11 Ingredients We Can’t Live Without

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You could say we throw around (too) many attributes when it comes to our cooking (hey, let’s look at our homegrown, in season, local, plant based, eco friendly, low impact cuisine, shall we?) but one that usually resonates with exactly everyone is SIMPLE. We love cooking and think of it as one of our very greatest passions, but we’re also big fans of simple meals that don’t take half a day to make yet ticks all the nutritional and flavor boxes. With that in mind, we thought we should share some of our most commonly used ingredients – what we use them for and how you could perhaps implement some of our strategies to keep cooking a simple process yourself. Cooking can be quick and simple while also delicious, nutritious and inexpensive, even though we’re sometimes tricked into thinking you have to choose. Good luck!

Carrots

It’s about tied between carrots and potatoes, which one we consume more of. Carrots we eat raw as well as cooked in multiple ways, but potatoes are easy to eat more of in one go. Either way – we eat carrots in one way or another almost every single day out of the year. They go into most soups and stews we whip up and there provide us with heaps of flavor, filling starch and a generous serving of vitamins, we cut them into thick wedges (just carrots sometimes but often mixed with parsnips, rutabaga, beets, celery root, onions and potatoes) and throw them in the oven for a lovely side of roasted root vegetables, we slice them into coins, sauté them golden brown in a pan and fold them into bean salads of different sorts, we grate them and make fritters and slaws, we julienne them and use them as crispy taco topping (you’ll see that in our Crunchy Broccoli Tacos) or add them to a flavor bursting Asian wok dish (such as our 30 Minute Green Curry Stir Fry) and we (sometimes) cure them and slice them thinly to mimic smoked salmon. Yes, we love our carrots endlessly. With a few kilograms (per week) in the house, we need not to worry.

Kale

Kale manages to sneak its way into the majority of our meals. Whether a finely chopped addition to a soup, a main ingredient in a stew, the bulk of a pasta sauce or the star attraction of a salad, it’s truly one of our favorite vegetables. We grow our own, too, and haven’t bought kale from the store in three years’ time. And if you’re not yet on team kale, we’ll guide you there in just a bit – but first we’ll tell you why you should aim to convert. Kale truly comes loaded with nutrients. Iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid, vitamin E, C, B6 and A… you hear – it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you ate some of it! Here at our house, we love folding chopped up kale into just about any pasta dish, making massive bowls of extra everything kale salads and stirring in leaves by the handful into any and all stews. When we say “extra everything” kale salads, we do so because we don’t want anyone to think our kale salads aren’t complete meals that will fill you up. They will. Trust us. You can check out for yourself right here, or design your own dream salad easily. Start out with a proper amount of torn apart kale pieces and add in perhaps a grain or some starchy vegetables, a cooked legume, some other veggies, something with a hint of sweetness (let’s say dried cranberries or thin slices of apple), maybe garlic or onion and then top it off by drizzling a heavenly dressing across it all. Oh, and don’t forget your toasted seeds as a topping!

Loaded Kale Salad With Sweet Potatoes and Tahini Dressing (left) and Loaded Kale and Lentil Lasagna (right).

Red lentils

Please make way for the best soup and stew ingredient the world has ever seen. Red lentils get mushy when cooked – they do not retain their shape the way for example black or puy lentils do – and are therefore terrific whenever you’re making a smooth/blended soup, a thicker type of stew or even a hummus-like spread. We also often cook red lentils until done (and basically a pot full of mush) and then just stir in seasonings and whatever veggies we have on hand for the quickest, most nutrient packed big side dollop on our plates. The simmering on the stove takes care of itself and the whole thing is done in less than 15 min. Grab some leftover pasta, a couple of slices of bread, roasted potatoes or other root veggies and you’ve got a meal right there.

In other words, if you have red lentils at home, you essentially have dinner under control. We love making big (giant, if we’re completely honest) batches of our Pantry Lentil Tomato Soup and Indian-style stews (let’s say this Lentil-Potato Dal), and there’s probably no better application for sad vegetables in the fridge. You can literally chop up and throw in anything that you might find, and flavorings? Well, versatility is the word here as well. You can shoot for curry, cumin, paprika, coriander, chili, herbs, plain bouillon or just salt and pepper, mimic just about any cuisine you want and the end result will still come out really delicious. Red lentils are a staple we would never even dream of not keeping in our pantry – and if you’re not convinced of its magnificence just yet, listen to this: it’s dirt cheap, one of the lowest climate impact foods you can find AND a true “super food” if you take a closer looks at their nutritional information. Protein, folic acid, iron, zinc, potassium and some B vitamins are all found in heaping amounts, for example.

