Written by Sophia Marchese.
We love our fruits and veggies, and we feel extremely blessed having access to local farmers markets where there’s an abundance of fresh produce—but let us never forget the importance of a well-stocked pantry!
Eating a plant-based diet wouldn’t be the same without some of our favorite staples. It’s important to keep a pantry filled with items that can be used interchangeably in meals, and buying some of them in bulk means shorter grocery lists and more money saved in the long run.
Here are some items we always keep around:
Eat beans to live longer! We can’t express enough how important legumes are on a plant-based diet. Not only are they packed full of essential nutrients like protein and fiber, but regular consumption of legumes (such as beans, lentils and chickpeas) have even been shown to increase life expectancies. And beans don’t just make you live longer, they also make you full longer. We will sometimes use canned beans when we are strapped for time, but overall we suggest buying dried beans in bulk to get way more for your money.
Dried beans can be made over the stove or hassle-free in an Instapot. Plus, preparing dried beans properly will help with gassy side-effects and also give you the chance to flavor them how you please during the cooking process. Did we mention it’s way cheaper? I grew up eating Cuban black beans and rice, so I have a deep love for black beans—which I have now passed on to Reid (when we met, he wouldn’t come within 5 feet of a black bean). We also love chickpeas for their recipe versatility!
Did you know eating three portions of whole grains per day can reduce heart disease to the same extent that taking blood pressure lowering drugs can? Notice I say whole grains, which are those that have the entire grain kernel retained—including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Unlike refined grains, whole grains offer a whole “package” of health benefits.
Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, oatmeal, whole-wheat breads, quinoa and even popcorn are all examples of grains we like to keep in our pantry. Many of these whole-grains are made into gluten-free flour products which are also a huge essential in our kitchen (such as quinoa and brown rice flour). We like to prep large portions of whole grains to snack on or enjoy with meals throughout the week. They are also extremely versatile. For example, rolled oats can be added to a high-speed blender with ice-cold water then strained through a fine-mesh strainer for a homemade, cheap, non-dairy milk beverage. Pro-tip: use quinoa for nutrient-dense, energy and protein-packed breakfast bowls.
Rice-based and bean-based noodles
When I was in high school, I had a friend with Celiac disease who could not eat anything gluten whatsoever or she would get violently ill. The problem was that there were very little options for her in regard to gluten alternatives. This was less a little less than 10 years ago, and now there are a ridiculous amount of alternative products made traditionally from gluten on the market—such as pastas and breads.
Gluten-free isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a lifestyle for those who must or simply choose to live without cereal grains. We aren’t gluten-free, but we do love eating (as mentioned earlier) lots of beans and also whole grains like brown rice. Nowadays there are lentil pastas, brown rice lasagna noodles, black bean spaghettis and so much more. We like to keep our pantry stocked with options such as these to sneak in essential nutrients wherever we can!
Nutritional yeast, a.k.a. nooch (a.k.a. vegan crack), is a magical, cheese-flavored flakey powder that not only tastes great, but also adds essential B-vitamins to your plant-based foods. And we plant-based pals need our B12!
Want to make a vegan ricotta cheese? Add nooch to soaked cashews. Want to make a dairy-free white sauce for your pasta? Nooch will help. Want to make cheesy popcorn? Sprinkle some nooch on those popped kernels! Nutritional yeast is a complete protein that we completely couldn’t live without.
Spices & Herbs
It’s important to spice things up on a plant-based diet to keep it interesting and enhance the truly delicious flavors that plants boast. We’ve got our trusty spice cabinet fully stocked at all times, but it’s important to experiment with different spices and herbs to understand which you prefer so they stay fresh and don’t sit unused.
Some of our most used are chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, onion and garlic powder, turmeric, sage, smoked paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Spice blends such as this Savory blend add wonderful flavor depth to many different types of dishes. Cinnamon and turmeric are my favorite spices because of their rich flavors and multi-faceted health benefits, while Reid loves sage for its strong aroma and its promotion of improved digestion.
