The Top 15 Kitchen Essentials
Some think that preparing healthy food is expensive, but that’s just not true. You do not need expensive equipment and fancy gadgets to make whole food, plant-based meals. Below is my list of 15 basics. Every plant-based chef should have these essentials in their kitchen.
You’ll notice that valuable appliances, like a Vitamix or Instant Pot are not listed here. Although I use them daily, they are not essential. I hope this list saves you time in sorting through the many products and brands, and prevents culinary purchases that don’t meet your expectations.
1. SHARP KNIVES
In my opinion, the chef’s knife is the most valuable player in the kitchen. I recommend a 7- or 8-inch chef’s knife that has a rounded blade and fits in your hand comfortably. The knife with the most value for its price is the Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife. I think it’s also important to have a paring knife and a small serrated knife. My favorite knife is the Shun 8-Inch Ken Onion Chef's Knife. This is a high-end choice, but its extra round blade and ergonomic handle makes chopping remarkably easier, and thus safer and faster. Handled right, it will last for decades. All chef knives should be sharpened regularly for effectiveness and safety.
2. CUTTING BOARDS
Cutting boards can often be overlooked, but they are the knife’s right-hand man. A good cutting board can really add to the comfort level in prepping food. I like a large cutting board so that I have space for large amounts
and/or various items on the board at one time, which allows for smoother, faster prepping.
I find that large wood or bamboo cutting boards are the sturdiest and don’t move around. They are easier to clean and more eco-friendly than plastic. Solid wood boards benefit from being seasoned once per month with a food-grade mineral oil, walnut, almond or coconut oil. You’ll want to hand-dry them to avoid drying out and cracking. I try to avoid plastic cutting boards because tiny pieces can break off and end up in the prepared dish. For a light, inexpensive option, I recommend Epicurean’s Prep Series Cutting Boards. My recommendation for a large, stable board is the John Boos Chop-N-Slice 20-by-15-Inch Maple Cutting Board. This is a gorgeous board used in professional restaurants around the world and is a pleasure to work on.
3. POTS & PANS
The most important factor to consider when buying pots and pans is the material. It seems each material has its pros and cons. It’s best to avoid aluminum and copper pans all together. Cast iron pans can be a significant source of iron in the diet because it leaches from the pan into the food. However, in large quantities iron causes stress and oxidation in the body that can lead to disease.
It is important that all cookware is regularly replaced when worn or dented. Any chipping is a red flag to throw it out.
The healthiest and safest option would be stainless steel because it doesn’t leach minerals or other elements into your food. The downfall is that stainless steel transfers and distributes heat poorly. This problem has been solved by adding an inner core of copper and aluminum to stainless steel cookware. This is called multi-clad or multi-ply construction. The All-Clad brand is the top of the line. A 10-piece set is $500 or more. The set I use, the Cooks Standard Multi-Ply Clad Stainless Steel 10-piece Cookware Set, is half the price.
There’s no need to buy a whole set at once - you can add single pieces as it’s appropriate for your specific needs in the kitchen. The five pieces that will be used most often are 1) a large stock pot (10-12 quarts) for soups and vegetable broth, 2) a medium size pot (even better if it has a steamer to fit it), 3) a smaller sauce pot (1½ to 3 quarts), 4) a small sauté pan (6-8 inches) and 5) a larger sauté pan or skillet (10-12 inches). I also love having a non-stick pan to use with occasional dishes like hash browns and pancakes.
Steaming vegetables is one of the healthiest and quickest cooking methods. You can find a stainless steel steamer basket for less than $15. This collapsible basket is great because it will fit into any size pot. An alternative is a pot that comes with a fitted steamer basket. A pasta pot can also be used as a vegetable steamer.
5. SALAD SPINNER
If preparing salads and leafy greens is new to you, this may be an unfamiliar item. However, it’s pretty much a requirement in a plant-based kitchen, because wet greens do not hold dressings well. You’ll get double the use out of the salad spinner if it has a removable strainer that can be used separately, such as the OXO Good Grips Green Salad Spinner.
