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2. Vegan kitchen cupboard essentials

A few years ago I didn't own any of the items listed below. Well, you don't need flaxseed to cook oven chips and fish fingers. But that's not to say that the below are exotic, hard to find or expensive ingredients. In no particular order, I've made these suggestions based on their usefulness from a nutritional and culinary perspective, and the simple fact that after two years of veganism, these are my most-used ingredients. Many are extremely versatile and work to create a range of tasty meals.

Flaxseed (linseed)

Now you've ditched the fish oils, you'll want a regular plant source of omega 3 - vital for good health. A 425g bag of milled flaxseed (you want that because the shelled stuff will pass right through you, undigested) will set you back around £5 but it'll last you ages and keeps well. Holland & Barrett often do 'buy one, get one for a penny' and other offers, so I always stock up when these come along. Sprinkle on breakfast cereal, use in smoothies, and add a few tablespoons to bread and cake recipes. It has a nutty taste that I find enhances baked goods, whether savoury or sweet. For good health, aim to use 1 ½ tablespoons a day, or you could use ½ a tablespoon of flax oil. I put flax in homemade bread and put it on my breakfast cereal - sorted. Store your opened bag of milled flaxseed in the fridge.

Shelled hemp

An optional one, this, because of the price, but I like to have it to hand. Another wonderfully nutritious seed, shelled hemp is one of the few complete protein plant foods. It's a good source of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, and contains useful amounts of iron. It works out more expensive than flaxseed, at £6-7 per 225g bag, but is a nutritionally potent and versatile ingredient that will last a while if used sparingly. Hemp seed has a subtle, nutty, and strangely creamy taste that compliments many foods. Add to bread making and other baking, sprinkle on breakfast cereals, stir into soy yogurt, and sprinkle on salads and stir-frys.

Soy sauce

A wonderful, rich and versatile ingredient that suits many recipes (not just for Asian cuisine). I also use soy sauce in most casseroles as part of the stock base, helping to give recipes a tasty foundation to build from. I douse fried tofu cubes or slices in soy sauce to give them a deep, savoury flavour, before adding them to other dishes, or having cold in sandwiches the next day. Soy sauce is useful in enhancing flavour in bean burgers and many other dishes, and is frequently used in marinades. Try marinating slices of tempeh in soy sauce, maple syrup and a generous sprinkling of smoked paprika before frying an hour later, to make tempeh 'bacon'. Soy sauce is strong, salty stuff, so use sparingly.

Sprouted beans/seeds

Sprouted beans and seeds are nutrient bombs, offering vitamins and minerals, protein, iron, calcium and carbohydrate. Find them in the salad vegetables section of the supermarket. They're cheap and available in bags of mixed, or you can also go for bags of pure alfalfa, sunflower and chickpea. You can also sprout beans and seeds yourself in your kitchen. To preserve their nutrients, don't cook them. Use straight from the fridge in salads and sandwiches, and sprinkle on any meal.


A vegan staple, frequently finding its way into my packed lunch. Hummus' main ingredient is chickpeas, with added tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice, and oil. Making your own is easy and cheap, especially if you buy dried chickpeas instead of tinned, but there are some tasty shop options (usually higher in fat though). I've recently discovered that hummus freezes well - useful if you make a batch - but give it a thorough stir and maybe a drop of oil once it's defrosed. A bag of dried chickpeas represents weeks of hummus for very little expense. Chickpeas can used in many other dishes, such as curries, casseroles and fritters.

Not only is hummus a rich, creamy dip for spreading in sandwiches or scooping up with pitta or raw vegetables, it works surprisingly well stirred into soups and stews for a lovely creamy texture and extra richness. Add it right at the end, after you've turned the heat off the saucepan.

Hummus is a good protein and calcium food, and a useful source of good fat. Try my fennel and sundried tomato hummus recipe.

Dairy free spread

Because you don't want dry bread! More than that, dairy free spreads often come with added vitamin B12, thus contributing to your daily amount. Vitalite and Pure are both brands that are fortified with B12, as well as other useful nutrients. If you're not much of a bread or sandwich lover, you could use dairy free spread in cooking and other baking. I make 'butter' icing with Vitalite. Read about B12, and other sources of this important vitamin here.


A valuable protein and good fats source for those on a plant-based diet, nuts are a tasty and versatile ingredient that happily slip into many roles and recipes. Sprinkle on breakfast cereals, finely chop and use in burger mixes and nut roasts, or use them as a nutritious snack. It's good to get into the habit of incorporating nuts into your diet.

