Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Enlightened Pantry: Ingredients Guide

There are certain ingredients that the enlightened pantry must have at all times. Following is a guide to some of the lesser known ingredients that are found in my kitchen, as well as within my recipes. A good health food store is the place to find most of these ingredients, and standard grocery stores are beginning to carry these products as well. Of course, there are conventional substitutions for some items, but this will change the health benefits and flavor of the recipe.

Follow Your Heart Vegenaise
Very rich and creamy, vegenaise is an egg free "mayonnaise" found in the refrigerated section. Trust me, there is a lot of funky vegan mayonnaise out there. If its' not the Follow Your Heart brand, don't buy it! I am hooked on this stuff and sometimes lick it from the spoon its' so good. I use it for potato salad, creamy salad dressings, and much more. Being egg free, gives a picnic safe quality to its' usage.

Although soy sauce and tamari [tuh-MAHR-ee] are both made from fermented soybeans, Japanese tamari is thicker, darker, and richer than its counterpart. It has more flavor and is naturally brewed, therefore containing no preservatives. Soy sauce usually contains preservatives. Tamari adds a nice and complex depth of flavor when used to replace soy sauce.

      Agave Nectar
It doesn't take long for the subtle sweetness of agave nectar to become the sweetener of choice. Delicious in tea, over pancakes, or as a honey replacement. It is great in cocktails and fresh squeezed lemonade. An agave nectar mojito is amazing! I use agave in my Asian sauces and salad dressings instead of sugar. It has a low glycemic index making it safe for diabetics and easy on the blood sugar. Its' mellow flavor allows for easy incorporation into recipes. It is usually 'raw', as well, and can be used for 'raw' foods preparation. 

     Nutritional Yeast
Called by some, a nutritional powerhouse, this seasoning imparts a nutty, cheese like flavor. It is full of B vitamins, importantly B12, and protein, which makes it a great addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet. It tastes great on popcorn, or sprinkled over pasta instead of Parmesan cheese.

I admit- its' not a total health food and there is a preservative in this Asian chile sauce. But the flavorful spiciness hinted with sweetness creates magic and becomes a 'secret' ingredient in a lot of my recipes, especially great in Asian dipping sauces.

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
This oil is  high heat tolerant, perfect for crisping hash browns or tofu and it  has a myriad of health giving properties as well. The presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, make coconut oil useful in the body as an antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial agent. I like to use it in my baking and as a 'secret' ingredient that adds hints of tropical essence.

Seitan (quoted from wikipedia)
is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as an elastic mass which is then cooked before being eaten. Wheat gluten is an alternative to soybean-based meat substitutes such as tofu.

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