Outfitting Your Kitchen
When I became vegan in the late 1980s, veggie-friendly restaurants were so scarce, and vegan convenience foods so few, that you might starve if you didn’t learn how to cook. Today, the situation isn’t nearly so bleak, but a little cooking ability still goes a long way. So the next few chapters will help you get more comfortable in the kitchen.
You can’t start cooking until you’ve outfitted your kitchen with the basics. So in this chapter I will cover essential items for the kitchen.
To begin, you of course need cookware. Get a largish stockpot and a smallish saucepan. You’ll use these for everything from making rice to reheating yesterday’s soup. You don’t need to spend much money on these, since the cheapest enamel-coated metal pots are a terrific choice. You’ll also need a pan or two for sautéing vegetables and for stir-fries. Here, I recommend getting a stainless steel skillet; one of these will last for decades, and they make cooking a pleasure. If you can afford one, buy a wok as well—they are incomparable for making Chinese-style stir-fry dishes. Never buy a pot, pan, or wok without a matching lid. Finally, you’ll need at least one baking sheet.
For your pots, pans, and baking sheets, I recommend avoiding nonstick surfaces, as they contain some nasty chemicals. Plus, even with proper care, nonstick cookware survives only a few years of regular use. By contrast, you’ll find that cast iron, stainless steel, and enamel-coated cookware is nearly indestructible.
Buy some wooden spoons, and also a spatula or two, for mixing soups, removing items from baking sheets, and for stir-frying vegetables.
You’ll also need kitchen knives and at least one cutting board. Get a quality three to five piece knife set—kitchen knives are always much cheaper when purchased in a set. Chicago Cutlery is a great mid-priced brand. Whatever you do, don’t buy cheap kitchen knives; they dull quickly and will turn your cooking experiences into an unnecessary hassle. Also, buy the largest white polypropylene cutting board you can find. Wooden cutting boards look nice, but they pick up odors and are harder to keep clean.
Here are a few final accessories you’ll need. Buy a chrome box grater—you’ll use it all the time for grating vegetables for salads. You’ll need a vegetable peeler plus some measuring cups and spoons. You should also get a set of mixing bowls—inexpensive ones work fine. A citrus juicer is another essential accessory: I prefer the cheap two-piece models featuring a plastic reamer screwed onto a glass jar.
With these accessories out of the way, let’s now move on to what I regard as the three kitchen appliances you can’t live without: a blender, a two slot toaster, and a George Foreman Grill. If you go cheap, you can get all this for $50 or so.
Even the cheapest blenders work well; I prefer glass blender pitchers to plastic. Pretty much all blenders manufactured today allow you to unscrew the pitcher’s bottom to clean the propeller—make sure yours does.
Toasters aren’t worth spending much money on since most inexpensive models work admirably. If you’re a bagel-eater, buy a toaster with self-adjusting slots. Slot toasters make toast faster than toaster ovens, and the toast comes out better too. I use mine all the time.
George Foreman grills are indispensable for grilling veggies, especially broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers. You would think a George Foreman grill would be the ultimate way to cook veggieburgers, but I prefer to pan fry them in a bit of oil—sadly, veggieburgers don’t contain enough fat to come out well when cooked in an electric grill.
Now let’s cover a few more appliances that, while not quite mandatory, can further improve your quality of life.
If you like beans, you must own a pressure cooker—you’ll be able to cook dried beans from scratch in a small fraction of the time it would take to prepare them in a kettle. These devices also save a lot of energy as your food requires much less time to cook. If you enjoy artichokes, you’ll find that pressure cookers also make wonderful steamers.
On the other end of the cooking spectrum, but comparably useful, is a slow cooker—which most people refer to using the trademarked name of Crock-Pot. Whatever you call these devices, slow-cookers offer an amazing way to prepare soups. You throw in a bunch of veggies and spices and come back hours later to piping-hot, perfectly cooked soup. Some people start their slow-cookers in the morning and drive off to work, but I think that’s insane. I would never leave a $20 electrical appliance operating unattended, since it’s a house fire waiting to happen. But if you’re going to be home all day, nothing beats a slow-cooker. It takes only a few minutes to chop your veggies for a big pot of soup. I don’t have a favorite brand of slow-cooker but I do recommend you spend a few extra dollars to get one that features removable stoneware, which makes cleanup a breeze.
A bread maker can pay for itself many times over, since you can make a loaf of organic bread for under a dollar. Most bread makers come with recipes that call for dairy products, but you can safely substitute vegan margarine in place of butter. In bread machine recipes that include cow’s milk, I’ve successfully used water or unsweetened soymilk instead.
If you are passionate about cooking, or you regularly cook for large groups, you should buy a food processor. Cuisinart offers a unit that includes both a blender pitcher and a food processor bowl, so this is nice a way to purchase an upscale food processor and a blender, while saving space and money at the same time.
If you’re one of those people who has fits getting rice to turn out right, you will love owning a rice cooker. You just measure out your rice and water, turn it on, and it’ll make perfect rice every time. I recommend avoiding rice cookers with aluminum pots just to be on the safe side, as the toxicity of aluminum cookware is still in dispute.
Finally, let’s look at fruit and vegetable juicers. Juicers are one of those things that people purchase with noble intentions but frequently neglect after a few uses. There are two kinds of home juicers: centrifugal and masticating. Centrifugal juicers have cheaper and smaller motors and you can buy one for well under $100. Masticating juicers cost over $200 and, because they have slower-moving and more powerful parts, they last forever. They make a better grade of juice because they thoroughly tear up the cells of whatever fruit or vegetable you’re using. Also, masticating juicers can be much easier to clean than centrifugal juicers. The one disadvantage of masticating juicers is that they are surprisingly heavy—I wouldn’t buy one unless I had enough kitchen countertop space to leave it there permanently.
If you’re planning to make a lot of juice, I suggest investing in a masticating juicer made by either Omega or Champion. You might want to check Craigslist.org or the bulletin board at your local natural foods store to see if you can find a used one. Owing to the durability of this style of juicer, used should be as good as new, and you might be able to find one for $70 or less.
So that’s it. Pick up the items mentioned in this chapter and you’ll have the kitchen equipment you need for 99 percent of the recipes you see in cookbooks. Remember, you want being vegan to be as easy as possible, so be sure to purchase any kitchen items you’re confident that you’ll regularly use.
Next Chapter: Core Foods: Smoothies & Sandwiches
Return to: Table of Contents
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