One of my greatest resources…a well stocked pantry! It took me a couple years to understand the importance of ‘your stock’. High quality ingredients can&do make ALL the difference. Yes, it can cost a fair penny, BUT keep an eye out for sales and coupons. Stores usually have a premeditated rotation for sales. After awhile, you get to know the system. It’s hard for me not to stock up when there’s a good discount on great items; however, be mindful of the expiry date – it’s gotten me a couple times. Fresh is best.
Also, shop around and don’t be afraid to order online. If you happen to be ordering something from Amazon anyway, and the shipping cost won’t make a difference – go for it! A lot of my favourite kitchen tools have been through Amazon.
When the pantry is stocked – I can pretty well think up any recipe, make a quick trip to the garden or grocer for fresh produce, and have a tasty meal whipped up in no time. Ok, going to be honest here…sometimes it does take a little more time, but always well worth it. Especially when it comes to your health. I’ve learned to appreciate the effort that goes into a homemade, grassroots, type of meal. It usually means it’s going to be “one of substance” – as my dad would say. Amen.
Now, keeping an orderly pantry. That’s a whole category on its own. We’re talking rotation (again) here – as I said…have to keep things fresh. Place those items with a shorter expiry date towards the front. Easy access and a reminder to put them to use. AND don’t forget to label if you’ll be using separate packaging from the original. Most items I can identify by look or smell, but once you start getting into the different flours – forget about it.
Here are a few of my pantry must haves that I ensure are always on hand…
~I’ve bolded my top 15 picks~
Almond Flour or Meal (meal is a bit courser & has the skins left on)
Almond Flour has got to be one of my goto ingredients for baking. Because it’s simply ground almonds, it’s naturally gluten free. It’s also undergone limited processing and hasn’t been bleached. Almond flour is a favourite of mine to use in cookies – they get nice & chewy.
Buckwheat is packed full of antioxidants and minerals. What I love about baking with buckwheat is it’s dense, but leaves no heavy feeling in your stomach after eating. I often use this flour for pancakes and loaves. Buckwheat *groats are awesome too. They’re these tiny little nut-like pieces that are deliciously crunchy. They don’t have much flavour so the are perfect for adding a crunch like topping smoothies, porridge, salads, and baking.
Type 00 Flour
This flour is a MUST when making pizza dough or pasta. It can be a little pricey. Type 00 flour is as fine as flour gets – germ & bran have been removed. The elasticity of the flour depends on the type of wheat used. Red wheat being more elastic, while others are slightly less. I personally use the ‘others’ more regularly and I’m always happy with the result. Plenty of elasticity.
Gluten Free Rolled Oats
This is one I stock up on, especially when on sale. Need some fibre, antioxidants, and a filling meal? Oats are your friend. During the colder months, which we have many, I turn to oats for breakfast, granola bars, and baking. It can also be ground up and turned into flour. Oats can absorb a lot of moisture so if using it for baking, don’t let the ‘batter’ sit on the counter for too long. You’ll have to use your hands to mold it into the pan. Very versatile ingredient though!
I can still remember when quinoa became all the rage. All of a sudden, it was EVERYWHERE. It too, is very versatile. Quinoa is a perfect filler, full of nutrients, and is a seed – naturally gluten free. It’s nutty flavour and chewy texture make it an ideal addition to salads, baking, and one of my all time favourites, veggie burgers – meet The Converter (Veggie) Burger. Quinoa stores well in the fridge, so don’t be shy to make a pot full and pack any leftovers away for later in the week. This is a great way to save some time & effort when meal planning.
Quinoa flakes are a relatively new addition to my pantry. They’re about 1/4th the size of rolled oats – if not smaller. I knew almost immediately that I would use the quinoa flakes in a batch of energy bars (CocoaQuinoa Bars). What I love about the quinoa flakes is that they’re light, but when packed into a bar, they create a rich dense snack. Healthwise, quinoa in comparison to oats is lower in fat, but slightly higher in carbohydrates – otherwise, fairly similar. My preference of one over the other, purely to just switch things up! When it comes to beating the bank, oats are more affordable than quinoa flakes (350g runs anywhere from $5-$9CAD…purchased in-store, closer to $9; try online).