Sunflower seeds

Oh, such a dear food friend of ours! First: we think of seeds as an everyday staple and nuts as a once in a while splurge due to the fact that nuts require significantly more resources to produce than seeds (they’re also more expensive). Seeds possess much the same nutritional and cooking qualities and can be substituted very easily, and sunflower seeds rank the highest at our house as they’re cheap, relatively neutral in flavor and endlessly versatile. Besides toasting them up in a pan and using them as a salad topping – which shouldn’t be underestimated, by the way – we pulse them in a food processor and make various balls and patties with the grinds, we soak them and blend them into vegan “ricotta” (see for example our Vegan Nettle and Sunflower Ricotta Cannelloni), we soak them and blend them into a creamy pasta sauce (try out this Vegan Mac and Cheese and be mind blown), we sprinkle a handful on our oatmeal every morning, we use them as soup topping, we toast and grind them into a coarse flour and mix into literally everything for a super tasty nutritional boost (pancakes, veggie fritters, lasagna) and whenever we see “soaked cashews” in a recipe, we reach for our sunflower seed jar instead. Do so too, and steer clear of a really troublesome industry! 

(Learn more about cashew nuts and why they’re problematic in this guide to make your vegan diet more sustainable).

Vegan Mac and Cheese (left) and Pantry Lentil Tomato Soup with Spiced Sunflower Seeds (right).

Cabbage

Perhaps our most loyal veggie, not only because we love it endlessly but also because it stores so well in the fridge and comes at a very reasonable price. As with all vegetables we buy and don’t grow our own of, we stick to what we can get both Swedish-grown and organic. Thankfully, we can get Swedish and organic green cabbage more or less year round! Looking at the main ways we use it, there are a few that stand out: as a quick side vegetable (which we’ll get back to), as a stew/curry/stir fry ingredient, as a quick-pickled side salad and as a crunchy topping. Our go-to quick side veggie “recipe” entails slicing the cabbage thinly (and onion too, if you feel particularly inspired) and sautéing it over relatively high heat in a splash of canola oil and then stirring in a bit of soy sauce or tamari at the end. It’s almost silly how something that simple can be so delicious! We serve that alongside some bean patties, creamy lentils or some other protein component of the plate and then a grain, potatoes or roasted root vegetables, for example. Quick, no-fuss dinners count too! We also love the aforementioned quick pickled side salad business, which all Swedes will know as pizza salad or pizzasallad. As the name implies, it’s custom to have a pickled cabbage salad on the side of pizza here, and you’d be hard pressed to find a pizzeria that doesn’t carry it, ready to go in small containers. We typically make a giant batch of our own that will then last for a good while in the fridge, perfect to scoop up and munch on pretty much whenever. And just to be clear: while we love pizza, we have pizza salad on its own a lot more often than we have it paired with some cheese laden, perfectly crusty Italian ingenuity.

Last but not least… there are few things that can elevate a taco as a handful of thinly sliced cabbage can. The crunch, the flavor, the everything. See for yourselves in these recipes for Vegan “Fish” Tacos With Breaded Celery Root, Cabbage and Lime Sauce and Loaded Veggie Tacos, for example.

Potatoes

Who can live without potatoes? We couldn’t. Not even for a week. We usually come home with 6 kg worth of locally grown, Swedish potatoes per once-a-month grocery haul and not once have we not said “ah, we should’ve gotten 8 kg” towards the end. That should say something! What do we do with them all? Boil them and eat as is + bean patties + side veggie + some sort of gravy or cold dipping sauce. Roast them in the oven and serve in much the same way as boiled. We make mashed potatoes – sometimes with other mix ins, such as carrots, butternut squash, broccoli or cauliflower but just as often the traditional way – and serve it next to smoked tofu, tempeh, veggie fritters or something else a little crispy, and then that already mentioned quickly sautéed cabbage to go with. We make gratins and oven baked fries, rösti and similar type potato pancakes, Swedish style dumplings or kroppkakor (we like a mushroom filling instead of the traditional pork one) and a whole bunch of soups and stews where they’re playing an important part. Broccoli and Potato Soup with Thyme Croutons is a true hit, and so is the Vegan Chorizo and Potato Stew.

Green peas

The one staple part of this list that we pull out of the freezer. Green peas are phenomenal to have on hand. A legume that feels like a vegetable, it manages to add a feeling of both to your plate, which means a big pile of steaming green peas + salt often lands in front of us when time has slipped away and we need a nourishing meal NOW. Next to some roasted root vegetables or potatoes, you’re allowed to call it a complete meal and dig in. But green peas get more spotlight and are used in far more ways than that of a quick side over here, of course. A blended green pea soup is about as delicious as it gets, and we love mixing peas into a stir fry, curry or stew for a colorful boost. Add to that list fried rice – or fried pearled wheat, as we call it – various spreads and dips (think hummus and guacamole-style), pasta dishes (such as this Perfect Weeknight Pasta with Green Peas and Dino Kale) and green smoothies and it becomes clear why we make sure to always keep a few bags in the freezer. Oh, and one more thing: have you ever had the Egyptian dish Koshari? We hadn’t either, until Mike stumbled across a riff on it and decided to experiment his way to our own version. And while it’s so delicious a random rant about it would be totally in place, it does come with green peas. Just so you know.

