One unexpected benefit of exploring a plant-based diet is that can inspire you to discover the joy of cooking. Most hobbies cost money, but learning how to cook will save you piles of cash. Doing your own cooking is much cheaper than eating at restaurants or buying frozen foods, plus you’ll be eating fresher, tastier meals made with higher-quality ingredients. As your cooking skills develop, you may also grow to love the calming, meditative time spent in the kitchen doing simple tasks like starting rice or chopping vegetables.
It’s easy to master the basics of cooking. What isn’t so easy is figuring out how to get started. So that’s where this guide comes in. I will take you through all the things you need to know.
Great meals start with great ingredients. And perhaps the best part of doing your own cooking is that you gain absolute control of what goes into your food.
The best chefs put as much time into their shopping as they do into their cooking. They know which farmers grow the best carrots, and where to go to buy the nicest greens. Second-rate restaurants don’t obsess over sourcing high-quality ingredients—they just rely on food service companies to deliver commodity vegetables, grains, cheeses, and meats.
So when you take your food shopping seriously you’re guaranteeing your meals will be made from better ingredients than those selected by all but fancy gourmet restaurants. The most reliable source for fresh local vegetables is farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, which enable you to buy your food directly from the farmer. There are tens of thousands of farmers’ markets around the world, and more than 8000 in the United States alone. Here’s the USDA directory for United States farmers’ markets.
As your cooking skills progress, you’ll eventually get comfortable cooking every conceivable sort of vegetable. But you have to start somewhere. Here are some obvious choices:
Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cabbage: All of these are in the cruciferous family, and they are perfect for stir-fries. There have been numerous studies that find that consumption of cruciferous vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Be sure to peel the stalks and stems of your broccoli before cooking. Cabbage is great for coleslaw, and many people love eating fresh broccoli and cauliflower florets paired with a hummus dip.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes: The easiest use of these vegetables is to just throw a couple in a 350° F oven an hour or so before you expect to be hungry. Remember to stab each a few times with a fork about a half centimeter deep, since this will allow steam to escape during baking. Alternately, diced potatoes or sweet potatoes are terrific in stir-fries. Sweet potatoes are a much more nutrition-rich choice than regular potatoes, and they have a lower glycemic index as well. Many supermarkets sell oven-baked sweet potato fries in the frozen foods section, and you can easily make them from scratch as well.
Leafy Greens: These might be the most nutrient-rich of all foods, and it’s wise to eat some every day. Go for dark, rich colors since that signals more nutrients. For calcium’s sake, consider kale and bok choy instead of spinach or collards. You’ll thereby avoid consuming high levels of oxalates, which can inhibit calcium absorption. If you want to really boost your greens consumption, stir-fry them—they’ll cook down to a tenth their previous volume, which makes it easy to eat huge amounts in a relatively tiny portion. Cooking also improves digestibility.
Squash: There are two main varieties, summer and winter. The most common summer variety is zucchini. The most popular winter variety is butternut, but it doesn’t hold a candle in flavor to the far more ugly kabocha squash. In fact, kabocha has my vote as the world’s tastiest vegetable. Summer squash should be eaten within a few days of being picked, but winter squash (as its name suggests) can last for months when stored in a refrigerator or cool dark place. Be careful cutting winter squash, as its hardness can make it easy for your knife to slip while cutting. Many supermarkets therefore sell winter squash pre-cut.
Onions: A mainstay of most cuisines, including Mexican, Indian, and Italian. Raw onions have a pungent flavor, so they’re generally cooked. There’s also a sweet variety of onion called vidallias that is commonly eaten raw. If you like onions, buy them in every available color, since it’s an easy way to liven up your meals. Red, yellow, and white onions are widely available.
Tomatoes: Yeah, they’re actually a fruit, but they’re so versatile, healthful, and flavorful I’m including them here. Nothing compares to a locally grown vine-ripened summer tomato. Avoid buying tomatoes out of season from far away, since most of these tomatoes will have poor texture and little flavor.
Eating a lot of vegetables requires cooking a lot of vegetables, which in turn means buying a lot of vegetables. With that in mind, I created a simple rule for myself that has improved my diet immeasurably: every time I wheel my shopping cart to the checkout stand I take a last look inside and see if I’ve bought a decent assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Often, I decide I could have done better, and so I’ll head back to the produce department to pick up a few more items.