Ahh, amaranth – my experimental ingredient. Amaranth has been compared to quinoa. It too, is a seed. A very small seed. Amaranth is slightly nutty in flavour and is packing plenty of nutrients. It also REALLY thickens (becomes gelatinous) when cooked. This is why I’ve found it SO interesting to work with. I often use it in replacement of coconut oil to help maintain the ‘structure’ of a few of my recipes.
Arrowroot Powder (Starch)
A natural thicker & binding agent, arrowroot powder is gluten free, grain free, and paleo friendly. It is processed without the use of harsh chemicals and heating – gotta love that. You know what that means…it maintains much of its nutrients – yasss. If a recipe asks for cornstarch, and you’re subbing in arrowroot powder, the amount would be x2. Be conservative at first as you can always add a little more. If too much, things can become gooey & lumpy. Because arrowroot is sensitive to heat, add it towards the end of your cooking. AND like most thickeners, mix it with a little liquid first prior to adding it to the rest to ensure no powdery lumps. Arrowroot powder is also great for creating a crunchy coating on root veggies & tofu – Zucchini Panko Rolls + Baked (Crispy) Tofu. It dissolves clear so it suits well with jellies, glazes, and other similar goodies.
Tapioca Flour (Starch)
This is the key ingredient for that gooey stretchy plant-based cheese you see out there. It’s made from cassava root found in South America & the Caribbean. The ratio for replacing tapioca flour with cornstarch, 2:1 respectively. You’ll need twice the amount of tapioca flour to that of corn starch. Unlike arrowroot powder, tapioca flour must be processed to remove any harmful agents – it’s safe at the point of purchase. Tapioca flour, like arrowroot powder, makes a great crispy outer layer for baked goods. It’s also perfect for puddings. If you’re cooking with acidic foods, use arrowroot powder over tapioca flour. Tapioca flour is sensitive to acids. However, tapioca flour performs well at higher temperatures, unlike arrowroot powder. Both don’t carry much for flavour so they’re equal there.
Although cornstarch has little to no nutritional value for most, it’s been my family’s preferred thickener for soups, stews, sauces, and gravies for as long as I can remember. Corn is apparently one of the highest in pesticide use and GMO produce on the market. Cornstarch is found in many processed foods, so when I have a choice, I go with organic cornstarch. There are a few producers of organic cornstarch out there. You may have to look online or head to the specialty isle at the grocery store.
Organic Raw Cane Sugar
I actually got into using organic raw cane sugar after purchasing it for the hummingbirds. I didn’t want to use white refined, processed sugar for those speedy lil’ guys, so why would I use it for myself and loved ones. Again, sticking with organic, especially in highly sprayed (pesticides) and processed/refined foods like sugar, you’re doing your body a favour and skipping potentially harmful additives. Organic raw cane sugar has larger granules, is light brown in colour, and rich in flavour. It’s also quite reasonably priced.
Organic Coconut Palm Sugar
This has been my sugar of choice for some time now. It’s quite widely available & affordable. Because the granules are more ‘fibrous’, it can take a little effort to dissolve this sugar in liquid. In baking, it seems to work well. There’s more nutritional value in coconut sugar compared to white sugar; however, the amounts are somewhat trace. It would take a large quantity to reap any benefit. With that being said, I’ll take some over none! Inulin, a promoter of good gut health, is in coconut palm sugar so that’s reason enough for me to make the switch. AND as someone who likes things not too sweet, coconut palm sugar is on the milder, somewhat malty side of the flavour spectrum.
Organic Brown Rice Syrup
If you like your granola bars, squares, and candies, you’ll have to have a couple jars of organic brown rice syrup in the pantry (or condensed unsweetened coconut milk). This one does have an expiry date, so keep an eye out! Organic brown rice syrup is categorized as a sweetener and has a slightly malty flavour. When I use it, I rarely add any additional sweeteners. Because it’s still a sugar, I try to limit how much and how often I use it. AND like sugars, it needs to be brought up to temperature to help it ‘firm’ up – boil over med/low for about 2mins without stirring, then remove from heat and add any additional ingredients. Work quickly as once the syrup mixture begins to cool, it’ll become stiff.
