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Advice Post: Staples of a Vegan Kitchen

Vegan Lass Staples of a Vegan Kitchen

Something I get asked about a lot is how to go about shopping and stocking up as a vegan. So, in this post I’ve decided to give a really simple run down of what I have in my own kitchen and, in so doing, to indicate the staples of a vegan diet. Hopefully this will give new vegans out there some idea of where they might begin when stocking their own kitchens.

I should clarify first that my preference is for foods in a reasonably unprocessed state (although I do eat processed foods and vegan 'junk' less frequently). While I therefore mostly opt for and recommend, for example, brown rice and brown bread over white rice and white bread, these can be substituted for their more processed counterparts. If you’re transitioning from a standard western diet to veganism you might find it easier to deal purely with the vegan aspect first; by this I mean focus your energies on going vegan and then worry about eating "optimally" and incorporating more whole foods. That said, eating fewer processed foods is important in terms of plugging nutritional gaps and keeping your energy up, so you might feel you can jump straight in and focus on whole foods as well as veganism. My main point is: this list is focussed on whole foods, but you can switch different vegan items in if you prefer them.

With certain items or groups of foods I’ll also highlight animal ingredients you might want to be wary of when looking for vegan goods. Honestly, these ingredients aren’t really a problem if you’re buying mostly whole foods (another reason I prefer them), but they’re worth remembering nonetheless.

So without further ado: let’s begin!

Grains (and grain-based products)

Get friendly with your grains; buy in bulk if you can because it’s cheaper and these can keep for a long time.

I generally keep in:

Bread - My favourite is a wholegrain variety with seeds. Spelt and rye bread are nice too. Avoid breads with loads of ingredients; I find the best loaves are those with only 4-5 components (including flour of some kind, yeast, water and salt). Look out for non-vegan nasties including milk, honey, whey, butterfat, casein and L-Cysteine. It’s really easy to make your own bread, so consider that too! I don’t actually eat a lot of bread, but I always have a loaf in the cupboard or freezer.

Pasta (any made from wholewheat, wholegrain spelt, brown rice, etc.) - Most dried pasta does not contain egg, but check just in case.

Quinoa - Quinoa is probably my favourite grain, besides brown rice. It can be expensive though, so keep an eye out for bulk deals.

Brown rice - Brown rice, you are so delicious and nutty! Remember brown rice takes a long time to cook, so plan ahead if you want to use it. I often buy plain microwaveable packets for convenience; if you want to do this, just check you’re getting brown rice and no animal-derived flavourings.

Risotto rice - You can get brown risotto rice if you like.

Oats - Be sure to get plain oats with no added milk or whey powder.

Flours - For cooking and baking. I tend to keep plain white flour, wholegrain flour and gram (chickpea) flour in so they're on hand when I need them.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are best unsalted and unroasted. I always have 4-5 different varieties of nuts and seeds in. They keep best in jars. My favourite nuts are brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts. As for seeds, I like sunflower, pumpkin, chia, hemp, and flax seeds.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

I try and buy my fresh produce seasonally, where possible. I normally shop at my local store and choose a good selection of different fruits and vegetables each week. As a general rule I get as wide a range as possible. Since seasonal produce is usually cheaper, it’s also more economical to shop this way.

I keep garlic and onions in at all times; these keep a long time, and form the basis of so many recipes. Potatoes are another great staple: red, sweet and white potatoes all keep for a long time and are good to have in. Carrots and other root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, etc.) also keep well. 

Vegetables I buy more frequently - which, unlike the above, will normally last for a week or less - include tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, cabbage, broccoli, leeks, peppers, mushrooms, fennel, asparagus, avocado, and cucumbers. These are the vegetables I buy most frequently, depending on availability and price. I also always have in a couple of bags of leafy greens: spinach, kale, salad leaves, etc. These can go off quickly, so I tend to buy them in smaller quantities every few days.

As for fresh fruit, this is perhaps even more dependent on what I can get. Apples and bananas are virtually always available, and often for low prices; I always have these in. Beyond these, however, I look for what’s cheapest. This week, for example, I had plums, peaches, and pears. See what you can get!

