10 Plant-Based Ingredients That Every Kitchen Needs

We know that switching to a healthy plant-based vegan diet can sometimes create a little tension between our ethics and our taste buds! It’s possible to understand all the reasons to be vegan — the animals, the planet, our own health, and that of the wider world — and yet the emotions around food and the pull of familiar meals and products can override our very best intentions. That is even more true when the diet we plan to move away from is high-fat, high-sugar, and heavily processed and we are in search of something more natural, sustainable, and nutritious. 

Here we share some of the unsung-hero ingredients we think every plant-based kitchen needs to help make the transition to a new way of eating as joyful and delicious as possible.

In Search of Plant-Based Flavor 

The modern food system is geared to making vast profits for vast companies, often at the expense of our health. We are sold high-fat, high-sugar, highly processed foods which satisfy our evolutionary need for such densely caloric foods but do not offer us the nutrition we need to stay healthy. We may know this on an intellectual level, but giving up those tasty foods is still hard! We crave them, even knowing that they do us no favors at all. 

The truth is, it takes a little time for our taste buds to fall in love with natural flavors again, and to notice the sweetness inherent in an apple or the rich earthiness of a celeriac. But at no point in our plant-based journey do we have to accept tasteless meals. So, we went in search of the everyday ingredients that make all the difference in a vegan kitchen and can make anyone fall in love with delicious plant-based eating.

10 Hero Plant-Based Ingredients and How to Use Them

There are tens of thousands of edible plants and many of us have barely scratched the surface. But we don’t need to go in search of the quirky or unusual… a good meal can be transformed into a great one with some very simple, everyday ingredients.

1. Lemons

Never underestimate the tanginess of a fresh lemon, which works wonders in so many dishes. A little juice can totally transform a fresh salad, a vegetable soup, or a bean-based stew. Lemon juice complements lentils in a dahl and lifts their earthiness to a sublime state. We also love it with avocado (where you might normally use lime) and are partial to lemon tofu, garlic-and-lemon pasta sauces, and risotto with lemon and peas. Spritz a little juice and let lemons work their magic.

You’ve got to try this: White beans on toast with Provençal ratatouille.

2. Pine Nuts

While they may not be the cheapest ingredient, these tiny seeds have so much flavor that a small pack can last a long time. Our tip is to dry-fry them for a couple of minutes until they are golden as this brings out their flavor even more, meaning you need to use even fewer of them. Because when you have them to hand, you will be tempted to use them everywhere! They are amazing on pizzas, with wilted garlic spinach, to top pasta dishes, in tomato salads, and in grain-based dishes, like couscous or a grains-and-greens dish. You can even add them to breakfast cereals. 

We recommend this super tasty side dish: Spinach with Pine Nuts.

3. Peanut Butter

Another truly versatile kitchen hero! Peanut butter is not just for toast or overnight oats, it can be used in a wealth of other dishes. Use it to thicken stews and coconut-based curries. Add it to smoothies, or to sweet potato or pumpkin soups. Make a rich and spicy satay sauce for your tofu or stir-fry, or to drizzle over roasted vegetables. Because it is so deliciously sticky, peanut butter also works well as a binding agent in chickpea burgers. It’s full of delicious and healthy fats so always keep a jar on hand!

You have to try these chickpea burgers!

4. Good Stock

When transitioning to a plant-based diet, we can sometimes feel as though we lose depth of flavor, and this is where a good stock comes into its own. Our preferred stock is a powder known as bouillon, which has such a beautiful flavor that you can make a hot drink from it and enjoy it just as it is. A good stock forms the base of many savory dishes beyond the traditional soups. Wherever the recipe — or your taste buds — call for a little saltiness or that rich umami flavor, use a good stock. To us, it is an essential component in rice and pasta dishes, in stews, chili, and laksa. We add it to tomato-based sauces for lasagne, and when cooking beans for burritos or a Buddha bowl. The truth is, we use it A LOT.

This is amazing! One Pot Rice and Veggies.

5. Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Whether you prefer whole sun-dried tomatoes, pieces, or a paste made from them, we recommend you always keep a jar close at hand. The richness and depth of their flavor can fill out an otherwise thin-tasting sauce, and they match perfectly with pasta sauces and Mediterranean-style foods. Add them to leafy salads and pizzas (with olives and capers, if you like) to give both body and flavor, and to pasta bakes, potato salads, savory scones, dips, and tomato-based curries. They are amazing in sandwiches and baguettes, and can be added to nut roasts, too. So delicious and so very versatile!

You won’t want to miss this incredible vegan Sundried Tomato Mac n Cheeze.

6. Vegan Cheese

Surprised to see vegan cheese here?! You shouldn’t be! Being a plant-based vegan does not make us uber-saintly in all matters of food, and there is a reason why people find cheese so hard to give up — that salty, fatty mouthfeel is almost irresistible. So here’s our tip: don’t resist it. Just try some of the vegan cheeses instead and when you find one that you love, keep a block in the refrigerator. It is, of course, perfect when grated onto pasta and pizza dishes, and in wraps and grilled sandwiches. But you can also mix it with breadcrumbs to make a delicious topping for eggplant parmigiana or create cauliflower cheese or mac n cheese. Add it to burritos and salad bowls or melt it on the top of a potato gratin. Loving cheese should never stop you from being vegan!

You won’t regret trying this Vegan Potato Dauphinoise.

7. Dried Porcini Mushrooms

Mushrooms are great for bringing the meaty texture and they soak up all the delicious flavors they are cooked with, which is what makes them such a perfect partner for all things garlic-and-herb. On their own, field mushrooms often don’t have a huge amount of flavor but when you try dried porcini mushrooms, there is a flavor hit that is utterly ooh-la-la. Connoisseurs talk of their umami flavor — that deep and complex, savory meatiness, which does plenty of heavy lifting in meat-free dishes. We love them added to a pot pie, a winter stew, or a Bolognese sauce made with lentils. We add them to pizza toppings, to creamy mushroom pastas, and risottos. You can even make an amazing pâté from them. And once you have rehydrated them, you can retain the water and use it for a beautiful sauce or gravy. 

Try this delectable Vegan Mushroom Risotto!

8. Red Wine

Not just for glugging, we recommend keeping a bottle in the cupboard for cooking. If you have eaten meat for a long time, there is a depth and richness you may miss that you often don’t find in plant-based foods, which tend to be lighter and fresher. But when you crave that kind of flavor, adding a glug of red wine (perhaps alongside the good stock, and the umami flavors of porcini mushrooms) can bring that element to the party. We add a hearty amount to root vegetable and bean stews, and a smaller amount to pasta sauces and gravies. A splash goes perfectly into a lentil ragu or a mushroom bourguignon and can even be added to marinades and salad dressings.

Check out this delicious Braised Tofu in Red Wine.

9. Fresh Herbs

Whatever herbs you love, we recommend keeping a pot growing in your kitchen or garden if you can or keeping a pack in the refrigerator. Fresh herbs take a good dish and make it special. Whether you love fresh basil on your tomato-based dishes, fresh parsley in your creamy dishes, or mint with your peas or green veggies, they bring such a zing of flavor to your meals. We love to add as many fresh herbs as possible to a leafy salad, which creates an explosion of deliciousness. A vinaigrette using fresh herbs will enliven bruschetta, add a tasty drizzle to rice-based dishes, and even make leftover veggies sing. 

This Green Goddess Dressing is everything!

10. Flavored Seeds

Whether you buy a pack of flavored mixed seeds or make your own, we recommend keeping a jar on your kitchen counter, so you can liberally sprinkle them onto any dish you make. Not only are they very pretty, but they add both crunch and spice, making them a perfect topping for… well, for almost anything. We sprinkle them onto soups, all kinds of salads, and both rice and potato dishes. A vegan cauliflower cheese would not be the same without them! Seeds are nutrient powerhouses, sharing their good fats and protein along with their delicious flavors so sprinkle away.

Make your own Toasted Spice Seed.


Transitioning to a plant-based vegan diet can take a little time, and for many people involves finding new ways to cook and new foods to try. With these ten everyday superhero ingredients, we feel sure you will quickly come to crave the flavors of natural plant foods, which are good for you, the Earth, and for our animal friends.

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