When you become interested in the plant-based diet, you will surely run into a couple of main concerns that everybody runs into when they start: scarcity of choice(What will I eat now when there is no meat, no dairy, no wheat. What’s left!?), inability of getting exotic ingredients that you never heard of (nutritional yeast, agar, arrowroot powder, …what?), fear that you are subscribing to a life of super-healthy but tasteless and joy-free meals (most people we know think in this way). But nothing could be further from the truth. In this introductory post, we will try and help you assemble a starter plant-based pantry that will provide you with all necessary ingredients to cook a healthy meal by yourself.
First, let’s start with a few golden rules:
- Number one on your menu should be seasonal fruits and vegetables. Whether you live further up north or in the tropical paradise, there is always some fruit or vegetable in season. Our bodies are still in tune with nature cycles and are meant to eat seasonal produce. We do live in the world where all kinds of foods are available all year round – frozen, dried, imported fruits and veggies, …. but you should always choose seasonal when possible.
- Minimize packaged and processed foods. Although we do use them in some of our recipes, we try to keep them to a minimum. Also, if we do buy them, we try to use tested, quality brands.
- Try and grow your own food. It can be one tomato or a few herbs on your balcony, or even a micro-farm in your back yard. There is nothing like watching your plants grow and ripen. Tossing that freshly picked kale in your morning smoothie or making pesto with fresh basil picked from your garden is something special. It will change the way you think about food in general.
These are the foods that are in our food cabinet:
Chickpeas are one of the staple foods in our pantry. We use them for beautiful colorful hummus varieties with peppers and beetroot or plain classic hummus. They are great for delicious dhals or salads. Chickpeas are part of the diet of some of the healthiest populations in the world today and it is one of the oldest consumed crops in the world. On the nutritional side, they are a powerful little package of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Adzuki beans are a great source of protein and are used in eastern medicine for treating several kinds of conditions like kidney, bladder and reproductive functions. They are said to be the most “yang” or warming of the bean family. Because of their unique flavor, adzuki beans can be used in both sweet and savory recipes.
Mung beans are considered one of the most precious foods in Ayurvedic medicine. They are great for soups, dhals, they perfectly complement adzuki beans in salads and are great for sprouting. They are one of the healthiest sources of plant protein there is.
Green and brown lentils are low in calories and high in nutrition. They are perfect for salads, spreads, stews and soups. Great for lentil loafs and veggie burgers as well.
Kidney beans have high fiber content which prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as rice, they provide high-quality protein.
Black beans are a food that everyone should have in their kitchen cabinet. They are a great source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. They can help protect against inflammation, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, certain cancers, and common nutrient deficiencies.
White beans are loaded with antioxidants and have detoxifying properties thanks to molybdenum. They are also a good source of fiber and protein and rank low on the glycemic index.
Red lentils are great for curries, soups, and dhals. If you have issues with blood sugar they are great for balancing it out because of their low glycemic index. Archaeologists found lentil seeds dating back to the Bronze Age, so they’ve been with us for some time.
Split peas are high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. There are two types of split peas: green and yellow. Besides classic split pea soup, you can use them to make delicious spreads.
Millet is so versatile, it can be used in main dishes and desserts. It has a delicate nutty flavor and, depending on how it is cooked, a texture that can be crunchy or soft. It is great for salads, risotto, but we also use it for pizza crusts and muffins.
One note on millet, though: it contains goitrogens. Goitrogens are those substances in food that suppress thyroid activity and can lead to goiter, an enlargement of this very important gland which resides in the throat. While the goitrogens in foods that contain them are usually reduced by cooking (such as cruciferous vegetables), cooking actually increases the goitrogenic effect of millet. Therefore, people who suffer from thyroid disorders should use it sparingly, like we do.
Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it provides all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health. It is so nutritious that NASA scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space. It is great for vegetable salads but also can be used for muffins, pizza crusts.,and gluten-free bread.
Basmati rice is a long grain aromatic Indian rice. It has about 20% more fiber than regular rice. It has light, fluffy texture and characteristic smell (in fact Basmati in Hindi literally means fragrant). Be sure to use brown basmati rice instead of white.
Brown rice is the whole rice grain with just the first outer layer (husk) removed through milling. It retains its fiber and germ which contains vital nutrients- it is extremely high in selenium, manganese, and phosphorus. White rice is brown rice that has been milled to remove the bran and much of the germ, reducing fiber and nutrient content. So, I guess it is always a better choice to eat brown rice.
