How to Shop for a Vegetarian Pantry

No rabbit food here. The top chefs and food bloggers across the country share their must-haves for nutritious, meat-free meals that taste amazing and keep you full longer.

Photo By: YelenaYemchuk

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Photo By: YelenaYemchuk

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Photo By: Jörg Beuge

A Few Good Oils

For those that don't eat meat, oils derived from fruits, nuts, and seeds—which are packed with healthy fats—play an important role in building meals out of mostly plant-based ingredients. You can't go wrong with high quality olive oil, which food blogger Kate Taylor of cookieandkate.com says is her default for cooking. For roasting or high heat sauteing, food blogger Laura Wright of thefirstmess.com recommends organic grapeseed or avocado oil because of their neutral flavours and high smoke point. Specialty oils like macadamia nut or toasted sesame oil are generally used in small amounts to finish a dish, she adds. "I've been using flax oil in my salad dressings lately—it's really high in omega-3 fatty acids, but you can't cook with it," says Kate. Just skip the canola, soy and corn oil: "I don't think they taste good and if not organic, they are probably GMO," says Deborah Madison, a James Beard Award-winning vegetarian chef and author of just-released The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

By Nicole Cherie Jones

Eggs

What could be quicker than an omelet for dinner or a gently scrambled egg with fresh herbs for breakfast? "With that, I'm not hungry for hours," says Madison. Eggs are one of nature's most perfect foods. "Any time I feel like I'm not getting enough protein, I add a fried egg to my meal," says Taylor.

Cauliflower

How about a meat-free "steak" as the centerpiece of your next dinner? Yep, cauliflower steaks are all the rage these days. Simply slice a head of cauliflower into 1-inch cross-section "steaks" (slicing through the stem), season, and grill or pan sear until tender. 

Parmigiano-Reggiano (and a few other cheeses)

A chunk of good Parmesan lasts quite a long time in the fridge, and is loaded with umami flavor (translation: you won't miss the meat). "It's sweet, nutty, and adds richness to whatever it touches," says Dina Cheney, author of brand new cookbook Meatless All Day. She uses it in pastas, quiches, and even mixes it into breading for tofu. Madison also likes gruyere (a bit milder than parm, and melts easier) and fresh goat cheese (higher in protein and lower in calories) as a salad topper. 

Tofu

"I absolutely love this ingredient, especially in its extra-firm form," says Cheney, who recommends draining it between layers of clean kitchen towels, weighted down with a plate, to remove excess water before pan-frying. "It's a neutral canvas for lots of flavorful ingredients and becomes crisp on the outside and tender on the inside," she explains.

Plain Greek Yogurt

Yogurt is packed with protein and probiotics, which help keep your gut healthy—crucial to everything from good digestion to a healthy immune system. It's great for breakfast with fresh fruit, and it's also a good way to get more protein where you'd typically use mayo or sour cream—think everything from coleslaw to a topping for chili.

Quinoa, Millet or Bulgur 

Quinoa—which is gluten-free and high in protein—is technically not a grain, but it takes the place of grains in many dishes, says Kate. "Sometimes it's my breakfast cereal, other times a grain for dinner," says Madison. "Quinoa is my go-to when I don't have much time since it only takes 15 minutes to cook," says Frances Largeman-Roth, nationally recognized health expert and author of Eating in Color. She uses it to boost the nutrition in quiche, muffins, and lentil patties and "prefers the sprouted variety because you don't need to rinse it before cooking it." (Regular quinoa requires rinsing to remove the bitter saponins on the surface of the grains.) For variety, Wright reaches for millet or bulgur, which—like quinoa—cook up quicker than other whole grains like brown rice, farro, and barley.

Canned Beans and Lentils

"I naturally started craving beans more after I stopped eating meat," recalls Kate. Legumes are hearty, delicious, full of protein, fiber, and nutrients (black beans, especially, are full of antioxidants)—but the best part is that they're super-convenient and cheap. Toss them into salads, soups, stews, or as another option to make veggie burgers, advises Cheney.

Mushrooms

Nothing beats mushrooms combined with legumes to nail the juicy, meaty flavor of ground beef. Saute until browned for veggie burgers, tacos, lasagna, and more.

Multigrain Pasta

Pasta gets a bad rap because it's full of carbs, but varieties made with whole grains are composed of complex carbs that take the body longer to break down. "Whole grain pasta dishes that are at least half veggies are a quick, healthy lunch or dinner option," says Taylor. "To boost the protein, I especially like using Barilla Plus pasta, which has a whopping 17 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce portion of pasta," says Largeman-Roth."So even if your kid has a small appetite, you know they're getting a substantial amount of protein." It's also fabulous for vegetarian athletes, she adds.

Pesto    

Whether you make it yourself and freeze it, or keep a store-bought one on hand, pesto is an easy way to perk up the flavor and visual appeal of pretty much any savory dish, says Largeman-Roth. Spread on sandwiches, use as a pizza sauce, in grain-based salads, in appetizers, and of course with pasta.

Beets

This root veggie is hearty, and full of nutrients you might be missing from meat (like iron), and antioxidants. It also lasts a long time in the fridge. "I steam them in batches and have them at the ready for a salad or a vegetable side dish," says Madison. Other ideas: slice ultra-thin and roast at high heat for chips, cook into stews, puree into soups, or even eat them raw, shredded into salads. They are also a great sub for beef in classic wine-infused dishes—think "beet wellington" and "beet bourguignon."