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The 10 Most Versatile Foods Everyone Should Have in Their Kitchen (And How to Use Them)

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There comes a time when we all need to face our limits – like in the kitchen. No, I’m not talking about limits on our cooking, but on our space and money. While it might be nice to have every single ingredient we could ever want and need in our kitchen, it most likely isn’t practical or possible. We may not have the pantry or fridge space to stock up on tons of groceries.

Plus, we may need to stick to a budget when it comes to grocery shopping. When that’s the case, it makes sense to buy foods that are versatile and can be used in multiple ways. Not only would this be helpful with space and money, but versatile foods would provide us with more possibilities for those times when we stand in the middle of the kitchen wondering what to make for dinner. The foods that anyone feels are must-haves in their pantries and refrigerators are pretty subjective – we all have our own likes and dislikes. Here are a few items that I find to be highly versatile in the kitchen along with ideas about how to use them.

1. Quinoa

It was just a few years ago that quinoa became a household word and rightfully so. The superfood is a complete protein, plus it gives us lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber. It’s also extremely versatile. Quinoa can be cooked and served as the delicious grain that it is (well, technically, quinoa is a seed) like in this Seasonal Quinoa Pilaf with Ramps, Artichokes and Peas. Use quinoa instead of rice for a new twist on an Asian favorite with this Pineapple Fried Quinoa. You can make burgers with it such as these Baked Quinoa Burgers or these Quinoa Veggie Burgers. Quinoa is perfect in salads like this Quinoa and Beet Salad with Hazelnuts. How about pizza? No, not quinoa on your pizza. Quinoa in your pizza. That’s right, try making this impressive Quinoa Pizza Crust.  I’m not done yet. Start your morning right with a Pomegranate Quinoa Porridge. Don’t forget dessert. Try these Quinoa Lavender Cookies and Quinoa Date Nut Truffles for healthy, sweet treats.

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are on my shopping list every single time because they are healthy, delicious and highly versatile. They can be the main ingredient of an entrée or part of a side dish. Mushrooms can be the star of the show or something added to a dish to fill it out or “beef” it up. Make burgers and meatballs such as these Portobello Patties and these Portobello Meatless Balls. This Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry with Garlic, Black Pepper and Chives is amazing as is this Potato and Mushroom Gratin. Stuff mushrooms into tofu omelets, ravioli and tacos or make Stuffed Mushrooms with spinach. Mushrooms can be eaten raw as in this Raw Marinated Mushroom Soup or cooked and transformed into Shitake Bacon. From appetizers like these Veggie and Mushroom Mini Bites to classic spins like this Mushroom Stroganoff to fancy entrees like this Portobello Wellington, mushrooms are so versatile your kitchen should never be without them.

3. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans

Chickpeas are my favorite beans. They can be used in so many ways and each time, they take on a completely different profile. In fact, there are so many ways to cook with chickpeas, I could write a whole article on this one amazing food. But since they have to share this article with nine other foods, let me get started on how to use them. We all know chickpeas make incredible hummus, falafel and burgers, right? Chickpeas also make wonderful cold salads. I use them to make my Chickpea “Tuna” Salad all the time. Need appetizers? Make these adorable Chickpea Balls or my incredible Chickpea Fries. Make exotic ethnic dishes like these Dark and Spicy Indian Chickpeas or this Moroccan Vegetable and Chickpea Stew. For a fast, healthy and scrumptious snack, try these Roasted Chickpeas with Chipotle and Lime. I warn you, they are addictive. Dried chickpeas can also be processed into flour or you can just buy a bag of chickpea flour (my favorite flour). Use it to make Chickpea Omelets, Mediterranean Chickpea Bread, and even Festive Chickpea Tarts.

