All too often, it’s the make-do, throw-together meals that turn out the very best. In part, it’s the satisfaction of exceeding your expectation of a simple meal but also, constraint breeds creativity. So I wanted to share these healthy plant-based pantry meals with you so you can get creative in your kitchen, save money and eat well.
The last two weeks have felt like a roller coaster for me. Our family is so incredibly fortunate, and I know we are going to be fine, but I am so worried for the world. For our neighbours, our friends, and for everyone, really. I’m a bit anxious that way.
Cooking has been a deeply grounding activity for me and I am grateful for it. Anything that gets me out of my head and into the present moment – running, meditation (well, sometimes my head gets REAL LOUD at that moment), cooking, playing games with the kids, dancing and reading have all been balms for me. I hope that right now, you will be able to find the nourishing practices that feed your soul as well as your body. Let’s get cooking.
How to cook from pantry staples
Cooking from pantry staples requires creativity. As someone who used to just open a can of chickpeas and dump it on her lame flavourless salad, their plainness can be uninspiring. However, it is that plainness that creates their versatility. When I think about how I am going to make a yummy and healthy pantry meal for dinner, I think about the following:
- Texture: A can of chickpeas can be many things. You can roast them until they are crispy-crunchy. You can puree them until they are a silky smooth dip. You can mash them for a delicious chickpea scramble. And you can simmer them into a soft and creamy curry. As you can see…I cook with beans a lot. Need more inspiration? Try these yummy bean recipes!
- Meal Format: similar ingredients can take many forms. Smoked tofu can be sliced into a sandwich filling or stir-fried with veggies and rice. It can become ‘croutons’ on your favourite salad or you can eat it like a cheese with crackers. It can swim in a soup or with ramen noodles. You can roast, sauté, stir-fry or steam. Heck, even switching from a sandwich to a wrap can shake things up a bit. The format will change your experience of the meal.
- Flavours: here is where pantry staples start to shine. If you’re someone who isn’t used to mining the depths of their spice cabinet, or who has a bunch of condiments just sitting in their fridge, now is the time to make good use of them! Bust out that coriander you rarely touch and use it to add depth to roasted vegetables or beans. Stir em in, sprinkle them on, make a spice rub or a sauce. There are so many ways to add flavour! These are just a few of my favourite flavour combinations to add to cooking.
Easy spice + condiment combinations to add flavour to pantry meals
- Curry: Curry Powder + Cumin + Turmeric. Sample ratio: 2 teaspoons curry, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp turmeric
- Greek: Oregano + Garlic Powder + Thyme. Sample ratio: 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 cloves fresh garlic, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- Maple Soy: Soy Sauce + Sesame Oil + Maple Syrup + Rice Vinegar or Lime Juice. Sample ratio: 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup and 1-2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- Cumin Lime: Cumin + Coriander + Lime Juice. Sample ratio: 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander, 1-2 tablespoons lime juice.
- Dijon Butter: yep, just Dijon mustard + Vegan Butter. Use this as a glaze for any veggies you want! Just add in last minute of cooking and toss with veggies. Sample ratio: 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons vegan butter.
How to stock a pantry
Stocking your pantry well will help you avoid time-consuming trips to the grocery store and ensure you always have the basics on hand to make a delicious plant-based pantry meals with zero planning. This is how I like to live. I am more of a ‘cook-from-what-you’ve-got’ gal than a ‘meal-plan-and-shop’ gal.
If you’re new to this way of eating, I go into more detail (including a shopping list and flexible un-recipes!) on how to stock a well-edited pantry in my Minimalist’s Guide to Healthy Eating PDF E-book, but here are the basics:
- Grains, Bread and Pasta: Try to stock 4-5 grains at all times, such as wheat berries, barley and oats or gluten-free grains such as millet, quinoa and buckwheat groats. I always have some sort of sprouted grain bread and pasta on hand. Precook and freeze grains like wheat berries that take a long time so cooking comes together faster.
- Proteins: Keep 2-3 proteins on hand at all times, or more. I usually have dried beans, a few canned beans and tofu or tempeh in the house. Newsflash! Tofu and tempeh freeze well, and its texture almost gets meatier. If you like to cook beans from scratch, make up big batches because you can also freeze cooked beans.
- Long-storage produce: many fruits and vegetables last longer than you might expect when stored properly. Examples include: onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, citrus, winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes, cabbage, celery. Frozen vegetables are a great option too, and you can even freeze your own produce when frozen vegetables are in short supply – or you end up with a larger bunch of kale or spinach than you can eat in a few days. And don’t forget the healthy canned stuff like tomatoes, olives and pumpkin.
