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Vedic Malakai
Jan 5th, 2013, 07:05 PM
Greetings and good wishes my friends,

I want to congratulate you on choosing a lifestyle that is kind to our earth and our bodies! As an eight-year cancer survivor, I thank organic vegan life choices for my continued health, but today, I want to address a common complaint I hear among my vegan friends. It's expensive and difficult to stock a vegan pantry. I couldn't agree with you more, if you follow every vegan trend you see. You'll just raise your anxiety trying to stock up on every neat vegan ingredient you can find, so let's examine what we really need to keep in our pantries, and cut those grocery bills, without sacrificing flavor or health. Also, before I continue, I must state that this article is based upon my personal beliefs and opinion on food health and has not been endorsed, nor evaluated by a medical practitioner, not that I trust them anyway.

First of all, I have to address vegan substitutes. Personally, I hate them. I was a chef for more than a decade working with traditional cuisines, so my palate screams at the taste and texture of most of these ingredients. I either create my own, or simply find something else to eat 99% of the time. Not only does this approach make my taste buds happy, but my wallet as well. There are a few of these substitutes I find acceptable, such as ready-made tofu and miso, as well as almond milk and brown rice syrup. Yes, I consider these substitutes. If you've never made your own tofu, find a good tofu recipe, watch a video on it, and give it a try. Fresh tofu you make yourself is so much more superior in flavor and texture to that you can buy, you'll never want to buy the stuff in the store ever again, especially when you consider the cost. Making tofu costs about $1-2 per pound. I challenge you to match that at the grocery store.
Secondly, cook from scratch. Most of us became vegans for the health benefits. If you're still buying preserved food, you're just pickling yourself before you die and not getting the full benefit of a vegan lifestyle. Nut butters, rice milk, soy milk, tofu, almond milk, and baking powder are actually not that hard to make, and easy to master. Yes, it really is easy, so give it a try; you might just surprise yourself.
Third, sweeteners...oh the dreadful sweeteners. We see Agave syrup, rice syrups, natural sugar, stevia, and dozens of other organic options for sweetening our foods. Get the Agave off your shopping list, first. Agave nectar contains a higher fructose content than high fructose corn syrup, so it's bad fad food. For some desserts, I like rice syrups, and natural sugar. I grow my own stevia, which is an easy herb to grow in a flower pot in your window sill, but don't forget the most natural sugars in foods are found in fruits and some vegetables. Try sweetening with apple juice, orange juice, parsnip juice, carrot juice, or beet juice. If you don't own a juicer, invest in one! If you sweeten your foods with natural plant juices, you'll save hundreds over buying shelf-stable sweeteners, and if the raw juice isn't sweet enough, try reducing the moisture by heating the juice over low heat until the volume reduces.
Fourth, really consider what you choose to prepare and eat. Vegans have a real division of philosophy on this. Some want to avoid foods that even resemble conventional fair, while others seem dedicated to simulating conventional food. Most of us fall in between, but when you're looking to save cost on that pantry, cut down the simulated dishes, such as pastries, and increase the more natural vegan dishes that are cheaper to prepare, such as soups, salads, and roasted fruits and vegetables.

Below is a sample vegan pantry list from when I first made my conversion to the vegan lifestyle. You'll find that I include a lot of seasonings. Unless you're a fan of bland food, using natural seasonings is essential to feeling satisfied with your cuisine. Feel free to borrow any ideas that I've listed, and I'd love to hear your comments.

