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Veganism is fantastic.
It opens you up to a world of meals that you’ve never made before, or would usually skim over on a restaurant menu because you’re unsure about them. The ingredients are diverse, numerous and delicious. Many vegans state that the contents of their fridge are much more varied than as a meat eater, and we agree!
There may be an ingredient or two that you don’t know anything about – what it is exactly, where to buy it, how to use it, or what to pair it with. We’ll walk you through this, as well as pricing and handy recipes to get started.
We’ll start with the funny sounding one. Yes, the marketing genius who thought of this name was clearly having a bad day.
Although in all fairness, it is yeast, and it is nutritious. Nutritional yeast appears as yellow flakes and has a cheesy nutty taste. Many people use it as a seasoning/cheese replacement. We love it stirred into a pasta sauce, or sprinkled onto pizza – basically anything you would usually pop cheese onto. The very best thing about ‘nooch’ is that it’s the only reliable food source of vitamin B12, so feel free to load up on it!
Here in the UK, you can find the Marigold brand in Holland and Barrett, or Ocado/Waitrose for around £3 per 100g.
Meal Ideas – cauliflower cheese, pizza topping, cheesy pasta, loaded nachos, a healthy substitute for croutons on soup, homemade biscuits or crisps, in scrambled tofu, baked or mashed potato topping.
Tahini is a beige coloured paste/condiment made from ground sesame seeds, and full of protein and fat. You’ll also find B vitamins, calcium and more. It may not sound appetising (and most wouldn’t eat it straight from the jar as it’s a little bitter), but it’s a key ingredient in houmous, and is beautiful in many sauces or stirred into soup. Mixed with a little water and Dijon mustard, it makes a healthy dip for veggies.
Be aware that you can sometimes buy darker coloured tahini, often made from unhulled sesame seeds and therefore thicker and more bitter.
Tahini is usually found in the Herbs, or World Foods, section of larger stores. You can buy a 300g jar for around £2.50 – most major supermarkets do own brand.
Meal Ideas – a dressing on salads or pittas, homemade houmous sandwich, stirred into noodles or pasta, used as a dip for roasted cauliflower, falafel or crackers.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans. However, with tempeh, the beans are cultured and fermented to give a stronger and nuttier flavour. The fermentation process helps us to digest the soy more easily too, so if you do have bloating/gas/indigestion when eating soy, give tempeh a try. It also has more protein, vitamins and dietary fibre, but less fat, so definitely one to try out for good health. Tempeh is firmer than tofu, so many people enjoy it as a gluten-free meat replacement, notably in ‘bacon’ form or chopped on salads.
Tempeh actually pairs nicely with pomegranate on a fresh salad, and suits both tomato-based sauces or creamier dressings. Depending on how it’s seasoned, it is very versatile.
Tempeh can be purchased plain in a jar or vacuum packed in a container (around £5 per 150g) so that you can slice and season it yourself. Tofurkey also sells their own ready-made tempeh bacon, that you can now buy in Sainsbury’s for around £3.50.
Meal Ideas – plain tempeh marinated in soy sauce and black pepper, baked and added to a salad, Tofurkey bacon sandwich with avocado, tempeh and sweet potato curry, added to a stir fry.
Seitan is another odd-sounding meat-replacement that’s good for your health. It’s high in protein and minerals such as iron and selenium. Plus, it’s not soy based, so a great option for those with an intolerance. It’s made from vital wheat gluten – where wheat flour dough has the starch washed from it, leaving insoluble gluten. Some call it the wheat meat! Seitan is firm, meaty, and has that slightly spongy/chewy meat texture too. It pairs nicely with rice, soy sauce, most veggies, mustard, and hot bread rolls. Just buy it plain, chop and add to your meal, or get it pre-marinated.
If you’re in the UK, you HAVE to try out LoveSeitan. They deliver it straight to your door in the form of burgers, pieces, deli slices, bacon, or just plain. Their prices are excellent (deli slices for less than £2!) and delivery is free if you spend £20 so it’s worth putting in an occasional order and stocking up.
You can also make your own seitan, but it is an art form, and most don’t get it perfect first time! It’s fun to try though. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a go and send us pics!
Just a warning: by its very name, seitan is full of gluten, so if you’re sensitive/intolerant to gluten you may want to give it a miss, or start with a modest portion.
Meal Ideas – roast dinner with seitan, mashed potatoes, veg and gravy, chopped seitan tacos with onion and salsa, seitan salad baguette, seitan fried rice, crumbled into tomato pasta.
At first glance, quinoa looks like the child of rice and couscous, but it’s a delicious grain in its own right. It’s free from gluten and soy, but high in protein, magnesium, all 9 essential amino acids… the list goes on. Quinoa has fewer calories than rice, but more protein and dietary fibre, so it’s a fantastic substitute. It’s lovely and fluffy, so is often used as cereal in place of oats, in salads, or a side to chilli/curry.
Quinoa is really easy to prepare too. Just rinse off a cup of dried quinoa, add to a saucepan with 2 cups of water, and cook for around 15 minutes. It expands, just like pasta or rice, so be aware of this when considering portion size.
The best thing is, you can buy it pretty much anywhere. Every supermarket sells it in their dried food / whole food section, including Aldi (£1.29 for 300g!), or you can buy an organic variety from Holland and Barrett. It can even come in a microwavable sachet all ready to eat, so there’s no reason to exclude it from your diet.
Meal Ideas – in a salad with avocado and houmous, inside warm wraps, as a porridge with almond milk and berries, in a stuffed butternut squash with peppers, made into breakfast cereal bars.
I know, this probably seems like an odd one. But work with me for a second. Coconut cream is a simple ingredient that can enhance a number of dishes, from soups to marinades to curries to desserts! Even garlic mushrooms get a look in here.
This is because it has a mild taste that can adapt well. People often think that using vegan ingredients for sweeter recipes is hard, but coconut cream is about as simple as it gets.
The best part is, you can just buy it in a can and pour it into whatever dish you’re making. All major supermarkets carry it for a reasonable price (approx £1 at Tesco), either in the oriental or cooking sauces section. Don’t confuse it with coconut milk – cream contains less water and is much thicker. But if a recipe calls for coconut milk instead, you can dilute down the cream and still use it in its place. Likewise, if you only have coconut milk but need the cream, simply pop your can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. When you open it, you’ll have a layer of cream on top!
Meal Ideas – added to a spicy soup to mellow the flavour, in a Thai curry, used as whipped cream for a cake topping, replacing butter in pie crusts, to make ice cream.
Are you ready to get started with these ingredients? Great! Why not show us what you made! Tag us @learnervegan on social media, or drop us an email and your pics could be shared by us! You can also get some handy advice about surviving your first food shop as a new vegan.
If you’re in the mood for more recipe ideas, head over to our page for Learner Vegan budding chefs! Or if you want to know more about vegan alcohol, you’ll want our quick and easy 5 minute guide to these beverages.