5 Super Healthy, Affordable Plant-Based Ingredients to Get You Out of Your Food Rut
It's been a long year, and for many, rediscovering the joy of shopping and cooking at home is so 2020. Goodbye, sourdough starters, hello 1-800-Take-Out. I'm actually not a big take-out food fan, but even I fired up Door Dash last week for some Thai curry.
Sure, I could have made my own curry, but I was OVER IT.
I get it.
Then I watched a few YouTube videos about simple ways to improve home cooking and I was newly inspired. I started thinking about the ingredients that I've discovered over the past few years, and how they transformed my dishes. These simple gems add complex, umami-esque depth to otherwise straightforward dishes, dips, and spreads.
Even better? ALL of them are affordable, healthy, and easily accessible - no speciality stores needed! So if you're looking to spice things up in the kitchen, I encourage you to try any or all of these wonderful flavor-enhancers! I use them in EVERYTHING!
You can also do like Robin does, and order these bulk/pantry items through Thrive Market (affiliate link)!
#1 - MISO PASTE (WHITE IS MY FAV*)
THIS STUFF IS UNBELIEVABLE! It's fermented soy bean paste. Okay. That doesn't sound great. But trust me. It's salty. It's complex. It's the missing element to all of your dips, sauces, pasta dishes... A large tub might run you about $8, but it'll keep in the fridge for YEARS - and you'll usually only use about a tablespoon at a time, so the value is SOLID.
Because it's a fermented food, it's credited with providing your gut with beneficial bacteria. It's also a great source of essential minerals, various B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid.
Miso paste is sold in the refrigerated section of almost any grocery store I've ever been to, often by the produce/tofu/refrigerated salad dressings. Sometimes you'll find it near the refrigerated pickles/sauerkraut, or you might have to peek in the 'healthy/organic' section if your grocery store has a separate spot like that.
*White is the most common, followed by red. I recently tried chickpea, too. They're all great, but I recommend starting with white because it seems the most versatile!
#2 - NUTRITIONAL YEAST ("NOOCH")
If you're already plant-based or reading a lot of vegan recipes, you're probably very familiar with "nooch." Some folks like to call it a parmesan cheese replacement, but Robin and I are very candid in that: IT DOES NOT TASTE LIKE CHEESE. It's salty and a little funky, which is how it got that reputation, but if you're looking for a parmesan imposter, don't start here. (Try Follow Your Heart parmesan.)
Instead, think of this ingredient as a salty, earthy, flavor enhancer that, unlike dairy, is actually good for you! It's the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer, and contains protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals. In fact, it's a complete protein, containing all nine amino acids and two grams of protein in just one tablespoon!
You can find nutritional yeast in any bulk section, at Trader Joe's (usually near the canned goods/pasta), or near the flours/dried/baking goods of just about any store, typically for around $3.00 (some prepackaged brands are more expensive, so we definitely recommend buying in bulk!).
TRY IT IN: Pasta dishes (like lasagna), dressings, cashew spread, and my favorite way: blended with walnuts (or your favorite nut/seed), one-to-one ratio, as a crunchy topping for soups and salads! (Especially carrot-ginger soup.)
#3 - MUNG BEANS
I can't say enough about mung beans! My only regret is that I didn't discover them sooner. If you like split peas and/or lentils, you will LOVE mung beans. They cook very similarly, and I find them either in the bulk section or in the baking/dried beans aisle.
Like all beans, mung beans carry the nutritional benefits of fiber, iron, and a host of other vitamins and nutrients. Even more impressive, mung beans are one of the top sources of plant-based protein, rich in essential amino acids. And some studies show that the carbs in mung bean seem to be easier to digest than those found in other legumes! (They are also the magic ingredient behind Just egg.)
Mung bean curry, anyone?
TRY THEM IN: Curry (not spicy)!!! It's one of my favorite go-to recipes, and made from just a few simple ingredients! (The video description contains a downloadable recipe card.)
#4 - BULGUR WHEAT
I have a confession: I'm not a huge fan of most whole grains. They're tough. Sometimes cardboard-tasting. Quinoa gets stuck in my teeth. I usually make them work by adding roasted vegetables and a delicious, creamy sauce on top.
The whole grain that needs no assistance? Bulgur!! Soft, fluffy, slightly nutty in taste, this whole grain is positively delightful! So much so that I was convinced, until recently, that it must be highly processed (akin to white flour). Turns out bulgur is a whole grain made from cracked wheat and has 8 grams of fiber in one cup (cooked)! It also comes with iron, B vitamins, and protein.
Even better, it's dirt cheap (I find it in all bulk sections) and cooks so easily! Boil 1 1/2 cups water, add 1 cup dried bulgur, simmer for 10-12 minutes, turn off heat, let stand for 10 minutes, fluff with fork. Bam.
TRY IT IN: Tabbouleh (as is tradition), grain bowls, scooped onto a hearty salad, or (my favorite way), mixed with lots of fresh herbs, tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts!
#5 - COCONUT AMINOS
Move over soy sauce, coconut aminos are comin' for ya! I call this a "sweeter, less salty, healthier soy sauce." I love dipping Trader Joe's vegetable potstickers in this, and adding it to all of my stir fries and Asian-inspired sauces and dishes. It's also a fantastic alternative for anyone with a soy sensitivity or allergy.
While the verdict is still out regarding proven health benefits, it contains far less sodium than soy sauce, thereby gaining a firm position in most healthy eaters' homes
You can usually find it wherever you'd find soy sauce, sometimes in the health food/organic section. Trader Joe's also sells it!
TRY IT IN: The aforementioned mung bean curry, peanut sauce (pictured above), or as a dipping condiment for your avocado rolls and potstickers!
Happy Taste Testing! (And let us know how it's going over on social media @plantbasedpoint!)