Red rice is a type of unhulled rice known by its red husk rather than brown. Whenever this rice is cooked, red color from the bran leaches out and colorizes rest of the dish. Red rice is rich in antioxidants and lowers high cholesterol. It is great for making various salads.
Black rice is sometimes called forbidden rice. It is an ancient rice that has amazing health benefits. It is richer in antioxidants than other rice varieties and has great anti-inflammatory properties. For centuries it was available only to Chinese royalty.
Wild rice is an aquatic grass, not a grain, but we call it rice because it looks and cooks like all other types of rice. Wild rice is the easiest rice to digest and contains no arsenic like other types of rice do. It grows in the Great Lakes region of North America and was used by Native Americans in this area. Nowadays, you can find it in health food stores across the world. It has nutty, earthy flavor and nice chewy texture.
Buckwheat – Buckwheat grows so quickly that it does not usually require a lot of pesticides or other chemicals to grow well. It can be served as an alternative to rice or made into porridge. It is a rich source of easily digested protein and ranks low on the glycemic scale. It has an impressive range of proteins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Amaranth is a high-quality source of plant protein including two essential amino acids, lysine, and methionine, which are generally low in grains. It is packed with iron and calcium. Also, new research showed that Amaranth also contains a certain peptide – an anti-inflammatory molecule which can help to alleviate conditions like arthritis, gout, and other inflammation-related issues.
Teff is a small, gluten-free grain with a long list of health benefits. It is a species of lovegrass native to Ethiopia. It is one of the most nutritious grains in the world. It has lots of calcium, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. The most common use of teff is making flour and bread, but it can be used in the same way as any other cereal grain.
Rolled oats – Oats contain beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. This slower digestion prevents dramatic spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. We use them in veggie burgers, desserts, oatmeal…
Chickpea flour – Great for gluten-free baking. It has a high amount of protein and it makes tasty plant-based scrambled eggs (our favorite). It is also great to coat vegetables for pakoras or to make flatbreads.
Rice flour – Flour made by milling white or brown rice. It is gluten-free, rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. Great for gluten-free bread and pasta. We use white rice flour sparingly since it is high in carbohydrates and low in other nutrients.
Millet flour – Millet flour is gluten-free, nutritious and a good source of protein and dietary fiber. It has a light, mild flavor, which is perfect for baking sweets and other baking products.
Buckwheat flour – Commonly used in pancakes, buckwheat flour is a high fiber, high protein alternative to white flour. It is also higher in many essential vitamins and minerals than white flour.
Coconut flour – Not to be confused with shredded coconut or coconut flakes we also use, coconut flour is finely ground dried coconut meat. It is gluten-free, rich in protein and fiber. But be careful – Coconut flour is extraordinarily absorbent and very little coconut flour is needed to successfully produce a recipe.
Oat flour is high in nutritional value and goes great in baked goods. It tends to make a baked good more moist than wheat flour. It is a good choice for making cookies and quick bread for this reason.
Quinoa flour is made by grounding up the quinoa grain and turning it into a very fine flour that is light and airy. It has a slightly sweet and nutty flour. It is gluten-free and has lots of protein.
Amaranth flour is great for gluten-free baking when combined with other flours and starch. It is especially high in the amino acid lysine, which is lacking in many grains. As amaranth has an intense, nutty flavor, it is most commonly combined in a recipe in a proportion of 1 part to 3 parts of other flours.
Teff flour is gluten-free and is a wonderful alternative to wheat flour. It is a good source of iron and an excellent source of fiber. It is best when combined with other gluten-free flours and starch.
Sorghum flour is rich in protein, iron, B-vitamins, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. It has a light color and texture and a mild, sweet flavor, and is great for gluten free baking. In substituting sorghum flour for wheat flour in recipes, a combination of flours is used. Because sorghum does not contain gluten, a “binder” such as xanthan gum, must be added to create a successful product.
Almond flour is great for making cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. It is also useful for different meals.
Corn flour is made from ground corn and is mostly used for pancakes, cornbread, and tortillas. Don’t confuse it with cornmeal (also gluten-free), which is more coarse.
Tapioca flour is made from finely ground cassava root and is one of the purest forms of starch. It is totally gluten-free, low in calories and free from sugar. It is usually used as a thickening agent in various kinds of foods or recipes.
Arrowroot is a white powder derived from a tropical South American plant which is used as a thickener in recipes. It can be exchanged in equal quantities for cornstarch.