These dried fruits are also another unassuming kitchen hack with a great deal of health benefits. Dates are an outstanding natural alternative to sugary or processed sweeteners. They are extremely rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber—keeping us satiated and our bowels healthy. These little treasures are known for being a great source of vitamins and minerals, with just a half cup of dates providing a significant percentage of daily recommended intakes. To list a few benefits of dates: stronger bones, increased energy, brain health, and reduction of allergies.
Nuts & Seeds
It’s likely that our plant-based diet and culinary techniques would be very limited without nuts and seeds. Both kitchen staples make creating and prospering on a plant-based diet that much easier. Nuts are a heart-healthy, filling snack filled with polyunsaturated fats, and we like to munch on them between meals or use them as toppings for smoothie bowls and salads. Our favorite nuts are almonds, cashews, walnuts and pecans.
We often grind up walnuts and use them for binding homemade veggie burgers. Ground pecans are great for raw dessert crusts, while almonds can be blitzed with nutritional yeast for a nutty vegan parmesan. Cashews can be soaked and softened in water to make many cream sauces, vegan cheeses, cheesecakes and for many other innovative plant-based recipes. This only scratches the surface of culinary possibilites that come from using nuts.
Chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin seeds are kept in our kitchen at all times for their versatility in many different types of recipes and their abundance of essential fatty acids. Seeds, in general, are an excellent ingredient to include in dishes for their potassium, magnesium and calcium. Hemp and chia seeds are particularly beneficial for their high levels of plant-based protein.
We both make sure to consume at least 1 tablespoon of flax per day, a suggestion from Dr. Michael Greger, but we suggest opting for ground flax seeds for their full potential. We sprinkle them in breakfast meals, salads, baked goods and even use them as emulsifiers in replacement of eggs. These helpful kitchen warriors open the flood gates for traditionally non-vegan recipes, making them some of our most prized pantry treasures.
We always keep nut butters made from peanuts, almonds or cashews handy (although we store them in the fridge for longevity instead of the pantry). Nut butters are great binders for energy bites and other quick, classic snacks, and also add a heavy, filling protein boost to dips and breakfast bowls. To save money and avoid added oils, we like to make our own nut butters in the Vitamix.
Cacao Powder and Cacao Nibs
These are two pantry staples that I personally must have on deck at all times… because who doesn’t love chocolate? With cacao powder, we can create delicious chocolatey recipes that we never feel guilty about. We use cacao in everything from smoothies to avocado puddings to whole grain pancakes. Did you know that cacao has 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries and more calcium than cow’s milk per 100g? These are just two of the almost unbelievable nutrition facts regarding this superfood made from raw cacao beans. Don’t get it twisted though! Cacao powder is not the same thing as cocoa powder, which has lost most of its nutrients due to heavy processing at high temperatures.
Cacao nibs are basically just cacao beans chopped into little pieces. They aren’t processed at all, meaning that you still get all the health benefits of the beans—such as cognitive boosts, antioxidant effects, heart health and insulin regulation. We like popping them in our overnight oats for a chocolate chip cookie kind of vibe!
Plant-based protein powder
Who needs protein powder made from animal products when there are just as good (if not better) brands on the market made from healthy plant-based proteins? We like to use organic, complete protein powders that contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own.
Adding protein powder to smoothies is our post-work ritual so that we can get the most out of our weight training and to promote muscle recovery and growth. Protein powders rich in micronutrients are important because it’s an easy way to get in extra vitamins and minerals while getting in complete proteins. While it can be quite confusing with so many brands on the market, we suggest reputable, sustainable brands like Vega and Vivo Life.
Instead of using a lot of salt in liquid based recipes like sauces, soups and spreads, we like turning to miso paste as an alternative. Miso paste, made from fermented soybeans and grains, is a salty condiment loaded with probiotics. This makes it really good for our gut. When using miso, we try to add into a recipe at the very end so that all of the probiotics aren’t killed from the heat. Miso paste comes in many different flavors and varieties, such as those made from chickpeas or adzuki beans, in case you’re someone who chooses to stay away from miso.
What are some of your pantry essentials? Comment below to share what plant-based ingredients you couldn't live without! We'd love to hear what inspires you in the kitchen.
Sophia & Reid from Happy Seed