There are 10 vegetables that we eat practically every week – some every day! – and that almost always show up on my vegan grocery list. They are on my meal plans, and at the base of practically every meal I improvise. Most of them are robust enough to keep well in the refrigerator for two or more weeks, which means that I can stock enough in the produce drawer to know I can cook up any meal without a recipe. Combined with a few of my other vegan pantry staples (the 75 ingredients I make sure to always have at hand), they form the base of our meals, and of our good health.
Here they are, the vegetables always on my vegan grocery list:
Practically everything I cook in a week starts with chopping a red onion. They are inexpensive nutritional powerhouses that fight cancer and many other diseases, and they deepen the flavor of every savory dish one can imagine. I prefer red onions because they are sweet and have more phytonutrients, as the bright-colored skin and layers demonstrate.
I always keep at least 3-5 red onions in the fridge. In the winter, which are mild here in Vancouver (usually a bit above freezing), I buy a big bag of them and keep it on our deck. (If you live in a colder place, keep them in the garage so they don’t freeze.) Chopping onions when they are cold, as opposed to room temperature, prevents uncontrollable crying.
Save time (and your fingers)
Proper chopping technique will save you hours every month. Make sure to review my blog post on basic knife skills.
Garlic is another vegetable on my vegan grocery list that I always, always, always make sure to stock upon. I wouldn’t want to make soup, stews, stir-fries, risottos, or, well, anything, without it. Not only garlic helps prevent the common cold and cancer, but it adds depth and flavor to my meals. If a recipe calls for 1 clove, I usually use 3.
I prefer purple garlic because the large, even-sized cloves are faster to split and mince, and the flavor is milder when served raw. As much as possible, I buy it from a local source and avoid the imported white garlic. Big cheap bags of peeled garlic cloves are easy to find these days but unfortunately (in my experience) they don’t taste like much. Don’t let the price or convenience sway you, it’s not worth it.
Common advice says to store garlic on the countertop in a special clay pot, but I just put mine in the refrigerator’s butter compartment (which conveniently contains no butter in our home).
Dr. Greger recommends using the “hack and hold” method to maximize the health benefits of garlic. I just chop the garlic first and let it sit on the side while I chop the onions, so it has maximized its allicin production by the time I throw it in the hot skillet.
Ginger shows up in three to five of my dinners every week. More associated with Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, it’s usually included in stir-fries, curry, couscous, fried rice, and sauces, such as my personal favorite Friday-night dinner: Coco-peanut noodles. It adds a warming zing that awakens taste buds. In addition, regular ginger consumption reduces muscle soreness – good news for a runner like me!
Every few months, I buy it in bulk and dehydrate it along with the inedible parts of a pineapple to make a delicious, zero-waste “ginger-pineapple” fruit infusion.
Stop wasting your time peeling ginger!
The skin is fine to eat! Just scrub the ginger root like a potato and use the finest side of a box grater (or a microplane) to mince it, skin and all. No-one will be able to tell the difference. If the root is badly shriveled, then by all means chop off the sad parts before mincing.
I find organic ginger offers smaller roots but a more potent taste so it requires less.
Yummy carrots are worth paying a few extra bucks for if you can find a consistent source. There is no clear indication that organic carrots are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, but there has to be something in the way they are grown, handled, and stored that explains how they look better and taste sweeter. In season, I prefer local above all because that’s how I get the freshest tops to make pesto.
Cooking increases the health benefits of carrots. Their beta-carotenoids get converted into vitamin A by our bodies, benefiting eye health in particular.
They are another vegetable that I rarely peel. A vigorous brush takes care of residual specks of dirt and they’re ready to chop to add to any and all simmered dish. On their own, they make a beautiful soup, too. Roasted, they are perfect in my Warming couscous.
Just because they are better-for-us cooked doesn’t mean I never eat them raw. They are a convenient and crunchy vehicle to carry hummus and other bean dips to my mouth. I also love grating them to add a pop of orange to big lunch salads. Combine them with red cabbage, a diced apple, and some pumpkin seeds.
Orange sweet potatoes (which you may think of as yam)
Let’s clarify something right away: the picture above represents sweet potatoes, and that’s what you should always have on your vegan grocery list. “But isn’t that yam?” you ask. No! Please let me quote what the boss of sweet potatoes, Jenné Clairborne, author of the Sweet Potato Soul blog, says about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams:
“Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family and are usually orange and sweet with moist, starchy flesh. They are distantly related to potatoes, but they are not nightshades. Sweet potatoes and yams are not at all related. Yams are native to Africa and Asia and have starchy white flesh and gray-brown skin. They aren’t nearly as nutritious as sweet potatoes and have much lower yield.” (Jenné Clairborne, on p. 29 of her Sweet Potato Soul book, which is fantastic by the way.)
Jenné further describes 9 varieties of sweet potatoes that can be found in North American grocery stores, and they all sound amazing. Usually, garnet sweet potatoes similar to the ones in the picture are the ones I purchase.
And don’t peel them! A vigorous brushing will do. The skin has 10 times the phytonutrients as the flesh, which is almost as much as blueberries.
