A Cheap And Basic Plant-Based Pantry
Ah yes, another post where I talk about eating less meat and dairy! But man, do I recommend it! It makes you feel good and is good for the planet, which I assume you also want to take care of. Awesome. I’m so glad we’re on the same page as Leo and Al Gore. If you’re not down to cut out meat and dairy entirely, I’m not asking you to. What I am asking you to do is to consider having one vegetarian or vegan meal a day. Or a week. Or as often as you can! And if you like to cook like me, guess what? This makes cooking more fun, because you can lick your hands 100% of the time and not have to worry about contamination. That is amazing. You can even lick your counters!
And if you’re going, “uh, cutting down on meat and dairy sounds expensive,” you’re kind of right! It’s a lot easier to grab a 5.00 meal from a halal cart on the way home from work then get some fancy ass meal at Whole Foods. And that’s a huge damn problem that keeps a lot of us unable to eat the way we want to eat. It’s complete nonsense. But to help with that, I’ve created a list of relatively inexpensive plant-based ingredients that can help you cook these meals at home. You won't find any meat substitutes and vegan cheeses. I love them, but I don't eat them that often, and they're not that great for you. Plus, a package of "chickn" nuggets is usually 6 bucks and lasts for 2 meals at most. And vegan cheeses are rarely under 7 or 8 dollars. I prefer to try to be creative and cook with the non-processed, whole foods that are available everywhere (and typically cheaper). It’s a good head start. And if you have them on hand, you might be more inspired to grab a couple of fresh vegetables at the corner store for around 5.00 and make yourself something good at home. Here they are:
Apple Cider Vinegar: Unless if I’m specifically making something Italian, I prefer the flavor of ACV over Balsamic (although feel free to have small bottles of both on hand). I use a splash of it pretty much every time I’m braising kale or heavier greens, I use it as a base for salad dressings or slaw dressings, and, of course, I drink it with some water because I’m a lunatic who does things because they sound like they might kill a mild head cold. It’s also great for quick pickling scallions (just add ¼ cup of it in with some water to cover and about a teaspoon of sugar, then leave it in the fridge for an hour), which is great for topping any Asian dish you make.
Bouillon or Vegetable Base: I hate opening a box of vegetable broth, just to have it go bad. Actually, I hate carrying boxes of broth home from the grocery store. And yes, I realize you can save the scraps of your vegetables, freeze them, and then make your own vegetable broth. But this is easier---I get a little glass jar of vegetable base at the store and it lasts for months and months. To me, you need ½ a teaspoon for a quart of water (it can have a lot of sodium, so I don’t even add additional salt to the meal) and bam! You boil it, add some canned beans, a little pasta, and some fresh stock vegetables and you’ve got a soup, baby! It will take you 20 minutes and very little work. Having this around is also good for cooking down a lot of vegetables, or making a pan sauce.
Canned Beans: Dried beans take a long time to boil and prepare, so yes, I buy low-sodium Goya beans at the store. And then? Black beans sautéed with garlic and onions over rice. Black beans and zuchinni tacos. Veggie Chili. Black Bean soup. Hummus. Roasted chickpeas instead of croutons or just as a snack. If you have some on hand, you will find something to do with them.
Canned Tomatoes: I have a can of San Marzano tomatoes somewhere waiting patiently for me to turn them into marinara sauce. I have fired-roasted and diced tomatoes waiting to be turned into salsa. And I have a can of tomato sauce on hand to add to vegetable broth and make a thicker, tomato-based soup broth. Or a can of sauce added to diced sweet potatoes and make some tacos out of. Tomatoes are sentient beings, but they want to be made into food.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo: I add them to chili, I add them to any Spanish or Mexican dish I’m making, they’re GREAT in mashed sweet potatoes, I use them to make enchilada sauce, and I use them pretty much any time I want to add a smoky kick to a dish. I get a can for a dollar and freeze the rest.
Coconut Milk: Get some spinach. Add it into a pan with some canned chickpeas, some onion, garlic, ginger, and spices. Finish with the coconut milk and you’ve got a delicious and inauthentic chana saag that is half the price of takeout. Serve over brown rice. Add a can of coconut milk to any red or green curry paste. Add it to a soup base with some ramen noodles and bok choy. It adds creaminess with no dairy. It’s great. But don't let it get over a low boil or it'll separate and be nonsense.
