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8 Powerhouse Ingredients

These are ingredients that I always have on hand in my plant-based kitchen. Some have incredible umami, others can stand-in for dairy flavor and texture, and some can mimic animal-based products incredibly well.

Nutritional Yeast:

I keep this in a canister next to my stove. The dried flakes have a nutty, funky, somewhat cheesy flavor. Along with containing many vitamins (it's high in B12) and minerals, it contains high amounts of antioxidants which help support your immune system. It has all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It's also soy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and low-glycemic. Find it at almost any grocery store or order it on Amazon.

Here are some of the many ways I like to use it:

  • Sprinkle it directly onto food and salads as a garnish. Great on popcorn, too!

  • Add it to any kind of breading you make.

  • Stir it into a tofu or Just Egg scramble.

  • Combine it with vegan butter, plant milk, salt and pepper for an easy, cheesy, creamy sauce.

Kala Namak (Black Salt):

This salt, originally from Northern India, is fired in a kiln with charcoal, harad seeds and amla which creates a taste and smell similar to eggs. It gets its name because it is black after being fired, but I buy it in powdered form which typically looks pink-ish. It turns black/gray when it hits liquid. Kala Namak is lower in sodium than other salts. It contains iron, magnesium and calcium and can help control acid levels, bloating and heartburn.

I add it to anything where I want an egg flavor, such as:

  • Sprinkle it over tofu slices before baking to make vegan "eggs", like in this Vegan Benedict Florentine recipe.

  • Add it to Just Egg for a breakfast scramble or omelette.

  • Add it to any liquid ingredients used in casseroles that call for eggs.

Sun Dried Tomatoes:

I never really liked these until I went vegan. Now I use them all the time! They keep for a long time in the pantry, and lend tons of umami and great texture to plant-based dishes.

Along with being high in Vitamin C, they are high in lycopene (an antioxidant that has been proven to help protect skin from the sun and prevent certain cancers), and contain a more bioavailable source of this antioxidant than fresh or canned tomatoes. They're also high in fiber.

You can use them straight out of the bag or pan-fry them in a bit of olive oil until they are crispy. I like to chop them finely and add them to any dish that seems to be "missing" something. They make a a great substitute in recipes that call for bacon.

Dried Mushrooms:

Really any type of dried mushrooms are great to have on hand. They are packed with umami and retain all of their nutrients and immune-boosting properties. By contrast, fresh mushrooms lose antioxidants and up to 50% of their nutrients when cooked.

  • Add them to any stock, broth or soup for great depth and flavor. Remove them from the finished broth, mince or puree them and then return them to the pot.

  • Grind them into a powder and sprinkle the powder into anything savory you're cooking or any savory sauce you're making.

  • I like to make this Rich Mushroom Broth to sip on cold days or use as a base for soup. All of the cooked fresh and dried mushrooms can be reused in other dishes, like this hearty and comforting Oat Risotto with Mixed Mushrooms.

Hearts of Palm:

Another ingredient I wasn't particularly fond of before going vegan. My mom loved Hearts of Palm but mainly only ate them in salads, straight out of the can. Now I always have them on hand. They have a subtle tanginess that is reminiscent of dairy tang, and a texture that is easily broken down into a delightfully light, creamy puree.

Hearts of Palm are high in protein, fiber, antioxidants and minerals, and low in calories and fat. They're a good source of potassium and zinc.

Hearts of Palm come in a can or a jar, either whole or already cut up. The whole tend to be a bit more expensive, but are useful for applications where you want defined slices or rings. While you can use them straight out of the container, here are some other ideas that I think are much more exciting:

  • Blend with herbs, lemon juice, garlic and the water used to boil pasta for a creamy and elegant sauce like the one in this Pasta with Vegan Cream Sauce recipe.

  • Chop them, marinate them and combine them with vegetables and herbs to make this Vegan Ceviche. This is a great dish to bring to a party. Serve it in a big bowl next to scoop-style tortilla chips. Non-vegans ask for this recipe every time I show up with it.

  • Slice them, coat them and fry them for Hearts of Palm Tacos.

  • Slice them, separate the inner and outer rings, bread them and fry or bake for "calamari".

Smoked Paprika:

This vibrant, red spice is made in Spain by smoking red peppers over oak. Its woodsy, smoky flavor delivers great depth and smokiness, and is completely different and more robust than standard paprika. You can find it in three varieties; sweet, bittersweet and hot. To be honest, I have no idea what variety I usually have on hand as its rarely labeled as anything other than "Spanish Smoked Paprika", although I'm pretty sure I never wind up with the hot version.

Paprika is packed with antioxidants and is a great source of vitamins A, K and E (which makes it great for healing wounds). It's also an anti-inflammatory compound.

Add smoked paprika to dishes where you're going for a smoky, meaty flavor:

  • Melt vegan butter into cooked grits and sprinkle generously with smoked paprika, black pepper and coarse sea salt for a warm, hearty breakfast.

  • Saute sliced mushrooms in olive oil until they have given off most of their liquid. Add smoked paprika, a touch of maple syrup and a glug of tamari or soy sauce and cook a few minutes until the sauce has started to caramelize. Use this as a bacon/ham-like topping for just about anything.

  • Combine it with oil and breadcrumbs for a delicious breading, like the topping on this Crispy Tofu Parmesan.

Miyokos Cultured Vegan Butter:

This is by far my favorite plant-based butter on the market. Because it is cultured it has a taste very close to dairy butter, and adds a depth of flavor to anything you use it in. You can find both salted and unsalted varieties at most major grocery stores.

Not-Chick'n Bouillon Cubes:

I tend to buy these little boxes ten at a time. They keep forever and have such a great flavor that works really well with almost any recipe that calls for stock of any kind. They're also great to dissolve in marinades for tofu, soy curls and vegetables. I find them regularly at Kroger and Whole Foods. (I don't like their Not-Beef cubes as well, and use the Not-Chick'n even when veganising a recipe that calls for

beef stock).


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