Though I am not personally vegan, I am a whole-foodist, and love to have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in my diet. Combine this with the gluten and dairy allergies I suffer from, and I find that I use many pages from the vegan playbook when cooking, which means I have to stay stocked up on vegan pantry staples.
I do have strict standards for the animals and/or animal products I do consume – I source them from local farmers whom I know personally, and who are dedicated to transparency when it comes to the health of the animals, earth, and environment.
I find that incorporating rotations of routines and variety into my diet, just as with exercise, means I feel best. So, I look to whole-food alternatives to keep my diet varied and diverse, and since I can’t indulge in dairy foods, knowing my vegan options is key.
I know there are a lot of vegan substitutes out there for things like butter and cheese, but I try to keep my diet as “whole-foods” oriented as I can. Here’s my list of vegan staples to keep stocked in the pantry:
Cashews are the miracle nut of vegan cooking. They are a blank slate that adapt well to both savoury and sweet applications from making “cheesy” fillings for ravioli and pasta shells, creamy sauces (like alla vodka), dressings, spreads for sandwiches and base creaminess in soups like clam chowder. As smoothly as they operate in savoury contexts, they excel equally well in the sweet—creating decadent cream fillings for donuts, whipped cream, “cheesecake,” morning parfaits, and of course, don’t forget cashew butter, a great alternative to peanut butter for addition in smoothies.
Dairy-free milks like almond, coconut, and rice are excellent for stand-ins with coffee, tea, morning oatmeal, granola, ice cream (coconut works especially well due to the healthy high fat content), and for savoury cooking applications that call for small quantities of milk to help create airiness and fluff (scrambled eggs).
Maple syrup is a wonderful, whole food sweetener with delicious flavour responsible for adding that layer of seasonal flair to holiday baked goods, and fall/winter recipes. I know many folks use agave nectar, but due to the controversy over its high processing, I avoid it. That doesn’t have to stop you though!
Last, but certainly not least, coconut oil is one of the most valuable ingredients you can keep in the cupboard (vegan or no). It can be used in baking as the fat component in place of butter. Because of coconut oil’s high saturation, it’s solid at room temperature making it ideal for granola bars, and desserts like raw “cheesecakes.” Experiment with brands on the market that have a much less powerful coconut flavour so they won’t interrupt the vibe of the other flavours you’re playing with.
Below is a vegan snack recipe that involves two of my favourite things: popcorn and avocado. In place of butter, I play upon the suggestion of the avocado by adding olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is one of the best popcorn snacks you’ll ever eat!
- Popcorn kernels (extremely affordable)
- Olive oil (ideally in a “Misto” sprayer for even distribution)
- 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (white balsamic works wonderfully)
- 1/2 ripe avocado
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- After popping your kernels, evenly distribute them into a bowl one layer at a time and give a generous spray with your Misto (filled with extra virgin olive oil) on top, or, lightly pour olive oil over them and toss them with your hands to evenly coat. (If using the spray, it helps to have your Misto pumped beforehand. This gives more hutzpah to the force of the spray).
- Use a medicine dropper to add the balsamic vinegar. This lends more control to how much vinegar is on your popcorn and lets you avoid the overly soggy pieces that end up becoming little sponges. If you don’t have a medicine dropper, or don’t care enough to do it, drizzle your vinegar on top very slowly in a teensy thin stream to avoid popcorn sponging.
- Halve your avocado and slice vertical and horizontal lines into the flesh while still attached to the skin. These will be more or less popcorn sized. With a large spoon, scoop them out and arrange them throughout the popcorn so that they are evenly distributed. Give one more spray, vinegar splash, and a salt sprinkle.
Watch the video below to see this lovely snack for yourself!