In addition to buying fruits and vegetables, you’ll want to keep your pantry full of imperishable foods. The bulk section of a good natural food store is the perfect place to buy many of these items. A good bulk section tends to offer much better prices by weight than what you’d pay for packaged foods. Here are some staples commonly sold in the bulk section:
- Dried fruit
- Breakfast cereal and granolas
- Pasta and Noodles
- Nut butters and tahini
- Whole coffee beans
You can reliably judge the quality of your natural foods store by the quality of its produce and bulk sections. If you don’t have a local market with an excellent bulk section, Amazon.com can fill in the gaps. Our grocery page features the best products and deals on vegan staples available from Amazon.
Cookbooks, Recipes, and Winging it
Let’s begin with the most common mistake that newbie cooks make: quite often they’ll choose exactly the wrong first cookbook. Many cookbooks, both vegan and not, primarily feature elaborate recipes that are much too time consuming for everyday use. If you’ve got young children, a demanding job, or a busy school schedule, you’ll probably want your time spent in the kitchen to be measured in minutes rather than hours.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of fantastic and simple vegan recipes. In fact, there are at least a dozen great vegan cookbooks that are entirely devoted to meals you can make in minutes. Here are four excellent recent choices:
- The Simply Vegan Cookbook, by Dustin Hader
- Vegan Richa’s Everyday Kitchen, by Richa Hingle
- Everyday Happy Herbivore, by Lindsay Nixon
- Quick-Fix Vegan, by Robin Robertson
Simply spending a little time thumbing through any one of these cookbooks will give you all sorts of enticing ideas about meals to make. Whenever you contemplate a cookbook purchase, make sure it’s loaded with great color food photography, since nothing surpasses beautiful food photos as an inspiration to get in the kitchen. All of the cookbooks listed above feature excellent and extensive photography.
Perhaps the best thing about cooking new recipes is you’ll learn new skills and get new ideas. When you sauté onions to prepare an Indian-style chana masala recipe, you’ll be able to use the same technique the next time you make some spaghetti sauce or some refried beans. As you get comfortable making Chinese-style stir-fries you’ll develop a keener sense for the cooking time needed for a variety of vegetables. Pilots measure their expertise by the number of hours they’ve spent airborne, and you’ll likewise find that your comfort and ability in the kitchen grows with every new meal you prepare from scratch.
While an excellent vegan cookbook can help you step up your cooking game, know that it’s quite possible to cook great food every day without ever using a recipe. Specifically, I regard five dishes as “core foods” that are perfect starting points for a beginner cook:
Not only are each of these foods easy to make, they can all be prepared in countless ways. Today’s stir-fry might be sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, and tofu served over brown rice and topped with peanut sauce. Tomorrow’s might be bok-choy, tempeh, and peppers in a tamari-ginger sauce, served over quinoa. Even if you ate nothing but sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries, each of these foods can be prepared in so many ways that they’d never become monotonous. And best of all, they’re all heavily based on vegetables, which are loaded with nutrients and among the most healthful foods you could ever eat. I only have space here to hint at the vast possibilities available, so be sure to click the bulleted links above for plenty of examples.
In addition to the five core foods we’ve just reviewed, you should absolutely learn how to prepare rice and beans, so be sure to check out the preceding links. Rice and beans are the perfect match when served together, and rice is also excellent as a bed for stews, stir-fries, and roasted vegetables. Beans nutritional powerhouses, and on top of that they’re cheap, delicious, and can be prepared in a multitude of ways.
Exploring World Cuisines
Vegans may account for only a tiny fraction of the world’s population, but a look at various popular cuisines reveals that multitudes of people around the globe follow a mostly plant-based diet. That’s largely because, prior to the invention of refrigeration and the efficiencies gained by cruel factory farming practices, it was generally impossible for most people to eat a diet heavily based on animal products. This is especially true in areas far from the sea, and places inhospitable to raising livestock.
