If you've ever felt intimidated about making vegan meals, you should not be. It's not complicated. The trick is to keep the basic ingredients stocked in the kitchen all of the time. With a short trip to the grocery store and a little time spent in the production section, you'll have everything you need. From a select group of vegetables, fruits, and grains, it's possible and convenient to make a variety of nutritious and tasty meals. In fact, many of the same vegetables can be used in several different recipes making cooking efficient, economic, and enjoyable.
Grouping the key vegetables into these five baskets will organize and simplify the shopping trip – dark greens, underground veggies, salad vegetables, squash, and proteins. In addition, cooking and flavoring the meals is made easier by using a vegetable oil, spices, vinegar, and a sweetener, so they should be included in the grocery list.
Basket 1 – Dark Greens
I call vegetables in the dark greens category the four horsemen of health. They supply fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C and many other powerful nutrients. Dark greens also contain potassium which helps lower blood pressure. Basket one has four greens – broccoli, kale, asparagus, and spinach. With these four ingredients, you can cook many great recipes quickly. For example, kale and asparagus make wonderful soups. All four vegetables can be stir-fried in lemon or ginger sauces and raw spinach, kale and broccoli are always perfect in salads with a light vinaigrette.
Basket 2 – Underground Vegetables
Many underground vegetables are called root vegetables. They provide B vitamins, potassium, and other valuable nutrients. Basket two contains potatoes, carrots, red yams, and beets. All of these ingredients can be roasted in the oven, made into soups, added to stews, or cooked as side dishes.
Basket 3 – Salad Vegetables
Salad vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, avocados, onions, and mushrooms. Many salads recipes can be created with different combinations of these veggies. Sometimes a salad can be made out of just one ingredient, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or avocados. Add these ingredients to tacos and burritos, sandwiches, or combined in pita bread for fresh flavor.
Basket 4 – Squash
Squash include butternut, yellow crookneck, and zucchini. They cook quickly when boiled in water, added to a stir fry, or roasted. They have bright colors, mild flavors, and several key vitamins. Squash work well in stews with tofu or beans and even complement pasta sauces nicely.
Basket 5 – Proteins
Protein provides power and energy. Plant-based proteins include legumes, beans, grains, and nuts. Good examples of these ingredients are lentils, tofu, black beans, green beans, quinoa, and almonds. Lentils are very versatile and can be used effortlessly in soups, stews, salads, and burritos. They cook in 40 minutes and deliver fiber and protein and have been the food of choice of many civilizations around the world. Tofu is the plant protein of Asia. Entire books filled with tofu recipes are available, many using the vegetables from the baskets above. Quinoa, the protein source of the Incas, is a plant related to beets and Swiss chard that produces a seed like a grain and can be substituted for rice in recipes. It delivers 6 grams of protein per quarter cup (uncooked) and compliments vegetable dishes wonderfully.
Lastly, stock a vegetable oil like extra virgin olive oil as a cooking medium and vinegar such as white wine vinegar for salads. Including some lemons and limes and a few spices such as ground black pepper, oregano leaves, garlic powder, ground ginger and curry powder. I keep them next to the stove top at all times. Also, cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste are essential for soups, stews, and pasta sauces. The olive oil, vinegar, and spices will last a long time so they do not need to be purchased during every trip to the grocery store.
Once you group veggies into these baskets, it makes it easy to remember what to buy at the supermarket. When all of these fresh ingredients and spices are stocked, you'll be ready to make a variety of simple and nutritious meals without much effort!