Stocking a Healthful Vegan Kitchen
Today being your first day, no doubt you will want to know what to eat! Before I send you to the grocery store, I encourage you to take a look in your cupboards, refrigerator, or freezer and note what you already have that is vegan. You will most likely find pasta, marinara sauce, peanut butter, jelly, rice, canned beans, and frozen and fresh vegetables and fruits. You’re certainly welcome to grab a few staples from the store based on the lists below (such as nondairy milk for your cereal or coffee), but my hope is that you will see that you already have some vegan food in your house.
At the same time, just as when you wrote your 3-Day Food Diary you noticed how many animal-based foods you may have been eating prior to starting the Challenge, so too may you notice all the non-vegan food in your kitchen, whether they are such obvious things as the meat in your freezer; animal-based milk, dairy-based cheeses, and eggs in the fridge; or the processed and packaged foods with animal-derived ingredients in your cabinets, such as macaroni and cheese and Jell-O.
Having familiar animal products in the kitchen makes it too convenient to reach for them when you’re ravenous or in a rush. Best to make a clean break. Some people will discard all the animal products immediately, some will decide to eat them up, and still others may decide to donate them to a local animal shelter/wildlife center or feed it to their cats or dogs.
However, one mistake people make when getting rid of what is undesirable and unhealthful is not replacing them with healthful versions. Having a variety of nutritious ingredients on hand—particularly fresh fruits and veggies—is key to ensuring that you can whip up delicious, compassionate meals anytime. Though a lot of junk food is technically vegan (Cocoa Puffs, Oreo cookies, and Skittles, for example), my intention is to guide you toward healthful plant-based foods, and I’m always walking the line of making suggestions that allow for fast, easy cooking, while recommending foods that are as unprocessed as possible.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
One mistake people make when getting rid of what is undesirable and unhealthful is not replacing them with healthful versions.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR:
Stock your kitchen with a variety of nutritious ingredients in order to whip up delicious, compassionate meals anytime!
• CANNED BEANS: Some people mistakenly believe that canned beans are lower in nutrition, but that’s not true; in fact, many people digest canned beans much better than they do beans made from scratch because canned beans have been extensively soaked and cooked, which removes the sugars that people have a hard time digesting. The only thing you sacrifice with canned beans is money, because you pay extra for convenience. You can decide which means more to you.
Varieties to stock: Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney, black, cannellini, navy, great northern, black-eyed peas, pinto, soybeans, vegetarian refried.
Favorite brands: Eden Foods, Whole Foods 365, Westbrae, Trader Joe’s.
Tip: Always rinse and drain canned beans to get rid of the liquid they’ve been sitting in. This also rinses away some excess sodium.
• CANNED TOMATOES: When fresh tomatoes are out of season, canned tomatoes save the day.
Varieties to stock: In order to always have a variety for different dishes, buy cans of diced tomatoes, whole peeled, stewed, crushed, and fire-roasted tomatoes. Also stock up on tomato paste, since it adds so much depth of flavor to sauces, stews, stir-fries, pasta, and chili.
Favorite brands: Muir Glen, Whole Foods 365, Trader Joe’s.
Tip: As you look over these categories, you may want to begin writing out your shopping list in preparation for going to the grocery store.
• CANNED SOUPS: Though it’s infinitely less expensive (and yummier) to make your own soups from scratch, canned soups are great when you’re in a pinch.
Varieties to stock: Split pea, lentil, minestrone, carrot, tomato, bean, and chili are typical choices across all brands, though the more natural brands tend to be made from vegetable stock rather than animal-based stock.
Vegan-friendly brands: Amy’s, Health Valley Foods, Muir Glen, Simply Organic, Trader Joe’s, Walnut Acres, Whole Foods 365, Westbrae. Instant soups, such as Dr. McDougall’s, are also available. Some brands of soup, such as Imagine Foods and Pacific Foods of Oregon, are packaged in aseptic (cardboard) boxes that don’t need to be refrigerated until opened.
Tip: Many brands carry fat-free, low-fat, and low-sodium versions of their soups, and many are also organic.
SAUCES AND DRESSINGS
• PASTA, MARINARA, AND PIZZA SAUCES: Some brands add cheese or chicken broth, so just check the label. Choose sauces that have the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. (Sometimes sugar is added—even in homemade sauces—though better brands will use sugar and not corn syrup.)
Vegan-friendly brands: Muir Glen, Whole Foods 365, Trader Joe’s, Newman’s Own.
