Yesterday Alicia Silverstone over at The Kind Life posted about the 20 ingredients she can’t live without. I always enjoy reading other people’s lists of the vegan non-negotiables that they veer towards in the grocery store again and again. I thought it would be fun to make up a list of my own of the items that regularly find their way onto my grocery list. Of course, we eat many more foods than just these 25. (I couldn’t limit myself to only 20!) But these are the ones that require an immediate trip to the Co-op or farmers market when we run out.
1. Black Beans – My freezer is always stocked with at least a few containers of black beans made from scratch. I just pull them out of the freezer and run warm water over them to thaw. Then they’re ready for a bean and rice bowl, taco salad, adding to puffy tacos, burritos, salads, chili, or a platter of nachos.
2. Chickpeas – Endlessly useful chickpeas are my favorite bean. I could easily eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a snack! Loaded with protein and iron, these legumes can be used in hummus, falafel, salads, and wraps.
3. Lentils – Lentils are such a quick and easy protein-packed pantry option. Unlike their beany brethren, they don’t have to be soaked before using. They’re a good source of fiber and iron, and I’m crazy about their earthy flavor with almost metallic undertones. I’m happiest with a big pile of them stirred with stone-ground mustard (later on the list) or in a filling bowl of soup with collard greens.
4. Barley – While I enjoy brown rice as much as the next person, hearty barley is a grain with serious chewing power. I love it anywhere I’d use rice, as a side, in soup, or as a main course like in paella.
5. Stoneground mustard – For sandwiches, salad dressings, or to toss with lentils, stoneground mustard is a must to have on hand. (My favorite is an inexpensive and unassuming variety made by Natural Value. It has that solid mustard and vinegar bite without being harsh.)
6. Sauerkraut – Yes, I’ve written about my love of sauerkraut many times. (Gold Mine Garlic Kraut is my top choice.) I’ve been known to eat pungent sauerkraut with its crunch and bold flavor of vinegar directly from the jar. I love it as a side, a snack, a sandwich topper, or salad addition. Going out for cheeseless pizza? Sauerkraut is a wonderful topping that brings a bold flavor and unique texture that’s a fun change of pace.
7. Garlic – When the farmers market was nearing its end in October, my favorite garlic farmer was selling off bags of garlic that were supposedly enough to last through Christmas. I bought two, and it still wasn’t enough. To me, nothing makes a house smell better than garlic sizzling in a pan. I opt for heads with large cloves, because it means more garlic for less effort. I also smell the garlic at the store for the musty smell of mold, because I’ve been burnt one too many times by garlic that was shriveled and old. Then I add garlic to everything from garlic butter noodles and polenta to collard greens, stir-fries and soups. Want to get me a dozen roses for my birthday? Lovely. For extra points, make it of the stinking variety!
8. Onions – You make me cry but I love you anyway. You’re like a sentimental episode of Doctor Who. The tears are worth it. You go almost anywhere that garlic does and you’re also lovely in slices on a sandwich.
9. Red, Yellow, or Orange Bell Peppers – Think back, if you will, to the eighties when all bell peppers were unripe and green. It was a cold and bland time when sweet bell peppers never reached their full, fruity potential. Now bell peppers can be found in a rainbow of hues from yellow to purple. High in vitamins C and A, I buy multiple peppers a week for salads, soups, stir-fries, pizza, and even juice!
10. Celery – Humble celery, too basic to be flashy is an obvious choice for soup, salads, and stir-fries or go old school with a slathering of peanut butter and raisins.
11. Carrots – Like the aforementioned celery, carrots don’t get a lot of ravenous press. Unlike kale with its legions of followers, carrots are the apples of the vegetable world. Humdrum and ordinary. I used to say that the best thing that ever happened to the carrot was the baby carrot. In the nineties baby carrots were suddenly everywhere packaged in bags and popped into lunchboxes. But have you had a full-sized carrot lately with the green top still attached? That’s actually the best thing that ever happened to the carrot. Instead of grabbing the dried looking carrots wrapped in a plastic bag, go for ones with the tops still attached and taste the difference. Wonderful in salads, stir-fries, and soups, they also add a delightful mild sweetness in juice form.
