Ten Kitchen Staples I Simply Couldn’t Do Without:
1. Raw nuts
Healthy and filling, raw nuts can be the perfect snack or protein-packed addition to vegetarian fare. You can toast, roast, and season to your heart’s content while retaining control of how much salt or sweet goes into them. Don’t even get me started on home-made nut butters…. Trust me, Jif just won’t ever taste the same again.
2. Rolled Oats
I’ve loved oats for as long as I can remember, but only recently discovered how versatile they really are. Whether it’s overnight oats, baked oatmeal squares, gluten-free cookies, home-made granola bars, or just an old-fashioned bowl of oatmeal, oats provide a boost of energy that powers you through the toughest part of your day. Rolled oats are especially delicious, as they have a heartier, chewier texture and wouldn’t dare turn to mush.
3. Greek yogurt
Oh, the magic of greek yogurt. Whether it’s full-, reduced-, or even non-fat, greek yogurt is the ultimate thick, creamy, tangy ingredient. A perfect substitute for sour cream or even creme fraiche, greek yogurt is much thicker than the typical variety and packs some serious protein to boot. Plain greek yogurt can go sweet or savory, and you’re in charge of the flavors that go into it. My personal favorite greek yogurt sauce is tzatziki, but you’ll be seeing countless other varieties and uses around these parts.
4. Frozen peas and/or edamame
Several bags of each are in my freezer at all times. Peas and edamame freeze beautifully and can be worked into almost any weeknight (i.e., quick and easy) dinner. I throw in a cup of frozen peas at the end of almost any pasta dish I make–no need to even thaw them beforehand. Similarly, I roast edamame straight from the freezer and they still somehow come out golden and crisp on the outside and perfectly steamed on the inside. I also use both to create a delicious and oh-so-healthy easy peasy pea puree.
The incredible egg. Eggs are another great ingredient to add some heft to vegetarian fare. Lately my favorite way to prepare eggs is poached in a flavorful tomato sauce and served atop crunchy, garlic-rubbed bread. They’re a great addition to a quesadilla (you only need half the cheese), the perfect binder for veggie burgers, and are all-but-essential for baking. They also pair beautifully with vegetables and herbs for a quick breakfast-for-dinner frittata or omelette.
6. Wheat berries
I discovered wheat berries relatively recently, and have since declared them my favorite grain. Wheat berries are in fact a true whole grain and are incredibly nutritious. They also have the most delightfully chewy texture, and make a wonderful base for salads.
7. Fresh spinach
Fresh spinach is so healthy and versatile. I almost always have it in my refrigerator, washed and ready-to-go. Aside from a simple spinach salad, I add it to pastas, lasagnas, wheat berry salads, egg dishes, panini, and even pizza–lightly sauteed with garlic and olive oil. It’s also the base of my very favorite spinach-basil pesto. Need I say more?
8. Dried red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are my go-to source for heat. Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh chiles too (and have recently started growing my own), but I find them difficult to gauge, and who knows if my little crop will last through the year. My trusty red pepper flakes have never led me astray, and they provide a great back-of-the-throat heat that can be incorporated into dishes of all types (e.g., Italian, Latin, Asian). You’ll find these in nearly every single pasta dish around here…
9. Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is my go-to cooking oil. I’m also a supporter of having two varieties in a kitchen: one large bottle you find for a great price (used for cooking) and one small bottle that costs at least twice what you paid for the big one (used for dipping or dressing). You can certainly make do with one reasonably-priced variety, but once you make a simple salad dressing with the good stuff, it may be hard to go back.
10. Fresh basil (or other fresh herbs)
Not only have I never met a fresh herb I didn’t like, I don’t think I know a dish that wouldn’t benefit from a sprinkling of a fresh, fragrant herb just before serving (except perhaps my morning cereal). Basil is my personal favorite, and in my opinion, one of the most versatile. I grow my own basil, oregano, and thyme but also love cilantro, dill, rosemary, mint, flat-leaf parsley… you see? I really do love them all.