Robin Enotera Gives Us the Lowdown on Vegan Staples
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Written by Robin Enotera
You can find many of the same staple items in the pantry of anyone who enjoys a plant based diet. If you are new to plant based, have just begun to make the switch, or are interested in reducing the consumption of animals in your diet, you will want to know what you should have in your pantry. This list is just a basic idea of what you should pick up at the grocery store, to keep on hand, so that the next time you open your iPad or laptop and search, “plant based recipes”, you will have familiarity with some of the ingredients that aren’t always so typical in a carnivore / omnivores diet. Keep in mind, this list will be ever growing, my pantry looks like I could feed an army for the next 5 years. 1. BEANS AND LENTILS ALWAYS, always have beans and lentils on hand. Tinned beans of various varieties as well as chickpeas, are useful and great plant protein sources in a vegan / plant based diet. Dried beans are likely the healthiest choice but for convenience tinned is the way to go. I always have dry red and green lentils in my pantry too. Lentils cook quickly from their dry form, compared to beans and peas. To add plant protein to my meals, I always throw in at least a handful, of red lentils to everything I can, when cooking. Nearly every soup I make has some red lentils in it. They seem to melt. You don’t really even notice that they are there, but they give body to the soup. 2. RICE Always have rice on hand. It seems to me, that no matter the culture, there is always a traditional recipe of rice and beans. Rice and beans both contain plant protein but what’s better is that together they are complimentary. Together, rice and beans contain all essential amino acids.
There are so many types of rice. Try to have a coupe different types on hand, brown Basmati and maybe a wild rice combination at least. I, of course, have to have an Arborio in the pantry too. 3. NUTS AND SEEDS Keep a variety of nuts and seeds in your plant based pantry. Research the best way of storing them to prevent them from going off. They don’t generally last long in our kitchen, but some are stored in airtight jars, and some in the freezer. We add seeds and nuts to our salad most nights. We keep some toasted in a jar on the counter to add to cereals, snacks and salads. We always have RAW cashews to make our own homemade nut cheese, cashew creme or vegan Alfredo sauce. A handful of nuts are a great grab and go snack. 4. TVP -TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN TVP is such a useful ingredient in bulking up recipes with plant protein. It contains nearly 53g of protein per 100g. It can be substituted in any recipe that calls for ground meat. It is very quick cooking. You can purchase it dried, as I do, and reconstitute it in water, vegetable broth, tomato sauce etc. It has very little taste and requires seasoning. It is very inexpensive and keeps well in a sealed mason jar inside the pantry. Locally, the best place to buy it is at Bulk Barn. Take in a clean lidded container (or use one of their single use bags) and buy as much or a little as you like.
5. TOFU Although I think that most of us have heard of tofu, many people don’t know what it is made of. It is often referred to as bean curd. It is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness; it can be silken, soft, firm, or extra firm. It is essentially taste free or to some people it has a very mild taste. It takes on and absorbs flavors very well. It can be used in sweet or savory cooking. It is an excellent source of plant based protein. Many people will only consume non GMO tofu. All types are readily available in just about every grocery store, including smoked tofu that makes a delicious breakfast scramble. 6. MISO Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. Sometimes it is prepared with seaweed, salt, rice, barley and other seasonings. I always keep the light Miso on hand in the refrigerator (just personal taste), to use in my homemade cashew “cheese” or as a healthy base for soups. It can be found refrigerated in most grocery stores. It gives food the umami flavor that the palate typically recognizes in the taste of meat. 7. QUINOA Quinoa is a whole grain that contains almost 15g of protein per 100g. It cooks quickly, like rice. It can be used in salads or as a stuffing for vegetables. It can be used as a porridge, and added bowls or as part of a base for veggie burgers. You can buy it packaged or in bulk and it’s popular enough to find it in most stores. 8. VEGETABLE/ MUSHROOM BULLION CUBES Keep a package or 2 in the cabinet or pantry to make quick soups and gravy’s. Try to go for the low sodium if you can. 9. EGG REPLACER There are a few egg replacers on the market, the most common brand that I have found is called PANE RISO. You can find it in the natural foods aisle of your grocery store and I have found it to be readily available. I use this as a reliable egg replacer in baked goods. (It also happens to be gluten free).
