I’ve long since learnt that when it comes to a well stocked kitchen, quality outweighs quantity every time. I’ve been fooled many times in the past into buying obscure and expensive ingredients only to find them out of date and covered in dust at the back of the pantry. Whatever your budget I guarantee my top 5 vegan store cupboard essentials will serve you well, meal after meal, day after day.
1. Nutritional Yeast
If you’ve never heard of Nutritional Yeast you would be forgiven for thinking it sounds rather unappetising. Despite its dubious name it features in many vegan recipes for its deeply cheesy, slightly eggy, savoury flavour. When I first tried it I didn’t think much of it at all and had no idea why it seemed so popular. Fast forward two years and its my number 1 must have secret ingredient. It’s definitely an acquired flavour but once your taste buds have had time to adapt I’ve no doubt you’ll love it too.
Nutritional yeast definitely lives up to its name when it comes to nutritional value. It is rich in protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and a range of B vitamins.
It’s flavour is so intense that you only need to use 1 Tbsp at a time to make a difference to your recipe. I use it in creamy pasta sauces, cheese sauces, mashed potato, guacamole, popcorn, creamy salad dressings, tofu scramble, baked kale chips and anything else I think needs a bit of ooomph.
2. Dijon Mustard
Dijon is my favourite type of mustard with just the right balance of heat and acidity. Much milder than fiery English mustard but sharper and hotter than American mustard, for me it strikes the perfect balance. It varies in both intensity and colour so its worth experimenting to find brand you really like.
A little goes a long way. I use it in marinades like my Bloody Mary Tofu. Stir it into creamy sauces, vegan mayonnaise and salad dressings. It pairs especially well with pasta, hot or cold potatoes, vegan sausages and butter beans.
3. Vegetable Stock Cubes
I tend to use stock cubes in almost every savoury dish, more often than not in place of salt. I’ve found that the best way to get the most intense flavour is to crumble them dry over the base ingredients before adding them into the sauce. My Patatas Bravas recipe is an example of this, where the stock cube is crumbled into the frying pan with the onions, peppers and garlic.
Most supermarket brands are vegan. Whilst own brands are very affordable if you’re able to pay a bit more, reduced salt versions are available. As I often use stock cubes in place of salt I have to admit this is not a priority for me but worth considering if salt intake is a concern.
4. Fresh Black Peppercorns
More than any other ingredient fresh black pepper is the one that has the power to enhance any savoury dish. Nothing beats the smell of freshly cracked pepper. It has a spicy, warming, citrus aroma that only shines when whole peppercorns are ground just before using in your recipe.
Whilst whole peppercorns can seem more expensive compared to ground pepper the difference in flavour is vast. Black peppercorns will serve you in almost every savoury dish you cook making it well worth the initial extra investment.
The healing benefits of black pepper are well documented. Adding it towards the end of cooking helps to preserve the essential oils and health benefits of this super spice. Traditionally it’s been used to promote appetite, increase nutrient absorption, improve digestion and clear mucous and congestion.
5. Smoked Paprika
I started cooking with smoked paprika years before turning vegan. Recently it’s become obvious that it adds a rich, smoky flavour often lacking in meat free dishes. It is incredibly warming but different varieties contain degrees of sweetness, earthiness and spiciness.
I use it in almost all my tomato based recipes, especially those that would have usually contained animal products. It’s particularly good in chilli, Bolognese, goulash and soup. It adds a deep red colour to dishes and pairs especially well with sweet potatoes, beans, peppers and of course tomatoes.
Share your top 5 vegan store cupboard essentials in the comments below and we can compare notes.