The best way to keep the cost of your meals down and keep things simple is to make sure you have a well-stocked store cupboard full of the essentials you need to make a wide range of recipes. Here are some ingredients we always have on hand at home…
As a vegan on a fairly small food budget, I have found that the decisions I make on the amount and quality of products in my pantry are vital to my health and bank balance. I find cooking therapeutic after a day at work, so I tend to buy raw ingredients rather than ready-meals. But I am only cooking for two, so this might not suit everyone. Here are some of the items I recommend having to hand…
Beans, chickpeas, & lentils
There is a huge variety of tasty and nutritious dishes from around the world made utilising these few items. They are relatively cheap, filling, and packed full of goodness.
For those on a tight budget, buying beans loose or dried is the best option, as long as you remember to soak them, but just remember to pick through them for pieces of grit. I tend to buy them in tins or Tetrapaks as this reduces preparation and cooking time – important when you have a busy lifestyle!
Legumes can soak up robust flavours, and are equally tasty hot or cold, so I use them for lunchbox salads that I can take to work.
This may seem like an obvious choice, but I am never without tinned tomatoes in my storecupboard. You can use them to make pasta sauce, stews, curries, soups… all those wonderful, flavourful foods that are vegan-friendly and easy to make. They are cheap, too, which can give you more money to spend on those slightly more expensive ingredients!
Admittedly, these are not one of the cheaper ingredients in my kitchen, but I always have them because I think they are good value. A container of dried mushrooms may not weigh much, but the flavour punch they add to dishes makes them worth every penny.
Soak a few in hot water for 20 minutes, and not only do you have rehydrated fungi that you can chop up and use in your dish, but you also have a stock that you can use or store in the fridge if not immediately required. My advice is always to strain the stock, as sometimes you can get gritty particles that you really don’t want to eat! Add a dash of soy sauce, a splash of Chinese rice vinegar and some cornflour in water to thicken, and you have a tasty stir-fry sauce.
I also like to add some mushroom stock to a Bolognese sauce to give it more depth of flavour and a richer taste.
I have been investigating cooking with different grains, including freekeh, spelt, and barley. I am a total barley risotto convert! These grains can take bold flavours and have a lovely nutty, chewy texture. They can take a while longer to cook than rice, but that investment in time is worth it, especially as the mineral and fibre content of barley is very high. Cook an extra portion and add it to soup or stew for a filling lunch choice.
Dried herbs & spices
I like to think of using herbs and spices as akin to sprinkling fairy dust on food! They totally lift the simplest dishes, and you can travel all around the culinary world depending on which ones you use.
A slight variation in the combination of spices such as turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, chilli and coriander can totally change the taste of a curry dish. Keep the cumin, coriander and turmeric, add ginger, paprika and cinnamon, and you have the makings of a Moroccan tagine. It’s magic!
Within this group I would also add powdered vegan stock. Why powdered? Because it gives you more control as to how much you add to a dish to give it the flavour you require.
Seeds & nuts
To try and keep myself from eating crisps, I tend to have a stock of nuts to get a similar ‘crunchy’ effect. I nibble on them at work and use them often in my cooking. Non-salted varieties are best, and small amounts yield huge dietary benefits. I am particularly fond of Brazil nuts, while Macadamia nuts give the best crunch!
Seeds are a useful addition to smoothies and porridge. Apparently, grinding up seeds makes them easier to digest, so if you have a spice blender utilise it for this, too.
We have all eaten food that is bland. It is not an enjoyable experience, and we really have no excuse for doing that anymore. There is a fabulous choice of international flavours available to us in products like oils, vinegars, sauces, and pastes.
I try to buy a new item with every large grocery shop that I do. These foods tend to last for a long time, and they quietly sit in a cupboard or in the fridge until called upon to reveal their superhero status in transforming a dish from boring to brilliant!
While brown rice is my favourite carbohydrate, I do love pasta because it is so easy to make an incredibly tasty meal in a very short amount of time. Puttanesca sauce is ridiculously easy to make, and while people may argue over the exact ingredients, I find that if I always have jars of good olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes, some chillies in the freezer, plus a tin of tomatoes and some whole-wheat spaghetti, I can assemble a decent meal in minutes.
If I fancy this for dinner, I just make sure I get hold of some flat-leaf parsley because this fresh, herby addition lifts the dish from good to spectacular!