Frozen Fruit and Vegetables

Frozen produce is a lifesaver. If you have a freezer, it’s well worth stocking it with frozen fruits and vegetables. That way, you always have something in, even if you run out of fresh produce. Frozen produce is also generally cheaper than fresh, so if you’re looking to cut costs further you might want to invest more in frozen fruit and veg.

I normally use my frozen fruits in smoothies. I love berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries), mango, and pineapple. Overripe bananas freeze well too, and will make smoothies extra thick and creamy. I’d recommend shopping around to see what you can find, fruit-wise. Often supermarkets will have offers on frozen fruits, so they’re worth looking out for. 

As for frozen vegetables, I always have in at least one big bag of broccoli and a bag of peas. Cauliflower, edamame, and sweetcorn also freeze very well. Again, see if there are any offers on frozen vegetables, and buy your favourites.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit makes a great energy-dense sweet treat. Apricots, prunes, dates, pineapple, mango, coconut, and raisins are all delicious dried.

Tinned and Dried Goods

I always have in a lot of chopped tinned tomatoes and tinned pulses. Where the latter are concerned my favourites are: brown and green lentils, butter beans, cannelini beans, haricot beans, kidney beans and chickpeas. Look for offers on these items because they keep for ages. You can also get dried pulses. These work out cheaper, but often require soaking before use. Weigh up whether or not it's worth shelling out a little more for for tins.

Herbs and Spices

Keep a good store of dried herbs and spices in, if you can. If you can’t afford to do this - although it will drastically help you when cooking on a whim - you can always buy small amounts of spice by weight as and when necessary. I also grow fresh herbs, with varying success: basil, mint, coriander and rosemary especially. Give it a go.

Milks

You can buy non-dairy milks chilled or in long-life UHT cartons. I buy these as and when necessary, but it’s always useful to have a few cartons in. Unsweetened milks are best, and look for those which are fortified with B12. My favourites are almond milk, oat milk and coconut milk. Soy, rice, cashew, quinoa and hemp milks are also good.

Oils and Fats

I have a good selection of plant oils in my kitchen.
Olive oil - This is my favourite. Get the best quality olive oil you can.
Sunflower oil - Good for baking, along with rapeseed oil.
Flax oil
Sesame oil
Coconut oil - This is good for baking. It's also a nice skin moisturiser!
Vegan butter - Here in the U.K., a vegan brand called Pure is readily available in many supermarkets. Suma and Violife also make buttery spreads. In the U.S., there’s Earth Balance. Be aware that regular margarine is usually made with butterfat.

Extras

The above foods form the basis of my day-to-day diet. Besides these foods, I sometimes also buy:

Extra condiments - vegan mayo (Plamil garlic mayo is amazing), jam and chutney (check these are made with pectin and not gelatine), chilli sauce, dressings, vinegars, syrups (date and maple syrups are my favourites), nutritional yeast, different oils, etc.

‘Meats’ and ‘cheeses’ - I don’t eat a lot of these, but might have them every week or two. The best ‘meat’ products I’ve found in the U.K. are made by a company called Fry’s; they have a large range of products including pies, sausages, mince and ‘steak’. You can find Fry’s products in health shops. Look out here for Redwood too. Linda McCartney products are not all vegan, but the sausages and some pies are; these are available in many supermarkets. In the U.S. there are many more ‘meat’ options: I remember Gardein having some amazing vegan products. Good ‘cheeses’ include those by Vegusto, Cheezly, and Daiya. In some places you can now get some really fancy artisanal nut-based cheeses. Different vegan cheeses have different qualities; some are good for melting, some for eating straight. You'll learn what works best and where with time. When buying ‘meats’ and ‘cheeses’ just beware you’re getting vegan products. Quorn, for example, contains egg, and several 'veggie' cheeses still contain milk (manufacturers call them 'vegetarian' to differentiate between cheeses which contain rennet, and those that don't).

'Junk' - Praise be, because vegan 'junk' food is everywhere! Biscuits, cakes, crisps, chips - you name it. Bourbon biscuits? Oreos? Donuts? You got it. Just check all your labels really carefully.

Hopefully this will serve as a good introductory guide to stocking a vegan kitchen.

Please let me know if you think I’ve forgotten anything, or if you have any other questions!

Until next time...

Vegan Lass