Seven years ago, after trying and failing just about every diet and weight loss plan ever marketed in the US, I was 340 pounds and on 15 different medications, including insulin injections for type 2 diabetes. As a final effort before bariatric surgery, I decided to try a plant-based diet. One of my main problems was that I didn’t know how to cook. My cookware was limited to a few pans that could heat food from cans and boil water. I didn’t have the essential kitchen gear for your plant based kitchen, so it was difficult to see how I could get started.
Then, as described in my new book, Walking with Peety, the Dog Who Saved My Life, I decided to turn my health around with a whole food, plant based diet, and learned how to cook. Over the next year, I switched from a standard American diet to a whole food, plant based diet. In addition, I adopted a dog from my local shelter and walked him for a half an hour, twice each day. In the end, I lost 150 pounds, got off all medications, and have maintained my new 185-pound weight ever since.
This article provides a summary of the most innovative and useful food preparation, cooking, and storage gear for plant based cooking, I found during plant based cooking education, and provides an excellent guide for new plant based chefs.
For all food preparation products and storage products, I recommend purchasing wood, glass, porcelain or stainless-steel products when possible. Make sure any plastic products you use are labeled as BPA (Bisphenol A) free. BPA is a polycarbonate resin used in many food containers that has been linked to health problems including obesity, cancer, and enlarged breasts in men.
All opinions expressed below regarding brands and products were independently formed by me without any promotional consideration or other incentive from any source. Before purchasing any new kitchen product, I strongly recommend that you supplement my suggestions with your own research, and purchase the best products you can afford. Remember, quality always remains after price is forgotten!
Woven bamboo steaming baskets are a traditional part of Asian cooking and provide a fast, healthy way to cook vegetables and other foods. I prefer bamboo steaming baskets to steaming inserts in pots because bamboo baskets are stackable and allow separate layers of vegetables to be cooked at the same time. The baskets are placed over a pot of boiling water, allowing steam to rise through the layers and cook the food.
Unlike cooking with oil, steaming adds no calories and often preserves more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, plus better flavor and color, than other cooking methods. For example, sulforaphane, a compound associated with the flavor and cancer fighting properties of broccoli, is substantially retained during steaming but leaches out in water when boiled.
High-carbohydrate foods are also healthier when steamed versus baked, boiled or fried. This is because acrylamide, a compound thought to be carcinogenic, forms in carbohydrates when cooked at temperatures above 248° F. Steaming cooks food at the temperature of boiling water, 212° F, so steamed potatoes have much lower levels of acrylamides than baked or fried potatoes.
If you are just starting a plant-based diet, you will probably need to build your pantry from scratch. That’s because instead of buying packaged foods, you will now mostly purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and dry bulk foods, including the products I suggest in the essential ingredient sections below.
To minimize the storage space and maximize the life and freshness of your dry ingredients, you should invest in a large set of airtight, stackable, space efficient canisters. After much experimentation with different products, I standardized my pantry with Oxo Good Grips® Food Storage Pop Containers, which are sold at most kitchen supply stores.
What I like best about these containers is that they are square or rectangular and stackable for space efficiency, are BPA free, and are easy to open and seal by popping a large button on the lid. I use these containers for all dry ingredients in my pantry, including flours, rice, legumes, grains, and all superfood ingredients for my smoothies listed in the recipes section below.
Food processors are essential for making loaves, salsas, sauces, and dressings, especially when you want to end up with texture rather than puree from a blender. These machines are available in a wide range of quality, size, features, ease of use and cost, so research and shopping is required to make the best decision on your first purchase.
I find the biggest downside of most food processors to be cleanup and the myriad of safety parts required to operate them, making many not worth using except when preparing enough food for a dinner party. I wouldn’t want to live without my Robot Coupe® Commercial Food Processor (new prices starting at about $1100, or visit a restaurant supply store to find a used or reconditioned model) because of its simplicity, quality of results, and ease of cleanup.
But I also use a small KitchenAid® food processor for simple jobs such as a quick salsa or guacamole dip. To get your hands on these products and try before you buy, visit a specialty kitchen store, such as Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma, and demo their display models to your heart’s content.
Grills aren’t just for meat – they are also great for vegetables, tofu and veggie burgers. Grills are the best and fastest oil-free cooking method for tofu planks, with the alternatives being stovetop cooking with a nonstick skillet or oven baking. Veggies can be cooked in a grill basket or directly on the grill.
Char lines from the grill improve the flavor and appearance of veggies such as eggplant, asparagus, and squash. Whether you are cooking vegetables, tofu or tempeh, the ability to char, baste and flip food on the grill, directly over fire or charcoal, provides a unique food preparation experience.
