What are the Most Important Appliances for Preparing Vegan Meals?
Want to be the next plant-based Top Chef? If you aspire to prepare and eat plant-based meals efficiently and effectively, it’s important to have the right tools. Just like a carpenter can’t do his job without a hammer and square, the plant-based cook needs a few basic tools too. Not much of a chef, on the other hand?? Even though you might not consider yourself a cook or be committed to preparing your own meals all of the time, if you want to be successful at eating for health, longevity, and happiness you will be preparing your own food some of the time. Hence, you will also need your kitchen to be properly equipped. So here are the basics for setting up a functional plant-based kitchen.
A stove top or cooking surface and an oven, are non-negotiables unless you are a raw food vegan. I personally prefer a gas-powered range or cooking surface. I love being able to increase and decrease the heat instantly, which is not possible on an electric or glass top cooking surface. I only say that in case you are trying to choose what kind of range to purchase, though we often just have to work with whatever we already have. Now, if you are buying a gas flame cooktop, I have found it important to have at least one high BTU burner that can handle a water bath canner. I say this, because even if you do not can, having a high BTU burner will mean that you don’t have to wait 30 minutes just to bring a large pot of pasta water to a boil!
In terms of ovens, they are usually standard gas or electric and/or convection. What is the difference between standard and convection ovens? Convection ovens tend to be more expensive and have a fan in them as well as a heating element or two. The fan circulates the hot air which results in them cooking quicker than standard ovens, but you will also have to adjust baking times for your recipes and that could take some trial and error (or burned cookies!).
This can range from very basic to quite fancy. Unlike a range/oven, you can do without a refrigerator; I actually have friends that did without one for a number of years and just had a freezer. “How did they keep their fruit and produce fresh?”, you may wonder.They had quite a few cold packs so they kept half of them in the freezer and the other half in a couple of large well insulated coolers where they kept their fruit and produce. They rotated the cold packs every day and were able to get along just fine. I find refrigerators or freezers quite useful as you can store not only your fruit and vegetables there, but assorted nuts as well to help them keep longer. For instance, pecans last up to 6 months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer.
Probably the most essential small appliance is a blender. Are you on a tight budget? Even a 3 speed $40 blender can get you started. That’s all I had for years. But I did have to replace them from time to time as I used them so much and so hard that the motors would burn out or the bearings for the blade would freeze up. If on the other hand, you are not on a tight budget, I would recommend buying a high powered blender with a good warranty. It may be a lot of money upfront, but it can be just as economical as it can last you a long time. An even better way to save money on a high powered blender is to wait until it goes on sale!
Why is a blender so essential, in my opinion? When you are doing plant-based or vegan cooking, you need a blender to whip up smooth cheese sauces, make nut butters, and cream ingredients. Now, cheap blenders can make smoothies OK but often take quite a while to get nut mixtures really smooth.
In the market for a new blender? There are several good brands of high quality blenders available, but I must say that I really love my VitaMix. Why? I love its versatility and its warranty-it is pretty difficult finding a blender with a 7 year warranty! Their customer service is excellent as well. In addition, this blender is a time-saver. With my VitaMix, I can have a perfectly smooth nutty sauce in 30-60 seconds, while my cheaper blenders sometimes took 5-7 minutes for the same result. I also like that I can blend thick mixes like waffle mix in 8 cup batches without any problem. Most other blenders will only blend 3-4 cups of a thick mix. Do you have a sweet tooth? Then, you definitely want a blender that can also handle frozen fruit for homemade soft serve ice cream. The VitaMix blender does this. In fact, it is so efficient it not only blends berries like raspberries but also blends up the tiny seeds as well. This can make it possible for people with gut issues like diverticulitis (inflammation in the outpouches of the colon) to enjoy unprocessed berries without worrying about the tiny seeds causing digestive issues. The Vitamix blade rotates so fast that you can actually cook in the blender as well. Cheese sauces and soups can be cooked right in the blender with the heat that is generated. If you are on a budget, I recommend a refurbished Vitamix which is less expensive but still has the same guarantee.
Do you hardly eat legumes because they take so long to cook? You can enjoy legumes more often by investing in some type of slow cooker. Slow cookers make cooking legumes pretty easy – you can load the slow cooker with beans and water and then let them cook all day while you are at work, or overnight while you sleep without worrying about them burning. Slow cookers are pretty versatile. You can use them for soups, stews, and even baking. They come in different sizes and I’ve found that the smaller 1-2 quart sizes are excellent for cooking hot cereal overnight like steel cut oats, wheat berries, and millet. I like the larger sizes for cooking chili, soups, beans and lentils.
Pressure cookers are another good time saver. Pressure cookers work by increasing the pressure inside the pot which raises the boiling temperature of the water causing food to cook much quicker than if cooked on a stovetop Do you live at a high elevation? If you live at some altitude, such as over 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level, being able to pressure cook is essential in order to make sure your legumes are cooked thoroughly; legumes that are not cooked thoroughly can lead to food poisoning. Curious as to how much time you can save by using a pressure cooker? A pressure cooker will reduce the cooking time of say, pinto beans, from 3 hours on the stovetop to about 35-40 minutes. That is a significant amount of time savings.
If you can afford it (if not, I highly suggest putting it on your Christmas, Mother’s Day, or birthday wish list, whichever is soonest!!) I highly recommend an Instant Pot. This handy dandy device combines the advantages of a slow cooker with those of a pressure cooker. It also has additional electronic controls which allow you to use the pressure cooker setting and NOT have to be there to adjust the temperature or turn it off. You can literally set it (cooking time/pressure level) and forget about it. When the time is complete it will turn itself off, depressurize, and keep the food warm till you can come back to take care of it. Many Instant Pots also have other settings like saute (heats like a skillet for open kettle cooking), rice cooker, and manual adjustments that you can customize for anything you want to cook. Lentils are ready in 12-13 minutes as is rice, and you can do pasta and sauce together in just a few minutes. I got my Instant Pot as a gift and it has become the most used appliance in my kitchen after my blender!
If you use brown rice regularly, I would really also recommend a rice cooker. Cooking rice on the stovetop can be a hassle- it means you have to be around to get the water boiling, put the rice in, bring it to a boil again, then simmer it very slowly until it has cooked well and be there to take it off the stove. With a rice cooker, you can put the rice, water, salt and seasonings all in at the same time, walk away and have your rice perfectly cooked and kept warm for hours. It is worth the splurge as it can save you all the extra effort and guarantee well-cooked rice every time. If you are looking for a rice cooker for your brown rice, look for one that has a brown rice setting for best results. Brown rice takes longer to cook and one with that setting usually does a better job of it.
A few basic knives can make a real difference in the time and energy you spend on chopping chores in the kitchen. Here are a few of my favorites: the Japanese Caddie knife, a good quality paring knife, a chef knife, and a bread knife.
With these basic pieces of kitchen equipment you are well on your way to being able to prepare tasty, wholesome meals!