Seeds (sunflower and pumpkin)

Like nuts, seeds are tasty little nutrient bombs and work well in many roles: add them to homemade bread, sprinkle on salads and breakfast cereals, dry roast them with a little salt and spice for a tasty snack, and add them to bean burger and other mixes. Seeds are a great source of protein, fibre and various vitamins and minerals and, again, a good habit for a healthy vegan to adopt.

Useful kitchen equipment:
Measuring spoons - so that 'teaspoon and 'tablespoon' are accurate and don't vary. The spoons you eat with can be way off. Grab a set for a quid in a supermarket.
Food processor - Use to make hummus, smooth your soups, chop nuts, make shortcrust pastry etc.
Air-tight containers - for storing leftovers and freezing excess. On weeks where pennies are tight, you'll soon find you have plenty in the freezer from previous cooking session or bits and bobs to make something new from.

Tofu and tempeh

Useful and affordable complete protein foods, made from soy beans. Tofu is all over the place these days, but you'll likely have to visit an independent grocery for tempeh. They both work well as versatile meat replacements in many meals, but you're missing out if you don't try dedicated tofu and tempeh recipes.

Tofu and tempeh have different textures and qualities. Tofu varies in firmness, from a scrambled or boiled egg-like consistency, to a meaty firmness. Out of the packet, it doesn't have much flavour of its own unless you buy a smoked or marinated variety.

Tempeh is made from whole soy beans and is innately more flavoursome than tofu, and thought to be easier to digest. It is nutty, meaty and dense, and has a different nutritional makeup to tofu due to the fermentation process used to make it. Don't be put off by dark patches on the surface. These are normal and not indicative of mould.

Both tofu and tempeh are extremely versatile in that they readily soak up any flavours you pour on them, suiting many dishes. They both work well as a cold sandwich filling after they've been fried, and splashed with soy sauce and spices, before being left to cool in the fridge overnight. Try slices of either on wholemeal bread with dairy free spread, with hummus, grated carrot and beetroot, a thin scraping of miso paste, and a sprinkle of sprouted sunflower seeds.

Yeast Extract

Popularly known, via Marmite, as a food that people either love or hate, yeast extract is much more than something to smear on toast. Use it to create a wonderfully rich stock in casseroles, soups and other dishes. Just add boiling water to make a savoury drink... if you really want to. Yeast extract is a useful vitamin B12 source, so it's well worth having a jar in your kitchen and incorporating into your diet. For those of you who are firmly planted in the 'hate it' camp, you may end up feeling differently if you try yeast extract in cooking, rather than neat on your crumpets. There's life beyond Marmite: check out health food shops and independent groceries for other brands.

Veggie mince

I don't use frozen veggie mince because it's more expensive and may have added salt and other bits. Get a packet of soya mince (sometimes called textured vegetable protein or TVP) from a health food shop or independent grocery. It's cheap, versatile, takes minutes to prepare, lasts ages, is low in fat, and a useful source of protein and carbohydrate. Prepare it by adding boiling water. Inject flavour by adding a little yeast extract or stock, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. It's ready then to add to any dish you'd typically use beef mince in, like lasagna and cottage pie. I like to add some to my bean burger mix to give it a more interesting texture.

Bouillon/stock powder

I buy big tubs of Marigold brand, which cost around £6. But smaller tubs will set you back around £2. Stock powder is strong stuff that goes a long way so it's a worthwhile investment and gives any dish a nice rounded flavour to build on, or add a little toward the end of cooking if your dish is missing that extra 'something'. Avoid the nasty supermarket stuff that's full of artificial crap. A decent bouillon is comprised of ingredients you could buy in a grocery and turn into a stock if you had lots of time, space, and a clever machine to turn it into a powder... probably best just to buy a tub.

Herbs and spices

My pre-vegan spice rack consisted of salt and pepper. Not very adventurous. Dried herbs and spices enhance and enliven food, and are a useful source of nutrients. My favourite and more often used herbs are tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, and basil. Bay leaves are also good. Favourite spices are smoked paprika, fennel seed powder and cinnamon. All these wonderful powders, seeds and leaves are plants, so abandon any hesitation! Prices vary, but common herbs and spices will cost a pound or two. They are potent in this dried form and go a long way.

Some recipes call for fresh herbs. In some cases you might be able to use dried instead and save a few quid - in wet dishes especially, like casseroles - but sometimes the dried stuff just won't do i.e. fresh, lush basil leaves in a salad can't be beaten. Use your judgement around what sort of recipe you're dealing with and whether the leafy quality of fresh herbs is a vital characteristic of the dish.

While you'll find specific references to herbs and spices in most recipes, it's good fun to experiment: sprinkle smoked paprika on roast veg, rosemary or cinnamon on sweet potatoes, and completely transform the flavour of homemade bean burgers, soups and stews, by swapping the herbs and spices in the recipe for your own.


