Going vegan is not that hard if you like cooking — or at least are willing to commit to it more often. There are plenty of pre-packaged, heat-and-heat vegan options out there now if you feel like stocking up your freezer, and of course there are all the fresh fruits and veggies you can possibly find. But this post is about what you’ll need to have handy if you want to cook vegan food from scratch.
A lot of people tell me “Oh I could never be vegan! I’d miss _____ too much!” And sure, there are some favorites that might be hard to give up (I’d recommend just cutting back on those — you don’t have to be perfect!), but veganism doesn’t have to mean eating salads for the rest of your life.
The secret to going vegan without feeling deprived is to replace the flavor and fat you are currently getting in your diet with just as much plant-based flavor and fat. You still want to enjoy the taste of what you’re eating, even if it’s not the same taste you’re used to. And you still want to feel full when you’re done eating.
Here are some vegan staples to keep around to help you achieve both.
Cashews are used in many vegan recipes to achieve creaminess. Simply soak overnight or boil for ten minutes, then drain and use a food processor to mix together great sauces. Here are two of my favorite recipes using cashews this way: Vegan Vodka Sauce and Vegan Spaghetti Carbonara.
Nutritional Yeast. “Nootch” is often added to vegan cheese sauces to get a more cheesy flavor. Will it fool a die-hard cheese lover? No. It will not. But it will add a nutty flavor that is really great. I also like to use it in vegan pesto and as a coating for roasted brussels sprouts.
Mushrooms of all kinds. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, go check out their mushroom section! In addition to the portabellas and creminis that you see in your regular grocery store, they’ll have oyster and shiitake mushrooms at a great price. Check out what else they have too, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Mushrooms are a good source of protein and flavor.
Canned beans. I don’t see any reason to soak dried beans overnight and then boil them for hours on end! Having lots of cans of different beans around makes throwing together a wrap or batch of tacos easy to do when life gets hectic. My favorites are cannellini, chickpeas, and black beans.
An assortment of vinegars. Vinegar adds acidity and depth to sauces, marinades, and dressings. There are so many different kinds! Don’t be shy about having multiple bottles in the cupboard so you can grab the one that makes sense for your dish. I always have seasoned rice, red wine, apple cider, balsamic, and plain old white vinegars on hand.
Smoked paprika. This is an amazing little spice! It is an absolute must-have for making vegan bacon, paella-inspired rice dishes, or vegan chili. It adds that smoky flavor that can get your food closer to the meaty flavors you might miss.
Baked tofu. It’s great to cut up and put on a salad or in a wrap. It also has a firmer texture than uncooked tofu and usually comes marinated for some extra flavor. Personally I like the sriracha marinade!
A variety of grains. Grains add bulk and protein to your meals, and they are especially great on salads. Try getting some new grains you aren’t familiar with yet, like Isreali (pearl) couscous, quinoa, and farrow. Toss cooked grains with some dressing, chickpeas, and veggies, then chill for a hearty salad. Or eat warm grains in burritos, stir-fries, and casseroles.
Vegan mayo. It’s great for adding creaminess to dressings and dips, as well as just using as a condiment. My favorite is made by Hellman’s.
Coconut oil and milled flax seeds. If you are a baker, you’re going to want these basic replacers around! Coconut oil is a good stand-in for butter in cookie recipes. If you add a Tbs of flax seeds to two Tbs of water, you’ll have an egg replacer in five minutes.
I’m sure there are other vegan cooks out there who would recommend even more items, but think of this list as a start. I find that if I keep these things around, in addition to veggies, soy milk, and vegan butter, I can follow most vegan recipes without making an extra trip to the store.