• SALAD DRESSINGS: Some commercial dressings are made with eggs, honey, cow’s milk, or cow’s milk derivatives; just check the labels and look for more healthful brands, which also tend to be free of corn syrup or hydrogenated oil.
Vegan-friendly brands: Annie’s Naturals, Whole Foods 365, Spectrum Organics, Newman’s Own, Organicville, Trader Joe’s.
• CURRY PASTES: Having curry pastes on hand allows you to whip up fast, flavorful meals simply by combining them with coconut milk and adding to sautéed vegetables. The best stuff can be found in Asian markets or large natural food stores, but wherever you’re shopping, look for versions without fish sauce or fish paste. Green, red, yellow, or Massaman, and Panang are common varieties.
• STIR-FRY SAUCES: Although you can always opt for making your own stir-fry sauce, bottled varieties provide convenience. Many are vegan and can be added while vegetables are sautéing for instant flavor.
• SALSA AND HUMMUS: Kept in the fridge, these are two essential foods that add instant flavor and nutrients to many dishes. Choose fresh salsa in the refrigerated section over salsa in jars.
If you take a closer look at all of your condiments, you’ll realize that most of them are naturally vegan. In fact, most of the things we flavor meat with are plant-based, as illustrated by all the condiments listed below and by the ones you most likely have in your pantry already, such as ketchup, mustard, relish, and chili sauce.
• TAMARI SOY SAUCE: Brewed longer than Chinese soy sauce, Japanese tamari is much fuller-bodied and just tastes better. Try Shoyu or Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids for a similar flavor. Most tamari brands are also wheat-free.
• TAHINI: Essentially sesame paste (like peanut butter, only using ground sesame seeds instead of peanuts), tahini is used to make hummus, salad dressings, and sauces.
• EGGLESS MAYONNAISE: You’ll soon be enjoying Better-Than-Chicken, Better-Than-Tuna, and Better-Than-Egg Salads, for which you’ll need this essential ingredient. Use in all the same ways you’d think to use egg-based mayonnaise; vegan mayo just relies on the fat from plant oils rather than fat from eggs. The best vegan brands are Vegenaise (by Follow Your Heart), Nayonaise, and Wildwood’s Garlic Aioli, although Spectrum Organics and Trader Joe’s have eggless versions, too.
• BARBECUE SAUCE: Many people have half-consumed bottles of BBQ sauce in their fridge. Now’s the time to start fresh! Look for flavors and brands without honey.
• WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE: Considered essential for Bloody Mary cocktails, or even added to Caesar salad (feel free to add it to the recipe), vegan Worcestershire sauce contains no anchovies. Look for such brands as Annie’s Naturals, Edward & Sons, and The Wizard’s.
SPREADS AND SYRUPS
Most jams, jellies, relishes, nut butters, and syrups are naturally vegan, but while you’re in cleanout mode, take a look at the labels and get rid of those spreads and syrups that contain unhealthful corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.
• LIQUID SWEETENERS: Agave nectar, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup can generally be used interchangeably.
• JAMS, JELLIES, PRESERVES: Look for those sweetened with fruit concentrate.
• NUT AND SEED BUTTERS: Almond, peanut, cashew, macadamia, sunflower seed, and hemp seed butters are all fabulous. Look for those without added oil and sugar.
I have an entire cupboard shelf dedicated to vinegars, since they lend so much flavor and depth to a variety of dishes and dressings. Now is the opportunity to experiment with new tastes and infusions.
• SEASONED RICE: “Seasoned” means a little sugar is added, taking the edge off the vinegar and making it a little sweeter. If you can’t find seasoned, just buy plain rice vinegar and add a little of your own sugar.
• BALSAMIC: Use the cheap stuff for cooking and the good stuff for dressings. (Hint: if the label says “Modena,” it’s cheap.) Try different varieties, such as balsamic cherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar. Each is as special as the next and makes a great base for salad dressings.
• APPLE CIDER: Good for salad dressings and baked goods.
All cooking oils are vegan, but not all are created equal. Choose olive, sesame, canola, and coconut for cooking (the latter two for baking), and avoid those high in polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable, corn, safflower, and sunflower. Regardless, I recommend that you use oils sparingly just for a little added flavor or to keep food from sticking to pots and pans.
Tip: Buy an oil mister at a kitchen supply store in order to spray pans with oil while still using very little.
HERBS, SPICES, AND VEGETABLE STOCKS
• DRIED HERBS AND SPICES: Because herbs and spices tend to intimidate people, they sit on the spice rack for years until they’re stale and flavorless. Use them!
