A-Z of vegetarian and vegan kitchen staples

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My sister and I used to play this game where we would write the alphabet down the side of a piece of paper and then choose a topic – first names, countries, vegetables – and race each other to get the most answers, ideally a full alphabet. Names and countries were popular topics. I would usually win as I was super fast, but then Naomi would win by default as she was bigger and meaner (she’s lovely now!). When she got to an age that meant she was too cool to hang out with me, I kept playing the game on my own. I won every time then.

So I decided to play again recently, but this time based on what I have in my kitchen as people are always asking me what my staples are. We tend to buy the same things on our regular shops and have a good range of dried spices, herbs, oils and dried foods usually in stock. We will do a ‘big shop’ maybe every 6 weeks and then top up on fresh fruit and veg once or twice a week.

Avocado

I find it funny that avocado on toast is one of the biggest current food trends. It’s as if people have just come across this little green goddess. Avocado on toast is a totally boss breakfast though – I ain’t knocking! I have been known to just eat an avocado with a spoon (yes, go there) but I also love it in salads, sandwiches or on the side as guacamole. It does have a high fat content but as long as you’re not eating 10 a day I think you’ll be ok!

Beetroot

I’m pretty sure beetroots are packed full of happiness. What else can explain that amazing colour and super yum taste? They are  most definitely packed full of vitamins – being great for cleansing your liver and fighting disease. I love beetroot in juices, as well as in my boss salads. I have also had golden beetroot whilst eating out – in this lovely posh salad at Ottolenghi’s and as dreamy tempura at Michelin chef’s White Bull in Lancashire. I’m sure golden beetroot’s lighter flavour could turn even the most avid of beet-haters (Tristan, I’m looking at you).

Chillies

Fresh chillies, dried chillies, chilli flakes, chilli powder, chilli sauces, chilli oil, chilli pickle, chilli chocolate. You name it, I’ve got it. I love food with a kick and I have to try very hard to not automatically add chilli to every dish I make. Chillies are also renowned for their health benefits as they contain plenty of vitamins and minerals that help to protect the body and fight disease. At the moment I only have bottled chilli sauces but following my chilli pickle success I plan to experiment with sauces next. Watch this space!

Dates

My dad used to snack on dates all the time but I just couldn’t get my head round their sticky but tough consistency. I still find them a bit weird and wouldn’t chomp on them as they are, but they are magic for vegan baking – largely due to that odd sticky but tough texture. I have recently used them in chocolate brownies and my chocolate and goji berry truffles. Try eating a date with half a strawberry and you will easily be fooled into thinking it’s chocolate!

Eggplant

Otherwise known as aubergine. When I was a teenager I proclaimed that I didn’t eat fruit and veg beginning with the letter A. There went apples, avocados, asparagus, artichokes and aubergines. So lucky I’ve filed this under E here! I didn’t get properly into this purple chunky hunk of a vegetable (they are pretty sexy, right?) until 2012 where I had the most mouthwateringly  delicious baigan bhaji at Goan Corner in Hampi, India. I was in hippy heaven, in more ways than one. I proceeded to order aubergine every time it was on the menu for the rest of my trip. I then realised that it’s a misunderstood, and miscooked, vegetable. We probably should have been friends sooner. [Note: I am no longer weird with food and now eat all the A foods above. Don’t even get me started on how dreamy artichokes are…]

Fruit

I am actually not as good at eating fruit at home as I am at work. I’ll always have bananas and apples on my desk through the week, but I eat fruit less often at home. Weekend breakfasts are the most common exception, where granola, fruit and yoghurt is always a lovely treat. Frozen berries are great to have on hand to add to dishes, and obviously keep better. Right now our fruit bowl has a bunch of bananas, some apricots and half a packet of aforementioned dates, so we’re doing ok.

My kitchen

Gram flour (chickpea flour)

I use this mostly to make vegetable pakoras but it’s also fantastic to make alternative pancakes, flatbreads and dumplings. Made from chickpeas, this flour is great gluten-free alternative. You can find this in any Asian food store, however big supermarkets have also started stocking it in areas with a more diverse population.

