When it comes to figuring out what to eat as a vegan, the best place to start is the kitchen and what you already have. If you already like to cook, a lot of these ingredients may already be apart of your own staples list, while others you’re just not sure what to do with.
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If you don’t already have most of these ingredients or you’re starting from scratch, I would recommend only buying them as and when you need them, as this way it’ll save you money and also keep everything fresher for longer.
You may come across some of the ingredients and think they are a little pricey (this all depends on where you are as well), but I like to keep in mind that a lot of things can be used for multiple meals and they are often no more expensive as meat products if you’re using them as a replacement.
For example, a 500g bag of dried lentils can usually be used for 3-4 large dishes (around 4 portions each dish), which costs around the same price as a 500g pack of ground beef that would only be enough for one large dish.
I’ve created this list of my favourite vegan pantry essentials – of course don’t feel bad if some of the ingredients don’t work out for you or don’t fit into your personal diet, just take what you need from it!
Grains and Pasta
Okay, if you say that you don’t like pasta or it’s not one of your staples, you’re lying. Pasta is the ultimate staple and I genuinely don’t think I could live without it – and before you ask, yes pasta is vegan.
Most dried pasta is just durum wheat so completely vegan, but make sure you check the coloured ones (I’ve seen black pasta that is dyed with squid or cuttlefish ink before). Most fresh pasta contains egg as well, but more vegan fresh pasta like ravioli and tortellini is becoming available in stores too!
Rice is probably one of the ultimate vegan food staples to have, as it can be used in so many different dishes! There are loads of different kinds of rice, such as white, long grain, short grain, basmati, jasmine, wild rice, sushi rice, pudding rice, and arborio rice for risottos!
I mainly use brown rice as it has more fibre in it, and so takes longer to digest and gives you more energy! Of course you can use whatever rice you like, and you can even buy different rices for different dishes if you prefer.
I also love to make rice puddings (especially in the slow cooker too!) as it’s super simple and cheap to make, and you can have it with so many different things. When growing up I used to always have it with jam, but nutella (or the vegan alternative) works great too!
My one true love – I’m not sure what I would do if I didn’t have noodles. I absolutely love to make ramen and stir fry, especially as they’re not only warm and comforting, but quick to make too!
There’s loads of different kinds of noodles available that are vegan, from wholewheat, soba (buckwheat), udon, and rice noodles. I also really love these spinach noodles from Blue Dragon, which are wheat noodles and are a great alternative to egg noodles!
Quinoa and Couscous
Two very similar grains are couscous and quinoa, as these can be used in a lot of similar dishes. Although quinoa is technically a seed and couscous is made of durum wheat semolina (like pasta), they’re both great alternatives to rice and pasta, can be made into salads and even stews and chilis.
Quinoa is also a great protein source, as it usually contains around 14g of protein per 100g serving, as well as containing loads of different vitamins like B1, B2, and B6.
Rolled oats should definitely be a kitchen essential regardless of if you’re vegan or not. They can be used for so many different recipes, including granola, muesli, cookies, smoothies, porridge (oatmeal), and you can also grind them to make flour.
These are a really versatile ingredient as they can make so much different stuff, and are great stretching out dishes too or adding a little extra fibre.
Beans and Legumes
Dried red lentils are probably one of my most used ingredients, I absolutely love them. You can make so much with dried lentils as they’re great for thickening up meals as well as adding extra protein (around 9g per 100g serving), iron, and vitamins like B1 and B6.
I love making dishes with red lentils such as soups, curries, and pasta sauces. You can also get dried black and green lentils which are great for making daal (lentil curry) and soups, and tinned cooked green lentils, which I like to use for Shepard’s pie – in substitution for beef or lamb.
There are so many different kinds of beans to choose from, all of which can be used for different recipes. You can get these either dried or precooked and tinned, whichever suits you best. Obviously dried beans will take longer to cook but can often taste better!
I really love butterbeans and cannellini beans for stews, kidney beans and adzuki beans for chilli, and of course can’t forget baked beans on toast.