Tip: If you consider that the shelf life of dried herbs is about six months and that for spices is twelve months, perhaps that will inspire you to take inventory. If yours are past their prime (or if you can’t remember when you bought them), replace them. It’s my hope that over the course of this Challenge, you’ll gain more confidence using herbs and spices in your cooking.
VEGETABLE STOCK: A wonderful ingredient that adds depth to so many dishes, vegetable stock is an easy switcheroo from chicken or beef stock. Prepared broths and stocks (also in low-sodium versions), such as No-Chicken, No-Beef, Vegetable, and Mushroom, are available in aseptic boxes, but I prefer veggie bouillon cubes for their convenience.
Vegan-friendly brands: Prepared—Imagine Foods, Health Valley, Pacific Foods of Oregon. Bouillon cubes/powder—Rapunzel, Edward & Sons, Better Than Bouillon, Herb-Ox.
• NUTRITIONAL YEAST FLAKES: Although it suffers from what I think is a terribly unappetizing name, nutritional yeast is found in the bulk section of natural food stores and adds cheesy flavor to sauces, pasta dishes, and popcorn. (And I know from experience that cats and dogs also love it sprinkled on their food!)
Along with various flours (all-purpose, whole-wheat, pastry, bread), you most likely already keep yeast packets (for making leavened breads), baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, and unsweetened cocoa powder in your pantry. Great. You might want to have muffin, scone, and cake mixes on hand in your kitchen as well. They’re more expensive than when you bake from scratch, but sometimes the convenience is worth the extra expense.
Favorite brands of prepared mixes: Simply Organic, Oetker Organics, Bob’s Red Mill, Arrowhead Mills, Hodgson Mills.
Chocolate is an essential in baking (at least in my house it is). One of the biggest misconceptions about being vegan is that you have to forgo chocolate. Not true. By its very nature, chocolate is vegan; it comes from the cacao tree. Cocoa butter, cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate are all vegan by nature. Only when you add cow’s milk is chocolate not vegan. Some companies (such as Hershey’s and Nestlé) play with definitions by adding cow’s milk to what they call semisweet and dark chocolate bars and chips. Just take a quick peek at the ingredients to make sure there is no added milk fat, milk powder, or casein. See specific brands of vegan chocolate bars.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
By definition, chocolate is vegan. Only when cow’s milk is added is it not vegan anymore.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR:
Look at labels for milk fat, milk powder, whey, and casein as indications of non-vegan ingredients in chocolate bars and chips.
DRIED BEANS AND LENTILS
Cooking beans from scratch is a breeze. Lentils are even easier, since they don’t have to be soaked first. Keep red lentils, brown or green lentils, and yellow or green split peas on hand for quick soups, stews, salads, pâtés, and loaves.
Acting as a base or complement to many of the dishes you’ll be preparing, whole grains are also simply delicious. Stock up on a variety, from amaranth to quinoa, so that you have options aplenty. Most whole grains have cooking instructions on the packaging, but if you’re buying in bulk, see cooking chart.
PASTA AND NOODLES
Most commercial pastas (penne, angel hair, spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine) and noodles (soba, udon, and rice) are vegan, made with flour (semolina, buckwheat, or rice), water, and salt. (Gluten-free pastas are also available.) A few brands may add eggs, so just check the label.
(FROM LEFT TO RIGHT): SHAVED DARK CHOCOLATE, SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS, BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CHUNKS, COCOA POWDER
Nondairy versions of familiar foods abound in the dairy section of the grocery store. No deprivation here.
• YOGURT: Cultured with all the “good bacteria” such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum that people look for in dairy-based yogurts, there are soy-milk-based (Silk, Wildwood, Trader Joe’s, Whole Soy & Co.), coconut-milk-based (Turtle Mountain/So Delicious), rice-milk-based (Ricera), and even almond-milk-based (Amande) yogurts available.
• BUTTER: Earth Balance is my favorite; it’s free of hydrogenated oils and trans fats, it’s made from non-genetically-modified ingredients, and it comes in soy-free, organic, whipped, and stick versions. Use it just the way you would use dairy-based butter. It’s the same measure for measure.
• MILK: Most plant-based milks come in aseptic boxes you can keep in the cupboard until they’re ready to open. (Then they get stored in the fridge.) Soy, rice, oat, almond, hemp, hazelnut, and coconut milks are available in a number of brands and flavors.
• CHEESE: You can find vegan cheeses in all shapes and sizes these days, and more will continue to flood the market. Larger health-oriented grocery stores will have the widest selection, but vegan grocery stores online and off will most definitely carry them.
