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As a vegan, of course your refrigerator is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables that make up the color of the rainbow. While produce is essential to making healthy, plant-based meals, it’s also important to keep your pantry stocked with basic staples. A well-stocked pantry will give you more options for cooking nutritious and delicious meals even when the fridge is looking rather empty. Or maybe when you’re tired after a hard day’s work and just want to whip up something quick and easy.

Of course, the items in anyone’s pantry should be personalized to their particular likes and needs. There is no reason to overstock your pantry with cans and bottles that will just collect dust. Think about the meals you most like to eat and make sure you always have the ingredients to make those dishes on hand. The 12 items in this list are my suggestions for foods I always want to have in my pantry. Further, this list includes only shelf-stable items; fresh foods such as potatoes, onions, and garlic are not included. Ready? Let’s go shopping!

1. Dried and Canned Beans/Legumes

Beans are a great food staple because they are nutritious, easy to prepare, and inexpensive. I prefer canned beans but if you want to save even more money, buy dry beans which some people say taste better. If you buy canned beans, make sure to get brands that have no additives, preservatives, or added salt. Which kinds of beans should you buy? There are so many to choose from. I always make sure to have black beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, cannellini (Great Northern) beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and black-eyed peas on hand. With just one can of beans, you can make so many different meals such as black-eyed pea burgers, vegan Italian sausage, or a chickpea salad. It’s also a good idea to keep some lentils in your pantry. You can buy them in packages or in bulk. Lentils are so versatile, you can make soups, stews, dals, and even meatballs with them.

2. Dried Pasta

One of the most useful items to keep on hand is dried pasta. Pasta is inexpensive, lasts a long time, and can be used in a variety of ways. Keep different shapes and styles in your pantry – spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, linguine, penne, rotini, and lasagna noodles. Elbow macaroni is the top pick for mac and cheese. In the time it takes to boil the pasta, you can whip up a quick sauce whether it’s marinara or garlic and oil. Dried pasta is essential for dishes like baked ziti and spaghetti and meatballs. For Asian dishes, keep soba, rice and udon noodles on hand and when you get an urge for rice noodles with peanut sauce, you’ll be good to go.

3. Canned Tomatoes and Sauce

The item I most reach into my pantry for is canned tomatoes. No matter what ethnic cuisine you are making, it probably uses tomatoes in some way. Although you can buy fresh tomatoes year-round, they are really only at their peak for a short time each year so having canned tomatoes on hand is essential for delicious dishes. I always keep cans of diced tomatoes, crushed or pureed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste on the shelves. It takes no more than 15 minutes to create an amazing marinara sauce with just a couple of canned tomatoes. If you prefer, you can also keep jars of already-prepared tomato sauce in your pantry. Just be sure to read the labels and make sure they are vegan-friendly.

4. Whole Grains

Whole grains are very versatile. They can be the main component in a dish or a hearty side dish. You can buy whole grains in packages or in bulk. Good ones to have on hand are millet, barley, bulgur, couscous and quinoa. Rice is also an essential pantry item. Depending on your likes and needs, you might want to stock up on long-grain brown rice, basmati rice for Indian dishes, and Arborio rice for risottos and wild rice.

5. Dried Herbs and Spices

My most essential cooking tools are my dried herbs and spices. No matter what I’m making, it’s the herbs and spices that add the most flavor and depth to my dishes. Since I love to make different ethnic dishes, I keep a lot of spices on my shelves. The ones you will want depend on what you like to eat and cook. The basics you should have include kosher salt, sea salt, black pepper (ground or peppercorns), garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chile powder, oregano, thyme, curry powder, ginger and cinnamon. You might want to buy some blends such an Italian seasoning blend just to make it easier and less expensive. For more on how to stock your spice cabinet, read this.

6. Oils and Vinegars

Oils and vinegars are important for cooking and for raw foods such as salads and slaws. The basic oils you will want to have in your pantry are organic coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, toasted sesame oil (if you do a lot of Asian cooking) and oil that can withstand high cooking temperatures such as organic canola, sunflower or safflower oil. The essential vinegars are balsamic, red wine vinegar, brown rice vinegar (for Asian dishes) and of course, no household should be without a large bottle of organic apple cider vinegar.

