Essential foods for the vegan kitchen

Having been vegan for around two years, today my kitchen is well stocked with vegan-friendly foods. Laden with nut butters and legumes, fresh veggies and tofu, there's nothing 'Old Mother Hubbard' about my vegan cupboard!

When I first started to cut dairy and meat out of my diet, I didn't really know what I was doing. Today it's become second nature to cook and eat like this, so much so that I sometimes forget that, if you're not vegan or you're still new to it, the concept of cooking without meat and animal products can be daunting. Aside from the obvious fruit and veg, you might be a bit stumped as to what else to cook with.

So, whether you're considering going vegan or if you're just looking to entertain a vegan guest, check out these five vegan cupboard essentials!

1. Chickpeas

If chickpeas didn't exist, I'd cry. A lot. These little legumes are so flipping flexible it's not true. As well as being a standard choice for a veggie curry (with spinach, for example, or potato), you can also blend them into hummus or falafel, roast them into a tasty, crispy snack or grind them into a gluten-free flour. If you buy them in a tin or a jar, you can even use the liquid they're in, known as aquafaba, to make egg-free meringues and mousses. The sheer variety of ways to use chickpeas means they're a vegan essential in my book!

2. Cashew nuts

If you think cashew nuts are best eaten simply thrown into a stir fry, you've been missing out. Cashew nuts are extremely versatile and, when pre-soaked, can be turned into an array of delicious things. My personal favourite is blending them with some nutritional yeast flakes (more on those later!), lemon juice, cumin and oregano to make a thick sauce that I use to replace the cheese on my homemade pizzas. Blending them into a slighly thinner sauce with some roasted butternut squash or red pepper makes for a great dairy-free bechamel sauce, perfect for lasagnes or macaroni cheese. My dad even made a delicious cashew nut cheesecake a few months ago! Eating these creamy things, you'd never think that they were made from the humble cashew!

3. Chia or flax seeds

I discovered these guys on my quest for a good vegan crepe recipe (which I duly discovered – see the photo below!) Both chia and flax seeds make great egg substitutes because, when ground and combined with a little water, they soon develop a thick, sticky consistency. Whilst my preferred use for these little seeds is most definitely a pancake or two, they can actually be used to replace eggs in everything from cakes to cookies, brownies to breads. Aside from being essential for your baked vegan goods, having a bag of chia or flax seeds in your cupboard will most likely make you feel pretty damn vegan and en vogue! 

A delicious vegan crepe – thanks to Lara at Vanillacrunnch for the  recipe !

A delicious vegan crepe – thanks to Lara at Vanillacrunnch for the recipe!

4. Nutritional yeast

Whilst we're on the topic of foods that attest to your veganness or vegan-friendliness, let's take a look at nutritional yeast, affectionately known as 'nooch'. Nooch is a deactivated yeast grown on molasses and it comes in a flakey, powdery form. It has a somewhat nutty, cheesy flavour and can therefore be used to emulate a cheesy taste in pretty much anything. I stir it into my vegan bechamel sauce and blend it with almonds or pine nuts to make a kind of vegan 'parmesan'. It might not sound that appealing but, luckily, it tastes a lot better than it sounds!

For anyone who's never laid eyes on it before, this is nutritional yeast!

For anyone who's never laid eyes on it before, this is nutritional yeast!

5. Lentils

Much less unusual than nutritional yeast, but, in my kitchen at least, equally essential, lentils are one of those things that should always be in the cupboard. They're full of fibre, a good source of protein, there are loads of different types to experiment with and, most importantly, it's so easy to create a simple but tasty meal with them! My go-to lentil dish is dal, usually a red lentil dal. Combine the lentils with some chopped onion and tomato, Indian spices and a tin of coconut milk, and there you have it – a healthy, delicious and quick dinner. If dal isn't your thing, lentils also make a great addition to a nut roast or a vegan bolognese sauce – so why not get experimenting?!

There are so many other foods and ingredients I enjoy cooking with, but these five really are the ones that I wouldn't want to be without. So if you're facing the challenge of cooking for a vegan friend, or you're experimenting with veganism for the first time, stock up on this little lot and you'll be well on your way to vegan success!