Everything You Need to Stock a Vegan Pantry (& Make Smothered Beans)

September 17, 2015

The key to a vegan's heart is through the pantry—and smothered white beans.

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. 

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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)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice (basmati rice, jasmine rice, short grain brown rice, and the occasional exotic selection, like pink or black rice)
  • Buckwheat (toasted and raw)


  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Azuki beans
  • Navy beans
  • Lentils (red, brown, and Le Puy)
  • Split peas (yellow and green)

Pasta, etc.

  • Linguine
  • Penne
  • Farfalle
  • Soba noodles
  • Polenta

Cashew Queso Sauce

Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruits

  • Raw almonds
  • Raw cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pepitas
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Raisins
  • Dried mulberries
  • ALL the nut/seed butters: peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower, tahini, etc. 




  • Canned chickpeas
  • Canned black beans
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato sauce
  • Vegan refried beans
  • Hatch chiles

Spices and Herbs

  • Nutritional yeast (a.k.a. nooch) 
  • Ground cumin 
  • Chili powder
  • Curry powder
  • Ground turmeric
  • Five-spice powder
  • Ground coriander
  • Bay leaves
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried rosemary
  • Rubbed sage

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.

Smothered Garlicky White Beans on Toast

Serves 8 to 10

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Which vegan ingredients can't you live without? Tell us in the comments!

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • pmporter
  • Marian Bull
    Marian Bull
  • Renee
  • Tereza
  • witloof
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


pmporter October 10, 2015
Dried mushrooms -- porcini and shitakes always and into everything. I buy them by the pound and they are really not expensive if you buy them that way.
Marian B. September 22, 2015
this is like my favorite food in the entire world yes
Renee September 19, 2015
Such a great post, I am currently writing a post myself for my wellness blog about a vegan pantry and it was great to hear your thoughts and opinions. I completely agree, the pantry is a main part of a vegan diet and can help to create some amazing meals.
Tereza September 17, 2015
This post is a great way to demonstrate that you do not need artificial "fillers" or chemicals to sustain a vegan diet
witloof September 17, 2015
Two things I would add to this list are nutritional yeast, which I use to make vegetarian stocks and to sprinkle on vegetables, and kombu, which is a great thing to add to a batch of cooking beans.
Gena H. September 17, 2015
How on earth did I forget nooch?! We're editing to add, Witloof :)
yollie May 11, 2016
What substitutes can you add to the pantry that is soy free?
Sarah S. September 17, 2015
This post is perfect! I would also add canned coconut milk to the list. Adds the perfect creaminess to soups and curries.