There are a variety of veggie meats that provide the salt, fat, texture, and familiarity that you crave in your animal-based versions. Though they’re certainly healthier than the animal-based versions, some of these lil’ buggers are definitely processed and should be treated as convenience or transition foods—not daily health food.
• Deli slices: Soy-based Yves and Tofurky brands carry vegetarian turkey, ham, bologna, salami, and pepperoni, and wheat-based (soy-free) Field Roast’s deli slices come in Lentil Sage, Wild Mushroom, and Smoked Tomato flavors.
• Cutlets: Field Roast makes delicious wheat-based (soy-free) nut-breaded cutlets, and Gardein specializes in soy-based versions.
• Meatless meatballs, ground veggie meat, and meat loaf: Nate’s, Trader Joe’s, Match Meat, Gardein, and Yves are all vegan-friendly brands. Field Roast makes a fantastic meat loaf.
• Sausages: My favorite brands are Field Roast (wheat-based and soy-free) and Tofurky (tofu-based) for dinner-type sausages; Lightlife makes a gluten-based version called Gimme Lean that is ideal as a breakfast sausage.
• Veggie dogs: Yves (Tofu Dogs and Veggie Dogs) and Lightlife (Smart Dogs and Tofu Pups) will be in the refrigerated section; Loma Linda’s Little Links are sold in a can.
• Chicken-free nuggets: A great transition food for kids because of their crispy coating. Just pop them in the oven and serve with ketchup or BBQ sauce.
Vegan-friendly brands: Gardein, Health Is Wealth, Lightlife, Boca—found in both the refrigerated and freezer sections.
• Veggie burgers: Whether you’re looking for tofu-based, veggie-based, or wheat-based, meatless burgers abound. Some are more processed than others; some are vegetarian (not vegan) and contain chicken’s eggs, so check the label.
Vegan-friendly brands: Dr. Praeger’s, Amy’s, and Gardenburger are found in the freezer section. Wildwood Foods and Soy Deli brands make tofu burgers found in the refrigerated section.
Tip: Even within the category of vegan meats, there is a spectrum in terms of how processed they are. Those made from tofu or wheat gluten are definitely less processed than those made from soy isolate protein or soy protein concentrate.
Frozen food tends to get a bad rap, but lots of healthful foods are found in the freezer section. Fruits and veggies are flash frozen before being sold and retain all their nutrition.
• Fruit: Keep a combination of frozen fruits on hand for delicious smoothies.
Tip: When bananas are at their ripest, peel them, break the bananas into chunks, place in a freezer bag, and store in the freezer for instant, thick smoothies any time of the day. Check out the recipes for Blueberry, Mango, and Green Smoothies.
• Bread: Some brands of sliced whole-grain sandwich breads contain honey, while others contain cow’s milk derivatives, such as whey or casein. However, pita bread, lavash, sandwich rolls, French baguettes, and nice Italian rolls in the bakery section are more often vegan than the sliced breads meant to have a long shelf life.
Vegan-friendly brands: Sliced bread—Ezekiel (often in the freezer case), Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Arnold’s, Alvarado Street Bakery, Garden of Eatin’ hot dog and hamburger buns—Alvarado Street Bakery, Rudi’s Organic Bakery; English muffins—Rudi’s Organic Bakery.
• FROZEN PIZZA: Varying in the type of crust and nondairy cheese they use, the most popular brands are Tofutti, Amy’s, and Tofurky.
Tip: Prepared pizza crust, cornmeal crust, and phyllo dough found in the freezer are typically vegan.
• Ice cream and sorbet: I grew up with a father who owned ice cream stores, so I’m a tough critic. Once you get dairy out of your palate, though, you stop comparing what you knew with what’s new. There are more options than I name here. Check the freezer section.
Vegan-friendly brands: Turtle Mountain/So Delicious, Whole Soy, Temptation, Soy Dream, Double Rainbow, Trader Joe’s, and Tofutti are popular soy milk ice creams with lots of flavors and frozen treats. Coconut Bliss is a delicious coconut milk ice cream. Rice Dream is made from rice milk, and Almond Dream is made from almond milk.
Tip: Though sherbet and frozen yogurt are dairy-based, sorbet is vegan by definition, and many gelato shops have vegan options, made with fruit or soy milk. Choose brands that use cane sugar as a sweetener, not corn syrup.
That should be enough to get you started. Many more brands and products are mentioned throughout the book in various sections, so feel free to read ahead.