As a result, many of the world’s great cuisines are rooted in dishes that are either vegan or can easily be prepared that way. Here are a few examples of vegan-friendly foods eaten daily by tens of millions of people worldwide:
- India: chickpea curries or dal with roti (flat bread)
- Mexico: rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole served with corn tortillas
- China: stir-fried vegetables and tofu served over rice
- Italy: spaghetti with marinara sauce
- Middle Eastern: falafel, hummus, or baba ghanouj served with vegetables in pita
There are numerous vegan cookbooks devoted entirely to a single cuisine. Each of the above cuisines features at least one vegan cookbook. If your first vegan cookbook should be geared to quick and easy recipes, perhaps the second cookbook you buy should be devoted to your favorite regional cuisine. Check out our vegan cookbooks page for a collection of titles that focus on various world cuisines.
Many of the most popular international dishes can be mastered in no time. Where vegan meals are concerned, I think Mexican, Italian, and Chinese are the cuisines that are easiest to learn and quickest to prepare.
Outfitting Your Kitchen
If all you ever make are sandwiches, you’ll scarcely need more kitchen equipment than a knife and cutting board. But for any real cooking, a few inexpensive pieces of kitchenware will take you a long way. Here are the items I regard as absolute essentials, accompanied by my buying advice for each.
Must-Have Kitchen Items
Knife: Hands down the most important tool in your kitchen. You can get years of good use from an inexpensive toaster, Crockpot, or blender. But no matter how limited your budget, invest in quality knives. A home cook really only needs three knives:
- Chef’s Knife: By far, the most important knife in your kitchen.
- Paring Knife: Suitable for peeling produce.
- Bread Knife: Not only for bread, these knives are the best way to cut tomatoes without smooshing them.
I recommend purchasing an eight inch Victorinox chef’s knife with a Fibrox handle. I’ve spoken to numerous chefs who compare this choice favorably to high-end professional knives costing triple the price. After you get accustomed to a quality chef’s knife, the next time you find yourself someplace where you have to cook with a dull and mediocre knife you’ll be aghast at how unpleasant it is.
If you cook regularly, get your chef’s and paring knives sharpened once or twice a year. Some flea markets and farmers’ markets have booths where knives are sharpened. Be sure that the person uses a laser-guided sharpener. These will restore your knife’s edge to factory sharpness, and they’ll do a much better job than what can be achieved with a whetstone or a blade truing device.
If there’s ever a time to choose quality over quantity it’s when purchasing knives. Don’t succumb to the temptation of buying one of those cheap seven-knife sets. You’ll be much happier if you spend the extra money to buy quality versions of the three knives recommended above.
Cutting board: You really only need one unless you often cook with a friend, but choose a larger-sized cutting board since it’s annoying to be chopping vegetables on a cramped surface. Opt for BPA-free polyresin board rather than wood, since polyresin is easier to keep clean and disinfect, and it doesn’t absorb onion and garlic odors like wood does.
Pots and Pans: At all costs, avoid cheap inexpensive sets of nonstick pots and pans. Instead, get a large pot for boiling pasta or making soups, and a smaller saucepan. You’ll also need a skillet for things sautéing vegetables.
I recommend avoiding Teflon pans, as they’re toxic if overheated and by far the least durable cookware you can buy. Teflon also inevitably flakes off into your food. Just look at an old Teflon pan and you’ll see what I mean. And never buy Teflon if you have a bird, as Teflon fumes are famously lethal to birds.
I think of Teflon as a 1960s miracle surface that has been left behind by newer, far superior materials. I adore ceramic polymer skillets. They’re almost as slick as Teflon cookware, but vastly more durable and not prone to releasing poisonous vapors if overheated. Just be sure to never use metal utensils in ceramic cookware—opt for melamine instead.
Stainless steel pots and pans are also a great choice. They’re much more durable than ceramic cookware, and easy to keep gleaming and gorgeous. Their downfall is that stainless steel conducts heat poorly, so skillets won’t heat evenly. To get around this make sure your cookware has a thick base, as this will help distribute the pan’s heat more evenly. The poor conductivity of stainless steel is not an issue when it comes to stockpots since the soup or water will disperse the heat. As far as I’m concerned, every kitchen ought to have a nice mid-sized stainless steel stockpot for boiling pasta and other foods.
