So you’re new to veganism? Congratulations on embarking upon a journey to improve to the health of your family and our planet. They say that once you become vegan you continue to find reasons to stay vegan, and I have found that to be true. Sometimes, though the recipes you find call for what appear to be exotic ingredients. But the truth is, once you outfit your kitchen, you’ll find vegan cooking to be easy and delicious. I’ll address those exotic ingredients in another post. This post is about having the right tools for the job. These are my top ten.
- A Vitamix. I resisted buying an expensive Vitamix because I had a blender, and I just didn’t see the point. Boy, was I wrong! I bought mine reconditioned directly from the Vitamix website (vitamix.com) and I use it every day. Seriously. Every day. I have both the standard container that comes with it and I also bought the additional “dry mix” jar. I use the standard jar for everything from lunch smoothies to vegan salad dressings to the best hummus ever. I also make vegan iced desserts and soups that take less than ten minutes from start to finish. The dry mix jar I use for grinding coffee, flour, making matcha from my homegrown tea, turning dried peppers into cayenne powder, you name it. I can even make powdered sugar out of regular sugar, or brown sugar out of sugar and molasses. I can make cornmeal out of popcorn! The cost of the machine is nothing compared to the savings on expensive sauces, dressings and herbs. Unquestionably, a must have.
- A rice cooker. I spent my formative years in Hawaii, so I am a rice eater. My husband (a Midwesterner) has to remind me now and then to bake him a potato, because I never think about it. Rice is nice. A simple, plain vanilla rice cooker is all you need, one that will cook your rice to perfection and then hold it warm while the rest of the meal is getting ready. There are expensive rice cookers with lots of bells and whistles including a steamer, but they’re not necessary. I buy all my grains in bulk, and mix them together in the canister. No one pot of rice is the same as the next. I mix together long grain brown rice, short grain brown rice, jasmine rice, wheatberries, barley, rye, bulgur, and sometimes I throw in some lentils and some dried soybeans. Scan what’s available in the grain section of your market. The result is a healthy, delicious mix that goes with almost any meal.
- A mandolin. There are many appliances for chopping vegetables on the market, and if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you probably either have or will acquire most of them. For my money, though, a mandolin is the most versatile. You don’t have to plug it in, it rinses off easily, takes up little space in the kitchen cabinet, and is always handy. Again, you can spend a lot of money on a fancy mandolin, but it isn’t necessary. Mine is old and wonderful, with interchangeable blades for grating, slicing both thick and thin, and something else that I’ve never tried. It might make matchstick potatoes, I’m not sure. In the fall harvest, I could not survive without the mandolin for slicing cucumbers for pickles, or slicing cabbages for slaw. Slicing potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables is a breeze. The blades are sharp, though, so always use caution.
- A slow cooker. This is what I made for dinner last night: 2 cans water pack jackfruit (from the Asian market), one sliced onion, one sliced green pepper, ½ cup barbecue sauce. Cook all day on low and serve over bread or on a hearty roll. Vegan Sloppy Joe’s from heaven. I threw it all in the slow cooker in the morning and it cooked on low all day. Here’s what we’re having for dinner tonight: two cans of black beans, two yams, sliced thin (on the mandolin), one package of soy chorizo sausage, and 2 cups of enchilada sauce (don’t buy it, make your own http://ohsheglows.com/2016/01/31/enchilada-sauce/ ). Let these cook on low all day and then fill a tortilla and get ready for everybody to go nuts. The slow cooker is the vegan’s best friend. There are lots and lots of vegan slow cooker cookbooks, too, to get you started on your journey.
- A soymilk maker. This is without doubt the biggest money saver in my kitchen. It looks like a fat coffee pot and makes a quart of soymilk in about 18 minutes from 1/3 cup of dried soybeans and some water. You can do the math on how much a quart of homemade soymilk costs, compared to what it costs in the store. Load these two ingredients into the pot, plug it in, and it cooks and grinds the beans. Mine came with a strainer and a pitcher. Strain out the soy okara (the dog loves that on her morning kibble) and voila! Delicious soy, rice, or almond milk. Dried soybeans are easily found in your health food store. I buy them in the bulk bins, and whenever possible, I get them in 25 pound bags. Between baking, our over-consumption of coffee, and morning oatmeal (made overnight every night in the slow cooker), we go through a lot of soymilk in this house.
- A good knife and a good knife sharpener. Vegans do a lot of vegetable chopping. There is nothing more frustrating than a dull knife. And, in fact, dangerous. We cut ourselves when the knife is dull, because we use too much pressure. Invest in a good chef’s knife and a good paring knife. Go to the knife store and spend some money, because these will last you not only for the rest of your life, but for the lives of whoever is lucky enough to inherit them. Once you have invested in fine cutlery, take care of it. Never leave a fine knife soaking in the sink. Never put it in the dishwasher. Wash it, dry it, and put it away. Have a small, simple, effective knife sharpener handy in a kitchen drawer that you can easily access to put a fine edge on your knife at a moment’s notice. You’ll be safer, and you’ll be happier.
- Pantry space. I know, space is always limited. But there are items that vegans use often enough that it is worth the fight for a few shelves in the garage. While I buy many items in the bulk bins at the health food store, I buy big bags (25-40 pounds) of pinto beans, soybeans, steel cut oats, and long-grain brown rice. Cooking dry beans is far more economical than opening a can. It’s good to have the option. I keep a container of “refried” beans (that I make in the slow cooker) on the top shelf in the refrigerator to add to just about everything. Not only are beans good for us, but a daily spoonful feeds the flora and fauna in our bellies so we don’t suffer from the uncomfortable gas that can occur when we only eat beans once a week or so. I buy cans of beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce by the case as well as a few other staples that we use all the time.
- A library of good vegan cookbooks. I have declared a moratorium on buying vegan cookbooks. I have about twenty, and that’s enough. Although… there is always something new from one or another of my favorite authors. There are cookbooks (and websites!) for every household. Vegan casseroles. Slow cooker recipes. Standard European dishes made vegan (French, German, etc.) Ditto with Asian dishes. I have learned the wonders of Indian spices. It took me a while to get the hang of vegan baking, but with the help of a great cookbook, and some advice from friends, I can now bake with the best of them without using dairy or eggs. I annotate every recipe, always improving on it for our tastes, and I highlight ones I like in the book’s Index, so I can easily find them again. These days I’m using a different cookbook every week, so I can get more depth of insight into the author’s way of thinking.
- A group of like-minded friends. So this isn’t a kitchen staple, but it is a lifestyle necessity. When I first joined the ranks of the vegan, I found a Meetup (meetup.com) group in my home town and began going to the events. I found a great community of interesting and interested people, and I learned a lot. We watched videos on nutrition, on agribusiness, we cooked together, shared tips and tricks, talked about new foods to try, and what to avoid in the grocery store. This is where I learned about the convenience of the right appliance, and the best tried and true cookbooks. I learned more about nutrition in this group than I had learned in my entire life heretofore. I found my new guru in Dr. Michael Greger (www.nutritionfacts.org), and his fact-base nutrition information. My vegan friends are happy, fun, and the light of health shines in their eyes.
The vegan lifestyle is a good one. Healthy, planet-friendly, animal-friendly, and a good choice. With the right support of friends and the right kitchen tools, this way of life can be one of the best decisions you have ever made.