6. CASSEROLE DISH
A rectangular glass dish is great for making savory baked dishes, such as lasagna, shepherd’s pie, or enchilada casserole. It can also be used for sweets, like cobblers and brownies. The 2-piece glass dish set from Pyrex is a great deal.
This may sound obvious, but we definitely don’t want to leave out the most important item for stirring and serving. I love having a set of bamboo utensils for stirring soups, stews and stir-fries. I also use a slotted spoon, serving spoon, and a soup ladle regularly.
8. SILICONE SPATULA
Spatulas are perfect for transferring food from one container to another. Silicone spatulas are heat-resistant so they can also be used to stir food on the stovetop and lift items on a baking sheet. A mini spatula can be lifesaver when it comes to trying to get into tight quarters, such as a blender or small jelly jars.
9. BAKING TRAYS
When it comes to baking this is the most important piece. It’s used for everything from baking oil-free fries to roasting veggies to baking cookies. A full baking sheet spans the full width of the oven. In most home kitchens, a half-sheet (13x18 inches) is the perfect size. I recommend having two of Nordic Ware’s Natural Aluminum Half Sheets. The aluminum is not an issue because we lay parchment paper between the sheet and food. If you prefer stainless steel, it’s a little more expensive, but also an option.
10. PARCHMENT PAPER
To avoid using oil (and reduce calories), parchment paper is the perfect solution. Do not get this confused with wax paper. The best choice is unbleached parchment paper, preferably recycled.
11. MIXING BOWLS
Whether you’re fixing up a salad or making veggie burgers, mixing bowls certainly come in handy. Stainless steel bowls with lids are great because they store food easily and make it simple to bring food to gatherings outside the home. Get a set of three or five so you have different sizes for different jobs.
12. MEASURNG CUPS
Measuring cups are the sidekick to measuring spoons. Both are essential for following recipes, which is common in the kitchen. When choosing cups, look for a set that has the measures displayed in a way that they won’t be washed off from lots of use. I would avoid cups on a ring and make sure they’re durable. My favorite set are Sur La Table’s Prep Bowls, named as such because they measure quantities, but they’re also very convenient in prepping a recipe, or setting up your mise en place. I also like them because each bowl has a specific measurement line at the top of the bowl and half way up. There’s even a bowl that measures ¾ cup and 1½ cup, which I find extremely convenient.
13. MEASURING SPOONS
I never really thought twice about measuring spoons until a few years ago when I purchased Progressive’s Magnetic Measuring Spoons. It doesn’t make much sense, but I actually like holding them, even if I’m not measuring something. They are colorful and stylish, but there’s a couple qualities that make these stand out above the rest.
First, they are magnetic so they can easily be stored together, but separated
when you want to use one. I can’t stand having my spoons on a ring which forces me to hold all five spoons when I only want to use one. Second, they are double-sided. This allows you to use the spoon with two different ingredients before having to rinse it. The third perk is that one of the sides has an oval shaped spoon so that it fits into smaller spaces where the standard circular spoon doesn’t fit.
14. VEGETABLE PEELER
Peeling can be a pain, especially if you don’t have a good peeler. The Kuhn Rikon Orginal Swiss Peeler makes it a breeze. It’s super easy to clean and cheap! Three peelers are just $11. Don’t need three? Gift the extras and encourage others to get in the kitchen.
15. CAN OPENER
I don’t recommend many packaged foods, but it’s extremely helpful to keep some canned beans and tomatoes on hand. When choosing a can opener, make certain it cuts around the side of the can, leaving no sharp edges and making it the safest way to open a can. I like the Good Cook Classic Safe Cut Can Opener. If you have extra food remaining in the can, a “safe” can opener allows you to pop the lid back on the can and save what’s left for later. (Note: unless the food will be used within 24 hours, it’s best to transfer it from the can to another container.)
Of course, this is not a full list of the gadgets and tools in my kitchen, but it is a fabulous starting place for anyone interested in making food at home. The next phase of upgrades and add-ons depends on the cook’s preferences. If you take the minimalist approach, you may be able to get along with just a few of these basics.
Regardless, I hope you have a few takeaways from this guide to save you time and money in the kitchen. In a future post, I’ll share more about my most cherished and most used culinary tools.