10 Plant-Based Essentials to Keep in Your Kitchen

Want to eat more plants but not sure where to start? Here are 10 ingredients experts say you should stock up on for well-rounded plant-based meals any time you want them!
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Many health and environmental experts tout the benefits of plant-based eating. But embracing the movement takes preparation. What should you have in your cupboard so you can whip up nutritious dinners on Meatless Mondays (or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, or any day)? We asked three experts—registered dietician Alison Ozgur and vegan chefs Willow O'Brien and Theresa Keane of Pixie Retreat in Portland, Oregon—for their suggestions. Here are the 10 ingredients they say you should keep on hand for easy plant-based meals any day of the week. 

Ancient grains

Ancient grains—unrefined whole grains—are a great way to bulk up your meals while adding nutritional value. Many, like farro, quinoa, and amaranth, are high in protein; others like freekeh and teff, are a great source of iron. “Have an assortment of these cooked grains in your freezer to reduce meal prep time," Ozgur says, then sub them in for traditional bases like rice, pasta, and bread for filling, healthy meals. 

farro and roasted squash pilaf

Recipe: Try our Farro & Roasted Squash Pilaf

Baby potatoes

O’Brien and Keane recommend steaming multi-colored baby potatoes for a pretty source of vitamins C and B6, phosphorous, manganese, niacin, and pantothenic acid. Add them to your sheet tray of roasted veggies, turn them into a soup, or mix 'em into your meal in any other number of ways. 

salt pepper potatoes

Recipe: Try our Salt & Pepper Potatoes

Tempeh

Newbies are sometimes skeptical of this fermented bean curd, but we promise it tastes a lot better than it sounds. “Tempeh is an excellent source of plant protein,” Ozgur says. “Plus, fermented soy is good for the gut microbiome.” It cooks up quickly and tastes great in stir fry, on sandwiches, or with pasta and tomato sauce. 

tofu veggie stir fry

Recipe: Try our Tofu (or Tempeh) & Vegetable Stir-Fry

Fresh vegetables

Obviously, veggies are a backbone of a plant-based diet. The more you have, the merrier. (And if you can swing it, organic produce is worth the slight upcharge.) “Having an assortment of vegetables—fresh or frozen—on hand ensures that you're eating the nutritional rainbow and consuming a variety of disease-fighting phytonutrients,” Ozgur says. In addition to steaming, roasting and sautéing all those fresh goodies, Ozgur recommends adding them to smoothies. 

tropical glow smoothie bowl

Recipe: Try Oh She Glows' Tropical Glow Smoothie Bowl

Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs are a super-simple way to add flavor to any dish. O’Brien and Keane like sprinkling cilantro over veggies, soups, and more. Basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and oregano (among others) are also great with a variety of foods. Pro tip: When cutting leafy herbs, make sure you use a sharp knife or herb shears, as a dull knife bruises the tender leaves and lessens the flavor.

Butternut Squash with Ginger and Cilantro

Recipe: Try our Butternut Squash with Ginger & Cilantro

Lemons

This simple, cheap ingredient is a great way to add a hit of freshness to your meals—and give them a nice dose of vitamin C. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on "any dish that needs some brightness,” O'Brien says. It's especially tasty with tofu and roasted veggies. 

Spiced Cauliflower with Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemon

Recipe: Try our Spiced Cauliflower with Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemon

Dates

Naturally sweet, dates are an excellent way to bring color and flavor to any food. Mix them in a salad, drop one in with your smoothie mixings, or turn them into a date and nut dessert plate. They'll give you that hit of sweet you're looking for without all the fake stuff.

Chicory Salad with Dates and Candied Pink Peppercorn Walnuts

Recipe: Try our Chicory Salad with Dates & Candied Pink Peppercorn Walnuts

Sea salt

If you think veggies and legumes sound dull and flavorless, maybe you just need to rethink your salt. "Seasoning with flakey sea salt can go such a long way in adding flavor," O'Brien says. Experiment with other varieties of salt, like pink Himalayan, to keep your meals feeling new and exciting. 

flaky sea salt

Read: What's the Difference Between Kosher Salt, Table Salt, and Sea Salt?

Dark chocolate

Is chocolate plant-based? That depends on what’s been mixed with the cocoa, but dark chocolate tends to fall under the plant-based category. Studies have shown that a bit of dark chocolate every now and then can actually help lower blood pressure, heart disease, and inflammation. Keep it around for all your baking and snacking needs. 

vegan chocolate chip and ancho chile cookies

Recipe: Try our Vegan Chocolate Chip & Ancho Chile Cookies

Flax seed

High in fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats, flax seed is a versatile ingredient. Mix a tablespoon of flax with 2.5 tablespoons of water to create an egg substitute that will bind dry baking ingredients, or sprinkle a bit over yogurt, smoothies, or hot cereal for added texture and nutrition. 

Overnight Fruit & Flax Quinoa Hot Cereal

Recipe: Try our Overnight Fruit & Flax Quinoa Hot Cereal