If you really like to try middle eastern dishes, then you definitely need to cook more with chickpeas (or garbanzo beans as they call them in the US). They are high in protein (around 19g per 100g serving) and can be made into all sorts of different things like hummus, falafels, and can even be added to curries or salads too.
Would it be too much for me to say that tofu is quite possibly the love of my life?? Which is surprising because when I first went vegan, it genuinely scared me. I didn’t really know what it was, I’d never eaten it before – or many soy products in general, and the idea of eating soy bean curd just didn’t sound all that appealing.
I have to admit how glad I am that I tried it though. Although the texture is a little strange, when marinated right it makes a fantastic addition to many asian dishes. I love adding it to my ramen and stir fry, as well as baking it into bacon (check out So Vegan’s BLT recipe, it’s one of my favourites!), or crisping it up to add into curry as a replacement for chicken!
You can get different kinds of tofu too, so make sure you get the right one before you start making something! You can get silken, soft, firm, extra firm, and super firm. Silken is more used for deserts than in savoury dishes as protein substitutions, but there can also be other forms of firmness to silken tofu too. You can check out all the different types of tofu here.
Dairy free milk
If you’re a cereal or a tea person, then you’re probably (or going to) finding it hard to find the best way to change the milk you use. There are loads of different milks available now (you can often see them labeled as mylk, m!lk, or sometimes drink – eg sweetened/unsweetened soya drink), and some are made better for certain things.
There are plenty of milks to choose from, including almond, hazelnut, oat, soy, coconut, rice, and even potato (yes you read that right). Some work better depending on what for – you can get barista style milks which are better for hot drinks (as they can sometimes curdle), and unsweetened milks are best for recipes like roux (like in white pasta sauce).
I usually tend to go for soy milk as I like the way it tastes, but I also like oat and almond – although I wouldn’t recommend oat milk if you make porridge, because then you’re just adding oats to, well, oats!
Tinned and dried essentials
There’s a saying in my house – if in doubt, buy tomatoes. I use some form of tomato product everyday no doubt, I’d probably be lost without it. There are of course lots of different kinds of tomatoes that you can get, whether it’s tinned whole or chopped, pureed, sieved (passata), and of course fresh.
You can use tomatoes in almost all dishes, regardless of if it’s some kind of pasta, curry, noodles, pizza, stews, or casseroles. They’re a super versatile ingredient and I couldn’t recommend them more. Buy tomatoes!
The beloved Nooch. Back in the days when vegan cheese itself was rare (and not that good), Nutritional Yeast was, and still is, the saviour and star of the show.
If you’re unsure what Nooch is, it’s a form of deactivated yeast that has a savoury flavour that’s particularly nutty and cheesy. Nutritional yeast is fantastic for making cheese sauces, pesto, and pretty much any cheesy snack your heart desires. I put nooch on almost everything, I think it’s fair to say I’m a little obsessed with it.
Veggie broth or stock
Having stock or broth in your house is a definite must, and there are loads of different ways to get it. Of course, there are many pre-made forms of dried stock, which I think is always a good idea to have around – I really like Oxo as they not only have vegetable stock cubes, but they also now make vegan beef and vegan chicken stock cubes too. I really like the vegan beef ones to add to dishes like bolognese or lasagne, as they give it a more richer or meatier flavour.
You can also make your own veggie broth at home from left over vegetable scraps. This usually makes a really nice rich broth and has some of the left over nutrients from the peelings and scraps. I would recommend checking out Max La Manna on Instagram, as he talks a lot about making food from scraps!
If you cook a lot of ramen or noodle dishes, I really recommend getting soy sauce (or tamari if you’re gluten free). Soy sauce is really great for not only adding a little extra salt to dishes, but also brings out an umami taste into savoury dishes too.
Flaxseeds are considered to be a superfood, and they not only are really good for digestion as they contain a lot of fibre, but they also contain omega-3 fatty acids – which is a great way to get it without consuming fish.
