Monday, 8 April 2013

Building the Vegan Pantry

The Essential Vegan is just a little more than two weeks old - really only a baby by blogging standards. I'm still working through basic logistics of blogging (and social media-ing!), and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take stock of what's happened so far, get some feedback and decide how to move forward.

My friend Annette (see her spectacular photography here) comes over for lunch regularly and has become a bit of a touching stone for my blog. She visited last Friday and commented on my recent Garam Masala Tofu & Lentils recipe. "It's a great recipe", she said, "but there were a few things on the ingredient list that I didn't have at home."

I was initially a little surprised by her comment, but I thought about it and it makes total sense.

My initial goal was to post recipes that everyone would be able to cook, regardless of skill level or experience, but I'd forgotten to take into account the necessity of having a properly stocked kitchen before jumping into cooking.

So Annette suggested providing some guidelines for vegan staples - things that are used on a consistent basis, but may not be found in the average kitchen. Fantastic idea!

It's taken me quite a while to build up my cooking arsenal. I have a lot of things in my cupboards that I wouldn't have had a clue what to do with only a few years ago. The great news is that the majority of these items can now be found in chain grocery stores (this is great for availability, not necessarily for sustainability...but that's another issue), and most are fairly affordable.

In addition to maximizing your local farmers' market for fresh produce, there are two key places to pick up non-perishables:

1. Bulk Barn

Bulk stores are fantastic. They offer an amazing selection of food, a growing number of organic non-perishables, and (best of all) the prices are generally substantially lower than grocery stores. By removing the unnecessary plastic and cardboard packaging and also corporate branding, bulk stores can offer basically the same quality products without the additional mark-ups.

One of my all-time favourite places to visit is my local Bulk Barn. I'm like a kid in a candy store, except  instead of ju-jubes or sour keys my basket is full of spices, grains, flours, nuts and legumes.

2. Goodness Me!

In addition to a bulk store, I highly recommend a good quality health food store - not necessarily Whole Foods (I don't agree with their rampant price-gouging, or the CEO's politics, but again, those are other issues), but some place that provides a good balance of reasonably priced, high quality packaged foods.

In my city there is a fantastic smaller grocery chain called Goodness Me!, which is my mecca for oils, vinegars, sweeteners, organic condiments, and other goodies.

Let's take a walk through some of my pantry basics:

Oils:
Coconut
Olive
Safflower
Sesame

Vinegars:
Apple cider
Balsamic
Rice

Spices*:
Basil
Bay leaf
Black peppercorn
Cayenne pepper
Cinnamon
Coriander
Cumin
Garlic
Ginger
Kosher salt
Mustard seed
Nutritional yeast
Oregano
Onion
Paprika
Red pepper flakes
Rosemary
Thyme
Turmeric

*Spice blends like chili powder and curry can be bought in store or made at home*

Seeds:
Chia
Flax
Hemp
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Sesame

Nuts*:
Almonds
Cashews
Pecans
Pistachios
Walnuts

*Keep nuts in the freezer to maintain freshness*

Dried fruit*:
Apricots
Cranberries
Dates
Prunes
Raisins

*I also dry my own apple slices using my food dehydrator!*

Condiments:
Bragg's Liquid Aminos (soy sauce)
Curry paste (red, green & yellow)
Earth Balance Buttery Spread
Frank's Red Hot
Maple syrup
Mustard
Salsa
Sriracha
Tahini paste

Grains:
Couscous
Barley (pearl & pot)
Quinoa
Oats (steel-cut & rolled)
Rice*

*I prefer Thai rice because it's generally lower in arsenic*

Legumes*:
Chickpeas
Lentils (red & green)
Navy beans
Black beans

*I buy all legumes in bulk to cut down my exposure to BPA in canned goods*

Plant milks:
Almond
Coconut
Soy

Flours:
Chickpea
Spelt
Unbleached all-purpose
Whole wheat pastry
Vital wheat gluten

Baking:
Brown sugar
Blackstrap molasses
Baking powder
Baking soda
Brown rice syrup
Cocoa powder
Cornstarch
Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew)
Sugar (cane/stevia/xylitol)
Vanilla extract

This list is huge, I know, but the idea isn't to go out and buy absolutely everything at once. Build slowly and work with what you have, and check online for easy substitutions of you're missing something.

The majority of the items on this list are really quite reasonable as long as you buy them in bulk. If you bought every spice I've listed here it would still cost less than $15. Nuts and oils are going to be expensive regardless, but it's worth the splurge and they will last a while if used judiciously.

I'd estimate that keeping these items in your pantry will give you free reign over about 85% of available vegan/vegetarian recipes.

Happy shopping!

P.S. Post a comment below if I've missed one of your favourite pantry essentials!