Dijon Mustard: A spoonful of this into some cashew cream with some lemon juice and garlic and you’ve got a Caesar dressing. Use it on sandwiches in place of mayo. Whisk it into olive oil and some vinegar for a dressing. Add it to a cheese-based pasta (or vegan CHEEZ). Shove it down your throat. Shove it down your enemies throat.
Dried Lentils: Dried lentils are cheap and they are much easier to cook from dry, so it’s nice to have some around for a lentil soup or something like this!
Frozen Cauliflower: Steamed frozen cauliflower is the perfect start for my cauliflower alfredo! Or buy it frozen and riced and do the whole cauliflower rice thing with it, which I'm meh on unless you're also adding some real rice to it.
Frozen Fruit: Fresh spinach, frozen fruit, and some cayenne and lemon juice is the easiest smoothie to put together in the world. Eat real food with it though. Or have it a a snack.
Frozen Herbs: Herbs are kind of expensive and also come in giant portions when you buy them at the store. Freezing them has made my life cheaper and more flavorful. I just pull a stalk out and add what I need to whatever I’m making. And damn, fresher herbs really make a difference in home cooking.
Ginger Paste: If you’re not about waste, then get some ginger paste (POEM I AM A POET) and add it to dressings, a stir fry, smoothies, or whatever you desire without worrying you won’t use the whole ginger bulb and eventually throw it out.
Ground Flax Seed: Chia seeds are expensive and I don’t use them all that often. Ground flax seeds are also good for you and you can sneak them into pretty much anything you make and eat for a health boost so you don’t have to listen to people who tell you meat and dairy are the only source of nutrients on the planet and without eating them every second you will waste and die! Added bonus! One tablespoon of ground flax seed to 3 tablespoons of water, put in the fridge for 15 minutes, is a substitute to you’re your baking (or any food you want to make) egg-free, if you so choose to do that. Here’s an article on ground flax seed benefits (and I find they come cheaper than chia seeds).
Non-Dairy Milk and Butter: They work exactly like regular milk and butter in cooking. They taste delicious. They last longer in your fridge. You should really get on this if you haven’t already.
Neutral Oil: Something like Canola or Vegetable. I love olive oil and literally stop talking to me about coconut oil because I KNOW, but it's good to have something that has a high-smoke point and won't add flavor to your food if you are frying or don't want the food to taste like coconut.
Nutritional Yeast: It adds flavor. It doesn’t add “cheesiness,” I’m telling you that right now. But it’s adds a similar funky depth to any sauces that I make, and I also top popcorn and pasta with it. I like having it around.
Raw, Unsalted Nuts: I talk about this literally all the time, but blending a ½ cup of raw cashews you’ve soaked overnight with some olive oil and lemon juice and some water creates a creamy base you can use for so many recipes. I love it. But it’s also nice to have raw, unsalted nuts to snack on. And you can ground raw almonds into flour, which is also helpful. If you are SUPER FANCY, you can even make nut milks in a high-speed blender. But I ain’t fancy.
Rice and Pasta: HELLOOOOOO! Get these in bulk and keep them around. A lazy, easy way to cook for yourself, you animal.
Tahini: Drizzle it on top of roasted eggplant or sweet potatoes with some pomegranate seeds to top and some parsley. Make hummus with it. Add a little bit to a dressing. Or make THIS.
Tofu: If you don't want to do the fancy meat substitutes all the time, and you can handle soy, nothing better than some tofu dusted in cornstarch and spices and pan fried. Or marinated in sriracha and olive oil and baked in an oven for 45 minutes at 425 degrees. You can marinate it overnight and pop it in the oven right before dinner.
Turmeric: We all know dried spices are the key to cooking. Just add a variety of that shit to anything. But keep turmeric on hand. It adds a pleasant yellow tinge to dishes if you’re trying to imitate cheese via vegan mac or vegan chicken soup or something. Sauteé onions and some turmeric, then add some brown rice and toast it before you add the water. This makes delicious rice. It’s a good spice that is good for you (and possibly helps with cramps) and once you start using it, you’ll start adding it to everything.
Okay! Let me know if you have any staples for your plant-based cooking. I'm very much still learning!