When I first went vegan, I ended up having pasta with tomato sauce, usually without any seasoning, four to five times a week! Whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with eating a favourite dish frequently, sometimes it‘s nice to have a change, and getting a good balance of nutrients is of course very important. My problems were a lack of research before jumping into veganism on moral, rather than taste-related grounds, a lack of money, a lack of encouragement to try new things that weren‘t direct substitutes for animal products or known meals minus the meat, and a huge lack of cooking skills; the pasta worked around all of those points, but I can‘t say I‘d like to eat it that often again!
Years on, with a well-stocked supermarket round the corner and a little more knowledge of how to balance nutrients, my meals have become much more varied. I‘m still not a brilliant cook and likely never will be, but I can manage a few more things these days, and hope that by sharing what I‘ve usually got in the cupboard, I might be of some use to a new vegan who, as I wasn‘t, is not quite sure where to start.
During an average week - and this isn‘t to say that I get through all of this in a week! - these are the staples which I‘ll have in my kitchen:
*Spaghetti, cous cous etc. – yes, I still do eat a lot of pasta, but I now know that bulgur wheat, cous cous, polenta and different types of rice can be rotated with its endless varieties. Always check the ingredients, but most dry pastas are vegan suitable; fresh types may contain egg. For a nice treat, I recommend risotto rice, (which, in Europe at least, tends to have instructions on the packet).
*Bread – always good to have on hand to make a quick sandwich when time is short!
*Beans – lots and lots and lots of beans, of all different types, which are versatile and a great source of protein. A money saving tip is to buy a large bag of dried beans, cook them in bulk, and then freeze them in small containers, but this does mean standing at the stove for around an hour, which naturally not everybody has time for.
*Potatoes – whether baked, boiled, fried, roasted, or mashed up with oat milk, potatoes make for a filling meal and offer lots of chances for less experienced cooks to experiment.
*Other fresh and root vegetables, salad items and fruit – lots of vitamins ready for snacks, sides and mains. Broccoli is especially good as it‘s packed with calcium.
*Olive oil – whilst more expensive than other oils, it's monounsaturated fats make it a healthy choice for frying, and in my personal opinion, it enhances the flavour of fried veggies.
*Unsalted nuts – another source of healthy fats, which can be mixed with oats to form home-made müsli, enjoyed as a snack, or thrown in to a stir-fry.
*Cereals – though in some places cereals without added honey may be hard to find, keep a look out, as many vegan options are fortified with vitamin B12.
*Tofu or tempeh – you may use these as a meat substitute in a pasta sauce, or marinated as the main event. Just don't make the same mistake as me and try natural tofu for the first time on it's own with no seasoning: it is quite tasteless. Within a meal though, it nicely absorbs the flavours of the other ingredients, whilst some stores do carry more tasty smoked and flavoured varieties.
*Herbs and spices – some people love the natural taste of vegetables, others find this too bland, and some just like to mix up flavours once in a while. My cupboard is always home to oregano, black pepper and the hottest chilli I can find!
*Soy yoghurt – as with many vegan versions of dairy items, this is a matter of taste; I hated it for years and now love it! New vegans may wish to try a few different brands before deciding if it‘ll be a regular purchase.
*Flour – usually for pizza in my house, alongside passata, but also for baking or savoury pancakes.
Then there‘ll be a few things which I eat a little less often, depending on budget and special offers, mood, and if there‘s anything to celebrate! These things can range from dairy-free ice cream and dark chocolate to Linda McCartney sausages, pre-rolled pastry for sweet or savoury strudels, a jar of spicy curry sauce, ingredients for sushi rolls, or peanut burgers.
Every vegan will have a slightly different list; I hardly ever buy plant milks or cheeses, whereas others will consider these staples, but if vegan cooking seems desirable yet confusing, these are handy items with which to begin.
Image courtesy of Ricardo, used unchanged under the terms of the Creative Commons license.