Pure Maple Syrup
I’m Canadian after all! Nah, really nothing to do with it, but it’s a perfect sweetener for a plant-based diet. It’s important to place emphasis on pure. There’s a major difference between pure and, well…the ‘other guys’. No hate, I grew up devouring the other guys every weekend on Pancake Sunday. Once I got into my late teens, I learned the difference. Pure is simply sap boiled down into a syrup, while the other is a mixture of corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. What’s nice about pure maple syrup is that it comes in a variety of flavours & ratings…light amber, med. amber, dark amber, grade A, grade B, etc. The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavour. If you shop around, you should be able to find pure maple syrup at an affordable price. Costco sells a good size jug of it, organic too, for I believe about $12CAD.
Organic Cacao Powder
Cacao & Cocoa are from the same bean. Their differences come from how they’re produced. Cacao powder is made by cold pressing uncooked cocoa beans, while for cocoa powder, the beans are roasted. The cold pressing method allows much of the nutrients to remain in tack. Cacao and cocoa powder both contain (varying) nutritional value. As for flavour, they do vary slightly. I find cacao to be a little more earthy, slightly stronger flavour. They can be substituted 1:1; however, if you’re not use to the flavour, or not a huge chocolate fan, start off with a little less cacao.
Organic Cacao Nibs
Ok, it did take me awhile to adapt to cacao nibs. They’re super crunchy, somewhat bitter, and slightly nutty…with a hint of waxiness. They do offer high nutritional value – magnesium, potassium, & iron to name a few. I don’t often eat them on their own, but I do love adding them to my baking. Because they don’t melt, they’re fun to add to recipes where you might want a lil’ (cocoa) crunch without using nuts, or sometimes I include both!
Organic Goji Berries (Dried)
You can usually find a little baggy of these guys on me somewhere. I love organic goji berries as a chewy, mildly sweet snack. I don’t often bake with goji berries as they will lose some of their nutritional value, which in this case, I don’t want to compromise – ALL 8 essential amino acids, protein, and a solid amount of vitamin C. They’ll also lose their beautiful vibrant colour when baked. Organic goji berries are a great addition to no-bake granola bars, squares, and treats. They can be pricey, so shop around. I have found large bags for nearly half the price at discount stores like Winners. If they’re ever dried up so much that they taste chalky, soak them in hot water for 15-20mins to help plump them back up.
Ground flaxseed added to water (1tbsp flaxseed to 3tbsp water – give or take) is equal to an egg substitute in plant-based cooking. What I love about flaxseed is it can be added to nearly any baking recipe without significantly altering the original result. I often add it to get an extra boost of fibre, among its many other nutritional benefits (omega-3 essential fatty acids). Whole flaxseed is difficult for the body to digest, so I keep it on hand and grind it on the day of use.
Organic Hemp Hearts
These lil’ gems have a slightly nutty flavour AND are rich in omega-6 & omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also packing essential amino acids, protein, and tender in texture – easy on digestion. Just a few of the foods I add them to…smoothies, salads, cereals/porridge, energy bars/balls, baking, and pasta. Very versatile.
Here’s another egg substitute – mix 1tbsp chia seeds with 3tbsp water; stir well. Like hemp hearts, chia seeds are also very versatile. They’re often used as a combing and/or thickening agent. Once soaked in water, they naturally become gelatinous. Dry, they’re super crunchy, but easily edible. Chia seeds are full of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and a source of fibre, iron, and calcium. It’s common to add them to smoothies, quick jellies/jams, and in baking.
Raw Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)
When I can keep things raw, I will. Pepitas are one of those things. Prior to pepitas becoming a large part of my inventory, I used pumpkin oil. I added it to salad dressing purely for it’s health benefits – thanks Shannon! The strong nutty/earthy flavour, and the chewy texture of the pepitas have made them ideal for salads, granola bars, and baked goods. The seeds lightly pan roasted with a little grape seed oil and sea salt also make a tasty quick snack. Raw, they’re full of healthy fats, antioxidants, magnesium, and zinc. My grandma swore by zinc as a skin rejuvenator – her skin was stunning.
