A well stocked pantry is an important ally for any home cook, but I’d argue that it may be even more of a boon for vegans and vegetarians. Why? Because a lot of vegans' central proteins, including whole grains and legumes, live in the pantry already.
Shop the Story
I never gave much thought to the pantry before I became vegan. I didn’t grow up cooking, and when I observed my mom at work, it seemed to me that most of our dinners emerged from the fridge or the freezer. Occasionally a box of cereal or pasta sauce or Kraft mac n’ cheese escaped from the pantry, but that was about it.
Nowadays, the pantry is the engine of my kitchen: I plan most of my meals around a central grain or legume. There are exceptions, naturally: dinner for friends might revolve around a whole roasted cauliflower, lunch may be a giant vegetable salad. But I think it’s an important tip for plant-based eaters (especially new ones) to make sure that meals include a central ingredient of the protein or carbohydrate variety: It adds texture and heft to the dish. I also use my pantry for flavor: With just a few seasonings—or a really super tahini dressing—a humble meal of grains + beans can become transcendent.
My pantry, such as it is, extends onto the mantelpiece above the defunct fireplace in the New York City apartment I share with my boyfriend. Without this space, we’d be in trouble, as our kitchen is on the smaller side. It’s best to store grains and beans in sealed containers in a cool, dark, place, but my turnaround for grains and beans is quick, so I don’t worry too much about my liberal interpretation of the word “pantry." On the aforementioned mantel, you’ll find nearly twenty quart-sized mason jars, each housing a grain, a legume, a nut, or a seed.
Here are some of the usual suspects, as well as some other pantry highlights:
Oats (steel cut and rolled)
Rice (basmati rice, jasmine rice, short grain brown rice, and the occasional exotic selection, like pink or black rice)
Of course, this list isn’t totally comprehensive, and any pantry should be adapted to highlight the ingredients that you love best. But it’s a good sampling of foods that will make plant based cooking accessible, varied, and easy.
This recipe for smothered garlicky white beans on toast is a perfect example of the incredible flavor that can travel from pantry to table with ease. I’m all for canned beans in a pinch, but there are times when you can't beat soaking and boiling beans from scratch—and this is one of them.
You’ll need to plan ahead by soaking the beans overnight, but after that, most of the “work” here is inactive. Just set your soaked beans to boil with garlic, onion, and bay leaves, and pop another head of garlic in the oven to roast. Mash it all together, top it with some fruity olive oil, and smother over two slices of your favorite whole grain bread. It’s a satisfying meal in its own right, but serving it with a simple green salad will add a splash of color and crunch.
Another thing I love about pantry recipes: They usually make a lot of food. And this bean dish is no exception. It’ll give you leftovers for days, and you can also freeze what you won’t use right away for an easy dinner on a cool night this fall.
1 pound great Northern or cannellini beans, picked over 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling, divided 1 white onion, chopped 2 stalks celery, chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 dry bay leaves 1 whole head garlic, top sliced off horizontally to expose the cloves beneath 1 teaspoon salt Black pepper, to taste 1/2 teaspoon crushed thyme 8 to 16 slices grainy toast (1 to 2 per person)
Gena Hamshaw is a certified nutritionist, recipe developer, and food blogger. She shares her latest culinary adventures at The Full Helping. She's the author of two cookbooks, Food52 Vegan (2015) and Choosing Raw (2014). She enjoys yoga, sweet potatoes, cashews, and things that are smothered in sauce.