7. Prepared Condiments and Sauces

Even if you like to make all your own sauces and dips from scratch, you need to have some basic items in your pantry. You will want a bottle of low-sodium soy sauce or tamari which is used in a variety of sauces and marinades. If you want a soy-free option, get a bottle of coconut aminos. A bottle of barbeque sauce is helpful in recipes such as vegan ribs, stir-fries and sandwiches or make sure you have the ingredients you need to make your own such as ketchup, hot sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Prepared salad dressings are a great time-saver if you don’t want to make your own. Other items to keep on hand are Dijon mustard, brown mustard, salsa, peanut butter and other nut butters. If you make a lot of Asian food, you might want some prepared stir-fry sauces, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha chile sauce.

8. Whole Grain Flours

Even if you don’t bake, you should always have some flour in your pantry. Flour can be used to thicken sauces or to make the roux for gravies. It’s also necessary in breading if you are making fried tofu or tempeh. You don’t need to buy a dozen kinds of flour if you don’t think you will use them. Have a bag of whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour for most of your needs. If you are gluten-free, buy a bag of an all-purpose, gluten-free blend. Chickpea flour is perfect for making batters and omelets. With cornmeal, you can make a crispy coating for foods or whip up some polenta or grits.

9. Nuts and Seeds

Technically, these won’t be in your pantry since you need to keep nuts and seeds in the refrigerator, but I’m counting them in this list since they are indispensable. Buy nuts and seeds in the bulk bins of markets since they can be expensive and you only want to buy as much as you will use. Nuts can be used as toppings for dishes as well as in pestos. You can use them to add texture to veggie burgers and of course, nuts can make the creamiest vegan cheeses, cheese sauces and cheesecakes around. Essential seeds to keep stocked include sesame, pumpkin, chia, flax and hemp. If you like to bake, have a jar of poppy seeds to sprinkle on top of breads. We already mentioned nut butters but with a good supply of fresh nuts, you can easily make your own.

10. Stock, Broth, and Bouillon Cubes

Stocks and broths are essential to making soups, gravies, sauces, marinades and many other recipes. You can certainly make your own stocks and broths and keep them in the freezer, but sometimes it’s nice to just pull a box off the shelf and open it. Broths can be used in place of water to add extra flavor to dishes. Be sure to get organic brands that are low in both sodium and fat. Since boxed broth can be pricey, you might want to buy a few boxes of bouillon cubes. One cube can make a few quarts of water into a flavorful broth. Stock, broth and bouillon cubes come in veggie flavored as well as vegan “chicken,” “beef” and mushroom flavors.

11. Shelf-Stable Non-Dairy Milk and Tofu

If you cook a lot, you can never have enough non-dairy milk in your pantry. I keep shelf-stable boxes of almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and my favorite, cashew milk. I also make sure I have plenty of full-fat and lite canned coconut milk. Milk is useful in dredging and breading food and in making gravies and sauces. Coconut milk comes in handy for making your own whipped cream, sour cream, cream sauces and curries. Silken tofu that is shelf-stable lets you make tofu omelets, sour cream and desserts.

12. Canned Fruit

Nothing beats fresh fruit, but in a pinch it’s good to have a few cans of canned fruit around. Just be sure the fruit is packed in water or natural juices and not syrup. Having diced pineapple makes it easy to make tofu kabobs, sweet and sour dishes or a pineapple fried quinoa. Jackfruit may be a fruit but it makes savory, meaty dishes like Philly Cheesesteaks.

You should always have fresh produce in your kitchen, but with these 12 staples in your pantry, you will always be able to cook up a delicious, vegan dish. When you don’t feel like running to the store after a long day at work, you will feel confident that you have the ingredients you need to make a fast and easy dinner that’s also nutritious, mouthwatering and vegan.

Image source: How to Make Fresh Marinara Sauce

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