Last week we discussed 5 pantry staples that I use to build my plant-forward meals each week. I gave you a ton of examples of how I use those foods so that you hopefully became convinced of how useful they can be in your own kitchen!
This week, I'm giving you more! But instead of these being "foundational" foods, I am highlighting my favorite "ingredients"; those things that I use almost every day, but that don't make up the majority of the meal. For example, we will be covering the usefulness of vegetable broth concentrate for meals, flax and chia seeds for baking, and so much more.
Let's get started with some things that make it into a lot of plant-based meals!
#1: Vegetable broth
Vegetable broth usually finds it into about every other vegan/plant-based recipe I try. That's because of the way it adds flavor and can be used to cook without oil. Often times, the recipe only calls for a little amount (1/2 cup or so) and so I find it useful to have a bouillon base that I can use to make just what I need. However, you could also buy vacuum-packed vegetable broth for pretty inexpensive, it's just hard to find containers that are recyclable. Lastly, you could save your vegetable scraps and make your own broth at the end of the week to use the next week.
I like the brand Better than Bouillon, as they have a vegetable base, no beef base, no chicken base, and when you can find them, sometimes a low-sodium variation, which is ideal. You could also make your own bouillon powder by following a recipe such as this Vegetable Bouillon Powder from Intentionally Eat. This is probably the most cost effective method as you just need to combine some pretty inexpensive spices with nutritional yeast (more on this ingredient later).
How do recipes use vegetable broth?
As the base of a soup! Of course.
To flavor grains (like quinoa and rice) as you cook them.
To add moisture.
To saute without oil.
To add a savory taste.
#2: Nutritional Yeast
Whaty what? If you are new to plant-based eating you probably have never heard of nutritional yeast. I hadn't heard about it until I lived with plant-based practitioners and they told me about a delicious way to season your popcorn with Bragg's Liquid Aminos and nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast is the same yeast used in baking and brewing beer, but it has been processed to intentionally be used as a food product. Often times it's fortified with additional B vitamins which makes it a helpful source of B12 to vegans.
Its flavor profile is often described as cheesy, nutty, or just plain savory. It is found in the health food aisles, or in the bulk aisle of grocery stores somewhere near the spices. It is used in a wide variety of plant-based recipes, and especially when making a cheese alternative. I first started using it mainly to make vegan mac n' cheese, but have branched out to use it in a few other foods.
How do recipes use nutritional yeast?
Add it to beans or cashews to make cheese sauce.
Add it to sauces and salad dressings.
Pulse it with dry cashews to make "parmesan".
Use it in soups or stews.
And my favorite: add it to popcorn and kale chips!
I think most people would agree that spices are the key to successful cooking (unless you are British, haha love you grandma) and that you need to have a pantry stocked with a wide variety if you are to succeed at making interesting meals. When it comes to plant-based cooking, this is even more true, as you don't have the saturated fat and savory flavors from meat and even dairy to add flavor (and just make your food plain addicting).
As you branch out into more plant-based cooking, you will likely accumulate a variety of spices that you (maybe) never used before. Things that I have on hand are smoked paprika, to add a smokey flavor to foods, turmeric/curry powder for South Asian cuisine, garam massala for Indian curry, red pepper flakes, cumin cumin cumin, baking spices, and lots more!
What's AMAZING about spices is that they are made from plants! And because you can get so much of that plant in just 1 tsp of its spice you are getting a dense dose of phytochemicals at the same time.
Here are some spices and herbs that are proven to be especially useful to our bodies.
Turmeric: this is a powerful spice that has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-brain disease properties! WOW. We should all be having curcumin (the phytochemical in turmeric) every day! To help with absorption, you should add a little bit of black pepper to any meal or beverage you are making with turmeric in it. Turmeric can be used in Indian-inspired dishes (of course) but can also be incorporated into basically anything you cook. You can use it as a colorant for vegan egg and cheese dishes, and can even be made into a latte for those adventurous enough to try something other than coffee with their breakfast!
Cinnamon (Ceylon): there are two types of cinnamon, and the one I recommend you pay a little bit extra for is Ceylon or "true" cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon or the type you will find in the traditional baking aisle is high in a toxin called coumarin. You can find Ceylon cinnamon in the health food aisles or at health food stores. Cinnamon is also anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant capabilities. Of special note is the way it appears to improve insulin sensitivity, and therefore should be readily eaten daily by those of us diagnosed with diabetes.
Garlic and Ginger: Whether fresh or powdered, garlic and ginger have been associated with a wide array of health benefits. Garlic is associated with higher immune function along with reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk for heart and even brain diseases. Ginger similarly is associated with health benefits ranging from helping those with arthritis and menstrual pain to those with heart disease or blood sugar concerns. Garlic and ginger are easy to incorporate if you like the taste or eat a lot of internationally inspired cuisine.
Next, let's hone in on a few items that are particularly useful in plant-based baking.
#4 Flax and Chia Seeds
I mentioned the uses of flax and chia seeds in my previous "plantiful" article. However, I wanted to give them some more attention here. Not only are they useful for baking, as they can act as an egg substitute, but they are very healthful!
Flax and chia both contain ALA, an essential fat that our bodies need to acquire from our diet for brain and nervous tissue development/replenishment, but that also seems to improve cardiovascular function. Flax has also been studied and associated with lower rates of cancer. Chia and flax seeds are both high in protein, iron, and fiber while being low in calories. They are super easy to incorporate into a bowl of cereal or porridge in the morning, or used as an egg substitute in pancakes or brownies. You can use chia seeds to make your own healthy pudding as well.
How recipes use chia and flax seeds:
Ground up and mixed with water to create an "egg" for baking recipes.
Mixed into oatmeal or porridge for a healthy dose of ALA and protein.
Mixed into smoothies.
Used as a gelatin replacement in puddings and other desserts.
#7 Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is sugar, plain and simple. It may have some vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, but it adds calories to our diet, as any sweetener does, and therefore should be used sparingly.
That being said, I love having pure maple syrup on hand as a sweetener for my baked goods and even occasionally tea or coffee. It can be used instead of honey, agave, or even sugar. I like that it provides sweetness, and is a product harvested only a few provinces away from me, here in Canada.
How do recipes use maple syrup?
To replace sugar, honey, or agave syrup.
To reduce the bitterness of a certain vegetable or fruit in cooking.
In salad dressings.
In a wide array of snacks and baked goods.
That's it for now. Stay tuned to my blog to find out more advice on how to follow a plant-based diet. Not only is it beneficial for your health, but also can be very beneficial for your wallet. Yes, some specialty items can be a bit pricier (ahem, maple syrup), but overall people find that swapping out meat for beans, and processed foods for whole grains can often be very affordable.
Let me know your thoughts!
P.s. there is more!
Did you miss my Webinar on "Must-Haves in Your Plantiful Pantry"?
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