Supermarket bog-standard vegetable oil is usually rapeseed oil, containing useful and balanced amounts of the healthful omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. It's cheap, a good all-rounder for frying, roasting and baking.

For hummus, salads and some baking tasks, olive oil is wonderful, with a distinct flavour and unique nutritional qualities. Olive oil prices vary, but a big bottle of decent extra virgin will last you a long time if you avoid using it for general frying and roasting.

Give tofu and tempeh a nutty, Chinese takeaway tone by frying in toasted sesame oil.

If your wallet can stretch to it, try hemp oil. I tend to only use it for bread making, which means it goes a long way. Hemp oil is special because it has a good balance of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.


A useful protein, iron and fibre source, a pack of lentils is cheap, will last ages, and is extremely versatile. Use in casseroles, soups, lasagna (half and half with soy mince is nice), pasta dishes and veggie roasts. Lentils don't need soaking and cooking before they can be used, unlike dried beans and peas. Lentils store indefinitely and are a useful staple to have around, especially when pennies are short.


Buying tinned beans is more convenient but works out much more expensive than buying bags of dried. A bag of beans (any type) will provide the equivalent of many tins of beans for far less cash. It might seem like a hassle, but preparing dried beans is easy and you'll soon get into the habit of soaking them overnight and bunging them on to boil away to themselves while you potter around doing other things. Dried beans are a useful wholefood protein source for someone on a plant-based diet, as well as providing many other nutrients.

Plant milks

There's a lot more choice when replacing the white stuff in your cuppa these days, and it's well worth looking beyond soy milk. Try chocolate oat milk on muesli, hazelnut milk in coffee, and coconut milk in cookery. Plant milks provide a range of gentle flavours that can inspire creative use in the kitchen. They are easily digestible, nutritious, and don't come bundled with hormones and animal fats. Many are fortified with vitamin B12, and can be an important and regular source for someone relying on food sources for this nutrient. Calcium and vitamin D are also welcome additions in some plant milks.

Sweet chilli sauce

Drizzle on pizza to add moisture and give it a slight kick, add to salads, and use in casseroles and other dishes for a gentle sweetness and warmth. It does contain a lot of sugar, but used sparingly is a versatile ingredient to enliven dishes and rescue recipes that taste too bitter or acidic. Great too for people like me who aren't into megga hot foods but like a little chilli from time to time.


One of the few complete protein plant foods, the 'superfood' quinoa can be used as a direct replacement for rice and couscous in a range of dishes. Quinoa is a useful source of fibre, iron, magnesium and calcium. It's easy to cook: simmer in water until the little seeds go translucent. Try adding stock to the water. Use cooled in salads, and stir into various mixtures, nut roasts and veggie loaves. I recently stirred cooked quinoa into some vegetables I'd roasted with smoked paprika - delicious. I also spotted quinoa used on veggie 'fish' cakes as a coating instead of breadcrumbs.

Like rice, a bag of quinoa will go a long way and isn't expensive. It used to be hard to find outside of health food shops but is more common now in regular supermarkets. I recently discovered quinoa flakes in a local grocery, so this nutritional king regularly finds a place in my breakfast, added to porridge, muesli and smoothies.

Cider vinegar

I often use a little of this in casseroles to add depth and contribute flavour to the overall stock base. Cider vinegar isn't as acidic as malt, and delivers a sweet-and-sour quality. I use a little in bread making, and it's useful as an alternative to lemon juice in baking e.g. to activate bicarbonate of soda in cake making. A bottle will last months.

Cocoa powder

You might not be able to grab a Snickers, but chocolate - real chocolate - is certainly not off the menu. I'm a real chocoholic, so this was something I was initial dubious about when I became vegan. For a start, there's vegan baking. It's easy and cheaper than buying ready-made cakes from veggie cafes. Get started with the chocolate brownie and chocolate cake recipes. For a quick fix stir cocoa powder into porridge or enjoy a mug of hot chocolate with plant milk.

If you're not into DIY, explore the large range of vegan-friendly chocolate bars available such as Moo Free. My personal favourite chocolate bar is Organica's couverture bar, which to my palate tastes similar to Galaxy: creamy and smooth, but with a distinct and stronger chocolate flavour than you'd find in Mars crap. You'll also find that some brands of dark chocolate are suitable, such as some Green & Blacks varieties and Waitrose own Belgian Dark. Keep an eye out for Montezuma's for quality organic chocolate made here in Sussex. Their dark bars and truffles are superb. If your local shops are a bit lacking in vegan friendly chocolate options check out the Viva! or Animal Aid shop.