You can add flaxseeds to loads of different things – ground flaxseeds can usually work a bit better but it depends on what you’re making. I like to add ground flaxseeds to my smoothies, porridge, and it’s also a great egg replacer in baking too.
Nut and seed butters
Not only are nut and seed butter great for snacks, but they’re also a great staple if you love baking! I love making fudgy peanut butter brownies and almond butter cookies – the nut butters are not only a great binder, but they also make the bakes a little more salty, aka more moreish!
If you’re allergic to nuts, seed butters can also be an option. While I was over in the US for summer camp, we weren’t allowed nut butters due to allergies, but we did have SunButter (made from sunflower seeds) and WowButter which is made from soy! There are of course other brands that do seed butters, so make sure you check them out, just make sure to check if they’re produced in a factory with nuts if you need them to be completely nut free.
Can we get SunButter available in the UK please?? I miss it!!
Nuts and seeds
As with the seed and nut butters above, having nuts and seeds are a great way to snack. They contain loads of healthy fats and protein to keep you going for longer, and you can add them to all sorts of different meals.
I love adding seeds to my yoghurt and porridge sometimes, cashew nuts and peanuts can be used in curries and noodle dishes too. They can all also make a great addition to baking, whether it’s protein bars or cookies.
Okay this one is probably a bit obvious. If you do any kind of cooking in your home then you need flour. You can make so many different things other than sweet treats, like roux for white sauce, bread and rolls, and even fake meats!
You can also get lots of alternatives, such as chickpea flour, almond flour, rice flour, and buckwheat flour. Make sure you check what certain recipes need, which alternative would work best, and how much you would need – some recipes might need more or less of an alternative depending on the desired consistency.
Cornflour, or also known as corn starch in the US, can be used for many things, but I mainly use it to help thicken up sauces if they’re too runny – you can also use tomato puree or coconut milk too, depending on what you’re making.
Cornflour can also be great for coating either veggies, tofu, or fake meats. If you’re either frying or baking something, either in breadcrumbs or just to make it crispy, then coating it in cornflour is a great way to do this – you can either coat them in dry cornflour or in a “slurry” which is mixed with a little water, which works great instead of eggs.
When it comes to sweeteners, maple syrup is my go-to. Although you can’t necessarily get “healthy” syrups or sweeteners, this would definitely be the one if there were.
I really love maple syrup as an alternative to honey, although it’s usually a lot runnier, but it works just as well for the sweetness factor. Maple syrup is great for making sweet treats, granola, or even just pouring onto pancakes, you can’t go wrong.
You can also get other sweeteners that are more “neutral” in flavour like Agave syrup, which has more of a honey-like consistency.
Dates are not only a really great sweet snack, but they can be really good for adding something extra to things. I usually use medjool dates when making things like date balls or protein bars, but you can also get other kinds of dates that are already chopped, which are great for adding to granola or porridge.
If you love to bake, make sure you have your vanilla extract on hand, you’re going to need it. Either vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste is used a lot when it comes to baking and making sweet things, so it’s definitely a staple for sure!
You can also make your own vanilla extract using vanilla pods and some form of spirit alcohol. I usually use vodka, but you can also make it with brandy, bourbon, or even rum.
Spices and herbs
Alright, no kitchen would be complete if it didn’t have it’s own selection of spices and herbs. So many of them can be used for multiple dishes and cultures, and of course so many have different flavours too.
I would recommend only getting spices as and when you need them, rather than following a set list, as this way they will stay fresher when you get them. You can also get fresh herbs, which you can either freeze whole bunches or preserve and freeze in oil too.
Some of my favourites which I use ALL the time include: Basil, Oregano, ground Cumin, ground Coriander (or cilantro in the US), Garam Masala, Chilli flakes, and Smoked Paprika.
So that’s my list of vegan food staples. Some may have been more obvious than others, but hopefully it gave you some inspiration and ideas for next time you want to try something out! Let me know what some of your staples are too!
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