It contains the following ingredients: Cornstarch, potato starch, baking powder, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and Guar Gum (extracted from guar beans that has thickening and stabilizing properties). You can also make your own. Search the web, and make your list of ingredients for your next trip to the store. 10. NON DAIRY BUTTER For a long time I have been buying Becel Vegan Margarine. It has a good taste and works really well in my baking. However, I recently learned that it contains Palm products. When we contacted the manufacturer they said that it is sustainably sourced Palm, but the package makes no mention of this. According to WWF “The biggest impact of unsustainable palm oil production is the large-scale devastation of tropical forests. As well as widespread habitat loss for endangered species like Asian rhinos, elephants, tigers and orangutans, this can lead to significant soil erosion.” So I would advise to stay away from this product. There are however other choices available to us.
There is a product called MELT Organic Buttery Sticks. I have found this at Superstore, Sobys, Nature’s Emporium and a few others. It has a good taste and works well for baking, however it does have a slight sunflower taste to it. It’s ingredients are as follows; Water, organic coconut oil, *organic palm fruit oil (Rainforest Alliance certified ingredient), organic sunflower oil, sea salt, sunflower lecithin , natural flavor, Tocopherols (Vitamin E, extracts of plant oils), organic Annatto extract (red/ orange food coloring derived from the seed of Achiote tree).
A new non Dairy Butter is called MIYOKO’S Cultured Vegan Butter. I have only used this a short while but have been happy with the taste and the results in my cooking. It’s Gluten & Soy free and notes on the package that it, “contains no palm as a source of oils”. It’s the most expensive of the brands I have tried (around $7.50 for 227g), but saving the planet comes at a cost. I bought it at Superstore in the natural/ health foods refrigerated section. It contains the following ingredients: Coconut oil, water, sunflower oil, cashews, sunflower lecithin (a derivative of sunflower oil), sea salt.
11. NON DAIRY “MILK” There are so many varieties and variations of non dairy beverages. Soy, Almond, Cashew, Rice, Coconut, Oat, Hemp, and other nut milks. I have tried them all. I tend to stick with soy for my cup of tea, but a glass of Almond or Oat milk can be very satisfying. Soy milk is very high in plant protein. I tend to go with Silk Soy Unsweetened as my regular go-to. 1 cup contains 8g of protein. It’s ingredients are :Organic soybeans, filtered water, Gellan gum (a viscous soluble fiber, plant made from corn starch), sea salt, natural flavoring and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Cashew milk is very thick but has a tendency to curdle in a hot beverage. Rice is naturally sweeter than the others I’ve tried, but is very thin and watery. I didn’t enjoy the hemp milk at all, to me it had a very unnatural taste. Some types of non dairy milk may be additionally sweetened or flavored with vanilla or chocolate. I would like to offer you all of the information that I have accumulated on non dairy milk. It is suggested that Almond milk is not vegan because almond trees rely on honeybees to pollinate. The plight of the worlds Bee population is quite a difficult subject. They are suffering dwindling numbers due to wide use of neo-nicotinoides and other pesticide use along with many other stressors and diseases. I leave it up to you to decide if this makes Almond milk an ethical choice or not, a vegan /plant based choice or not, as a non dairy alternative.
12. NON DAIRY “CHEESE” So for me the most difficult food to give up when I switched to a plant based diet was cheese. So many other people that I have spoken with relate to this and report the very same. Most of the non dairy cheese / cheese substitutes that I have tried are pretty good. Good enough to be satisfying in small quantities.