Henderson’s Relish

I’ve only had Hendo’s vegetarian and vegan Worcestershire sauce in my world for the past few years, but it’s been life-changing! A staple in most Northern households, veggie or not, this is great for adding a bit of a kick to sauces, or Bloody Mary’s! Mainly sold in and around Yorkshire, you can now buy it online, and some larger supermarkets also stock it.

Indian spices

Clutching at straws a bit here but the only other I food I could think of was ice, which I do have but that’s just hard water, and iceberg lettuce, which I never really use as it tastes like paper water. Whereas spices such cumin, coriander, caradamon, turmeric, fenugreek, chillies, mustard seeds, ajwan seeds, fennel, asafoetida and cinammon, which all orginate from the Indian sub-continent and are used commonly in Indian cooking (as well as many other cuisines), are something that I always have in stock and use frequently. I tend to buy them in big bags from the local Asian or Turkish store and then fill up smaller jars. So much cheaper than buying the overpriced little jars from supermarkets, and the flavours are always much better.

Juice

And by juice I mean alcohol (it’s a Scottish thing). I couldn’t really think of another J I have in my kitchen – jalapeños but I’ve already said chillies, jackfruit is big with many vegans but I’ve not quite got on that bandwagon yet – so juice it is and we have a silly amount of booze in our flat as we rarely drink at home. Untouched cachaca brought back from Brazil earlier this year, unopened orange and brandy liquer that we’ve never quite known when to drink, gin that T made at a gin-making class. Plus loads more…. Perhaps we should just throw a party and get it over it!

Kale

These leaves bounce their stylish curls around my kitchen most weeks. Packed full of vitamins A, C and K, this leafy green is great for the digestive system and fighting infections. I most typically have in salads or stir fry, blended in a fresh juice, or as crispy kale chips cooked in the oven – a little drizzle of olive oil and my fave herbs and spices then 10 mins in the oven. Delicious and so much cheaper than Pret!

Lemons

I usually have a few lemons, as well as a bottle of lemon juice, in the fridge. First thing in the morning I have a cup of hot water and lemon, which helps get me going. Lemons are yet another great source of vitamin C. I also use lemon juice in salad dressings a lot and usually put lemon in any fresh juice I make. And then of course I used all the lemons in my lemon pickle!

Muesli

Muesli and granola have only become regulars on my breakfast circle in the past year or so. I have never been fond of cow’s milk so have always shied away from cereals but then when I tried it with yoghurt things changed. Alpro dairy-free yoghurt is one of my favourite plant-based alternatives – I can easily demolish half a tub – so it’s an ideal accompaniment to muesli and fresh fruit.  My prefered muesli is Dorset Cereals as they have less sugars and fats, and don’t add unnecessary ingredients like honey, instantly de-veganising it. Homemade muesli of oats with nuts seeds is even better!

Nuts and seeds

We have a tin full of different nuts and seeds – almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and ‘mixed nuts’ are usually in there, alongside pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds primarily. These are used largely in salads, to top up the protein hit, but also baking, and dairy-free subsitutes like cashew butter and cream. Nuts are also a great source of ‘good fats’ (unsaturated) so they make a healthy snack – just don’t have too many!

Oats

Considering that I despise porridge (one childhood food hate that I still haven’t got past, and yes, that makes me an awful Scot) I do actually like oaty things. Desserts, biscuits, muesli and protein bars are where I use oats the most. They are also a core ingredient in my veggie haggis which is just sublime, and loved by meat-eaters as well as herbivores. Probably because the thought of eating a sheep’s stomach is disgusting. Quite rightly so.

Pulses

I have a whole shelf dedicated to chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, cannellini beans and any others I can lay my hands on. Growing up in an Indian household meant that lentils were almost daily staples. Nowadays they still frequently feature in curries, but also salads, soups, lentil lasagne, and the aforementioned veggie haggis. Chickpeas are my go to protein in salads, as well as core to homemade falafel and houmous. I usually have bags of dried pulses as they’re better value for money, as well as tinned ones for convenience.
image1Quinoa

I’ve talked about quinoa in previous posts – on vegetarian protein sources and in recipes. This is one of my go to grains and a good source of added protein.  At first I used it just as an alternative to pasta or rice but now I’m getting more adventurous and using it to make things like quinoa cakes and balls, and it’s a regular ingredient in my protein and snack bars. It’s now more common in vegan and veggie eating out options, making more exciting choices than mushroom risotto (yawn). The only concern still is sustainability, so having an awareness of this and eating it in moderation is important.

