The initial stages of transitioning to a vegan diet can be tricky. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself in a position where you make shopping and cooking decisions instinctively. In the meantime, you may find that shopping for groceries and meal-planning in general require a little more forethought. If you're struggling, just remember why you're making the change. Veganism offers all kinds of benefits for your health, the environment and, crucially, the animals. If you are in it for all the right reasons and enthusiastic, you should have no trouble making the switch and sticking with it permanently.
The good news is, finding yourself in a position where you have no inspiration in the kitchen whatsoever is unlikely. As long as you keep yourself stocked with the right vegan essentials, you will have no trouble coming up with all the savoury and sweet dishes you’ll ever need.
The Staples You Need in Your Kitchen
While there is no blueprint for the ‘perfect’ plant-based pantry, there are certain staples you absolutely need to keep in your kitchen at all times. As long as you have each of the following in your arsenal, you will always find yourself with plenty of scope for creative culinary concoctions to enjoy:
1. Beans and Legumes
Along with being a fantastic and delicious source of plant protein, beans and legumes are also versatile in the extreme. They are bursting at the seams with nutritional goodness and can be used to create thousands of inspiring dishes. Hence, keeping a stockpile of beans and legumes (dried and canned) will ensure you have the basis for a wide variety of satisfying recipes.
For example, there’s nothing quite like a chickpea and vegetable curry, a satisfying plate of spaghetti with lentil ‘meatballs’ or a warming homemade falafel at the end of a long day.
Grains are fantastic because they cost next to nothing, practically last forever and offer endless possibilities. Rice in particular can form the basis for literally thousands of fantastic vegan meals - as can quinoa, buckwheat and polenta. Speaking of which, the latter is also great as the basis for a wide variety of cakes and baked goods.
Keep things interesting and inspiring by stocking up on as many different types of rice as you can, rather than sticking with the same standard white rice with the dishes you cook.
3. Pasta and Noodles
It’s not uncommon for newly vegan converts to spend the first several weeks (or even months) of their new lifestyle practically living off pasta and noodles. Which is easy to understand: you can't go wrong with a plate of pasta and a simple sauce!
The same also goes for the dozens of different types of noodles available, which simply stir fried in sesame oil with garlic, ginger and a little chili make for a restaurant quality meal in seconds.
Don’t forget that your favourite creamy pasta sauces can still be enjoyed, using tofu or cashews as a replacement for the dairy. For snacks and lunches, nothing gets the job done like a gorgeous homemade pasta salad with a ton of vegan pesto.
4. Root Vegetables
Potatoes are the obvious root vegetable in the vegan pantry, which can be used in hundreds of ways as the basis for thousands of meals. Rather than allowing yourself to get bored of the classic spud, branch out into experimentation with different types of root vegetables.
Butternut squash and all types of pumpkins are simply fantastic as the basis for vegan recipes, as is the humble parsnip and the often-overlooked beetroot.
Baked, boiled, fried, mashed or made into delicious vegan crisps, there’s so much you can do with root vegetables. Most of which just happen to be super cheap to buy throughout the year, as an added bonus.
5. Herbs and Spices
Going vegan is often associated with going bland. In reality, this simply is not the case at all - the vast majority of herbs, spices and seasonings are 100% vegan in nature. If the thought of limiting yourself to vegan products seems daunting, remember that you can spice up and season absolutely anything you cook in any way you wish.
Treat yourself to an overhaul of your spice shelf, tossing out anything that’s past its prime and replacing it with something a little more interesting. Indulge in the flavours of the world and discover just how satisfying vegan cuisine can be.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Toasted seeds (pretty much any seeds) add a fantastic burst of crunch and flavour to vegan dishes, along with a huge hit of protein and plenty of healthy fats. With nuts, there is almost nothing you cannot do with these little nuggets of pure pleasure.
Cashews in particular are a wonder of the natural world, which can be turned into anything from velvety pasta sauce to cheese to the foundation of a dreamy vegan ‘milkshake’.
Nuts may seem a little drab on the surface, but bring a little creativity into the mix and they will soon become your best friends in the kitchen.
7. Sauces, Condiments and Stocks
Last up, there is definitely much to say for making your own sauces, stocks and condiments from scratch. It can be a satisfying thing to do, but also opens the door to running low at an inconvenient time.
Even if you do prefer to make your own, be sure to stash a few canned, jarred and bottled specimens away in your pantry. Easy to use and with suspiciously long shelf-lives, there’s nothing better when you feel lazy and self-indulgent.
Purchased sauces and condiments can also be a fantastic source of inspiration in their own right, so certainly not to be sniffed at!