DULUTH -- Eating a vegan diet, and just incorporating some vegan dishes into your rotating, can be very expensive, time consuming and frustrating.

I’m definitely not the poster child for veganism, but I’ve learned some things along the way, mostly by trial-and-error and reading a lot. It’s OK to admit you hate tofu or kale or Indian food, or that you don’t know what “nooch” is. Stop comparing yourself to others when it comes to what you eat or what’s cooking on your stove, and don't force your unsolicited ideals on others, either. This isn't a competition — or a cult, for that matter.

OK, enough preaching. Here’s some useful info I learned that helped me:

Cheap staples for the cupboard

Here's a sampling of foods that typically have a long shelf life, are easy to find (even in Duluth!), inexpensive (even in Duluth!), are nutritious and have limitless versatility.

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Spices: Load up and try new varieties. Visit some spice stores. I use a ton of smoked paprika, cayenne, thyme and cinnamon. Also, anything that sets my mouth on fire, but I'm not going to advise that.

Lentils: Buy in bulk. They come in red, green and brown varieties and cook quickly. Eat as a side dish or add to a soup. I love red lentils; they're like mashed potatoes if you overcook them.

Rice: Another bulk-bin winner. Jasmine, basmati, wild rice, brown rice — all versatile, filling and you can make lots of it in advance.

Black beans: More nutritious than some other kinds of beans. A staple in my kitchen because I eat an unholy amount of Mexican food.

Pasta: There are so many kinds other than spaghetti. I’ve never had a gluten-free diet, but I love rice noodles of all shapes because they take just a few minutes to cook. Red lentil pasta also has awesome flavor and is really hearty.

Vegetable broth and stock: I usually have several boxes in the kitchen, and low-sodium if it’s available. If you’re really ambitious (I never remember this), keep your vegetable scraps and make your own. Healthy alternative to oil for sauteing.

Chickpeas: I love their creamy texture. Blend with tahini, fresh garlic and olive oil for hummus. Mash with lots of fresh dill, lemon and chopped celery and onion for sandwiches. I sometimes eat them plain out of the can.

Sweet potatoes: Not to be confused with yams, and they are often mislabeled in stores. Yams have white insides; sweet potatoes are orangish. Poke holes in them with a fork, wrap with wet paper towel and microwave about 20 minutes. Slice down the middle and top with whatever you want — greens, salsa, chopped veggies, beans and corn.

Cook sweet potatoes and top with taco ingredients for a more-nutritious version of loaded baked potatoes. (Pixabay)
Cook sweet potatoes and top with taco ingredients for a more-nutritious version of loaded baked potatoes. (Pixabay)

Next-level vegan

These are the foods that will make you a full-fledged, card-carrying vegan. Once you master them, though, the carnivores in your life may even partake.

Tofu: The trick is to always press it thoroughly so the water’s released. Fry in a pan or learn to bake it. You’ll get the process eventually. Great in curries, soups, stir frys and wraps. Tofu scramble is life.

Cashew cheese: Soak a cup of cashews for a few hours to overnight and drain. Throw in a high-powered blender with ¾ cup water, two teaspoons cornstarch and a dash of salt. Blend until smooth. Takes practice, but it's totally worth it.

Nutritional yeast: Called “nooch” by vegan nerds, it’s a bright-yellow, odd-smelling deactivated yeast. Yes, yeast. Sprinkle on popcorn or anything you want for a slightly cheese taste. Contains a lot of B12, which vegans are often lacking in their diets.

TVP: Textured vegetable protein is really inexpensive and cooks very quickly. Like tofu, it absorbs the flavors it cooks with. Great on tacos and burritos.

Seitan: Wheat gluten. Very “meaty” and often used for meat-like dishes. I’ve had some amazing meals made with this, but I often feel like I ate a bowling ball when I consume it.

Tempeh: Fermented soybeans, but it’s better than it sounds. Marinade for sandwiches and stir frys.

Katie Rohman is managing editor of the News Tribune. She can be reached at krohman@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5334.

Katie Rohman
Katie Rohman