If you love your food and are serious about cooking, but you don’t know where to start (like me three years ago) here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way.
Keep your cupboards tidy
Start by finding out what products you really have in your cupboards. This might sound daft but I swear it’s not. Because one of the best way to be efficient in your kitchen is to be organised, and to do so you need to keep your cupboards tidy. So when I started my cooking mission, I first emptied all my kitchen shelves to check what we actually have in there. For someone who is a bit pedantic at times, I was surprised to find items that were a good few years after their best before date – yuck! For example, I discovered three cans of baked beans that probably remembered my graduation day. On the other hand, I found many packs of the same products in many different stages of usage. And why is that? I guess when your cupboard is in a mess and you are looking for a certain type of flour for example, you are most likely to buy another pack, as opposed to going through the daunting task of digging into your messy kitchen space.
So this is how I organised my food. At a later stage I added labels to each jar as my husband was complaining about not being able to distinguished quinoa from sesame seeds from amaranth etc.
I got my first couple of jars in TK Maxx and then I realised that I needed lots more! So I went online and found a place that would sell them in bulk.
Here are the main products that go into my storage jars:
- Nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, brazil nuts)
- Seeds (pumpkin, poppy, flaxseed, sesame)
- Beans (lentils: red, green, brown; mung beans)
- Grains [brown and black rice, couscous, giant couscous, pearl barley, bulgur wheat, farro, buckwheat groats, kasha (toasted buckwheat groats), spelt berries, millet]
- Pseudo-cereal grains (amaranth, chia, quinoa)
- Powders (Spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass, pea protein powder)
- Other (goji berries, granola, coconut flakes, shredded coconut)
I also use quite a lot of spices so I decided to go for bigger spice jars; in fact spices can be relatively expensive so it makes sense to buy then in bulk and then just transfer them to a reusable container.
Here are my favourite spices that I use on a regular basis:
- Cayenne pepper
- Chilli flakes
- Garam Masala
- Ginger powder
- Curry powder
- Smoked Paprika
- Mustard Seeds
- Fennel Seeds
Keep certain foods in the house, always!
Being vegan usually means eating much more and more often. That means that you need to have certain foods available to you at all times. I do fresh veg shopping almost every day at a local store but there are some items I usually buy in bulk to make sure I always have them available at home.
- Bananas, oranges, apples
- Potatoes & sweet potatoes
- Yellow & red onions
- Muesli / granola / porridge oats
- Dried pasta
- Coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Homemade hummus/cashew nut cheese/tapenade
- Cans of tomatoes and tomato paste
- Cannelloni or butter beans
- Emergency vegan bars
In the fridge:
- Green cucumbers
- Tomatoes (if sourced locally and in season)
- Coconut yogurt
- Rice / almond / hemp / coconut milk (I switch them around)
- Cucumbers in brine or gherkins (in the fridge once opened)
In the freezer:
- Green peas
- Frozen vegetable mix
- Frozen berries mix (perfect for smoothies)
- Sliced bread
- Homemade vegan pesto
- Emergency Lucky Stars and vegan burgers from Planet Organic
- Any leftover food that is okay to keep in the freezer, always divided into small portions and placed into plastic containers
Get some basic kitchen equipment
You need some simple tools to get the job done but it doesn’t mean that you need to spend loads of money on some expensive stuff. However, the things you might want to consider investing in are:
- One big and one small knife. I only use these two in my kitchen. I’ll write a separate blog post on how to use them.
- Knife sharpener!
- Non-Teflon & non-stick frying pan, and the same quality wok
- A big soup/stew pot that you can fry in and also put in the oven (I love Le Creuset)
- Baking dish
- Thermomix – it’s not just a powerful blender, it has other 11 functions such as: cooking, steaming and kneading
- 2 big salad bowls
- Garlic press
- Tupperware boxes – have plenty of them as the best way to save time is to cook in batches and then store the leftovers in the fridge or the freezer
- Baking paper
- Silicon pastry brush
- Colander (one big for vegetables and one with a tiny mesh for grains such as quinoa)
- Silicon spatula (a big one for stews/risottos/frying, and a small for porridge and others)
- Can opener
- Vegetable peeler
- Measuring jug
And, if you are really fancy, get a spiralizer! 🙂
Pin & collect your favourite recipes
There are many books talking about plant based diets so treat yourself to some… or ask for one for your next B-day present! 😉
Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend money, you can always find some inspirations on the Internet: there are tons of blogs out there! You can also pin your ideas on Pinterest.
My best-loved 3 books are:
Other, amazing non-cooking books:
- Eat & Run by Jurek Scott
- Meat is for Pussies: A How-To Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass, and Take Names by John Joseph
- Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World by Bob & Jenna Torres
- Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon
Have measurement conversions available
Print and stick to your fridge: beans, grains and legumes cooking charts. Also, have easily available conversions between grams, ml & cups as well as Fahrenheit & Celsius. Below are some tables to help.