I’m not a fan of copper clad pans, despite the fact that they’re beautiful and the best at heating food evenly. They must be scrubbed with copper polish frequently and that’s not how I want to spend my time. The best stainless steel cookware has an aluminum or copper core sealed inside its base, which strikes me as the best of all worlds since you get excellent conductivity without the hassle of your pans requiring constant polishing.
Here are my picks for high quality mid-priced stockpots, skillets, and woks:
- Cook N Home 5 Quart Stockpot
- Cuisinart Saucepan
- Ozeri Stone Earth Frying Pan
- Presto Stainless Electric Wok)
Salad Spinner: No kitchen item sounds as frivolous as a salad spinner, yet here it is sitting in our “must have” section. What gives? What gives is that eating plenty of vegetables is a key part of every healthful diet, and salads are the easiest way to boost the variety of raw vegetables that you eat. The trouble is that sliced raw unseasoned vegetables aren’t enticing when it comes to flavor, so any decent salad needs a flavorful dressing. If your salad greens are still wet after being rinsed, that dressing will run right off your greens into an unappealing pool at the bottom of your salad bowl. To keep this from happening, a salad spinner is by far the best way to dry your vegetables. The first time you use your salad spinner you’ll be amazed by how much water a quick spin will throw off.
Other Popular Kitchen Items
Instant Pot: Probably the biggest kitchen innovation since the food processor; they reduce cooking time for most meals to 20 minutes or less. They’ll replace several appliances (including a pressure cooker, slow cooker, and rice cooker) and thereby free up a great deal of counter space. Instant Pots are so useful that they’re a hair away from being booted from this list and being made a mandatory item. Buy the 3 quart model if you usually cook for one to three people, and the 6 quart for larger families. You can get the most out of this appliance by purchasing Kathy Hester’s terrific, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot.
Blenders: Good for smoothies made from soy milk and frozen fruit. An inexpensive model will do most jobs fine, but if you have the funds, consider getting a Blendtec or Vitamix. They’re a blender on steroids, with almost as much power as a lawn mower, and open up a new world of healthful ways to prepare food.
If you make a lot of soups, an immersion stick blender is practically a must-have. They’ll blend soups and sauces to a creamy consistency in no time, directly in the pot so there’s no extra cleanup. They can also be used to make smoothies, mixed drinks, and hummus.
Microwave Ovens: Perfect for reheating food, and vastly more energy-efficient than a conventional oven. Also the best way to heat up frozen burritos. Here’s a great secret use: microwave a papadum for 30 seconds or until its texture turns bubbly and you’ll have an instant, cheap, and spicy protein-rich snack. A 900 watt model with a built-in turntable will cover most people’s needs perfectly.
Toasters: Slot toasters are faster and make much better toast than toaster ovens. Most sandwiches are noticeably improved if you take the time to toast your bread.
Electric Kettles: Among the cheapest appliances you can purchase. Once you’ve owned an electric kettle, there’s no going back to a stove-top kettle—they boil water in one-third the time!
George Foreman Grills: Don’t let the fact that they’re marketed to the hamburger crowd fool you, a George Foreman Grill might be the easiest and most delicious way to grill vegetables. But get a big one since the small model is only really good for burgers. This model features removable plates, which make cleaning much easier.
Air Fryers: The crunch and texture of fried food without all the fat. Air fryers are great for vegan favorites like French fries, tempura, and falafel. There’s even a vegan cookbook devoted just to air fryers.
Food Processors: The more people you’re cooking for, the more sense a food processor makes. When prepping small batches of food, the time saved with a food processor isn’t worth the added cleanup time. I practically never use one when I’m just cooking for one or two people, since there’s little a food processor can do that I can’t quickly accomplish with a knife or a grater. But for large batches, a food processor can save you an enormous amount of time spent laboriously chopping, slicing, or grating. If a full-sized food processor is too much horse for you, consider picking up a mini food chopper. They’re perfect for small chopping needs, and cleanup is quick as can be.
A Burr Grinder and an Aeropress: There are two keys to making fantastic coffee: a uniform grind, and a system whereby the water only flows through the ground beans for a minimal amount of time. An inexpensive burr grinder (manual or electric) plus an Aeropress accomplishes both, and will produce far better coffee than the drip coffee available at any coffeehouse.