4. Bananas

Who doesn’t love bananas? Well, actually I do know someone who doesn’t love bananas but it’s rare. Bananas may not seem like the most versatile food. You peel them and eat them or you slice them over a bowl of cereal or into a peanut butter sandwich. Bananas have so much more to offer. You can use them to make Coconut Plantain “Rice” Pudding and add them to a Chocolate Sundae Smoothie.  Bake with bananas and make this Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake, these Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins or my favorite, Baked Banana Bread. If you need an ice cream fix, look no further than your bananas that are rapidly ripening before your eyes. All you need is a blender and you have Raw Banana Mango Soft Serve or Creamy Vegan Banana, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice Cream. Impress your guests at your next party with Banana Bread French Toast Cupcakes and Bananas Foster Shooters. Bananas are also good in savory dishes. Add some bananas to your next curry dish instead of mango or roasted squash soup. Last but not least, don’t forget that bananas can be used as egg replacements in recipes.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Growing up, I ate sweet potatoes one way: roasted. Now I know so many different ways to eat these beautiful, orange powerhouses of vitamins and antioxidants at every meal. Breakfast: add pureed sweet potatoes to your oatmeal to sweeten it up or try these Sweet Potato Waffles and this Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie. Or how about these Sweet Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon Maple Sage Butter. Yum! Lunch: did you know you can make hummus with sweet potatoes? It’s called Yammus. This Sweet Potato Quiche and this Southwestern Vegan Grilled Cheese are both amazing ways to spend an afternoon. Dinner: serve some Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burgers, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and some stick-to-your-ribs Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili. On the side: Spicy Sweet Potato Salad and Sweet Potato Latkes. Save room for dessert because we have Spiked Sweet Potato Truffles, Chocolate Sweet Potato Spice Cake and Sweet Potato Maple Mousse Pie. Sweet potato puree can also be used in baking to replace eggs and/or oil as in these Mint Carob Walnut Brownies.

6. Tomatoes

When I was a kid, I refused to eat tomatoes. In fact, I was still refusing them well into my 20s. Now I eat tomatoes every single day including at breakfast when raw slices top my hummus on red rice toast. Tomatoes are so versatile and used in so many kinds of dishes that I always make sure I have them on hand, both fresh and canned. Without tomatoes, you could not have the classic meal of Tomato Soup and grilled vegan cheese. Tomatoes are the base for Italian classic sauces like My Mom’s Marinara Sauce, Pasta Puttanesca and Bolognese.

Tomatoes are also used in Spanish, Mexican, Greek and Indian dishes so they work in every flavor profile. Use fresh tomatoes in this Black Bean and Corn Salsa, roasted tomatoes with these Grilled Avocados and battered and fried tomatoes to make Fried Green Tomatoes with Red Pepper Aioli. Mix tomatoes into main dishes like this Eggplant, Onion and Tomato Stew and these Miso Roasted Tomatoes and Spiralized Carrot Noodles as well as side dishes and snacks like these Tomato, Chive and Chickpea Pancakes. Of course, we know tomatoes are wonderful in salads. Try grilling them as in this Kale and Grilled Tomato Salad or skip the greens and enjoy a salad made completely out of assorted color tomatoes and fresh herbs.

7. Cannellini (White) Beans

White beans are deliciously creamy, extremely versatile and because of their neutral taste, they can be made into many different meals or snacks. White beans are perfect for dips and spreads like this Smoky White Bean and Roasted Yellow Pepper Hummus  and this Moroccan Grilled Eggplant, Onion and White Bean Spread.  Stay warm with a big bowl of Winter Potato, White Bean and Kale Soup or Escarole and White Bean Soup. Lighten up a classic side dish with beans to make this White Bean and Potato Mash. White beans are great for making veggie burgers that hold together well like these Quinoa and White Bean Burgers and these White Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers. Serve up a beautiful Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Fresh Figs. Substitute white beans for garbanzo beans to make these Vegan “Crab” Cakes with Sweet Balsamic Mayo. White beans are also good for baking as evidenced by these Flaky White Bean Biscuits with Rosemary Butter.

