As a professional chef with an interest in fitness, experimenting with healthy vegan dishes has become a bit of an obsession of mine. And if you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you’ll know that there are certain items that are critical to always have stocked in order to run an effective kitchen. Well, that same concept applies to your home pantry, especially if you cook many of your own meals, which a lot of us tend to do on our fitness journey.
Whether you have been a vegan for years, or are simply transitioning to eating less meat, there are a few staples that every vegetarian or vegan should have on hand in their pantry. Aside from a well-stocked pantry being just plain old convenient, everything on this list is ideal for adding extra protein, flavor, texture and most importantly vital nutrition to whatever dishes you might be cooking. Just like have the right cookware for the job is critical, having just a few essentials can really open up your cooking to new levels of flavor.
Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with different varieties of both dried and canned beans in my cooking as nowadays it’s super easy to find high quality, organic canned beans at the supermarket. But, there are two types I always make sure to have on hand no matter what: chickpeas and lentils. I love lentils because unlike other varieties, they cook up super fast and are an awesome addition to soups and salads. They are also an excellent source of protein, fiber, calcium, folate, iron, zinc and potassium.
I usually also buy my chickpeas canned and toss them into stews, pasta dishes and soups for added flavor, calories and nutrition. In addition to being having a good amount of protein, chickpeas are rich in molybdenum and manganese.
Ground Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are incredibly nutritious and are also packed with fiber and awesome Omege-3 fatty acids. These seeds are so versatile and come with a perfectly mild, earthy flavor. I always add them to my oatmeal in the morning and have been known to mix them into smoothies and baked muffins and breads. I also recently learned that when you combine ground flax with a bit of water, it makes an excellent egg substitute.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know where to start when buying and using grains. Using a variety of grains in your cooking will lend not only nutrition to your dishes, but also texture, flavor and an overall more interesting end result. My pantry always has plenty of brown and white rice, millet, bulgur, quinoa, spelt and faro. All grains are an important source of dietary fiber, several B vitamins like thiamin and niacin, and well as minerals such as iron and magnesium.
This one is a bit newer to me personally, but I am coming to really love it. Lately, I have been experimenting with adding it into sauces, but a light dusting can be also used to quickly spice up tofu, nuts, potatoes and popcorn. Best of all, nutritional yeast is a source of complete protein and vitamins, in particular B-complex.
At first I was a little skeptical of tempeh, but like many sources of vegan protein, once you know how to prepare it, it quickly becomes one of your staple sources. With tempeh, I usually buy more than I need at once as it freezes well and can be used months later. Tempeh is a potent source of manganese, copper, fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B2 and magnesium.
I tend to keep both a light and dark miso paste on hand in my fridge depending on what level of savoriness I am going for, but if you were to choose just once, I would go for the light yellow variety as it’s the most mellow and has the most versatility. Not only is it great for making tasty miso soup, but it’s also perfect for making your own dressings that can be added to salads, tofu and any vegetable you might be cooking. Miso is a nice source of protein, manganese, copper, zinc and phosphorus.
Dried Sea Vegetables
Everyone knows about nori which is used to wrap rice up for sushi, but lesser know seaweeds like kobmu which can add great flavor to any broth or hijiki which can be used in salads and veggie dishes have stolen the show in my kitchen. Seaweed is about as nutrient dense as it gets, and has plenty of iodine, calcium, B-12, A vitamins and fiber.
Like the tempeh listed earlier, tofu isn’t really something you’d store in your pantry per se, but is an essential for vegans nonetheless. I keep a block of firm tofu handy for frying and baking, and also use dried tofu for my soups and stir-fry dishes. Tofu is very well known for its nutrient profile and for good reason. It’s loaded with calcium, manganese, copper, selenium, protein and phosphorus, Omega-3s, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1.
Nuts are an excellent addition to many recipes but also as a stand-alone snack. I always have a bag of cashews and almonds around the house, as well as pistachios and more often than not pine nuts. Chopped up nuts are wonderful in salads and grain recipes, and ground nuts help add body and flavor to paste dishes like lasagna. You can crush them by hand, or use a good blender to create and nice even grind. Depending on the nut, they offer a wide range of essential nutrients, including many B-group vitamins, vitamin E, and a host of other minerals.
Remy Bernard – Owner and Editor at Miss Mamie’s Cupcakes. A baker, chef and writer, Remy started Miss Mamie’s Cupcakes as a way to deepen and spread her passion for making delicious food. Since starting the blog, her focus has shifted more and more to vegan/vegetarian focus.