Purchase a tabletop smoker to use with your grill, which is a stainless box with an internal rack and a tight lid. Place aromatic tea leaves or wood chips, such as oak or hickory, in the base of the box, with sliced tofu or tempeh on the rack above the chips. With the lid shut and the smoker placed on the grill, the chips will smoke and the food inside become imbued with the smoke flavor. Look for a tabletop smoker at your favorite grill store or search for the term on Amazon.
High speed blender
High speed blenders have more powerful motors than standard blenders, allowing them to puree with creamy-smooth results, even with gritty ingredients such as raw kale and unsoaked cashews. I use my Vitamix® blender with its 2.2 horsepower motor more often than any other appliance in my kitchen. I also love the new KitchenAid® Pro Line® Series Blender with 3.5 horsepower, while many of my friends swear by the Blendtec® brand. Despite the high cost compared to a standard blender, I recommend investing in a high speed blender before any other product in your kitchen, except pots, pans, and knives.
Immersion hand blenders are ideal for large jobs. They’re perfect for pureeing soups and refried beans. They work well for medium jobs, such as pulsing sauces to a perfect consistency. You can also use them for small jobs, when you just want to avoid cleaning your blender.
An immersion blender allows you to blend in the cooking pot on the stovetop. This avoids having to transfer food between the pot and your blender. They are more convenient, less messy, and safer than regular blenders, especially with hot soup. Best of all, immersion blenders can be cleaned just by rinsing under running water. I use a KitchenAid® Commercial® 400 Series Immersion Blender, a serious power tool that requires two hands to operate, for large jobs.
When I don’t need to blend 6 quarts of refried beans, I use a small KitchenAid® model with attachments for salad dressings and other light jobs.
A standard knife set will include many pieces you don’t need a plant-based kitchen. For example, you won’t need a meat fork or steak knives. I recommend shopping for knives individually and investing in the best you can afford. Since you will use these knives every day for a lifetime, they’re worth the price.
In my experience, a well-appointed plant-based kitchen should include these cutlery products:
- Wide-blade forged 8” or 10” chef’s knife with curved blade for slicing, chopping and mincing softer foods such as onions and herbs.
- Wide-blade forged 8” chef’s knife with straight blade for cutting and chopping harder foods such as raw sweet potatoes.
- Thin-blade forged 8” slicing knife with straight blade for slicing and peeling foods such as cantaloupes, pineapples and bell peppers.
- Thin-blade forged 8” bread knife with serrated edge for slicing bread and tomatoes.
- Spear-point forged 3” to 4” paring knife with smooth edge for peeling, slicing, and scoring fruits and vegetables.
- Stainless kitchen herb shears for cutting fresh cilantro, basil and other herbs
- Knife sharpening steel to keep your blade edges sharp between sharpenings.
Pots and pans
If you have an induction range or cooktop, take a magnet with you when shopping. If a magnet sticks to a pot or pan, it will work with an induction range. Pot and pan sets may seem like they offer a large number of items for the money, but are also likely to include items that you may never use.
There are so many different brands and options available with pots and pans that you should visit a specialty cooking store with a wide selection of products and brands and a knowledgeable staff so you can evaluate the differences and purchase what is best for your needs and budget. I do not recommend inexpensive pots and pans with aluminum cooking surfaces because of health concerns regarding potential neurotoxicity. I recommend that you own at least these items:
- Stainless 10” or 12” sauté pan.
- Cast iron 12” frying pan.
- 2 quart and 3 quart stainless sauce pans.
- 6 or 8 quart stainless stock pot with pasta insert.
- 10 or 12 quart stainless stock pot, if you have room to store it.
- Flat bottom carbon steel stir-fry pan.
- 12” non-stick skillet for sautéing tofu – I recommend ceramic over Teflon.
People are sometimes fearful of pressure cookers because of decades-old stories about explosions with first-generation models. Modern pressure cookers include multiple safety and pressure-relief features. They are very safe to use if you follow their simple use and maintenance instructions. Most importantly, do not overfill, or fill with oil.
Pressure cookers enable fast, convenient cooking. You can make perfect long grain white rice in 4 minutes and brown rice in 22 minutes. Soups and broths are made from raw vegetables in 10 minutes, and more. After using my pressure cooker for the first time, I gave my rice cooker to a friend. I couldn’t imagine ever using it again! I use an Instant Pot brand 6-quart electric model, which included a complete cookbook. You can find many other pressure cooker cookbooks on Amazon and at other booksellers.
Recipes in this book specifying a slow cooker, also known by the brand name Crock-Pot®, are scaled to a six-quart model. This appliance is wonderful for making soups and stews, and does all the cooking after you add your prepped ingredients. I use my slow cooker every week and have had good luck with several different brands and models.