THE essential item in a plant-based kitchen! I would say that raw cashews are in more plant-based recipes than any other single ingredient. When soaked in water (hot 15mins-ish; room temp. 2hrs) and combined with either water or plant-based milk, and blended in a high speed blender – the result is cashew cream. This creamy base makes up many different dips, sauces, icings, and dressings – essential for a dairy free diet. I would say its counterpart would be tahini (toasted, ground, hauled sesame seeds). I use them interchangeably in salad dressings and sauces. Both offer a nutty flavour that’s not too overpowering and pair well with spices, herbs, and minerals. I find most nuts are sensitive to heat, so if cashew cream is needed to thickening something, add it towards the end of your cooking – otherwise it may separate.
Raw walnuts are another one high in protein. I believe out of the nut family, it’s one of the highest (in addition to healthy fats & fibre). I use walnuts quite often in baking as the base for pie crusts and bars. I also like to lightly toast walnuts and add them to my salads and pasta.
This one pretty well follows the same routine as raw walnuts…used to top salads, base for pie crusts and bars. I also like to candy pecans. They already slightly sweet and tender, so with the addition of maple syrup, coconut oil, sea salt, and some heat – yum. You’ll find yourself picking them off one-by-one.
Raw Sunflower Seeds
If raw cashews are a little pricey for your taste, a great seed to add in place of (some) cashews are raw sunflower seeds. I would say they’re probably among the most affordable seed out there. If you can find organic, go with that. They’re mild in flavour and BIG in vitamin E. They’re packing a lot of goodness at a reasonable price!
I personally don’t eat tahini on its own, but I love adding it to salad dressings, dips, sauces, and baking. It’s a very important component in hummus giving it that slightly nutty taste & fat that’s needed to combine the flavours. Just like other nut butters, tahini can easily be made at home and will likely save you a few pennies. It will also be fresh skipping the disappointment of any bitterness that may have formed during its time on the shelf.
I keep on hand at least 2 varieties of nut butter – almond & peanut, both organic. Nut butters are always in high rotation at my home. They’re pretty well my protein quick fix…accompanied by a banana of course. You’ve probably heard this before, but when purchasing nut butters, read the ingredients and choose ones that have listed just 1…3 max. Usually the best ones are purely ‘roasted nuts’. Because I like my nut butters less runny, once I open them, I pour out nearly half the oil, and then stir well. It also makes it easier to put&keep in the pups KONG – no complaints there. Although removing some of the oil wouldn’t alter my recipes much, it’s just something to take note of. Funny enough, nut butters also make great oil replacer in baking and thickeners in raw bars. AND in some cases, I also use them as a combining agent in replacement of eggs.
Grape Seed Oil
This is my oil of preference when roasting, frying, and in dressings. I love the mild taste and its ability to perform well at high heat. It’s also another one high in vitamin E and mostly made up of omega-6 & 9 fatty acids. Grape seed oil can be pricey if going for the high quality stuff, which is worth it – just use it in moderation. There can be too much of a good thing!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Here’s another oil great in dressing and marinades. Extra virgin olive oil also works for sautéing, but you can use regular olive oil for that as well. As an unrefined oil, it hasn’t been treated with heat or chemicals, and the antioxidants remain in tack – as compared to that of olive oil (refined). The flavour is somewhat mild, but I find it more noticeable than grape seed oil. Both are great options, interchangeably.
Organic Sunflower Oil
My sister actually introduced me to sunflower oil. Before, I would just glance past it with not much thought. It’s an affordable oil with a mild flavour and great nutritional value. It’s one of the highest in polyunsaturated fats – the good fats, but very high in omega-6 so best used in a balanced diet and in moderation. It works well in dressings and for sautéing.
Sesame Seed Oil
There’s a lot of flavour in that little bottle! Sesame seed oil comes in a few different varieties. On hand, I have the ‘toasted’ sesame seed oil. When I’m cooking up noodle bowls, or creating a Thai inspired recipe, it will surely have some sesame seed oil in it. It’s like a flavour BOMB. A little goes a long way. It’s another one high in anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin E.