8. Avocados

Avocados are a versatile fruit that you should always have on hand. They are creamy, delicious and a healthy source of fat, protein, fiber and vitamins. There’s a trend going on right now for avocado toast. Just mash up some avocado and season it with your favorite herbs, spices, or even hot sauce and spread it on your toast as you would butter. Add avocado to a salad to make it more filling like this Avocado Kale Chili Salad. Avocados’ creamy texture makes them perfect for soups and dips. Try this Raw Peas, Mint and Avocado Soup and this Green Avocado Basil Dip. Add avocado to cool down spicy dishes like my Southwestern Tofu Scramble.

Love sushi? Avocado is a common ingredient in sushi. Make your own sushi like this Teriyaki Tofu Roll with Avocado and Black Rice and this Raw Carrot Sushi. Complete your Asian feast with these Fresh Veggie Summer Rolls with Spicy Garlic Peanut Sauce. One of my favorite ways to eat avocado is to put it in a sandwich. This Vegan Humdinger has hummus, avocado and sun-dried tomatoes. Avocados can also cross over to the sweet side of the street. Avocados can replace oil with healthy fat and make desserts moist and creamy like this Raw Avocado Cacao Mousse and these Chocolate Cupcakes with Avocado Mint Icing.

9. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has recently become one of my favorite ingredients. I’m talking about the thick, full-fat coconut milk that comes in either a can or a container. There is also lite coconut milk for when you need thinner milk. The reason I am so in love with coconut milk is that I can use it everywhere – in savory dishes, sweet desserts, and a whole bunch of ethnic dishes from Jamaican to Indian to Italian. One of my favorite ways to use coconut milk is to make a lighter version of Alfredo sauce for pasta. I simply make a roux, add the coconut milk, some of the starchy pasta cooking water, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg and I have a thick and creamy sauce for my fettuccine.

I also use coconut milk in place of water when making my Jamaican Rice and Peas and in place of other non-dairy milks when making Cauliflower Gratin and even mashed potatoes. Whenever I make an Indian curry, I reach for the coconut milk. Try this Mango Curry for a perfect summer dish. Coconut milk also features in my Cold Rice Noodles with Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce. Once when I ran out of vegan sour cream, I made my own Coconut Sour Cream with a can of coconut milk I had in the pantry. Of course, coconut milk is also used in desserts. Try this amazing Chocolate Avocado Fudge made with coconut milk and my ultimate Vegan Whipped Cream in both chocolate and vanilla.

10. Tofu

Last but certainly not least, I choose tofu as one of the top ten versatile foods. I love tofu and I guarantee I can get you to love it too. This is another ingredient that I can write whole articles about and in fact, I have. Use silken tofu in smoothies, puddings and vegan ice cream recipes like this Low-Fat Strawberry Tofu Ice Cream. Tofu can also be used to make egg dishes like this Silken Tofu Omelet, this Spicy Coriander Quiche and all kinds of tofu scrambles. Firm and extra-firm tofu are perfect for stir-fries like this Thai Basil with Tofu and Eggplant, skewered food like these Spicy Balsamic Tofu Kebabs and the Perfect Baked Tofu cubes. Tofu makes amazing sandwiches like this Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy and this Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi. Chinese food can be made at home like this Kung Pao Tofu and this General Tso’s Tofu. Tofu is perfect for replacing fish in dishes like Vegan Scallops and Tofu “Shrimp” Scampi. Enjoy vegan versions of your old favorites like these Crispy Tofu Nuggets and Buffalo Tofu Fries. Crumble the tofu up to make a vegan ricotta that gets used in Italian dishes like Spinach Gnudi Balls and Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti. The possibilities are endless.

These are my top ten picks for the most versatile foods everyone should have in their kitchen. Like I wrote at the beginning, the list is subjective; everyone is different. What foods do you find valuable for making lots of different dishes? Let us know your favorites in the comments section.

Lead Image Source: Roasted Chickpeas with Chipotle and Lime

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0 comments on “The 10 Most Versatile Foods Everyone Should Have in Their Kitchen (And How to Use Them)”

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Tina Volpe
4 Years Ago

Awesome selections Rhea :) I have every single one of these on hand at all times... including brown rice. Love your posts !


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