12. Hot Sauce – For a peppery zing, hot sauce provides a spicy counterpart to more mild ingredients. If I start the day with toasted tortillas slathered with black bean or chickpea hummus, spicy hot sauce gives it a pop of life. (Trader Joe’s hot sauce is my favorite.)
13. Jarred Jalapenos – Like hot sauce before it, jarred jalapenos give a wonderful kick of spice and crunch to anything it touches. (My favorite variety is made by Jeff’s Naturals. I know you’d think all jarred jalapenos are the same, but I’ve tried many and this is one that keeps its crunch and doesn’t become limp in the jar.)
14. Polenta – Hot and creamy, solid and fried or grilled, polenta is the potatoes of the corn world. So many options! At breakfast it goes well with maple syrup and blueberries. It is fond of marinara for an Italian dinner. But my favorite way to enjoy it is with sautéed garlic (of course) and sun-dried tomatoes.
15. Lemons – Want to reduce salt in your diet? Consider the lemon. It gives food shine without the sodium. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time long ago when the plastic bottled lemon juice was my standard. Now I always have a bag on hand for squeezing in water, adding to salad dressings, deglazing pans, softening greens, and putting into sauces.
16. Cashews – A handful of cashews ranks as one of my favorite easy, anytime snacks, but cashews are capable of so much more! Cheeses, salad dressings, sauces, sour cream, cheesecake, smoothies… The possibilities of cashews are surprising and endless. Plus, a handful of cashews in a Thai or Indian dish always adds something special.
17. Tomatoes – Is there anything better than a ripe tomato in July? Maybe Disneyland at Christmas, but that’s about it. And yes, tomatoes can be mealy and flavorless out of season, but cherry tomatoes are pretty good all year around. Plus, sun-dried tomatoes, jarred pasta sauce, prepared marinara, and salsa are so handy to have on hand just in case.
18. Kale – Do you know that special someone who you would gladly pamper and massage until they’re wilted and relaxed? Kale, that’s you, and you’re worth it.
19. Whole wheat tortillas – For a quick and easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner, tortillas are a must. They’re the origami of foods. I’m a wrap. No, I’m a burrito. No, I’m a taco. No, I’m chips. Every hummus wrap needs a canvas, and the tortilla is there.
20. Non-dairy milk – Plain rice milk is my favorite, but my husband prefers vanilla soy. It’s handy to have both for tea, cereal, baking, or smoothie-making. For drinking by the glassful, I like making vanilla cashew milk.
21. Dried Herbs & Spices – I keep a full pantry of spices, but the ones I turn to the most are cumin, coriander, paprika, thyme, herbs de Provence, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon.
22. Fresh Cilantro – Like Jim Carrey or Kathy Griffin, cilantro can be divisive. You like it. You hate it. But rarely anything in between. For me every Indian dinner needs cilantro chutney, every plateful of Drunken Noodles needs a fresh handful on top, every salsa is better with it freshly chopped, and my favorite salad dressing is only improved by its inclusion.
23. Reduced sodium, wheat-free Tamari – For adding depth and umami to sauces, gravies, and dressings, I regularly reach for Tamari. And when potstickers are on offer, I’ll take mine with a little bowl of Chinese mustard and a little bowl of tamari, thank you.
24. Tofu – Tofu may be the black sheep of the health food world, but I love it anyway. (I also love black sheep. And gray ones. And white ones. And well, just any sheep, because sheep are awesome.) My favorite way to enjoy tofu is baked and then cooled in the refrigerator overnight. It gives it a dense, chewy texture that is wonderful on its own, in a sandwich, or in a salad.
25. Avocados – Buttery and inviting avocados give richness and body to everything they touch. I enjoy avocados anywhere and any way, but especially on bagels with hummus, as a cool pizza topping, as the finishing touch on any Mexican food, or blended into guacamole.
For more information on stocking a vegan kitchen, check out this post on 5 Kitchen Tool Essentials.
Which vegan ingredients are essential in your kitchen?
Update: Jennifer at My Blissful Journey, Amy at Tahini Too, Bobbie at The Vegan Crew, and Kristy at Keepin’ It Kind made lists of their own! Check them out! Also, if you make a list of vegan essentials, let me know in the comments, and I’ll link to you here.
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post.