Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pantry Essentials + Vegan Meal Ideas

As a vegan, like most vegans, I get a lot of stereotypical comments from people with average American diets. It can get a bit old explaining what should be common sense to people (yes, cheese is an animal product...) but I find the vegan lifestyle to be so fulfilling and rich I don't mind all the silly comments people can make sometimes. I think the biggest stereotype I'd like to attempt to bust today would be that vegan diets are hard, restrictive, or otherwise difficult to maintain; they really aren't! At first it may seem overwhelming because there is so much you have to remember to avoid, once you nail down a few staples in your diet it all becomes very easy. In my personal experience, having more limited options to choose from has made me more creative, frugal, and excited in the kitchen. If you've never watched vegan chefs or looked at vegan recipes online, I highly recommend you do so, because those people are pioneers in the culinary world and some of their recipes are so innovative (whether you are a "foodie" or not).

Anyway, here is a list of my basic pantry staples that I keep around at any given time. I find having these items in my pantry makes meal planning and cooking so much easier for me as many of them are multi-purpose and can be used for many different meals or recipes. I definitely prefer simple meals made with simple, cheap ingredients. Being vegan doesn't mean spending all of your money on food, and certainly not a large chunk of it on specialty vegan foods. The simplest foods on earth are vegan. I should also mention I get all of these foods zero-waste or package free by buying mostly produce and anything else in recyclable packaging or through bulk bin stores (unless otherwise noted). I'll have a post coming up soon about where I shop in my rural town, so stay tuned!

My pantry, a small cupboard I share with my husband who is not vegan.
Please excuse the sparseness of the pantry, I haven't had to go grocery shopping yet and I am challenging myself to see how long I can last without going while relying on what I have already and what's in my garden. I am approaching a month & a 1/2 so far (!!!). 
Pantry items:
  • Flour (unbleached white all-purpose). For general baking and for making Naan & other flatbreads.
  • Turbinado sugar (lower glycemic index than white sugar, and vegan as white sugar can contain bone char). For an all purpose sweetener and for baking.
  • At times, agave nectar - great maple syrup replacement and less expensive. Have not found it package-free.
  • Cocoa powder - for hot cocoa, smoothies, and baking.
  • Baking powder/baking soda
  • Tea - either made fresh from dried herbs from the garden or bought in bulk. I'm not a big coffee person so tea is my jam. My favorites are black, roobois, mint, and orange flavored teas.
  • Spices - my favorites are cinnamon, ginger, curry powder, pepper, garlic powder and salt, bought in bulk.
  • Vanilla extract - I buy it in a large glass bottle from Kroger. I use a lot so that works for me, however I want to try making it in the future since I use so much.
  • Vinegar (homemade or purchased in glass jar I reuse). Great for cleaning and cooking. Brightens flavor in dishes and I use it in almost everything I make.
  • Olive oil - for body/face moisturizer and cooking. Don't use it as often as it is expensive.
  • Coconut oil - for moisturizing too and for cooking. Adds a great crust to fried veggies and is an excellent butter replacement in vegan baking.
Zucchini, cucumber, and squash from my garden. 
Produce / other food items:
  • Onion - I love onions, hate cutting them. They add a nice flavor to dishes and once caramelized are dreamy. They also are a great "filler" for almost any dish.
  • Potato - If I had to live off of one veggie for the rest of my life, it would be the potato. I love potatoes. They can be baked, cooked, fried, hashed, wedged...and still taste delish even after eating them every day. I buy them from the store unless they are growing out in the garden.
  • Green beans - easy and filling.
  • Corn - great grilled, fried, baked, on or off the cob...so many great options and very tasty ones at that.
  • Zucchini - from store unless growing in garden.
  • Cucumber - from store unless growing in garden.
  • Strawberries - during growing season, from garden.
  • Bananas - bananas are a great quick snack for me and I also use them in baking and frozen for smoothies. They are sadly not local, but they are too important in my diet for me to eliminate.
  • Apples - when I get a bit tired of bananas! Also great for homemade applesauce and ACV
  • Avocados - for spreads, homemade guac, and more.
  • Mangoes - when in season. Frozen or raw they are divine.
  • Grains - rice, quinoa, couscous, oatmeal, granola, etc.
  • Lentils
  • Carrots - love them roasted w/ sugar
  • Beans - great for making baked beans, refried beans, bean burgers, and more
  • Ketchup - my staple sauce. Looking for it in a glass jar but no luck so far. I currently get the value size from Kroger.
  • Soy sauce - I find it in glass at Kroger. Nice for veggie stir fry.
  • Veggie mayo - one of my guilty pleasure foods is a banana and mayo sandwich. The mayo is packaged in plastic but I use so little of it at a time that I go through maybe 1 or 2 containers every 6 months.
  • Peanut butter - made fresh from Kroger or Whole Food's bulk bins. Was getting it in plastic but now going to use a stainless steel container.
  • Jam/jelly - love snacking on it and of course making pb & j sandwiches. Just be sure your jelly has no gelatin in it, instead look for fruit pectin.
  • Pasta sauce in glass jar - just a basic spaghetti sauce. I find sauce a pain to make, and I prefer to buy it instead to save time. Look for a sauce (especially pasta sauce) without milk. A lot of cheaper spaghetti sauce brands contain milk, I've found.
  • Dark chocolate in recyclable packaging - I don't have a local chocolate supplier so I try to support sustainable or otherwise eco-friendly brands. I also have an insatiable desire for chocolate and find I have a hard time ignoring my cravings without it.
  • Wine/beer - another indulgence. Still researching breweries in my area. Buying a growler soon to refill at Sedona Taphouse.