Koshari, Egyptian Dish of Rice, Lentils and Macaroni (left) and Perfect Weeknight Pasta with Green Peas and Dino Kale (right).

Oat cream

There really isn’t too much to say about this one, but it deserved a spot as it simplifies cooking – as well as makes things yummier – and is a true staple in our kitchen. Oat based cream is our preferred plant based cooking cream and we use it in soups, in pasta sauces, in gratins… heck, we even make delicious ice cream with it (ice cream lovers, check these out: Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream, Vegan Mint Chip Ice Cream and Vegan Coffee Ice Cream With Chocolate Chips.) One of the best parts is that it lasts forever unopened (good for us once-a-month-grocery-shoppers) and also significantly longer once opened compared to its dairy counterpart.

White beans

White beans are downright terrific and we use them A LOT. By far the bean we cook with the most, and much of that is due to its versatility. Soaking and cooking a few packs of white beans can be done without a bunch of recipes already picked out – we know there are always plenty of things we’ll be in the mood for that they can be used towards. Some favorite applications beyond the self-explanatory include: blending white beans + oat milk and using the “bean cream” as you would cream in soups and stews, basing sweet treats on white beans instead of flour (see recipe for Lemon Blondie Bars if you’re curious), stirring in heaps of them into pastas that otherwise lack a legume/protein source (this Pasta with Cauliflower, Garlic and Bread Crumbs is a good example), making filling and flavorful side salads with them (this Quick and Crunchy White Bean Salad, for example) and blending them into a variety of spreads (such as the Roasted Red Pepper White Bean Hummus).

Chickpeas

The one and only downside with chickpeas is that they’re not grown here in Sweden so we have to rely on imported ones – but at the end of the day, it still qualifies as a very climate friendly food option (which is true for all legumes). We buy ours dried and soak + cook them ourselves. We usually soak a lot more than we need at once and then freeze all the extra. Chickpeas are – in our opinion and seen to how we use it – the most versatile legume. We use it in soups, stews, chilis, pastas and pasta sauces, hummus and hummus like spreads, warm and cold salads, as a crispy snack… heck, even in sweets, which you can see in this recipe for Chocolate Dipped Chickpea Peanut Butter Energy Balls. The texture is wonderfully chewy and the nutty flavor is truly delicious, and it’s really nice that it retains its shape when you want that (such as in stews, sauces and salads) but can be mashed and blended smooth just as easily (in hummus as well as some soups and sweets, for example). It’s a key ingredient in many of our warm filling salads, as will be discussed in the Pearled wheat section below, and is our go-to stew addition when we want to add a protein source (two of our favorite stews are Chickpea Curry Stew With Parsnips and Peanut Chickpea Stew with Butternut Squash). There’s also a whole world of cold, crunchy salads to explore with chickpeas – a plant based version of chicken curry salad is a total winner, for one. We also make traditional hummus regularly and keep in the fridge for a quick snack.

Chickpea Curry Stew With Parsnips (left) andChocolate Dipped Chickpea Peanut Butter Energy Balls (right).

Pearled wheat

We fell in love with pearled wheat after we had moved to Sweden, as it’s a very popular and common grain here (known as matvete). It’s locally grown, very affordable (even the organic version) and about as simple and versatile as anything could be. We use it primarily as a salad ingredient and as a rice replacement (rice consumption is best kept low for climate reasons, which you’re more than welcome to read more about in our guide to How to Make Your Vegan Diet More Sustainable). For salads, we’re obviously not talking about a lettuce-tomato-cucumber salad here, but a filling, one bowl type of meal where you’re likely to find for example kale + chickpeas + dried cranberries + a tahini dressing or roasted butternut squash + green lentils + thinly sliced cabbage + toasted pumpkin seeds. We make salads such as those practically all the time. As a rice replacement, pearled wheat particularly shines paired with a hearty stew, a ratatouille-inspired sauce, any and all curries as well as stirred into a blended soup of some kind, for extra nutrients and a fun change in texture. A hot tip is to always make extra pearled wheat when you cook it – having leftovers on hand in the fridge is a true weeknight savior!

Hoping you all feel inspired to try out some of our staple favorites and explore all the joys and delicious dishes of an inexpensive, plant based pantry. If you’d like a complete list of what we keep around the house at all times, you’re more than welcome to peek into our pantry. And if you’re in the mood to browse around our entire recipe index, feel free to do so – you’ll find all the content in both Swedish and English.

Related Reading

Cooking From the Pantry
How to Make Your Vegan Diet More Sustainable
How to Be a Plant Based Athlete
Our Food Philosophy

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