Bread Machines: A bread maker might be the most satisfying appliance you could own. It takes just two minutes to start a loaf of bread, and clean-up time is practically nothing. Plus, your whole house will smell wonderful!
Slow Cookers: A no-fuss way to prepare satisfying soups and stews, slow-cookers are surprisingly cheap. If you don’t have an Instant Pot and live in a place with cold winters, they’re practically a must-have. There are vegan cookbooks devoted entirely to slow-cookers, including Robin Robertson’s excellent Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker.
Rice Cooker: It’s easy enough to cook rice in a pot with a lid, but if you make rice several times a week you may want to invest in a rice cooker. That way, your rice will come out perfectly every time. And you’ll have one less thing to keep track of when you’re cooking the rest of the meal. Note that an Instant Pot can also cook rice, but you might still wish to have a dedicated rice cooker in order to free up your Instant Pot to cook your entree.
Can Openers: Skip the whiny electrics unless you suffer from arthritis. A quality hand-cranked model is the way to go, and they’re much easier to keep clean.
Spatulas & Grill Turners: Choose a few sizes and styles made from metal, silicone, or melamine. Again, never use a metal spatula in a ceramic or Teflon pan (and don’t buy Teflon pans in the first place). Also avoid buying a nylon or plastic spatula, as you’ll inevitably leave it in the pan too long and it’ll melt.
Measuring Cups & Spoons: You’ll need these to follow most written recipes.
Getting Comfortable (and Confident) in the Kitchen
Now I’m just going to throw some random cooking knowledge your way that might otherwise take you quite a while to pick up. My hope is that this information will help you feel more comfortable and confident in the kitchen, and that it might even prevent a wrecked a meal or two.
The usual baking temperature for most items is between 350° and 425° Fahrenheit (that’s about 175° Celsius and 220° Celsius.) If you’re reheating last night’s pizza or casserole, the best temperature is just 200° or 225° F. Reheating is done at such low temperatures because your food has already been properly cooked and now only needs to be warmed up. Often the best way to reheat vegetable-based meals is to use a casserole dish with a glass top, and maybe toss in a few teaspoons of water. Microwave ovens are a faster and easier way to reheat leftovers than a conventional oven, and they won’t cause your food to dry out, but you’ll need to cover dishes that contain soups or sauces to avoid spattering. A vented microwave lid is therefore a useful purchase if you own a microwave.
Many ovens feature a broiler compartment beneath the oven. You’ll turn the dial to Broil to activate this feature. Broiling temperatures are usually between 500° and 550° F, which means you’ve got to watch your food like a hawk. In the space of two minutes your food can go from under-cooked to burnt.
Serious chefs have long favored gas stoves—sometimes to the point of refusing to cook with anything else—since you can adjust the heat with instantaneous results. Unfortunately, recent evidence has emerged that definitively links gas stoves with higher rates of respiratory disorders, including among children living in houses that cook with gas. An excellent article reviewing the many hazards of gas stoves draws this conclusion:
After scanning this research I can only conclude that gas ranges simply do not belong in our homes, particularly in open kitchens, and should never be used without a properly designed and balanced exhaust system, which is almost impossible to find.
Stoves with electric elements take far longer to heat up or cool down, and if things start boiling over you can’t just spin the dial to immediately bring the heat back under control. If you have any say in the matter, avoid conventional electric coil or smooth top conductive ranges. They can be a hassle to cook with, and they’re also a hazard for cats who insist on jumping up on kitchen counters, since they remain hot enough to cause burns long after you’ve finished cooking.
Recently, a more advanced electric stove technology has emerged based on induction (as opposed to hot electric coils that impart heat through conduction). Induction stoves are vastly superior to conventional electric stoves, and I even prefer them to gas stoves. Induction stoves are almost as responsive as gas when it comes to quickly being able to change temperatures, they’re far safer, and they’re much easier to keep clean. Maybe their handiest feature is that, once you remove the cookware, the power shuts off and the stove-top cools down immediately. Yet induction stoves can nevertheless heat up a pan or skillet as quickly as gas. The technology of induction stoves limits you to using ferrous-metal cookware—all-copper and all-aluminum pans will not work (most stainless steel, ceramic, or non-stick cookware should work). I’ve spent months cooking my meals in a ceramic non-stick skillet on an induction stove, and I consider this the ideal combination for home use.
