How to Shop for a Vegan Pantry

We polled top food bloggers and cookbook authors on the ingredients that make skipping meat, eggs, and dairy delicious and totally painless. Here are the essentials (besides fruits and veggies galore—duh!) that they turn to over and over.

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Quinoa

A seed that's eaten like a grain, quinoa is high in fiber, gluten-free, and has 8 grams of "complete" protein (all 9 essential amino acids) in each cooked cup, says Kris Carr, author of New York Times best-seller Crazy Sexy Kitchen. Best of all, it takes only 15 minutes to prepare. "It's easier and quicker than rice," says food blogger Emily Von Euw of thisrawsomeveganlife.com, who uses it in place of rice for sushi and tosses into salads. It can also be made sweet with fruit as a breakfast cereal and formed into convenient veggie burgers, adds Carr.

 

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Chia and Flax

Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, protein, cholesterol-lowering insoluble fiber, antioxidants, and calcium—and make a delicious pudding when combined with coconut milk, chopped dates and cinnamon, says Janel Funk, R.D. and Food Network Healthy Eats blogger. Michael Falso—a former cook at NYC's upscale vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine who currently works for Whole Foods—uses flaxseeds every day: "They absorb water and swell into a gel-like consistency, so can be used as a binder, a thickener or a stabilizer in everything from smoothies to baked goods and pasta." "If you mix ground flax seeds and water, it even feels viscous like an egg white," says Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of several popular vegan cookbooks and the blogger behind postpunkkitchen.com. "Vegan diets usually lack omega-3 fatty acids, so they’re an important addition and add a pleasant, subtle nutty flavor to your creations," adds vegan expert Terry Chao of veganchao.com.

Tofu and Tempeh

These are the simplest options for making a vegan meal protein-rich and satisfying, says Jane Hughes, author of The Vegan Cookbook. Tempeh (fermented soybeans) is rich in probiotics, fiber, and contains a similar amount of protein compared to lean meat (20 grams per 4-oz serving), says Carr. She cubes and tosses into stir-fries or crumbles in place of chicken in "chicken" salad. "My favorite way to enjoy tempeh is spiced with taco seasoning and scooped into taco shells with lettuce and tomatoes," says Funk. Here's an insider tip from Chloe Coscarelli, author of Chloe's Kitchen and Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen: Freeze an entire package of tofu, then defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Slice, dice, or cube the tofu and it will have a chewy meaty texture, she says. Extra firm tofu can be breaded or marinated and grilled like meat, and even mashed, says Moskowitz. Chao uses silken tofu for cheesecake, or blended with sugar and cocoa powder for a sweet chocolate mousse dessert. 

Canned Beans and Lentils

Legumes are cheap, packed with a hunger-squashing combo of fiber, protein and complex carbs, and have endless uses. Use them to make veggie burgers, homemade hummus, mash into soups, toss into salads, or even bake until crisp with seasonings for snacking, advises food blogger Somer McCowan of vedgedout.com. You can't beat the convenience of opening up a can, says Funk.

Nutritional Yeast

"Most vegans are just in love with this stuff as it adds a cheesy or creamy umami flavor to your foods and is a great source of vitamin B-12, which is something vegans always need more of," says McCowan. "It makes for a decadent and nutritious bowl of mac 'n' cheese," seconds Coscarelli. Falso sprinkles on popcorn, and even salads for a salty bite. "I think of it as a vegan parmesan cheese," he says. Nutritional yeast is dairy, soy, gluten and sugar free.

Miso Paste

This is another umami flavor option that also packs gut-balancing probiotics. "If you are living a dairy-free existence this little treasure is a lifesaver," says Tess Masters, the food blogger behind healthyblenderrecipes.com and author of The Blender Girl. She uses it to replicate the flavor of aged parmesan in pestos, sauces, and veggie bakes. 

Avocados

"Containing monounsaturated heart-healthy fats and more potassium than a banana, avocados are nature's butter," says Masters. She uses them to add a creamy texture to smoothies and salad dressings, as an enzyme-rich topping for chili, stews, and soups, and as a base for puddings, desserts, and even raw pies. Instead of adding cheese to pesto sauce, try adding avocado for body and flavor, says Coscarelli, or whip up an avocado spread as a mayo stand-in.

Apple Cider Vinegar 

"You know you're vegan when the ACV (apple cider vinegar) is sitting in the baking pantry and not with all the other vinegars," says Moskowitz, who uses it to create leavening in her muffins and quick breads. "When combined with baking soda, vinegar binds the cake and there is no need for eggs," explains Coscarelli. "This trick makes for the most delicious moist cake, and I promise you won't taste the vinegar, or there is no way I would have won Cupcake Wars!"

Raw Cashews

"Any vegan will tell you that this protein-packed nut is the key to replacing dairy—you can use it to make non-dairy milk, yogurt, sour cream, vegan cheeses, and sauces," says McCowan. "Soak them raw and blend for an incredible 'cream' that can take the place of regular cream in most recipes," says Isa. Hello, vegan fettuccine alfredo and frosting!

Canned Coconut Milk    

A silkier (and quicker) alternative to "cashew cream," coconut milk can be used to make indulgent chocolate mousse, ganache and whipped cream, says Coscarelli. Yes, it's high in fat, but it can be part of your milk alternative repertoire in small amounts. Funk uses it to make vegan ice cream and big batches of crockpot oatmeal, as well as curries. 

Coconut Oil

"This is like the butter of the vegan world," says Von Euw who uses it in almost all her dessert recipes to create creamy, rich treats. Rotate it with your other oils in your healthy vegan diet. "It's addictively aromatic," says Funk, who uses it as a cooking oil (great for pan frying at high temps), and simply spreads on crusty home-baked bread.

Nondairy Milk

Don't have time to make your own? No problem. Almond, soy, rice, and hemp milk can all be used interchangeably with the dairy kind in recipes. "There are so many vegan 'milks' on shelves these days, and I use all kinds, but I think almond milk is especially tasty in soups and sauces," says Hughes. Just make sure to look for unflavored and unsweetened varieties if you'll be using it in a savory recipe.

Dark Chocolate and Cacao Powder

Yep, dark chocolate is vegan! "It's a decadent snack that happens to be good for your heart and rich in antioxidants," says Coscarelli. Just be sure to check the label for no milk solids or whey. It can always be lightened up with a splash of nondairy milk, she adds. Cacao powder is like chocolate, but less processed, explains Von Euw who blends it with coconut oil and a liquid sweetener like maple syrup or coconut nectar to make raw chocolate. "I'm loving raw chocolate-avocado mousses and ice creams right now," says Hughes.

Dates

"I use dried fruit—especially Medjool dates, but also figs, prunes and raisins—in all my dessert recipes instead of sugar," says Von Euw. "They add a natural sweetness and are terrific for digestion and your teeth," she adds. Masters is also a big fan: "I use dates constantly in my raw recipes as a binder for pie crusts, cakes, cookies, slices, and other sweet treats like fruit balls, and to sweeten other raw dishes like puddings, ice creams, and smoothies."