Photo above: Raw cashews, Nutritional yeast, Red lentils, Large flake rolled oats.
In part one of My Vegan Pantry Steven told us a bit about his food background and introduced us to a few vegan basics as well as his storage methods for ingredients and spices. In part two he highlights four key ingredients and some of their applications, gives suggestions for milk and egg alternatives, and tells us how he uses his favourite seeds and nuts.
Four Ingredient Highlights
The first is raw cashews. They are super useful in the kitchen to make any sauce creamy. You can also use them to make cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and ice cream, not to mention that you can even ferment them to make cheese cake! A caveat is that most recipes call for them to be soaked overnight before use, so I keep a 16-oz mason jar for soaking in the fridge at all times. Alternatively, you can “fast-soak” by pouring boiling water over them to cover in a bowl for at least one hour before use.
One of the common objections I hear to plant-based eating is, “I could never go without cheese!” That brings us to our second ingredient: nutritional yeast. This is the secret ingredient to plant-based cheese, and as an added bonus, is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B12. Use nutritional yeast generously in the body of the recipe and then sprinkle more on top for extra cheesy flavour. I often sprinkle some on freshly popped popcorn to bring it to life. In a future article, I will give you the recipe for my Basil Cashew Cheese that has few ingredients. It can be served with crackers, or used as a decadent topping for a pasta dish. It will leave you craving for more!
Third, I don’t think I had ever knowingly consumed lentils prior to going plant-based, but now I can’t imagine life without them. This ingredient can be used in many ways, including as a ground meat alternative in tacos or a shepherd’s pie; in Indian, Asian and African stews and curries, or as an incredible soup. Red lentils are my favourite, but my pantry includes varieties of brown, green and even black ones. I also have dried chickpeas, white beans, kidney beans and lima beans stored.
The fourth and last highlighted ingredient is large flake rolled oats. They are versatile, and can be processed down to make flour, or used as a thickener in cakes and muffins. Oats have been incorporated into a popular plant-based milk, and are the main ingredient in the topping for your favorite crumble. But I use large flake rolled oats most often in my five-ingredient overnight oats. I eat them for breakfast most days. I find it delicious, filling and a satisfying way to start my day. Stay tuned, as I will be sharing the recipe in part three of this feature article.
Dairy-free alternatives for milk and egg
What other ingredients are essential for my vegan pantry? I do use a lot of plant-based milk, which is ironic because I was lactose intolerant as a child and never drank or craved milk. Now, I have at least 3 types on hand at all times. Currently, I have soy, almond, oat, and macadamia. I find they all have their individual uses, and some recipes will prefer one over the other, but most of these are interchangeable in plenty of recipes. They are readily available in your grocery store too. I do have a weakness for some of the dark chocolate versions, and you can often find that in my fridge (it is the only one I drink on its own).
My favorite plant-based trick to replace milk and eggs in baking is to substitute your favorite plant-based milk and then use a seed as an egg replacement. One of my pantry staples is ground flax seed, which are packed with Omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients. I use them regularly in baking, so for one flax egg, take 1 tbsp ground flax seed to 2 ½ tbsp water, stir and leave for 5 minutes to thicken. Add one flax egg to replace one chicken egg in your recipe. I find it works extremely well and has some great nutrition benefits. Another seed I use daily is the chia seed, which also packs a nutritional punch. These seeds can absorb up to 12 times their size! They can be used as an egg replacement and thickening agent (like I do in in my overnight oats recipe that follows).
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are an important part of any plant-based pantry. I tend to keep slivered almonds, walnut chunks, pine nuts, pecans, peanuts, and of course, raw cashews on-hand. A few of them are ground into flour, including almond and walnut. Besides chia and flax seeds, I use both roasted and unroasted sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste), which are ideal for making dressings and hummus creamy. I use hemp hearts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds as a delicious salad topping or in a trail mix. These are good to have around because you can toss some nuts and seeds with dried blueberry, cranberry, and some dairy free chocolate for a tasty treat or snack.
In part three (on April 30th) Steven will discuss seitan as well as oils and vinegars. He’ll conclude this series by sharing his recipe for Overnight Oats.