There are a few items in my pantry that I use so frequently that when I see them at the grocery store I usually clear out the whole shelf. If they’re not available at the store, I buy them by the case online. Here are some of those basic pantry staples (and how to use them)!
Soba, or “buckwheat” noodles were introduced in Japan somewhere in the Edo period (1603-1868) to add nutrition to a diet based mainly on white rice. White rice grains appear white because the brown hull and bran have been stripped, revealing the white inner grain. Well wouldn’t you know it but that brown outer covering is where the vitamin B1 resides. B1, or thiamine is essential in our diet to prevent a disease called beriberi. Soba noodles, being delicious and a great source of thiamine, did the trick in preventing this nutritional deficiency.
In my kitchen soba noodle soup or chilled salad is what’s for dinner on those busy nights when I had no time to cook. HakuBaku brand soba has no salt added (rare for most brands of soba found in stores)! I order this item by the case as we eat soba about once a week. The noodles cook in just 4 minutes. For a soup I cook up some veggies like carrots and mushrooms, add them to a miso broth with the noodles and voila! Delicious, hot soba noodle soup. For a chilled salad I just rinse the noodles in cool water and let drain. Then I chop up cucumber, shred some carrots, and add mung bean sprouts and pea shoots and mix with the noodles. This all gets dressed with almond butter, lime juice, soy sauce, and grated ginger. We are having this dish tonight!
Now, nutritional yeast (or “nooch” to plant people) is weird if you haven’t had it before. It’s deactivated yeast, so it’s like a dried flaky mushroom powder that tastes amazingly cheesy. I use it in cheese sauces, or occasionally on popcorn. You can make a show-stopper cheese sauce by blending 1 cup of cashews with 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, a pinch of salt, about a half teaspoon smoked paprika, and a teaspoon of onion powder. Blend until smooth and throw that in a bean burrito, or on top of nachos, or in some cooked pasta. It’s the best (and a good source of B vitamins).
There isn’t much to say about canned beans, except that a plant based kitchen must have them as a backup! You can make bean dips with them, spread a dip on tortillas with greens for lunch, and fortify any soup or pasta dish with beans in an instant. Eden brand beans have a little iodine from kombu in them. Kombu helps break down the carbohydrates that cause gas in some people when they eat beans. Iodine is an important substance to get in a plant based diet, so I recommend eating around 2 sheets or nori daily, or eating Eden brand beans as a whole food source of iodine.
WestSoy is the only brand of soy milk I have found with just 2 ingredients: soy beans and water. Seriously, this is rare! The next time you are in the plant based milk aisle of the grocery store, check out the labels. You’ll find carageenan (causes migraines for some people), lecithin, and even oil, along with the vitamin fortifications and sweeteners. The purpose of most of these additives is to thicken the plant based milk, because most people who buy it are using it as a coffee creamer substitute. We use soy milk everywhere that people usually use cow’s milk: on our cereal, sometimes oatmeal, for my matcha in the morning, in baking, curries, and just for the kids to drink. Don’t worry, soy phyto-estrogens are ten times less powerful than those found in any beer with hops, and you don’t see men who drink beer worried about feminizing themselves. Also, how about actual estrogen found in the flesh of any female animal that is eaten? Soy foods are actually protective against many cancers. I’m not afraid to eat soy foods or to give them to my kids, since the protective benefit of soy has been shown among cultures that eat much more soy than we do. However I do choose organic soy products, since soy is one of the crops that may be produced with genetic engineering in the United States, so it may have been subjected to much more pesticides than organic alternatives.
Salt-Free Vegetable Broth
Kitchen Basics Vegetable Stock is the only brand I have found in the grocery store that does not have salt. There are many “low-salt” varieties out there. But this is the only salt-free one. Why is that? I suppose because America loves salty things! I choose the salt-free version because if I add salt to my food I want to see exactly how much it is.
A note on salt
These pantry staples are free from salt. Each of them has an alternative option that does contain salt though. So if I wasn’t careful I could have salt in my soba, salt in my canned beans, salt in my vegetable broth, and yes, even salt in my soy milk. Now I like to add a dash of salt to my food sometimes, right on the surface, after cooking. If my food already had so much “background” salt in it from these products you can see how I would easily be eating way too much! And guess what? 89% of adult Americans and more than 90% of children eat more than the recommended 2300 mg of sodium per day, according to results published in the January 8, 2016, issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. These whole food plant based pantry staples are not only nutritious for you, but they don’t harm. And that’s important!