Rice Vinegar (Rice Wine Vinegar)
Rice vinegar goes hand in hand with sesame seed oil, hence why I’ve placed it right below. They make great companions. Rice vinegar is not as acidic as white vinegar, and it has a mild flavour. This is my choice vinegar for one of my favourites…Peanut Ginger Dressing.
Apple Cider Vinegar
If you’re looking to add a ‘sharp’ flavour to a dish, add apple cider vinegar. Just a splash goes a long way, and in the world of plant-based cooking – it can be much needed when things go dull. It’s also works well for pickling, marinades, as well as in salad dressings. Apple cider vinegar offers soft flavour with slightly less acidity than white vinegar.
Aged White Wine Vinegar
When it comes to salad dressings, my top two choices for an acid component would be fresh lime juice and aged white wine vinegar. I find both work well interchangeably. Because wine can be processed using animal products, look for brands that state they’re vegan or something similar.
Made from grapes, balsamic vinegar is rich, dark, and concentrated. I often reduce balsamic vinegar in a pot oven med./low heat until it’s syrup like. Store bought balsamic reduction can be packed with additional sugars and taste quite sweet. Balsamic reduction goes perfectly with bruschetta, roasted pears and apples, and with bread. As a vinegar, a simple balsamic dressing is easy and perfect for a variety of salads.
With a taste similar to cheese, nutritional yeast is something most plant-based peeps will have in their pantries. It’s flaky, light, and made from deactivated yeast. Due to being ‘deactivated’ yeast, it has no leavening ability so it cannot be used as a substitute for active yeast. It can usually be purchased in fine or large flake form. Nutritional yeast can be used as is sprinkled over popcorn or vegetables; or can be added to cashew cream, sauces, dips, and baking.
Pure Vanilla Extract
This is something I think most would have already – possibly artificial. Even though pure vanilla extract is more expensive, the taste is SO worth it. For me, I do try to veer away from artificial where possible. If you can get your hands on some vanilla beans (grade B), you can make your own extract at home. You would just need an airtight bottle, a minimum of 35% alcohol – vodka is a good option, and some time.
Fall is the time of year you can find various fruit purees in my pantry. This is usually because I’ve done some canning and stocked up for the season – the season for baking. Fruit puree is often added to baking in replacement of oil. The puree adds moisture and a bit of sweetness. With that being said, if I’m buying fruit puree, it’s always unsweetened. I like to have the ability to add a sweetener, if needed.
Canned OR Dried Legumes
Another plant-based staple! I’ve greatly cut back on the amount of legumes I consume; however, they do make a great protein replacement and filler. Chickpeas are used to make hummus, falafel, squares, and much more – another versatile one. The aquafaba (chickpea water) can also be used as an egg substitute. Just be sure to buy organic. Black beans I use to top salads, tacos, and in burgers. Lentils are another great topper for salads, and in soups and dahl.
Wild rice is my dream carb. It’s chewy, nutty, filling, and full of nutrients. Wild rice does take longer to cook than traditional white rice – about 40mins. What I love about rice is you can add spices and herbs, place it on the stove, and forget about it (until the timer goes off). It’s a great base for a hearty meal and refrigerates well so make extra! Remember…saves time & helps with meal planning. Rice is also perfect in soups as the grains won’t get mushy like some noodles do when reheating. It also happens to be naturally gluten free…nice.
Brown Rice Noodles
I always have either vermicelli or spaghetti on hand – brown rice edition. Go Go Quinoa is a great brand. Their noodles never go soggy or sticky on me. Vermicelli I like to add to my satay bowls, salads, and wraps. They’re extremely thin, cook quickly (3-5mins), and are easy to handle. I find that rice noodles do tend to hold sauce and flavour well, which is awesome seeing as they don’t have much flavour.
Well, that concludes a solid portion of my pantry. It’s ever expanding, and then shrinking, only to expand again…AND is absolutely essential to a healthy happy tummy. Diversity is key.
*Sources for nutritional information include the packaging of products, public online recourse, & published articles, and is not to be taken as factual.