Rice

Another staple whilst growing up – most meals usually came with rice or chapatis. Nowadays we primarily eat brown rice, but sometimes white basmati if we want something quicker to cook. We don’t eat rice as often as other grains or carbs and I’ll be honest here, this is largely because it’s the one thing that I haven’t mastered very well… Brown rice at least is much easier to get right though. If I follow my dad’s trick to the tee (rinse it 3 times then cook with double the water to rice) then it tends to work. But usually I just ask T to make it, as his precise nature – not my rushing and flapping – means he never gets it wrong!

Spinach

I could probably beat Popeye in a fight for spinach. It is in my lunchtime boss salad pretty much every day. We get through a couple of bags of baby spinach every week. It is super adaptable so can be used in any veggie dish that I make, and is also great for packing a punch in a super green juice. Frozen spinach is great for cooked dishes, as it obviously lasts longer, and can just be chucked right in. Full of vitamins, protein and iron, this is one leaf that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Tofu

I properly LOVE tofu. Anyone that says it’s bland or tasteless clearly hasn’t had well-made tofu. It is a protein-packed staple in my fridge and is always what I gravitate towards if it’s on a menu when eating out. More places should have tofu as their veggie option as it really disappoints me to see protein-free, unthoughtful veggie options. I mainly cook it in a stir-fry, like my sesame-crusted tofu, or in salad, but recently have been experimenting with it as quiche and have also made vegan cheesecake from it before which is utterly divine. My next challenge is to make it from scratch!

Uhm…

I can’t think of any foods that start with U, certainly not that I regularly have in my kitchen, sorry!

Vinegars

I currently have five vinegars in stock: rice wine, apple cider, red wine, balsamic and good old white vinegar. Given that as a child I found vinegars repulsive (being told my favourite thing as a toddler was pickled onions made me question whether I had ended up with the wrong family) I have now gone full circle to now embrace vinegars, even if there is definitely an Edinburgh-held belief though that vinegar is an inferior condiment. Most commonly used in salad dressings, however I also use rice wine vinegar a lot in South East Asian cooking, and red wine vinegar as way to add a slight richness to dishes.

Wholegrain mustard

Lidl do a great ‘lil jar of this stuff for about 50p and I get through it pretty quickly. It is a wonder in sauces and dressings. It is also a key ingredient in my cucumber raita. One of my favourite weekend brunch treats is a veggie sausage sandwich on granary bread, with wilted spinach, roasted tomatoes and big dollop of wholegrain mustard, oh yeah! Damn, I’m hungry now.

Xmas chocolate

Ok so I’m clutching at straws here but anyone know any foods that start with X? One that I might actually eat? And we do have loads of chocolate and sweets leftover from Christmas still in our cupboard, so it’s not a lie! All the vegan friendly stuff has been demolished so the rest is still there, waiting for T to work his way through. That an a giant chocolate rabbit from Easter. His task is to get it all munched before Christmas 2015! [Edit: he managed!]

Yeast

Since eating vegan I have welcomed nutritional yeast openly into my life. I didn’t know that yeast could be nutritional or not – the difference being that nutritional yeast is inactive (again, I didn’t know there was a form of lazy yeast!), therefore it cannot be used to rise bread. It is most commonly used to make vegan cheeses and also to add richness and flavour to soup and sauces. It comes in flakes (think fish food but not so stinky) and can be bought in most health food shops.

Zucchini

Ok, I would usually call this courgette but I couldn’t think of anything else and I do buy them in every veg shop. Since getting my spiralizer I’ve been well and truly on the courgetti bandwagon. Another favourite is roasted veg and I also tend to use them in any salads, stir fries or whatever I’m making. I’ve done stuffed zucchini a couple of times now too as well as using long slices as replacement for pasta in a raw lasagne – well worth a try!

What is in your cupboards and fridges? Is there anything you cannot live without? How do you organise your kitchen? Do share your thoughts with me and others below!

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