I drew up a list of products, plant-based but so much more than just grass, that make for an easier and more delicious life.
The majority of the foods are cheap and healthy options, but may require some research; prices of grains can vary greatly among retailers, and sometimes all you’re paying extra for is a fancy label. It was an adventure to wander around my neighbourhood and find out that I could buy the same product for half of the price because I was willing to shop outside the regular supermarket. Ethnic stores (which can rip you off, too) carry products that I’ve seen nowhere else. Some items I receive in the care packages from my parents, simply because I’m not willing to swap my favourite smoked buckwheat for the locally-popular farro.
I do, however, love all sorts of grains, and since they go bad approximately never and would probably survive the atomic blast of Judgement Day, there’s no need to worry about the excessive stock. One or two kinds is great for starters, but if you get bored, the choice is huge.
Moving on, nuts are expensive but a little goes a long way, unless you live on cashew dairy, plus (a far stretched justification), they are pretty much supplements for your veins, hair, and skin. Just don’t go for the roasted, salted ones. From my calculations (read: local prices), a serving is around one-third the price of a serving of chicken, and is such a more loving choice. No, a handful of nuts won’t make the entire meal, but plain chicken wouldn’t either!
As for tummy-fillers, legumes, dry or canned, are a cheap and healthy, fiber-packed source of protein, and it’s worth creating a habit of incorporating them into daily menus. Much like grains, they would probably last through the apocalypse, which makes it smart to stock up on them when you stumble upon a bargain.
To bring it all together, proper seasoning is what turns ingredients into a dish, making it exciting, and, to me, is one of the joys of cooking: you can take cauliflower from India through Poland to the States with as little as sprinkling of a spice! My large collection of seasonings has yet to wait for an increase in my experience, but it truly is a deal-breaker in my kitchen.
- rice (I keep several kinds, arborio, basmati and natural (brown), long-grain)
- millet, buckwheat, barley (cooked in under 15 minutes and versatile)
- amaranth, quinoa (basically for show-offs and jokes about bird food, and for when I freak out about amino-acids, eaten seldom)
2. Nuts, seeds:
- sunflower (most nuts are added to recipes for the crunch, which the sunflower delivers with less added work - no chopping! and tends to be a lot more accessible and cheap)
- sesame seeds (calcium! plus, works with every cuisine and makes a good swap for breadcrumbs)
- flaxseed (essential for baking)
- cashews (listed separately for their versatility, check the ethnic stores which may sell in bulk)
- red or yellow lentils (for dhals and soups, they fall apart as they cook. I buy mine dirt cheap in ethnic shops or at Lidl).
- green or black lentils (for salads or dishes where the lentils are supposed to hold shape, unless you are a lentil lover, the two kinds should suffice).
- beans (alternatively go for canned)
4. Stuff in cans/jars:
- chickpeas, white beans (a personal choice, so hassle-free)
- tomato sauce (passata type)
- canned tomatoes
- dried tomatoes (a fix for any bland dish)
- coconut milk (huge price ranges and usually with additives, so not really a staple, but indispensable for my favourite curries)
- tahini and peanut butter (again, ethnic stores)
- olives (but then, I live in Italy)
- soy sauce
- liquid sweetener / sugar
- dried herbs: oregano, thyme, basil, bay leaves
- spices: cinnamon, cardamom, dried chilli, cumin, coriander seeds, curry powder, nutmeg (just pick some favorites)
- vinegars: white wine and balsamic
- garlic, ginger and onions
- pumpernickel-type bread
- dates (better than fudge candy)
- dried cranberry/raisins/apricots
- dark chocolate
- a bag of green peas or spinach in the freezer can be a lifesaver
PS1. Note how not-fancy most of the food is (more on that issue coming soon)!
PS2. This is not a shopping list!This is a list of foods that, over the past year, have filled my cupboards and simply make things easier, and maybe can be used as a point of reference for anyone who is in a need of such.