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

By Leah Bhabha
January 27, 2020

Although our approach to a plant-based diet is centered around fresh produce, having a supplemental pantry makes cooking vegan recipes easier and more varied. Omitting meat, fish, and eggs can lead to concerns about adequate protein, 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. Alt 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 five staples you need for your vegan pantry.

Related: Get to Know Coconut Oil, Milk, and all the Other Coconut Food Products

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 require soaking 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 soupcurry, and salad recipes. For ready pre-cooked lentils we prefer vacuum-packed lentils over canned lentils, try them in this fast, healthy bowl recipe.

Tofu

Keep at least one type of tofu on hand. It's a protein-packed vegan staple that 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 Banana French Toast.

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 peanuts, and they're an easy way to add flavor, texture, and substance to vegan recipes both savory and sweet. Plus, they also make great (and portable) snacks. Seeds 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 vegetables, and smoothies.

Whole Grains and Starches

Filling and generally inexpensive, starches like farro, barley,  pasta, 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 cook a big batch on the weekend to ease weeknight dinner prep.

Alt Milk

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

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