Feature photo by sonicwalker. Photo above by maureen_sill.

No vegan kitchen is complete without these items.

THERE ARE DOZENS OF REASONS TO EAT VEGAN (a diet excluding all animal products including eggs and dairy). You love animals; wish to shrink your carbon footprint, or seek a healthier diet. But are any of these reasons going to cook you a tasty and filling dinner tonight?

If you’re all lost in the supermarket when it comes to cooking compassionately then memorize the following article…or perhaps just read along, get psyched to do a little shopping and take to heart that building a vegan kitchen is a lifelong experience.

1. Take Stock

Before turning the kitchen into a mean-vegan-cooking machine, step back and look at what’s already there. You already may possess a small ransom in herbs and spices, a bottle of good olive oil or a chef’s knife (from mom or former roommate) hiding in the cutlery drawer. Toss old milk cartons to make room for delicious non-dairy milks (soy, almond or rice to start).

It’s time to develop the habit of label reading, starting with what’s in the cupboards. Pass on any opened non-vegan mixes, chips or cookies to your friends and donate unopened goods such as meaty soups or mac n’ cheese boxes to a food pantry.

Photo by KRob2005.

2. Pack it with Protein

Canned beans, vital wheat gluten, nuts and whole grains all are excellent sources of protein that can be readily stashed. You’ll never feel amiss for something in the “center” of the plate with a batch of homemade baked falafel or chickpea patties. Walnuts and cashews are delicious ground and sprinkled on pasta or vegan pizza.

There’s a whole world of vegan “dairy” to laden those refrigerator shelves with. Vegan cheeses can be hit or miss so ask for recommendations online or from vegan friends. Vegan yogurts are improving every day, with even soy-free varieties made with coconut milk!

3. Friendly Fats

At last, some good news: fats can be good for you, providing they’re minimally processed veggie fats such as canola, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. A healthy fat collection should include omega 3 fatty-acid staples like flax seed oil and hemp seed oil for heart and brain happiness (keeps skin and hair gorgeous too).

Unprocessed coconut oil is no longer a bad guy in the healthy fat scene. Enjoy unrefined coconut oil’s tropical fragrance in Indian curries or chocolate desserts.

4. Beyond the Pepper Shaker

Herbs and spices play a key role in delicious vegan cooking. Thyme and oregano are favorites in not just pasta sauce but also on potatoes or rubbed onto olive oil slathered flat bread.

Lemon pepper makes everything taste amazing, from popcorn to pumpkin soup. Look to traditional spice blends beyond our boarders, such as harissa, za’atar and Jamaican curry powder.

And no vegan pantry is complete without nutritional yeast! Nutritional yeast (not to be confused with Brewer’s yeast) lends a savory, full-bodied and dare say cheesy flavor when sprinkled on warm foods. It gravitates toward popcorn but it’s just at home sprinkled on pasta, rice, mashed potatoes or used to spike satisfying meatless gravy.

Photo by val’sphotos.

5. Did I Mention Vegetables?

Yeah, those. It’s surprising how many vegheads avoid the obvious. Veggies provide flavor, fiber, vitamins and even some protein! Old warhorses like broccoli become extraordinary when sautéed with olive oil, garlic and sprinkle of lemon.

Ban boiling altogether and embrace the wonders of roasting veggies instead (brushed with oil and herbs); string beans; carrots; Brussels sprouts and even cauliflower become mouthwatering. Don’t toss out that grill just because meat is off the menu: asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes and even pre-cooked potatoes love a good grilling.

6. Comfort & Convenience. Even Vegans Like That

There are days when the idea of cooking after an endless work day will make you cry. Vegan comfort foods, found in supermarkets or gourmet/natural markets everywhere, are here to stop those tears. Some favorites: “California” style veggie burgers made with whole grains, dairy-free ravioli, bean & veggie burritos, cheeseless pizzas, veggie rice bowls and pastas of all kinds.

Nothing in the ‘fridge except leftover rice or quinoa? A little oil, scallions and chopped veggies transform forgotten grain into great fried rice.

7. A Bowl of Fruit, Really

Fresh, seasonal fruit made readily available will make a difference in the quality of your snacking throughout the day. In the fall reach for local apples, pears and easy-to-peel Clementine oranges.

Summer brings boatloads of tender nectarines and plums. Bananas do their dance of deliciousness year-round. Keep your eyes peeled in the spring and early summer for those antioxidant-bursting berries like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.

Photo by VeganWarrior.

8. Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan and You

Do not fear the soybean. Soy is an excellent, affordable and common source of high quality protein. The key is balance: alternate soy-based meals with those using beans or nuts. Tofu and tempeh (a tasty fermented soy food) are long-standing vegetarian favorites.

Seitan, made from wheat protein, is non-soy contender with a meat-like chewiness that’s dreamy grilled or pan-fried like a steak.

9. Come Fry with Me: Get the Gear

Still cooking with that burned non-stick pan from your college years? Do yourself a favor and splurge on a cast-iron skillet, a high-quality non-stick pan (not all are created equal!) and a lidded soup pot with a heavy base.

Quality utensils complete the picture; look for wooden and silicon long handled spoons, spatulas and tongs. And even if you never whip up a batch of vegan peanut butter oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips (and why not after eating all your vegetables?), good cookie sheets will prove essential for roasting and baking a variety of foods.

10. Hire a Guide

A guide could simply be a great cookbook (check your favorite online book purveyor for reader favorites) or spending time with your favorite vegan who loves to cook. The Internet is a virtual buffet of vegan recipes, so seek out blogs and websites that make your tummy rumble.

I’ve been baiting you with hearty vegan eats throughout this article, so if you’re hungry, ready to hit the kitchen and not sure where to start then it’s time to get yourself a guide!