As you'll notice, I don't keep a lot of food around. I have a tiny pantry, which forces me to only keep the essentials. Additionally, I strive for fresh ingredients in my meals, and I force myself to use up what I have before buying new to ensure everything is as fresh as possible. So having the tiny pantry really works for me. I also store everything in glass jars, of course. This has actually saved me before when my previous apartment had a roach issue - none of my food had to be thrown out because it was stored in impenetrable glass. Lastly, you'll notice a lack of pre-packaged food or processed food. It's rare I buy anything like that, as I prefer to cook and make my meals myself to ensure they are healthy and satisfying. My husband still purchases some pre-packaged items, which you can see in the photos above.

My compost.
Ideally, I cook or prep fresh meals every day. I may be a bit spoiled in this regard, but nothing beats freshly made food. On most days, I may have breakfast's leftover's as lunch one day, or prep food the night before for breakfast and lunch the following day (especially during work season). During the summer and weekends, I find myself cooking new recipes or making old favorites. I do truly enjoy cooking, so to others this may seem like a lot of work. But if you plan to cook at least once a day, let's say for dinner, and have simple meals to throw together for breakfast and lunch, it will be easy to eat vegan at home. And who knows, you may learn to love cooking in the process. ;) I certainly do! When I am done cooking, my food scraps go into the bowl on the pictured above, which is in my freezer. This bowl gets dumped into my larger compost bin every week.

I also would like to mention some simple meal ideas. When I say I cook everyday I am certainly not saying I cook four-star meals every day, three times a day. As I said earlier I am a simple person, and I like simple food. Some of my favorite dishes are depression era recipes because they are simple, easy, filling, and cheap. With that base of simple recipes, I may add on more extravagant meals on the side or a few times a week to keep things exciting. But honestly, the best advice I could give is learn what you like and keep it simple. Master a few simple recipes and grow from there. One great cookbook (available for free download!) is Good and Cheap. I highly recommend it as the recipes are simple, cheap, and can easily be made vegan. I also scour Pinterest for easy and simple vegan meals when I have some free time. While some of these meals sound very meager, keep in mind I eat until I am satisfied - so even if I am eating just corn for lunch I eat enough corn so that I am happy and full. Same with potatoes, beans, and other dishes you'll see below. I definitely do not starve myself or even track portions/calories for that matter. I make food, eat it until satisfied.

One of my favorite meals, the humble potato wedge.
My favorite, easy meals/snacks (those labeled "mono-meal" are just large portions of the food mentioned - like I said, simple):
Beans and rice w/ stir fried veggies
PB & J sandwich
Banana and vegan mayo sandwich
Veggie spaghetti with fresh veggie sauce/veggies
Grean beans (mono-meal)
Corn (mono-meal)
Baked potato wedges
Fried skillet potatoes
Soup (esp. tomato, yuuuuum)
From scratch flatbread pizza w/ veggie sauce and veggie toppings
Banana smoothie
Bananas (mono-meal)
Brown rice w/ soy sauce
Rice and vegan curry with fresh veggies
Grilled zucchini/cucumber
Large watermelon (mono-meal)
Baked potatoes with cinnamon/turbinado sugar
Soup and flatbread
Vegan pancakes
Oatmeal or granola w/ nut milk
Chips and dip (salsa or guac)
Hummus and veggies for dipping
Spinach salad with loads of veggies and fruits
Toast w/ homemade spread (avocado, beans, peas, onions, etc.)
Fresh flatbread
Homemade popcorn
Homemade veggie jambalaya/gumbo
Roasted/stir fry veggies

I'm gonna run off now because this post is making me so HUNGRY, I gotta go eat something! All in all, I hope it helped you see how easy and full being vegan can be (pun intended). If you have any great, simple vegan meal ideas I'd love to hear about them below.

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