09 June 2015

Vegan (Gluten-Free) Pantry

If you're trying to prepare vegan meals at home, it helps a lot to have a well-stocked pantry, supplemented with shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables once or twice a week, so you're not inventing the wheel every time you need to get supper together. Here's what I usually have on hand.

Non-perishables:
  • dried lentils, split peas, navy beans, chick peas
  • pasta, rice, quinoa, popping corn
  • canned tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, chick peas, baked beans
  • baking: unrefined sugar, gluten-free baking mix, baking powder, baking soda, corn starch, cocoa powder, dark chocolate chips, chick pea flour, pectin, baking chocolate
  • jam
  • rice cakes, corn cakes, corn chips, potato chips, GF bread
  • cereal
  • nuts and nut butters
  • sunflower oil, olive oil
  • coconut milk
  • vegetable bouillon
  • coffee and tea
I keep canned beans on hand as well as dry ones for the days when I don't have the time or energy to cook dry beans from scratch, but since the cans are all lined with plastic, I avoid them with possible. I don't use bouillon very often, but it's handy to have on hand. I use a lot of red split lentils because they cook fastest. To cut down on cooking time for the dry legumes, I bring them to a rolling boil in the evening and let them sit overnight. The Mate and I usually make enough jam in the summer and fall to last all year -- strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, apricot, peach, plum. Last year after Sukkot I made jam out of the etrog, with a couple of oranges mixed in to sweeten it a bit. I used to think it was some kind of arcane process requiring lots of specialized tools ... but it turns out it's pretty easy.

I switched to unrefined sugar after I learned that the white stuff is filtered through charcoal, sometimes made from bones.

Herbs and spices: 
  • herbes de province, Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary
  • cumin, coriander, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon
  • curry powder, chili powder
  • peppercorns in a grinder, unrefined salt
I buy spices as whole seeds and grind them as I use them; they last a lot longer that way. For small quantities I use a mortar and pestle; if I need more, I grind them in the coffee grinder (and then wash thoroughly).  

Freezer:
  • vegetables and fruit
  • prepared soups
  • sorbet
  • compost
  • freezer jam
  • applesauce
Sometimes I buy frozen vegetables and fruit at the supermarket. But I also freeze a lot of my own. When fruit is in season, I buy extra for freezing: it works best to freeze them on a cookie sheet and then put them in bags or containers so they don't clump together.  Apple sauce is super easy to make: cube the apples, boil in a large pot with a couple of tablespoons of water until they're completely soft, run through a food mill, spoon into clean jars, and freeze.  When bananas go brown, I skin them and freeze them in chunks for smoothies, banana pancakes, and banana bread. 

Same with vegetables: I buy lots of kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, and leeks in season, cook them, and then freeze in bags, flattened for easier thawing. (It's worth every penny to pay extra for the heavy-duty brand-name ones, because they last for many, many uses.) I make soup or baked beans in big batches and then freeze extra servings in pint mason jars. 

When freezing soup or jam or applesauce, use wide-mouth jars. Anything that gets narrower at the top will crack when the contents freeze. Leave a half inch or so of extra space at the top to accommodate expansion, and rest the lids on top of the jars when you put them in the freezer. Screw them on after the contents have frozen.

Refrigerator:
  • margarine, milk substitute, vegan mayonnaise
  • condiments of various sorts, including red and green chili pastes, tamari, pickled ginger, ketchup and mustard
  • maple syrup
  • tahini, for mashed potatoes and creamy soups
  • non-dairy cheese, yogurt; hummus
  • potatoes, carrots, onions, celery
  • greens
  • leftover soup, cooked vegetables
Greens have to be cooked pretty quickly after shopping, whether they come from the farmer's market or the supermarket. If I'm not going to use them right away, they go in the freezer. Root vegetables and celery keep for quite a while, so you can stock up at a farmer's market every couple of weeks.

Countertop:
  • fresh fruit
  • tomatoes
  • fresh ginger, garlic, hot peppers
I buy oranges, lemons, and bananas, but otherwise stick mostly to whatever is local and in season or I've managed to freeze when it was. Apples last for a long time if they're stored correctly, so in New York I can get local apples late into the fall/winter. Right now I still have some blackberries in the freezer, left over from last fall, foraged in the fields outside of town.

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It helps to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm: you pay a few hundred dollars up front, and then you get a share of whatever vegetables and fruit the farm can produce all summer long and into the fall. Another alternative in New York City is Urban Organics, and some other cities have similar schemes where you get a weekly delivery, and fresh vegetables and fruit appear in your home every week. The variety is usually better than what's available at my neighborhood urban supermarket or farmer's market. With parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and the hungry post-war years in 1940s Germany, I have a deep aversion to throwing food away -- so I cook. 

The Mate and I do a lot of cooking on weekends -- steaming, baking, and roasting vegetables, baking quick breads, cooking up big batches of soup and stew. Some goes in the fridge, some in the freezer, and then on a weeknight when one of us is teaching late and the other is riding herd on the pre-teen while trying to finish grading essays or prepare for a class, we reheat some leftovers and bang, there's a healthy dinner on the table.

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We buy fair trade when we can -- chocolate, coffee, tea, bananas. Hershey has committed to making sure all of its suppliers avoid child or slave labor ... by 2020. Yes, you read that right: the people who brought you the Pennsylvania theme park buy chocolate from suppliers that use slaves and children, and sometimes enslaved children, to pick the cocoa beans.

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But here's the thing: unless you can buy yourself a farm, or you can devote a significant amount of time to your food, you're not going to be able to eat locally grown organic food cooked at home from scratch all the time. So do what you can and keep moving -- and instead of indulging in guilt, use that energy to advocate for better resources. Or go for a nice long walk while you remind yourself of all the things that you're already doing to curtail climate change.