If your stove’s heat goes from 1 to 10, usually you’ll be cooking between 2 and 6 (dial settings vary from one stove to the next, and some stoves get sufficiently hot for most uses at 3 to 4). Higher temperatures are for boiling water or browning. The lowest setting is used primarily to keep the food warm prior to serving.
Gaining competence with a chef’s knife is fundamental to almost everything you do in the kitchen, and requires about as much practice as getting halfway decent at hitting a golf or tennis ball. If you’ve been cooking for a while and then watch a professional chef go to work doing something as basic as chopping an onion, you’ll probably be amazed by the level of skill on display.
Luckily, you’ve got an asset that yesterday’s aspiring chefs didn’t: YouTube videos. YouTube features tons of kitchen tutorials and a great place to start is this one that showcases basic knife skills.
Herbs, Spices, & Seasonings
Every skilled cook is familiar with a variety of herbs, spices, and other seasonings. These concentrated flavors are what turns wholesome foods into delectable meals. Before we explore this topic, let’s define terms.
Herbs are the leaves and sometimes stems of various fragrant plants. Italian cooking in particular is loaded with herbs, with oregano, marjoram, basil, and rosemary being the most popular. Note that while most herbs are purchased dried, they’re even better if you can find them fresh. Many serious cooks therefore keep a window sill herb garden for growing with their favorite varieties. They’ll use scissors to snip off whatever herbs they need whenever they’re about to cook.
Spices typically carry stronger flavors than herbs. They are usually the seeds or seed pods of various plants, and they’re typically ground before being added to food. If Italian is the cuisine most heavily based on herbs, Indian is the cuisine most reliant on spices. The most common Indian spices are cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, and mustard (all of these typically go into the region’s quintessential spice mix: curry powder). Cardamom, which is often used to flavor basmati rice, has my vote as the most appealing of all spices; it has an indescribably special flavor and aroma unlike any other spice.
Seasonings is a broad term that encompasses not just herbs and spices, but also other strong flavorings such as salt, tamari, lemon juice, bullion cubes, pickled vegetables, and balsamic vinegar.
A gourmet chef will routinely use dozens of different herbs and spices. But just a few of these can be added to almost any meal with great results. If you’re new to cooking, start with a few herb and spice mixes. The most popular spice mixes are Mexican, Indian curry, Caribbean jerk, and barbecue. The most useful herbal mix is Italian seasoning, which contains all the classic herbs of that cuisine.
While spice mixes are perfect for a casual or time-strapped cook, professional chefs wouldn’t use pre-ground mixes any more than coffee connoisseurs would choose coffee that was ground two months ago. Just like coffee, the essential oils in spices begin to volatilize upon grinding. While the smell of freshly ground coffee and spices is heavenly, that very smell means flavor is being lost with every passing day. So, in order to to make truly gourmet food, you’ll want to own a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, so you can grind you spices just prior to cooking. This is also why pepper grinders are so common, since pre-ground pepper quickly loses its most special flavors.
Think of pre-ground spices as good enough, whereas freshly-ground spices can be magnificent. Then balance your cooking decisions accordingly, weighing in the extra time and hassle required to assemble and grind your own spices rather than use a mix.
One of the best places to buy herbs and spices is from a natural food store’s bulk foods section. You’ll generally pay well under half the price buying your spices in bulk, compared to buying them prepackaged in small containers.
Fats and Cooking Oils
Fortunately for everyone who loves flavorful food, the arguments that ultra-low fat diets confer special health benefits have long ago been thoroughly debunked. In fact, there’s strong reason to think that at least 20 percent of our calories ought to come from fats and oils. Fats are an important source of food energy, and foods that contain decent amounts of fat are likely to keep you from quickly getting hungry again. A diet that has moderate amounts of fat can help to stabilize your blood sugars in comparison to a diet that’s comprised mostly of carbohydrates.
Additionally, fat deepens the flavors of foods, in part because when oils coat the tongue they enable flavors to linger. Since fats provide such a concentrated source of calories—which can make the difference between survival and perishing during a famine—our bodies have likely evolved to take much greater pleasure from fattier meals than from meals that contain little or no fat.