Beans and Legumes Cooking Chart
|BEAN (1 cup dry)||CUPS WATER||COOKING TIME||CUPS YIELD|
|Bleak Beans||2 ½ -3||45-55 min||2 ¼|
|Black-eyed Peans||3||1 h||2|
|Cannellini (White Kidney Beans)||3||45 min||2 ½|
|Chick Peas (Garbanzos)||4||1-3 h||2|
|Green Split Peas||4||45 min||2|
|Yellow Split Peas||4||1-1 ½||2|
|Grean Peas, whole||6||1-2 h||2|
|Kidney Beans||3||1 h||2 ¼|
|Green Lentils||2||20-25 min||2|
|Brown Lentils||2 ¼||20-25 min||2 ¼|
|Red or Yellow Lentils||3||15-20 min||2-2 ½|
|Mung Beans||2 ½||1 h||2|
|Pinto beans||3||1 -1 ½ h||2 2/3|
Grains Cooking Chart
|GRAIN (1 cup dry)||CUPS WATR||COOKING TIME||CUPS YIELD|
|Amaranth||2 ½||20-25 min||2 ½|
|Buckwheat groats||2||15 min||2 ½|
|Bulgur wheat||2||15 min||2 ½|
|Couscous, giant||2||12||1 ½|
|Farro||2 ½||30 min||2|
|Millet||3-4||20-25 min||3 ½|
|Oat Groats||3||30-40 min||3 ½|
|Pearl Barley||3||50-60 min||3 ½|
|Quinoa||1 ¾||15-20 min||2 ¾|
|Rice (Basmati)||2 ½||35-40 min||3|
|Rice (brown, long grain)||2 ½||45-55 min||3|
|Rice (brown, short grain)||2-2 ½||45-55 min||3|
|Rice (wild)||3||50-60 min||4|
|Spelt berries||3||40-60 min||2 ½|
Cup equivalent for liquid
|¼ cup||60 ml||2 fl oz|
|½ cup||120 ml||4 fl oz|
|¾ cup||180 ml||6 fl oz|
|1 cup||240 ml||8 fl oz|
|1||140 °C||275 °F|
|2||150 °C||300 °F|
|3||170 °C||325 °F|
|4||180 °C||350 °F|
|5||190 °C||375 °F|
|6||200 °C||400 °F|
|7||220 °C||425 °F|
|8||230 °C||450 °F|
|9||240 °C||475 °F|
You might not be allergic to gluten, but perhaps you are cooking for friends that are? If so then this table might be useful.
Plan your meals, plan your shopping
I think this can be the hardest part, we are already busy as it is, adding more things to our daily ‘to do’ list can seem really daunting. But, I always think that if you have time to check FB, Twitter or Instagram, or the obvious – watch TV, you certainly have time to plan your meals! Anything else is just an excuse.
In the beginning, while you are still learning all those different products and vegetable names, it might take much longer. Plus, if you are looking to get the best and also the cheapest produce it will take you some time to know your suppliers. For example, I found the cheapest Goji berries in China Town. Spices sold in bulk can be found in the international section in big supermarkets. Holland & Barrett often has 2 for the price of 1 offers on the big packs of nuts and seeds. If an offer like this is available I usually get a couple of bags at least, nuts do not really go off that quickly after all.
You might have heard that it’s always best to buy vegetables that are organic. Having said that, you need to know that there are some vegetables and fruits that are called the Clean 15, and are least likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues. However, do your best to get organic vegetables from the Dirty Dozen list.
|CLEAN 15||DIRTY DOZEN|
Always soak your nuts, beans and grains – help your guts!
We became vegan overnight and, I have to say, at first it was a bit of a shock to the system. And I mean a shock to our bodies not just to our lifestyle. I’m going to be blunt here: the very first three weeks, our methane production was probably comparable to a small farm. And it wasn’t because we were piling on beans and raw vegetables, it was just the revolution our body was experiencing without the heavy meat or the hormonal and antibiotics-fuelled dairy. Once you stop eating things that rot in your gut you allow the traffic to clear and you’re basically speeding on the highway!
So here are a few things that help ease the digestion:
- Super important: soak your nuts, beans, grains and seeds. (check out the chart below)
- Drink Ginger tea as it helps digestion and fluctuation; my favourite one is by Lively & Spicy.
- Introduce beans and lentils slowly into your diet. The same applies to raw vegetables, unless you are looking to go onto a full detox mode. You might also moderate the intake of onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower as they are known to cause wind and bloating.
- To settle your stomach, eat some rice or boiled potatoes.
|NUTS & SEEDS|
|SOAKING TIMES||Almonds||8-12 h||Pecans||4-6 h|
|Brazil nuts||None||Pumpkin seeds||8 h|
|Cashews||2 h||Pine nuts||8 h|
|Hazelnut||8 h||Sesame||8 h|
|Macadamia||8 h||Sunflower||2 h|
|Peanut||8 h||Walnut||4 h|
Being on a plant-based diet not only means learning to like salads (dah!); it means to be willing to try new types of food. And trust me, once you get set on this path you’ll discover that there is a whole new world of vegetables, fruits, grains etc. that you’ve probably never heard of before. Be open to trying new recipes. Perhaps look for places that sell vegan food, most of them are usually buffets, which means that you can try a little bit of everything.
Be curious & keep learning
There are so many great talks and documentaries that inspired me. Here are a few titles that are my absolute favourites:
- Food Inc.
- Hungry for Change
- Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
- Leading Causes Of Death – Delay Death With Veganism by Michael Greger
- Best Speech You Will Ever Hear by Gary Yourofsky
Get the free HappyCow app on your mobile phone
It will allow you to search for vegan restaurants around the world, perfect not only for travelling but, you might also be surprised to find new places popping up right next to where you live.
Good luck & enjoy every bit of it!