Food Tips

Move over, tofu: our favourite vegetarian pantry essentials

Move over, tofu: our favourite vegetarian pantry essentials

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie | Food styling by Ashley Denton | Prop styling by Jennifer Evans
Image by: Jodi Pudge

Food Tips

Move over, tofu: our favourite vegetarian pantry essentials

Whether you're going full-on vegetarian or celebrating Meatless Mondays, these pantry staples will have you whipping up plant-based meals like a pro in no time. 

From protein-packed ingredients you'd expect, like legumes and seeds, to flavourful picks that may surprise you, like miso paste and pickles, here are nine essentials every vegetarian needs in their arsenal.


1. Pulses

Pulses are part of the legume family and include beans, lentils and chickpeas. They're a great source of fibre and protein, making them a featured ingredient in most meatless mains. For the best flavour and texture (plus to save money), you can buy them dried, soak them overnight, and cook them yourself — but in a pinch, their canned counterparts work just as well. Try it yourself with our lentil-based Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. Trust us, you won't miss the meat at all. 


2. Whole Grains

Cooking with whole grains is a great way to add nutrition, flavour and fibre to plant-based meals. There is a wide variety of grains to choose from, including farro, wheat berries, bulgur and barley, plus grains that happen to be naturally gluten-free, such as wild and brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat and oats. Whole grains make terrific side dishes but are equally good swirled into soups and stews or added to salads to transform them into a hearty meal. You don't have to choose just one grain, either; our Heirloom Tomato Tabbouleh makes use of quinoa and bulgur for maximum flavour. 


3. Nutritional Yeast

Many types of cheese are not, in fact, strictly vegetarian because they contain rennet, an animal-based enzyme. That's where nutritional yeast (affectionately called "nooch") comes in. Nutritional yeast comes in the form of flakes and adds a nutty, distinctly cheese-like note to foods. You can use it to add flavour to sauces and gravies, and it's great sprinkled over scrambled eggs, salads, popcorn, pasta or potatoes. You won't miss the Parmesan at all in our nooch-infused Green Goddess Pasta


4. Canned Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has a mild, slightly sweet taste and is a great way to boost flavour and add richness to vegetarian meals. It's an essential component of many Asian-inspired meals, particularly rice dishes and Thai curries, but it's also great as a dairy substitute in most baking recipes, smoothies and oatmeal. We absolutely can't get enough of it in this decadent Thai Veggie Curry


5. Canned Tomatoes (Whole, Diced, and Crushed)

Canned tomatoes are a secret weapon in any vegetarian's ingredient roster. That's because the tomatoes are preserved when they're at their peak, meaning they're often more flavourful than the slightly sad tomatoes that grace our supermarkets year-round. They're great for throwing together a meal from other pantry ingredients — chop up some garlic and basil and turn it into pasta sauce, bake it with grains and some cheese and you have a casserole, or toss in some quinoa, broth and beans and you have One Pot Quinoa Chilli


6. Toasted Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds, in addition to being a good source of plant-based protein, pack a wallop of flavour when they've been toasted (raw nuts, not so much). Spend a few minutes on the weekend toasting them all. For short-term use, store them in small containers in a cupboard; for long-term freshness, freeze whatever you aren't using in a couple of weeks in a re-sealable bag. You can use them to make quick a gremolata or pesto, and a sprinkling of toasted seeds will immediately elevate even the most humble of salads. Which nuts should you choose? We've rounded up the seven healthiest varieties


7. Miso Paste

Miso is made from fermented soybeans and has a savoury taste. If you're new to miso, you can try the white paste, which has a milder flavour, but if you're ready to really get seasoning, red miso (which is fermented for longer) is the way to go. It's a tremendous way to replace the fish sauce and shrimp paste that are called for in many Asian recipes, but its applications are essentially limitless. Try thinning out a tablespoon or so with oil and tossing your squash in it before roasting — delicious! It also makes a rich vegetarian soup base for ramen and is terrific in the dressing of this Miso Ginger Soba Salad.


8. Sodium-Reduced Vegetable Broth

Vegetable broth is obviously useful for swapping out chicken or beef broths in soup recipes, but it's also great for so much more. Try cooking your grains in broth for added flavour, or use it to slow braise vegetables like fennel, carrots, collards or pearl onions. Choosing a low-sodium (or even a no-salt added) broth is important, as it allows you more control over the levels of sodium in your food. Our low-sodium Stewed Kale and Lentils has zero added salt, but doesn't compromise on flavour. 


9. Pickles & Preserves

Often neglected in the side door of your fridge, pickles are actually flavour powerhouses and can turn almost any meal into something extraordinary. Our favourites include capers, olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and gherkins; chop up any of these, and instantly add dimension and zing to salad dressings, pasta sauces and soups. You can also make quick pickles at home if you have five minutes and a microwave, with our recipe for pickled onions.


Looking for more vegetarian inspiration? Check out this roundup of our best Quick & Easy Vegetarian Dinners


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Food Tips

Move over, tofu: our favourite vegetarian pantry essentials