A Vegetarian Pantry

Keep your cupboards, freezer and crisper stocked with these essentials.

Like everyone else, vegetarians are busy people. The best way to make sure you eat well is to keep your kitchen fully loaded. Stock up on these fresh, frozen and packaged foods and you'll be ready to make a delicious, healthy vegetarian meal any day of the week.

Fruits and Veggies
Fresh fruits and veggies should cycle through the vegetarian's kitchen daily. During warmer months, visit your local farm stand for peak produce; pick up extra berries, tomatoes, corn and more to can or freeze. Fill your refrigerator with dark leafy greens such as kale, chard and spinach (good for iron and calcium) and fresh citrus such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits (good for vitamin C). Try fresh and dried fruits for filling, fiber-rich snacks. Aromatic, immunity-boosting onions and garlic keep well (just be sure they haven't sprouted). Canned tomato sauces and frozen veggies also work when fresh produce isn't available.

Eat at least three servings a day, but more is better when it comes to whole grains. Stretch beyond bread and cereals and make your own treats from these grains, which are best stored in cool, dry places:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • Cornmeal (for polenta)
  • Steel cut oats (for baking and cereal)
  • Bulgur
  • Barley
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Brown, black and red rice

Whole Grain Pasta, Rice Noodles, Crackers and Breads

Stock an array of dried pastas — penne, spaghetti, macaroni, couscous and more — along with jarred or canned sauce for easy Italian meals. Rice noodles pair well with tofu and tempeh for Asian-inspired treats. Boxed whole grain crackers and flatbreads are a great base for spreads and cheese slices; just check that the cracker's ingredients starts with whole wheat flour and there are no hydrogenated oils. Buy — or bake — fresh breads and keep a backup loaf in the freezer.

Vegetable Stock
Sodium-heavy, prepackaged stocks are available at any supermarket, but it's tastier and healthier to make your own for soups, stews and even polenta. Just simmer a few chopped veggies, potato peelings and other scraps with your favorite herbs and spices (peppercorn, thyme, parsley, etc.). Store extra vegetable stock in the freezer along with any leftover scrap collected for later stock-making. Stocks are a great way to use up veggies loitering in your fridge at week's end.

Dry or canned, beans are perfect pantry keepers. Full of protein and fiber, beans also help you feel fuller longer. Quicker-cooking smaller beans, such as lentils and split peas, go well in weeknight soups. Garbanzos (a.k.a. chickpeas) can become hummus in minutes or boost a salad quickly. Canned refried beans are great for quick dips, wrap fillings and Tex-Mex toppers and can even be thinned with vegetable stock and tomatoes for a simple soup.

Lean toward grass-fed and organic dairy whenever possible. If you're not vegan, stock an assortment of hard and soft cheeses to pump up your favorite dishes; then go low fat for your other dairy (milk, greek yogurt, cottage cheese). And don't forget the butter for baking.

Whether in stir fries, soups, salads or smoothies, these soy foods give many dishes extra protein and texture:

  • Tofu, firm and soft
  • Tempeh
  • Canned black and yellow soybeans
  • Frozen edamame and roasted soynuts
  • Fortified soy milk in plain and vanilla (especially if you don't eat dairy)

Gluten Foods

  • Seitan, also known as "wheat meat," is available refrigerated or frozen. Try it in stews, fajitas, chili or stir-fries.

Nuts, Seeds and Nut Butters

Nutritious nuts and seeds are great for snacks or adding crunch. They keep best in the refrigerator or freezer; nut butters, preferably fresh, go in the refrigerator. Look for fresh butters made from peanut, almond, sesame, cashew, pumpkinseed and hempseed in your local health food store. For nuts and seeds, stock up on almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and any other favorites.

Oils, Vinegars, Sweeteners, Herbs and Spices

Whether from scratch or a can, most meals need a little boost. Always buy cold-pressed oils for their superior fats and flavor. For more minerals and better taste, opt for natural sweeteners over white sugar. It's a good start to stock your pantry and spice rack with the following:

  • Extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed canola oil, toasted sesame oil, walnut or hazelnut oil (for dressings)
  • Balsamic, red wine, champagne, sherry and rice vinegars
  • Honey, blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup and maple sugar
  • Granulated cane sugar products turbinado , rapadura or organic brown sugar)
  • Dried thyme, sage, oregano, basil, rosemary and tarragon
  • Cumin, coriander, chili powder, cayenne powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, curry powder, turmeric and good quality sea salt
  • Cilantro, parsley and other fresh herbs (best kept in the refrigerator)

Other Condiments
Use these condiments in your favorite international treats or to give a simple dish an extra kick:

  • Soy sauces (shoyu and tamari), peanut sauce and teriyaki sauce
  • Coconut milk
  • Thai curry pastes
  • Miso
  • Pasta sauces (homemade or store-bought), bottled pesto and olive pastes
  • Jarred roasted peppers (red and piquillo)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Your other favorite condiments

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