There are however a few that stand out above them all:
Earth Island Parmesan Style grated cheese substitute. So with an Italian background, this is something that has to be taken very seriously ;-). I mean, a plate of pasta without a generous sprinkle of parm on top? All kidding aside, this is a fantastic product, in fact I have to say that I have been very impressed with all of Earth Island (called Follow Your Heart in the U.S.A.) items, from their grated or shredded “cheese”, “cheese” slices and sour “cream”, right on through to their Vegenaise and salad dressings. I can’t say enough good about this company. Their products are non GMO, organic as much as possible, zero waste (Platinum Certified Zero Waste) certified and their manufacturing and packaging facilities are solar powered (2000 panels, generating over 300,000 kWh of green energy per year). Now this is the kind of plant based processed food to get behind. This is what their Parmesan contains: Modified potato starch, organic palm fruit oil (rainforest alliance certified), water, canola oil, cellulose (plant fiber), maltodextrin (vegetable starch, often used to thicken, flavor or prolong shelf life), plant source natural flavor, organic vegetable glycerin (sweet syrup made from vegetables), sea salt, citric acid (natural occurring acid in citrus fruit), nutritional yeast, calcium phosphate (vegan sourced mineral calcium), bamboo fiber, sodium phosphate (salt & phosphate used to thicken, emulsify and cure foods), carrageenan (a natural ingredient from red seaweed, used to thicken and emulsify and preserve food), organic chickpea miso, sunflower lecithin ( a derivative of sunflower oil), annatto (rainforest alliance certified, food coloring from the seed of the achiote tree). Earth Island products are becoming readily available in many grocery stores now. Another brand that I really like is Nuts For Cheese. It’s a semi firm, spreadable cultured and fermented nut cheese that comes in a variety of flavors. The most basic flavor is Un-Brie-Liveable. It is made from the following ingredients: Cashews, Coconut oil, Coconut milk, Quinoa rejuvelac (grain water), Sea salt, Nutritional Yeast, Chickpea miso, Oregano Extract. Lastly, there is a Feta style non dairy cheese that I have come to like, called Sheese. It’s completely vegan, sliceable, crumble-able and meltable. It’s such a delicious addition, crumbled into to a big salad. It’s ingredients are as follows: Water, Coconut oil, Modified potato starch, Cornstarch, Salt, Flavor, Oat fiber, Cargeenan (a natural ingredient from red seaweed, used to thicken and emulsify and preserve food), Guar gum (extracted from guar beans that has thickening and stabilizing properties), Lactic acid, Sodium lactate (salt of Lactic Acid, derived from plant) and Carotene (red, yellow and orange plant pigment).
I just wanted to mention one more thing, AQUAFABA. What? When I first started looking at vegan recipes I would see this ingredient AQUAFABA, all too often. I had no idea what it was, but I do now and so will you. It is the liquid reserved from a cooking dried chickpeas or from a tin of chickpeas. And you want me to make a dessert from this? Yup!It works. I couldn’t believe it myself, but I’ve used it many times to make vegan meringue. Try it. If you have a stand mixer all the better, but a hand held electric mixer will do the job, a hand whisk will not.
14. BEYOND MEAT
I’ve come up against some resistance to recommending this product because it is highly processed. I agree that it is. When you bite into one of those Beyond Burgers, you may actually think that you are eating beef. So, how did they make plants taste like this? Couldn’t tell you. I think that it is worth mentioning though, because it’s very satisfying, and becoming very readily available at the grocery store. If you are out looking to grab a quick bite at a fast food place this is a convenient and tasty option. I wouldn’t suggest eating it daily, but once in a while it’s a much better choice than a meat burger. They claim that their products offer equal or higher amounts of protein than the animal counterpart, with less saturated fat and no hormones and antibiotics. And it’s cruelty free.
This gives you a pretty good list to start out with. Certainly, I realize that I’ve made no mention of fruit and vegetables. I don’t think that anyone wanting to begin adding plant based meals to their culinary repertoire would for a moment, not know that they have to fill the cart with all those delicious veggies and fruit. I also didn’t list items that you would likely already have in the cart or cupboard, pasta, flour, oils, tinned full fat coconut milk, frozen vegetables, vinegar etc etc... Enjoy your next trip to the supermarket or green grocer and remember to pick up what you can from this list, then hit the internet for a new recipe or two to try. We are also starting to post recipes on our website. You'll find some of my favourites there. Check them out.