These are my essentials for a stocked pantry. I don’t meal plan much anymore, instead I have embraced intuitive eating (eating specifically what my body craves that day) and it feels so right. Before, I used to feel hemmed in to whatever I had planned that day to eat. If I ended up feeling like something different for dinner…more spicy, more simple, less fat, more fat, more proteins, more carbs, less raw, more raw…than what I had planned, there was this feeling of disconnect between my body’s natural intuition and what I was telling it it “had” to eat. (Of course, sometimes I still do meal plan if I’m having an especially busy week, because sanity)
However, there’s also the logistics of intuitive eating. You guys often ask me, how can I craft things on demand and still have time for life? The answer for me (and it may be different for you) lies with stocking my pantry and fridge with certain base foods. With these, I can add any kind of fresh, local, seasonal produce and herbs to create something delicious and unique to what my body needs in that moment. For how can I say what I will want or what I will need in the future? We can guess, but it’s really a fools game. Surrender to the moment, to your innate knowing of what your body needs. I’ve also learned to embrace simplicity. Meals that are too complicated or take too long to make are simply not included in our usual rotation anymore.
It’s really freeing to liberate yourself from the “what’s for dinner” stress. A starch, a legume, a fresh raw component and steamed or raw greens + a sauce and maybe some nuts or seeds is a balanced and easy meal that you can have for dinner a million times without it getting old by switching up the ingredients. If you cook a big pot of beans at the beginning of the week, you can use them in a buddha bowl now night, a stir fry the next, as the base for veggie burgers, then the last of them in a soup with all the leftover veggies in your fridge + spices, broth or coconut milk. Experiment. Choose flavors based on your taste, not a recipe. This is what makes cooking fun, not a chore. Taste as you go, use your hands, get messy and laugh. Share with friends and loved ones. Prepare with love, eat with gratitude.
Here’s my personal essentials for crafting well balanced, whole food plant based meals. Let me know what yours are too. I’d love to know (and learn!). To read more about my zero waste kitchen, click HERE.
dried chickpeas: my most favorite bean to have on hand, chickpeas are so so versatile. They are one of the oldest consumed crops in the world. Packed with manganese, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and plant protein, and so tasty. Their mild taste makes them the perfect base for hummus, chickpea salad sammies, soups, buddha bowls, brownies, curries, this vegan caesar, and more.
black beans: my second favorite bean, I always have these around too. Whether making this creamy spiced soup, or a simple pot of them, thick and glossy to eat as a side to tacos, these small beans are packed with antioxidants, TONS of iron, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. They are perfect as the base for fudgy, rich one bowl brownies, too (promise you can’t even detect the beans whatsoever). Cooked with rice, onions, and peppers cuban style, they make a perfect and easy one pot meal.
red lentils: so fast to cook, creamy and comforting texture, and rich in minerals and slow digesting carbohydrates and filling protein. One of my all time favorite meals is this lemony spinach soup with red lentils- fast, filling, packed with greens and so cozy. Also the perfect base for a dahl with coconut, cilantro, tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, curry spices.
french lentils: these small lentils are my favorite over the big brown ones because they hold their shape and stay chewy tender, making them perfect to mix into grain or green salads. I like to make a marinated batch like this one and add into meals throughout the week, mixing it with this carrot salad, or mixing it with leftover grains, herbs and sautéed garlicky zucchini for a quick summer salad.
cannellini beans: so creamy and comforting, they cook up like a dream and are so good that I even dedicated an entire meal plan to them HERE. Mix them into a greek salad, eat them with pasta, blend them into a creamy dip or base for a dressing, eat them over bread toasted and rubbed with garlic, eat them with sautéed greens for a cucina povera style meal.
quinoa (I like red and tricolor for extra nutrition): an easy digesting grain (technically a seed) traditionally consumed in South America. I love it in a Peruvian style soup with corn, in grain salads, or mixed in with massaged kale. If you make a big batch you can freeze, or use as a hot cereal base with plant milk, fruit, maple syrup, cinnamon, etc as a quick and healthy breakfast.