- Condiments, Oils and Spices: My everyday go-to oils are extra virgin olive oil and refined avocado oil. I also like refined coconut oil. I am never without Dijon, mayo, hot sauce, vinegars and soy sauce…I have also amassed a ridiculous spice drawer. Job hazards!
- Baking ingredients: Keep healthy flours like spelt and rye (both contain gluten), almond meal and gluten free all purpose on hand along with baking powder, baking soda, maple syrup, and sugar on hand for therapy baking.
10 healthy plant-based pantry meals so easy you don’t need a recipe!
I’m a big believer in building kitchen confidence. If I give you a recipe, you can learn to make that recipe…but if you have inspiration plus a willingness to experiment, you can become a free styling cook of your own making! Pantry meals give you the playground to do just that.
What really changed my cooking game was when I learned to taste and adjust flavours often. Add a bit less than your thinking. Stir, taste. Add more if necessary. By adjusting the salt, the sweet, or the acidic (lemon juice fixes most dishes!) you can take a dish from blah to mouthwatering. It just takes some practice!
- Black Bean Sweet Potato Tacos
Toss a can of black beans with a diced sweet potato, some oil, salt and seasonings…maybe chile powder, oregano and cumin. Roast at 425 until potatoes are soft and golden. Serve on tortillas and top with whatever you’ve got on hand, from shredded cabbage to salsa to avocado to sauerkraut!
- Simple Greens + Beans Grain Bowl
Cook up some grain with either boullion or use 1/2 cup of orange juice in the cooking water. Toss beans with a vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, Dijon, salt, pepper and a bit of maple syrup. Use either salad greens or roast something, like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. To serve, add a scoop of grains, a scoop of beans and your greens. Top with something crunchy (like pumpkin or sunflower seeds) and salty (crumbled vegan cheese, olives or capers) if you’ve got it.
- Curried Chickpeas
Sauté garlic, ginger and onion in coconut oil if you have them (use powdered versions later in cooking or omit if you don’t). Then add chickpeas and either coconut milk or tomatoes (or both!). Add curry powder, turmeric and salt. Simmer for five minutes. Serve with a grain. And if you want a bit fancier (but still simple!) version, try my chickpea coconut curry.
- Carrot Tofu Scramble
A go-to meal since I was 17, I’ve got a sauced up version in Eat More Plants Cookbook but here is the basics: Crumble a block of tofu. Grate a pound of carrots. Saute tofu in coconut oil and flavour with soy sauce and a bit of ginger and garlic if you have it. Add carrots, stir until heated through. Serve with a grain and more soy sauce!
- Smoked Tofu Fried Rice
Sauté whatever diced veggies you have on hand, including some aromatics like onion, garlic, ginger if you’ve got them. Season with salt and pepper, then add cubed smoked tofu and leftover cooked rice. Flavour with sesame oil, soy sauce and hot sauce.
- Pasta with Vegan Rose Sauce
Boil your favourite pasta according to package directions. Heat up a jar of pasta sauce (or canned tomatoes, but be sure to add all the flavourings like garlic, onions, oregano etc). When warm, stir in either 1/2 cup of cashew cream (blend 1/2 soaked cashews and 1/2 cup water) or 1/2 cup of sunflower cream (made same way as cashew).
Serve with a roasted veggie on top.
- Chickpea Scramble
So I’ve actually got a recipe for this one…but here’s the gist. Essentially, mash chickpeas with a fork as you warm them in a skillet with olive oil. Add the spices you like, but a bit of turmeric makes them yellow like eggs. Sauté a veggie in there too. Serve with toast.
- Fried Tofu Sandwiches
Cut a block of tofu into 4 equal squares (halve, then slice halves horizontally). Pan fry with just salt and pepper (don’t be stingy!). Use as a sandwich ‘meat’ with whatever veggies and spreads you have on hand.
- Easy Veggie Tray Bake
Chop whatever firm veggies you have on hand – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels, carrots, parsnips – and tear a block of tofu into larger pieces. Toss everything with oil and seasonings. Bake at 425 until golden, flipping tofu over after maybe 15 minutes. Serve with a sauce if you wish and a grain!
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Take leftover, pre-baked or steamed sweet potatoes, and scoop out 1/2 of their filling. Mix potato with seasonings, a bean white beans and black beans especially good here) and a steamed green like chopped kale. Place mix back into sweet potatoes and bake at 400 until fully warmed through.