non-dairy milk is found in shelf-stable containers or, less commonly, in dry powder form. Nut milks like almond milk can also be made quite simply at home, and used in everything from dairy-free hot chocolate to vegan cupcakes and quinoa pudding.


Get the DIY Nut Milk Recipe