Stop paying high prices for small jars of powdered spices. You can save by purchasing whole spices in bulk and grinding them yourself. Freshly ground spices provide much better flavor and fragrance in cooking than stale pre-ground products. I have used many different hand grinders, spice mills and coffee mills, but my favorite is the KitchenAid® model BCG211OB Spice Grinder, which is easy to use and clean and eliminates cross contamination between the different spices that I grind.
We’ll talk about sprouts in detail in the Pantry Essentials section below, but I want to talk about some essential kitchen gear here. They’re excellent in smoothies, salads and sandwiches. What’s great is they provide some of the most concentrated (and least expensive nutrition) of any ingredient. Sprouting options are legion, and include jars, baskets, trays, mesh bags, and more.
I prefer to grow sprouts in old-school one quart wide-mouth Ball jars with stainless mesh screens and plastic lids. Sprouting times vary based on type of seed. Most varieties are simple to grow on your kitchen counter and can be harvested in five days or less. To start your sprouts, add seeds to the jar, fill with water, and allow the seeds to soak underwater overnight. The next morning, drain the jar. Then, fill and empty the jar to rinse the seeds twice per day until sprouts fill the jar.
Natural or indirect lighting in your kitchen is all you need for photosynthesis. When it is time to harvest, use a pair of forks to fluff and separate your sprouts. Use a salad spinner to separate the sprouts from seed hulls if desired. I purchase my organic sprouts and sprouting supplies from Sprout People, based on long term satisfaction with their superior germination rates. My favorite sprouts are broccoli seeds, mung beans, and Italian and French seed mixes.
Stand mixers are wonderful for a variety of reasons. They can mix dough or mash potatoes. They’re perfect for products that are too delicate or thick to process in a blender, like pancake batter, cake mixes, or creams. This things would take too much time and effort to mix by hand, so the mixer is perfect! Most home blenders include attachments designed to mix, knead, whisk and whip, such as a wire whip, flat beater, and dough hook.
As you may have guessed from my other product recommendations, I prefer the most robust kitchen products available, and my 8 quart KitchenAid® KSM8990NP Commercial Series stand mixer is no exception. KitchenAid® offers stand mixers for home use with bowl capacities from 3.5 quarts to 8 quarts. A 5 or 6 quart model is more than adequate for home use. These machines are offered with many accessory and attachment options and two primary designs: bowl lift and tilt-head.
I prefer the bowl lift models, since they more easily fit beneath overhead cabinets on kitchen countertops. In addition to standard attachments, I use the optional juicer, spiralizer, grain mill, and ice cream maker attachments with my KitchenAid® stand mixer.
When I first used tofu, I opened the package, cut it into cubes, cooked it, and then wondered why my result was so inferior to what I came to enjoy at my favorite restaurant. Tofu is sold in blocks with varying amounts of water, depending on brand and firmness. I soon learned that a requirement for tasty tofu is squeezing the water from the block before cooking.
With increased product density from reduced water, tofu can be cooked crispier and with the texture and mouth feel of meat. After removing the water, you can also rehydrate tofu with flavor by soaking it in a marinade. There are two options to press water out of tofu. The first involves placing the tofu block between two plates. Then, you press out the water by weighting down the top plate with a brick. The second method uses a tofu press. The press uses pressure from springs or tension knobs to squeeze out water without creating a liquid mess.
There are many good, inexpensive tofu presses on the market – I found the spring models to be fastest and most convenient, and use a combined tofu press/marinating model made by TofuXpress®.
To become an accomplished plant based chef, you should also consider acquiring:
- Mixing bowls – I use a good set of nested stainless bowls for reduced weight and space.
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Serving and food prep utensils, including metal and silicone spatulas, wooden spoons and spatulas, ladles and serving spoons, basting bulb and brush, tongs and whisks.
- Colanders and strainers
- Full size and portable cutting board
- Several rimmed baking trays, 5” x 7” loaf pans and 8” x 8” baking pans or similar
- Glass baking dishes
- Small glass bottles for herbs and spices, with larger containers for often-used herbs, spices, and mixtures
- Gadgets, including a citrus zester, orange, lemon and lime squeezers, garlic press, apple corer, peelers, and more
Eric O’Grey is an inspirational speaker with a bachelor of science in finance from San Jose State University and a juris doctor from Emory University. Eric enjoys long-distance running with his dog, Jake; gourmet plant-based cooking; and spending time with his wife, Jaye.
He is passionate about animal kindness, plant-based nutrition, and helping others reverse obesity and achieve their optimal weight and happiness. Learn more about Eric and his initiatives at EricandPeety.com and in his new book, Walking with Peety.