I have two favorite uses for sweet potatoes. The first is to make them into a peanutty stew with chickpeas (there’s a recipe for it in my free 2-week vegan meal plan… although they are mislabeled as “yam” on the shopping list! oops). The second is simply to halve and roast them (let’s say 40 minutes at 375 degrees F) and top with a simple black bean stew (onion, garlic, black beans, with cumin, oregano, and a bit of chipotle pepper for seasoning), with a drizzle of cashew cream. YUM! They are a good item to roast as part of a “minimum viable prep” on the weekend and serve with bowls.
Do like Dr. Greger and cook two sweet potatoes in the microwave before leaving the house on a cold day. Pop them in your pockets to serve as handwarmers, and enjoy them as a snack later!
Cauliflower, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables
There always has to be cruciferous veggies on my vegan grocery list. Not only they are a category of their own on the Daily Dozen, for their many health benefits, but they provide a broad diversity of flavors from bitter to sweet, along with a dose of crunch. Colorful, too! A handful of broccoli florets can be thrown into the pasta’s boiling water to make a simple, tasty, and nutritious pasta dish. Cauliflower can always be roasted with a sprinkle of spices for a satisfying addition to vegan salads, although I am always surprised at how sweet it is raw, too. Cauliflower is a bit more robust than broccoli so I often buy it “just in case.”
Cauliflower can be a little harder to cut into florets than broccoli… so often I don’t! If I’m in the slightest rush, I just chop the whole head of cauliflower, stem included, into roughly 1-inch dice. It’s just fine for soups and stews of all kinds. I do prefer individual florets for roasting however.
If you need ideas to cook them creatively, check out my collection of cruciferous veggie recipes.
Kale (preferably Lacinato/dinosaur/black)
Another cruciferous veggie that’s worth buying every single week! Kales is an essential ingredient of my smoothies but also shows up in simmered dishes (such as my mom’s bolo sauce), tofu scrambles, bowls, and salads. The bigger the pieces, the more you should massage them to break down their tough fibers. One quick way to do it is to wash the leaves under running water, rip the tender parts off the stem, and pile them on top of a clean tea towel. Roll and wring the towel as hard as you can. It’s great exercise for your hands and gets the job done quickly and cleanly.
Less food waste, more nutrition
Why throw away the tough stems? Just slice them thinly and add ad the same time as the onion when starting your dish. They have all the same nutrients as the leaves, and extra fiber. It’s one of my favorite natural nutrition boosters.
I prefer Lacinato kale (also called “black” or “dinosaur”) for a very practical reason: the leaves are flatter and fit better in my fridge, especially when it’s super full after shopping for groceries on the weekend. But the best strategy is to vary which kind you buy (and eat!) every week, to enjoy a full range of different nutrients and gustatory experiences.
If you are just getting started, buy a single bunch (usually 5 to 7 leaves) and aim to eat at least one leaf per person per day.
Mushrooms contain even more water per weight than most vegetables, but they pack many phytochemicals that are likely to have great health benefits. So why not eat more? Plus, they provide a nice variety in texture and mouthfeel that can both enhance vegan dishes and allow them to stand on their own as the main act, like grilled portobello caps.
Allowed to breathe in a paper bag, mushrooms will keep for a solid week and perhaps a little longer in your fridge. I always have them on hand to add to stir-fries and Asian-style noodly soups, or sauté for a quick topping on top of risotto or any pasta sauce. Friday night dinner at my home almost always contain them as the “last veggies standing” from the produce drawer, along with some cabbage, in a nutty sauce.
Why isn’t everyone eating cabbage all the time? It’s so good! And so cheap. I wish I had a second fridge to stock at least two heads at all times: one red and one green. I find red cabbage to be a better fit to add color, crunch, and nutrition to bowls and salads (even better when combined with grated carrots, see above). The green type turns decadently sweet (while being nothing but healthy) when grilled in 1-inch thick slices with a pinch of salt. But since I am short on space, I usually go for a not-too-big head of red cabbage that we chop at through the week.
For more info on the health benefits of cabbage, see the section on cruciferous veggies above and my cruciferous-veg recipe collection.
Pre-washed power greens
I hate to admit it because I try hard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use, but when I don’t have the opportunity to visit the farmers’ market to buy baby greens in bulk I often turn to boxed or bagged pre-washed power greens from the grocery store. I look for those with kale, chard, and spinach, or other more-robust greens, as opposed to “mixed greens” or “salad greens” which contain more lettuce and tend to wilt faster.
Whatever you are cooking, just add a handful. It’ll wilt right in! If you’d rather have multiple dishes on the table, put a giant handful in a side bowl for a salad, add some grated carrot and shredded red cabbage, plus a few bonus salad ingredients from your vegan pantry staples, such as raisins and hemp seeds.
Have them for breakfast, too! Combine with juicy fruit (apple, orange, and pineapple come to mind) and a pitted date or two, plus plant milk, and just a minute later you have a bright green smoothie.
Unlike the other veggies from my vegan grocery list above, these have a much shorter lifespan in the fridge. But even if you live alone, if you eat as many green veggies as you should, you should make it through a box in four days. If there’s any left over after that, just add extra to your smoothie.
Bring it all together: dinner to improvise using these vegetables from your vegan grocery list and pantry ingredients
Those 10 types of vegetables are always on my vegan grocery list because they are robust and can be combined with the vegan pantry staples I always stock to make an infinite number of improvised dinners. You can learn more about improvising a balanced vegan meal from those vegetables and pantry staples, and start creating your own meals based on 8 standard, classic, and easy dishes.