Many people keep only one sort of vegetable oil in their kitchen, and do all their cooking with it. Limiting yourself in this way is a huge missed opportunity. Let’s take a look at four oils that are worth always having on hand:
High oleic safflower oil. Perfect for higher-temperature cooking since the oil is resistant to scorching.
Olive oil. Good for general lower-temperature cooking. Always buy “extra virgin” and try to get it unfiltered if possible. Unrefined olive oil offers a strong, peppery flavor that, together with balsamic vinegar, is a wonderful dip for freshly-baked breads.
Sesame oil. An inexpensive way to jazz up any dish, especially stir-fried vegetables and Asian-style noodles. Sesame oil has a very low scorching point, so it’s best to add to your food right before serving. The flavors are strong, so just a squirt of oil goes a long way.
Unrefined coconut oil. Perfect for cooking dishes with delicate flavors and restrained spicing, as the coconut adds a delicious complexity that perfectly compliments the flavor of most vegetables.
Although you’ll rarely cook with them, vegan butters and margarines are almost entirely fat, so they’re worth a mention here. Vegan butters have improved greatly over the past decade or so. All the Earth Balance buttery spreads and buttery sticks taste great (one of their spreads even comes in a Whipped Organic version ). And Miyoko’s Kitchen makes a Cultured Vegan Butter spread that is heavenly. If you want to take on an involved but rewarding cooking project, you might also be interested in Bryanna Clark Grogan’s palm oil-free recipe for making your own vegan butter at home.
Baking, especially where breads, pies, and cakes are concerned, is an entirely different animal from general stovetop cooking and most other food preparation. Oftentimes, people who are only mediocre cooks have a real knack for baking, whereas some great cooks couldn’t bake to save their lives.
The main thing to know about baking is that it’s a much fussier task than most other forms of cooking. With stovetop cooking, improvisation is the name of the game. You can toss in an extra chopped onion or experiment with new spices, and be confident that your stew or stir-fry will turn out just great. But if you futz around with the proportions laid out in a cake recipe, you’re courting disaster. In fact, baking recipes are so sensitive that recipes that turn out perfect at sea-level often need to be rejiggered for use at high altitude.
If you want to try your hand at vegan baking, perhaps start by making vegan cookies, since cookies are the simplest of all baked items. Once you can reliably churn out a batch of delicious vegan cookies, you can branch out to other baked items and purchase a good vegan baking cookbook. There are many excellent vegan baking titles to choose from, all of which are featured on our vegan baking page.
Don’t despair if you missed out on being born with a gift for baking. If all your cakes and breads seem cursed, consider buying a bread machine so that you can at least reliably bake excellent bread at home.
Now Go Get Cooking!
I hope this article has convinced you to give vegan cooking a try. Spending just a little time cultivating your cooking abilities will yield an enormous payback.
To summarize the advice I’ve offered in this article:
- It doesn’t cost much to outfit your kitchen with basic equipment. If you’re on a budget, you can go cheap on almost everything but a chef’s knife.
- If your cooking time is severely limited, consider purchasing an Instant Pot and a vegan Instant Pot cookbook.
- The easiest way to make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh vegetables is to get into the habit of purchasing a broad and colorful diversity of produce, ideally at your local farmers’ market.
- Make sure your pantry is stocked with imperishables like pasta, rice, nuts, a good assortment of spices, and some flavorful oils.
- More than learning recipes, the key skills you want to master are learning to make stir-fries, roasted vegetables, soups, salads, and sandwiches. All of these foods can be improvised in innumerable ways.
- Make sure that your very first cookbook is geared to simple, easy recipes. You can find the best of these titles listed in “Easy Everyday Cookbooks” section of our Vegan Cookbooks page.
- Seek cooking inspiration from different cuisines from around the world. Mexican food is the easiest vegan-friendly cuisine to explore, so start with that.
Above all, have confidence! Just a little practice can enable you to reliably prepare delicious vegan meals on the cheap. And it’s great to know that, when you do your own cooking, you’ll never have to worry if some milk or chicken stock found its way into your food.
Cooking might be the easiest life-changing skill you’ll ever learn. With just a little practice and exploration, you’ll be on your way to becoming an accomplished vegan cook.