Food

5 Vegan Staples to Make Meal Planning Easy and Fun

A well-stocked pantry is essential to making quick and delicious meals.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had two hours each night to devote to cooking dinner? We could make wonderful five-course meals with quaint appetizers, elegant entrées, and dazzling desserts, while discussing our lives with our loved ones. Unfortunately, busy schedules often mean this vegan fantasy becomes reality only on Sundays and holidays. However, by stocking your pantry with our five favorite cupboard staples, you can say goodbye to last-minute dinners, and say hello to healthy and delicious dishes made from ingredients that’ll last (almost) until retirement.
 
Lentils
Lentils are an extremely versatile and tasty ingredient that add protein to meals, and—unlike other legumes—they don’t require soaking and long cooking times. A quick rinse and about 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the variety) on the stovetop will soften them perfectly as a base for homemade vegan burgers or meatballs, to add bulk to soups, stews, curries, and tomato sauce, or to sprinkle atop salad greens. Run them through a food processor with a mix of savory spices for a great dip, too!
 
Cashews
This pale little nut is slightly sweet, delicate in flavor, and softer in texture compared to other nuts, which is why it’s so versatile in the kitchen. For many vegans and people who are avoiding dairy, cashews are a must-have staple for making fresh non-dairy milk, cream sauces, and cheese. Soak them overnight, then store in the freezer for easy access when a cheese sauce-craving hits. Throw toasted cashews in your food processor to make a quick and easy nut butter, or toss them whole into stir-fries, salads, or whole-grain pilaf for added crunch.
 
Quinoa
One of the most delicious and fast-cooking staples there is, quinoa has transformed itself from a once-delegated item at health food stores to prominent displays at many supermarkets around the globe. Although technically in the seed family, quinoa has the personality of a grain with the nutritional strength of a complete protein. Use it as an alternative to rice or couscous, as a stuffing for baked vegetable dishes, or to bulk up homemade vegan burger patties. Make a big pot on weekends, and eat throughout the week with curry, a stir-fry or roasted vegetables, or use it as a base for bowls with steamed broccoli, sweet potatoes, and tahini sauce.
 
Rolled oats
Versatile, widely available, and inexpensive, rolled oats are a must-have ingredient for healthy, everyday breakfasts and snacks. Cook them for oatmeal, soak them for overnight oats, bake them for granola, or mix them for easy snack bars. Oats are also a wonderful addition to baked goods or when cooked whole or ground into a flour for healthy cookies, cakes, and quick breads. If you’re sensitive to gluten, look for packages that are labeled gluten-free.
 
Maple syrup
A favorite natural sweetener in many kitchens, maple syrup’s complex flavor pairs nicely with salty foods, tempers spicy ones, and adds a certain richness to everything it touches. Furthermore, it’s perfect for sweetening baked goods, adding to dressings, sauces and glazes to balance acidity, and, of course, topping porridge and pancakes. Even roasted veggies such as beets, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes can pack a flavorful punch with a little drizzle of this sweet syrup.
 
Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman are steadfast DIYers and authors of the cookbook DIY Vegan. Photo courtesy of Nutrition Stripped.

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