arborio or bomba rice: this sticky short grained rice is the perfect thing for risotto amd paella. Often I throw a handful into a quick soup with sliced potatoes, kale or cabbage, onion and carrot + broth and herbs and nutritional yeast for a super quick emergency dinner when I get off work late.
brown rice pasta: I like to use the Jovial brand, a woman run company that uses no plastic in their packaging and has superior taste and texture to any other gf pasta I’ve tried. Toss with sautéed summer veggies and some vegan parm for an easy summer meal or make a lentil bolognese.
chickpea flour: After cooking from Dolly and Oatmeal‘s Chickpea Flour Does it All cookbook, I could never be without this! Makes such a good, healthy base for creamy sauces (baked Alfredo pasta!), vegan frittata/quiche, socca
(gf flatbread) and more.
oats: a breakfast staple, my kids have oats almost every morning- either steel cut or rolled. Blended into a flour, oats make a more healthful alternative to wheat in baking.
polenta: essentially a type of cornmeal, I grew up eating this all the time- it’s cheap and filling and oh so comforting. Also, it cooks very quickly. Eat a warm bowl of it with marinara and cannellini beans and veggies, with pesto stirred through, with sautéed greens, with breakfast toppings (like you would oats), or let it cool in a baking pan and slice into pieces and bake or sauté till crispy. Make frascatula.
popcorn: One of my favorite bulk snacks, buy popcorn kernels and pop whenever you want at home! If you need directions, this is a good post, or scour the thrift stores for an air popper. We even pack this to take on hikes or car trips. I like nutritional yeast and chili and/or salt on mine.
tahini: the darling of my kitchen, I go through so much tahini. Perfect as a base for salad dressing, sauces for buddha bowls, stuffed inside a date for a sweet treat, drizzled in hummus, in my favorite cumin lentils recipe, and a million more things. Tahini is packed full of minerals and healthy fats.
cashews: I use cashews as a creamy vegan base for milks, sour cream for tacos/beans, in my coconut yogurt recipe, and for creamy sauces and this ricotta.
hemp seeds: packed with nutrition (protein, minerals, omegas), these tiny seeds are some of the best to consume. I aim to get them in daily (especially for the kids). I use as a base for my sunshine latte, for cashew hemp milk, in green smoothies, or on top of our oats or salads.
flax seeds: same as hemp seeds, I aim to get these in every day for their amazing nutritional benefits. I buy them whole, store in the freezer, and grind a small half pint amount as needed. We sprinkle on oats and our favorite house salad. They also make a great egg replacer for baking.
chia seeds: same as hemp and flax, this is another daily seed. Sometimes I cook them with the morning oats, or soak them in hemp milk and add to green smoothies, or make chia pudding with them. This peach chia breakfast shake is also delicious. Ground chia can be used as an egg replacer for baking as well.
pumpkin seeds: Toasted in a dry pan until they pop, pepitas are a delicious and crunchy snack, salad/grain bowl topper, oatmeal topper, or process with cilantro, lime, and olive oil to make a pesto. Pipian verde is another favorite.
sesame seeds: toast them up and keep on hand to: add to grain bowls, this thai-ish peanut chopped salad, miso soup, crumble with seaweed over plain rice, grind into tahini and make these brownies, make everything bagel spice….
almond butter: blend it with water to make instant nut milk, add a dollop on banana ice cream, whisk it with lime/garlic/tamari/maple to make a dressing/sauce, dip apples in it, bake cookies with it. This kale salad is so good and has an almond butter dressing.
ume plum vinegar: I love this super flavored vinegar to spice up plain veggies and bowls. Especially good in this seaweed cabbage slaw (a quick lunchtime favorite tucked into tortillas with avocado) and this creamy kale, apple, cashew slaw.
balsamic vinegar: I use this in a simple 3-2-1 dressing that you can whip up in less than a minute. Just 3 parts balsamic, 2 parts dijon mustard, and 1 part maple syrup- I often add chopped fresh thyme and shallot/garlic and black pepper too.
apple cider vinegar: perfect for pickling brine, dressings, and sauces.
coconut aminos: this is a salty-sweet condiment made from fermented coconut nectar and sea salt. A little goes and long way and it’s perfect to add to sauces, bowls, sautéed tofu or tempeh, simple steamed veggies and mixed with lime, chili flakes, and PB or AB for a simple sauce.
