“As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out.” Alice Walker
Whether you are already vegan or simply vegan curious, interests in exploring the incredible range of plant-based foods has never been more popular. This article takes a look at the vegan pantry – answering the question, “what does an everyday vegan eat?”
WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?
There are many ways to embrace vegan living. Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude all animal products, and as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. You’ll find that the one thing in common among vegans is an entirely plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including seafood and insects), eggs, dairy, honey and gelatin.
For anyone considering making the transition to a plant-based diet, it is a good idea to make gradual changes that are more likely to be sustainable. Try introducing one or two vegan meals each week, then progressing onto a couple of vegan days. When thinking about changing your eating habits, it’s also important to make sensible decisions and consider how to balance what you eat to include a variety of foods that provide essential nutrients, such as iron, protein, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and carbohydrates. Be adventurous, make good quality food choices, plan well and follow a sensible approach to meet your dietary needs. It is always a good idea to consult a nutritionist, dietitian, or medical practitioner about changes in diet.
Click HERE to read A Quick Vegan Guide: Functions and Food Sources of Vitamins
THE VEGAN PANTRY AT A GLANCE
The vegan pantry is filled with a variety of nutrient-rich, health-promoting plant foods: Fruits, grains, berries, leaves, roots, legumes, flowers, nuts and seeds. Developments in veganism also afford us the opportunity to enjoy the many substitutes available for all the animal products that even non-vegans enjoy like delicious cheeses, butters (including fruit butters), spreads, sweeteners, sauces and condiments.
Probiotics pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha
Prebiotics oats, barley, flaxseeds, legumes, green vegetables (including dandelion greens, leeks, asparagus), apples, bananas
Nutritional Powders matcha, acai, raw cacao, mesquite, moringa
Legumes Legumes (or pulses) are an affordable low-fat, low calorie source of high quality protein that contributes to good nutrition and health. As you begin to move the pendulum in the other direction and slowly move away from animal protein, you will find that these highly “satiating” foods are worth embracing as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Most legumes also contain significant amounts of fiber and resistant starch found only in plant foods. Fiber, and resistant starch, helps to regulate bowels and remove the toxins in our bodies. Almost all varieties of legumes provide iron, zinc and B vitamins, among many other nutrients.
This group of foods comprises of soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas, and fresh beans. Pulses are dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils. Beans boast important assets: For one thing, they’re easily stored and almost never go bad. Because they are dried, their shelf life is more or less unlimited. Second, there’s a lot you can do with beans. To cook them, is in some ways the simplest part of this discussion. Beans are always cooked in liquid, and that liquid is usually water. Most beans double or even triple their bulk during cooking; that is, 1 cup of dried beans yields at least 2 cups of cooked beans.
Root Vegetables Simply put, a root vegetable is one where the root of the plant is eaten. They keep for long periods of time (several months if stored properly), and are usually harvested in the fall. The list of root vegetables include: yams; sweet potato; colourful beets and carrots; batata; parsnip; turnip; radish; garlic; onion; shallots; ginger; arrowroot; cassava (the root from which tapioca is made); fennel; rutabaga and turmeric.
A yam is very bland, and when cooked, very dry. It is often used in hearty stews that contain plenty of liquid, wherever you’d use potatoes. In Jamaica, yellow yam is a popular side served with sautéed greens such as callaloo. Yam is also popularly used in soups.
Parsnips are sweeter than even carrots with a somewhat nutty taste. Their highest and best use is pureed, but they’re also wonderful mixed with other vegetables in a roasting pan. When preparing parsnip, treat it as you would a carrot. You’ll know it’s done cooking when tender enough to easily pierce with a thin-bladed knife or a skewer. Overcooking makes parsnips mushy.
Beets are crunchy, sweet, delicious, and can be eaten raw! Some varieties of beets are sweet enough to be used to make sugar. They’re also quite simple to prepare. One good indication of freshness is the presence of greens, which can be cooked separately like chard. Juice together, 2 medium beets, 3 medium carrots and 2 apples for a natural, energizing jolt. Scrub well before cooking.
Seeds chia, sunflower, sesame, linseeds, pepitas, unhulled/hulled tahini
Let’s not forget quinoa [keen-wah, kee-noh-uh]. Quinoa is a tasty, easy-to-cook seed. It’s also one of the few foods in the plant world that’s a complete protein; earning it a coveted spot among vegans and vegetarians for its nutritional importance. Quinoa varies in intensity of flavour and in colour (from pale beige to red, to black). Handled correctly, quinoa cooks up light and fluffy. For hot cooked quinoa, the ratio of quinoa to water is usually 1:2 – that’s one portion of uncooked quinoa to two portions of liquid.
Click HERE to read How to Cook Quinoa
Soy Products tempeh, tofu, miso
Nuts almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, macadamias, pistachios
Grains brown rice, black rice, cornmeal, barley, oat, freekeh, couscous, millet, burghul
Flours coconut, chickpea, spelt, rice, buckwheat
Sea Vegetables seaweed/nori, spirulina, wakami, kelp, kombu
Sauces and Condiments tamari, Worcestershire, vinegars, mustards, pesto sauces
Sauces serve to moisten food, to enhance it, to complement it; or they may be the most interesting aspect of a given dish. There are countless simple vegan sauces that can be whipped together in a flash to serve as dips, with vegetable burgers, salads, desserts, or anything that needs a flavour boost!
Butters and Spreads cashew, peanut, almond, tahini, hummus
Plant Milks almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, oat milk, cashew milk, rice milk
Cheese Feel good about this dairy-free indulgence! Vegan cheese can be made from seeds, and nuts such as cashew, almond, and pine nuts, and may be a good source of protein.
Sweeteners maple syrup, agave syrup, cane sugar, coconut sugar, fruit butters, dates (blended)
Oils olive oils, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil
Spices and Herbs Keep a ready supply of spices and herbs (fresh or dried) on hand. Most common culinary herbs are classified as pungent. Pungent herbs awaken the senses and get things moving. They are warming, spicy, and have become part of culinary tradition because they not only taste good but also support one’s health. Examples of pungent herbs include: black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, holy basil, lavender, mustard, nutmeg, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and turmeric.
Vegan Dark Chocolate Most popular chocolate candies have too much sugar and not nearly enough cacao content to be supportive of health. One of the best ways to consume chocolate for your health is to eat dark chocolate that has a minimum of 70% cacao. High quality chocolate bars will list the cacao content on the front label. Dark chocolate may be an acquired taste – takes getting used to for most. Once you prefer it though, there’s no going back.
The healthiest way to include cacao in your diet is to skip products with sugar entirely and use 100% cacao. Cacao nibs, cacao powder, and 100% cacao bars are readily available for purchase. Whenever possible, buy organic chocolate that has been certified fair trade.
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© Photography by Eartha Lowe