Malakai's basic food pantry

Olive Oil [Extra-virgin, organic]: This is my go to oil for raw applications, such as salad dressing. If you're going to cook with it, you're wasting your money, it has a very low smoke point, so the nutrient value and flavor are neutralized in most cooked applications.
Coconut Oil: This is my go to oil for cooking, [except deep frying, where I use the oil I extract from peanuts, a by-product of making homemade peanut butter]. Coconut oil has a rich flavor, similar to butter, but with a substantially higher smoke point. It turns out remarkably flaky pie crusts, as it is solid at room temperature, like butter or shortening]
Apples: The most versatile fruit on earth! Aside from eaten fresh, can be used to produce apple chips, apple sugar, apple juice, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, apple syrup (natural thickener rich in pectin), and a variety of other preparations
Soy beans: A very versatile bean used to make soy milk, soy flour, soy paste (a thickener), tofu, miso, tamari and other soy sauces, soy cake (a base ingredient for making some cheese substitutes and soy-based ice creams), and many other preparations
Lentils: A fantastic bean for making soups and low-gluten breads
Peanuts (unless you're allergic): A versatile legume that is great roasted, and can be used for a variety of culinary uses from thickening agent to flour. Of course, pureed roasted peanuts is peanut butter, and don't throw out the oil! It is an oil with the highest smoking point of natural oils
Almonds (unless you're allergic): A versatile tree nut that can be made into almond butter, almond flour, almond meal, and almond milk which are essential to many vegan recipes.
Barley: A fantastic grain for lower gluten recipes, also great for sprouts, barley flour [a small grain mill is a must], and delicious in soups
Whole wheat: The least-used grain in my kitchen, but a must for recipes requiring gluten, I mill my own flour, rather than paying a fortune for all the variations of flour recipes.
Oranges: A versatile citrus ideal for sweet preparations, it yields zests and juice that has dozens of applications
Lemons: Another versatile citrus ideal for sour preparations, also yielding zest and juice with many uses.
Limes: A citrus that compliments lemon and provides a slightly bitter taste, which augments well with sweet and spicy dishes
Rice: I keep two primary kinds on hand, brown and jasmine. Jasmine rice is a fluffy long-grain rice that is popular in Asian cuisine, and being Asian, I just can't give it up. Brown rice is versatile and I also use it to make flour, rice milk, and rice meal, which I find to be a sorely underutilized ingredient in western culture.
Baking soda: Ultimately, it is a universal leavening agent when combined with anything acidic [baking powder is simply a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar, which is the residue in bottom of a wine barrel after the aging process] I prefer to augment baking soda with apple cider vinegar in most recipes, personally.
Spinach: a highly palatable green with great raw and cooked applications in a variety of recipes.
Broccoli: the most popular vegetable in western cuisine, which is again great in many cooked and raw applications
Turnips: a fantastic substitute for potatoes, with far less gluten, and broader climate range, making it ideal for sustainable gardens
Carrot: A commonly used root vegetable, which also yields a pleasantly sweet juice
Celery: An African vegetable with many uses that is used in many culinary styles, world-wide
Parsnip: A cousin of the carrot, which is fantastic for sweetening dishes and cutting acidity of fruits like tomatoes.
Beets and Sugar Beets: These easily grown root vegetables offer great sweetness, and the sugar beet, itself is the source of many commercial sugars, but try making your own. Peel and cook this root down in a simmering pot of water and puree. You'll have a wonderful syrup for rich desserts that still contains natural fiber and nutrients.
Bell Pepper: My favorite nightshade vegetable, which can be used raw, cooked, or dried as a seasoning
Chili Pepper: A spicy nightshade vegetable, which can also be used raw, cooked, or dried as a seasoning
[Special Note: Paprika is a combination of Bell Pepper and Chili pepper, which varies by region. Try making your own, if you're a gardener with a food dehydrator. It's fun.]
Cilantro: One of my favorite seasonings, which also yields an edible seed, we call coriander
Parsley: Another seasoning that aids in digestion and reducing body odor
Garlic: Another of my favorite seasonings, which is very easy to grow
Onion: A sugar-packed bulb that lends great flavor to many recipes
Sage: An herb that lends slightly bitter and earthy notes to recipes
Rosemary: An herb that aids in concentration and mental clarity, with a wonderful woody flavor
Thyme: An herb similar to rosemary, with it's own unique character
Oregano: An herb essential to Italian cuisine
Dill: a wonderful herb used in many dishes and essential to many pickling applications
Fennel: an easily grown bulbous plant that has licorice notes to it's flavor and aids digestion
Cinnamon stick: the bark of a tropical tree that is popular in many desserts and Mexican dishes
Vanilla bean: a popular spice in many desserts [to make vanilla extract, steep in vodka for a month in a dark place, shaking daily, then strain]
Nutmeg: A surprisingly versatile spice that lends a nutty flavor, great for enhancing dishes where soy or milk are used to substitute for dairy.
Black pepper: The dried fruit of a vine that aids in digestion and is popular in many world cuisines.
Natural Sea Salt: This is the ONLY salt i use. It is used for icebox pickles, making tofu, making soy sauces, and many other seasoning applications. It is just essential to always dissolve any salt before consuming. Undissolved salts strain the digestion and can damage the arteries. I make my own soy sauce for seasoning at the plate, but try to adjust seasoning while cooking. ALWAYS USE DISSOLVED SALT!
*TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OTHER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WHEN THEY ARE IN SEASON! Otherwise, you spend more and are more likely to get food that is not really organic. If you don't grow it, support the folks that do in your area. Farmer's markets are an economically and agriculturally treasure, so please support them.

Over time, I've naturally added to this pantry with availability of different ingredients. I grow berries and freeze them for use, year-round. I also freeze and dry vegetables and other fruits I grow for off-season use. Otherwise, I try to stick to what is in season. This saves money and helps me to support other local growers, rather than buying imported foods that are more expensive and may have questionable growing practices. When it's possible, buy from growers you know; I cannot stress that enough.

Bon Appetite!