Healthy Kitchen Essentials

I've been a whole food-eating, granola-making, vegetable-munching, lentil-loving person for as long as I can remember. After working in a vegetarian cafe and juice bar, a health food store, spending a summer as an organic vegetable gardener, a vegetarian cook in a large natural foods co-op, and now in a vegan raw food cafe, it's safe to say that I'm pretty interested in healthy food.  I also like to grow healthy food, but that's a different story for a different day. My passion for cooking was something that began at a young age and is continuing to strengthen as I experiment with new ingredients and techniques. I've also had to learn how to continue to make nourishing food on a conservative budget because I refuse to sacrifice eating well, but I also refuse to to go broke on a fifteen dollar block of cheese. I believe it is possible to eat well on a budget and with the right kitchen essentials, the possibilities are endless...and delicious, if I do say so myself. So here are some of the ingredients you'll probably see in my kitchen at any given point in time.

Vegetables and Fruit
I always have a ton of fresh vegetables and fruits in my kitchen. I build my dishes on the produce that's available. I buy whatever is in season or looks good at the natural foods co-op and farmers markets. Fresh vegetables and fruits account for most of my grocery bill.

I use them all. Lentils, chickpeas, white beans, kidney beans, and black beans are all within reach when I'm cooking. I wrote a great post about cooking dried beans here. I prefer using dried beans because they're cheaper, don't have added salt, and I can avoid the BPA lined cans.

Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds...they can be added to so many things. They're full of good fats and protein.

Whole Grains
I always have a variety of grains to choose from. My favorites are wheat berries, brown rice, quinoa, Arborio rice, farro, and oats, but I love to experiment with others. They're all so good for you and really can bulk up any dish. Whole wheat pasta,buckwheat, and brown rice noodles are also excellent. 

Eggs, Yogurt, Cheese, Butter, Ghee
Local free range organic eggs, grass fed local yogurt,  raw grass-fed cheese, and organic pastured butter are necessities in my kitchen, in moderation.  I steer clear from conventional dairy products that contain hormones and antibiotics. I also disagree entirely with the conventional treatment of innocent animals. However, I also appreciate the health benefits of truly humane and high quality animal products. I believe it's worth the money to spend on the quality local products, plus it's important to support our farmers who work so hard to provide us quality food.

Although I consider myself mostly vegetarian, I choose to incorporate fish into my diet. It's so healthy (essential Omega 3's!) and delicious and I didn't see a point in depriving myself. I try to eat the most sustainably sourced fish, because they're healthier and better for the environment. Living in Seattle, I have access to some of the country's best fish, with practically an unlimited supply of wild Alaskan salmon.

Extra virgin olive oil is great for light sauteing, drizzling, and dressings. Toasted sesame oil is wonderful on green vegetables. Unrefined coconut oil is a wonderful substitute for butter in many recipes. Nut oils, like hazelnut and walnut oils are perfect finishing oils. I stay away from any refined oils, and that includes canola oil. If I can't easily explain how the oils are made, then I don't want to use them.

Herbs and Spices 
Whether they're fresh or dried, herbs add that flavor that can't be achieved any other way. Basil, sage, thyme, and rosemary are great. And spices, well, there are just so many that I'm just starting to discover their awesomeness. I'll also add garlic to this category. Without it, my life would be incomplete.

Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables are incredibly nutrient dense and full of important minerals that many people do not get in their every day diet. While sea vegetables are seen as foreign by many people, it's so important to follow the lead of the  long-living Japanese and use these nutrient powerhouses in a regular basis. My favorites are nori, dulse, wakame, and arame. Use them in soups, salads, and for sushi of course. They're so delicious! Don't be fooled by the seaweed salads found at sushi restaurants, however. They are filled with preservatives and artificial coloring. Instead, seek out natural seaweed salad mixtures found at well stocked health food stores.

Flours and Sweeteners
Whole grain flours are the only flours I bake with. I also avoid refined sugar, so I stick with rapadura sugar, raw honey,  pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, and maple sugar.

Tea and Herbal Teas
I love tea. It's packed with antioxidants and it relaxes me and warms me up in the winter. I'm seriously addicted to green tea.  I live for the stuff.  Right now I'm really into high quality matcha tea. My other favorites include white peony, jasmine, peppermint,and chamomile, but I love trying all types.

Miscellaneous Foods and Condiments
In no particular order or category, here are some foods that I can't do without in the kitchen:
Olives, sun dried tomatoes, Dijon mustard, vinegars of all sorts, organic coconut milk, miso,  dried fruits, jarred whole tomatoes and crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, red curry paste, dark chocolate, and wine (to cook with and drink, of course).
There are many other essentials that I use, but this list is quite long. As you can see, I strive for whole, natural, minimally processed food. They are nourishing ingredients for the most healthy and delicious dishes and are a joy to work with. Adding some of them to your kitchen can put you on the path to wellness.