tamari: I always keep tamari on hand for bolstering sauces, dressings, cooking simple asian inspired dishes, peanut noodles, ramen soup in winter, and sautéing with kale or mushrooms.
miso: I use miso all the time- a dollop adds just the right amount of salty, funky flavor to carrot ginger dressing, plain steamed brown rice, and of course miso soup.
coconut milk: I always keep a few cans around for curries, dahls, and this coconut cabbage slaw.
canned tomatoes: I make my own every September with my mom, it’s fun and really easy although time consuming. We set aside the weekend and can enough to last us through the whole year. We simply use the directions that come in the pressure cooker manual- my moms been doing this for decades so I just follow her lead and act as the tomato peeling minion. Consider making your own this summer- or roasting and freezing a la Zero Waste Chef. The flavor is infinitely better than any store bought can, ever. Promise it’s worth the effort for sauces, soups, stews, and chilis all winter long.
dates: Dates are the most nutrient dense whole food sweetener- they have a low glycemic index, are packed with minerals, and have a deep caramelly flavor. I use them instead of sugar to sweeten my sunshine latte, stuffed with nut butter or tahini + flaky salt for a sweet treat, processed with cocoa powder, vanilla, salt and walnuts as a raw brownie, cooked into almond butter brownies, and in sauces like this Mac salad for a sweetness without the refined stuff. I buy mine from this woman run California farm.
fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, parsley, dill, mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and sage all make it into our meals regularly. Years ago I planted some of these and they have grown huge which is amazing. Herbs are so easy to grow, even in a sunny window in a pot you can often have success. Herbs are packed with flavor, color and minerals so load them up on your plate! Tabbouleh and this winter green miso paste are two amazing ways to get in a lot of herbs.
fresh lemon/lime: I always have these two on hand for squeezing on dishes, blending into a dressing or sauce, and zesting into dishes. This citrus ginger tahini dressing is one of my favorites.
ginger + turmeric: these deeply flavored rhizomes are not only super anti-inflammatory, they also taste amazing. If you have access to the fresh stuff, it tastes way better. I use the turmeric in curries, Dahl, saffron rice, savory coco yogurt with chiles, and lattes. The ginger, in tahini dressing, asian inspired sauces and stir fries, soups, and grated or sliced fresh with lemon in hot water for immunity tea.
Aleppo chili flakes: these bright red flakes look beautiful on food and have a mild heat and salty, almost lemony flavor. Worth picking up if you can find them.
smoked paprika: adds that smoky, rich, deep flavor to things that would normally have cured meats.
chipotle en adobo: basically chipotle chiles in a tomatoey sauce, this lasts in the fridge forever (months and months) and it adds so much depth to chilis, or add a dollop to a cashew crema, use it as the base for jackfruit tinga tacos, anything where you want a smoky flavor.
nutritional yeast: cheesy flavor that adds depth to soups, sauces, dressings, vegan cheeses and popcorn.
mustard: I love Dijon and whole grain mustard to whisk into vinaigrette, dressings and sauces. My all time favorite brand is Maille (and it comes in glass with a metal lid).
kraut, kimchi: fermented foods are a huge part of our life! Personally I feel that my digestion improved so much after I added homemade ferments to my diet. Especially having kraut or kimchi with grains makes my tummy so happy. I make my kraut with red cabbage or half and half to get all those bright colors and antioxidants too. Kimchi is amazing added to this kimchi tofu stew, kimchi fried rice, with noodles, or even blended into dressings.
pickled veggies: In addition to ferments, I always keep some kind of seasonal pickled veggie on hand in the fridge- they last about a week and are perfect for an acidic kick to just about anything! Favorite are: pickled onions, pickled beets, pickled radishes, and giardiniera.
Even if you have just a teensy space or budget, find your staples that make you feel good and that you love, and then always keep them around. You’ll find over time it becomes second nature to cook meals at home, and it will bring you joy in the process (plus save money, less waste, more health).
Let me know below if you have any questions or what your staples are. Happy Monday!