Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Well Stocked Pantry

Today I heard Rachael Ray say something about how she uses agave syrup sometimes because its a low-glycemic sweetener and that about made my head spin (with excitement)! Agave syrup, or agave nectar, as I usually call it is a great sweetener for almost any occasion that isn't too harsh on the blood sugar. You can find it now in major chain grocery stores, where its always been in the aisles at health food stores and co-ops, and even on Amazon. Agave is sweeter than sugar, so when a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, I use 3/4 cup agave and reduce a little liquid somewhere in the recipe. Agave appears in my smoothies, ice creams, baked goods and raw desserts, and anywhere in between. It is a liquid thinner than honey, similar to the consistency of maple syrup. (Agave is also the same plant tequila is made from.) Since its versatile and now becoming so easy to find it makes my top spot on essential items for a vegan kitchen..

Essential Items For A Well Stocked Pantry

1. Agave Nectar- easy on the blood sugar sweetener. Now available most anywhere. I like the organic, raw amber blue agave version.

2. Coconut Oil- say goodbye to butter and even Earth Balance and other margarines, unrefined organic coconut oil is the way to get your pans (and taste buds) oiled up right. The benefits of adding coconut oil to your diet are numerous, some researchers have found that the lauric acid in coconut oil can boost your immunity. And even though coconut oil is high in saturated fats, its been proven to help you lose weight! Baking (and unbaking), and cooking with coconut oil is easy, just use it as you would any butter or oil. Most major chain groceries do carry coconut oil, but usually the refined kind. You may have to venture to the health food store or check out online resources to get a good quality organic, unrefined oil.

3. Cashews- the most versatile item in a dairy free kitchen. Raw cashews (not the canned, salted kind) can be used as they are or soaked to achieve creamy textures. You can also toast cashews and add as a garnish to grains. Most of my ice creams include raw cashews. My vegan alfredo sauce is cashew based. I also use them in raw desserts, and even as a veggie dip base. I get my cashews in the bulk section at the health food store. I've not been able to find raw cashews in major chain groceries.

4. Grains- though I disagree with the FDA's food pyramid that grains should be the base of your diet, I do agree that some whole grains are a great complement to a diet based on veggies and fruits. Every now and then I'll have pasta made with rice, quinoa, or buckwheat- sometimes in the natural section/ethnic aisles of major chain groceries you can find these, but these are certainly available at any health food store. I keep my pantry constantly stocked with quinoa, brown basmati rice, and my new favorite, millet. I cook these grains in my rice cooker and purchase them in the bulk section at the health food store (but are they are also available packaged at MCGs).

5. Chickpeas and Black Beans- ideally should be purchased dried. They are cheaper this way and usually available in bulk. Honestly, I usually cheat and stock up on cans of the organic beans at the major chain grocery. Make sure you rinse the canned beans before using.

6. Seeds-sunflower seeds are great in raw desserts and snacks. Sesame seeds are great to keep around if you get an urge to make hummus and don't want to buy a weird jar of tahini, or to throw in asian-inspired stir frys. Sunflower and sesame seeds are great in salads. Flax seeds can be added to smoothies or sweets for extra fiber. Chia seeds are my new favorite food item. I keep a bowl of them soaking in the fridge to add substance and protein to blended drinks/smoothies. They are also great to make into a high protein creamy pudding. I get my sesame seeds in the asian aisle at the MCG, the raw (hulled) sunflower seeds in bulk at the health food store. Flax seeds can now be found at most major chains as well as the HFS. Chia seeds can be purchased online (I like Mt. Rose) or at the health food store.

7. Raw stuffs/superfoods- Jing Masters totally got me hooked on drinking raw cacao based elixirs. I keep goji berries and raw cacao on hand for delicious drinks as well as chinese tonic herbs. I'm also in love with young thai coconuts that I get super cheap at the local Indian market.

8. Spices/seasonings/everything else- dates (in bulk from the HFS), organic garlic, onions, and lemons, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic frozen fruit (for smoothies), and tons of (organic!) greens (kale, spinach, romaine, etc) are also necessities to have in my kitchen. We're lucky, at least in my area to be able to find these at major chain groceries now.

Where do you get your groceries? I like to get my seasonal produce at the farmer's market and what I can't get there I pick up fair priced organics at either the MCG or the HFS. It seems like I'm constantly running around to get groceries, but I'm committed to consuming high quality foods for a good price. If you don't like running around to many different stores within the week or month, you may find it easier to shop online or to shop at Whole Foods Market- which is a nice blend of a major chain grocery and health food store. Kroger, Meijer, and Target all have their own organic labels. Sams Club and Costco carry organic produce in bulk. I am lucky to have two great locally owned health food stores in my area- Amazing Grace and Rainbow Blossom. I also purchase items online quite often. If you're living single, you may want to go in with friends and let them know when you find a good deal on a huge bag of rice or cacao powder and share the cost.  

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1 comment:

  1. A great list! I'm an un-refined coconut oil convert. I use it for everything. I buy the non-virgin kind because it doesn't taste like coconut, but I think it's still good for you.