Favorite Kitchen Equipment and Tools for the Vegan Kitchen
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Hi there! Before we begin today's post which is perfect for the gadget crazy like me, I have to share this AH-MAZING blog in which we were featured this week, I'm talking about The Minimalist Vegan created by Masa and Michael Ofei. A blog I've been recently obsessed with, so you can only imagine the happy dance I did when we were suddenly included in this incredible roundup of 50+ High Quality Vegan Blogs Worth Following.
Not only am I a super huge fan of the work Masa and Michael are doing, but we're in this collection along with so many of my idols of the vegan blogging world like Oh She Glows, Faring Well, No Meat Athlete, The First Mess, Vegan Yack Attack, Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Life, Kris Carr and so many others I now know thanks to this wonderful article. The Minimalist Vegan in itself is such a great place to hang out in, they've inspired me to live a simpler life not only in the kitchen but beyond. Their energy, vibe and stunning photography is a total treat, and you can download their FREE cookbook here and start enjoying some of their yummy recipes at home. I couldn't be more honored to be included in their blog and among such talented vegans!
Ok, now that announcements are done and I've hopefully inspired you to check out their links, let's get started with today's topic: kitchen tools!
In spite of the fact that we're going to spend this entire post talking about gadgets and equipment for the vegan kitchen, I feel it's my duty to tell you that good home cooking requires very little to be delicious. In a sense, cooking deliciously requires a simple set of pots and pans, a goof knife, a good cutting board and especially good ingredients. By good I don't mean fancy ingredients, or foods you can only order from specialty shops, I'm talking about quality. I'm talking about buying the most flavorful tomato you can get your hands on at the market, and the good news is that when it comes to flavor, fruits and veggies are always at their most flavorful when it's the peak of their season, meaning they're also plentiful and much less expensive. When it comes to cooking at home, I always spend my money on great ingredients, a great array of spices, oils, vinegars, fruits, veggies, beans and grains so that I have great variety and can feel I have a fully stocked fridge and pantry to experiment with. Having said that, of course your life in the kitchen will be easier and also more fun if you have the right equipment, and that's the idea behind today's post, but I felt it was my culinary duty to remove the fear and excuse of "I don't have the right equipment right now" from your mind, which so often prevents us from actually getting into the kitchen. The greatest home cooks in the world, and by greatest I mean those Italian grandmothers, women in small villages deep in rural Spain, or great-grandma's making curries with just a mortar and pestle and an old pot in small towns in India, they all create flavor and spectacular dishes with almost no equipment.
In a way, kitchen equipment is like having great paint brushes if you're an artist. Painters would be nothing if they had the best, most expensive paint brushes in the world but lacked creativity and used only 3 colors of paint. Equipment will always be secondary to ingredients and your own creativity and taste buds, but when a painter has inspiration, lots of beautiful colors and mixes, AND some pretty cool painter's tools to boot, well let's just say things can get fun.
In today's post I'm going to give you a rundown of some of my favorite kitchen tools, what they're used for and the brands I like. In none of these cases am I affiliated with any of these products, nor do I get a kickback from recommending them to you, these are just the ones I've enjoyed using or have heard great things about. My selection will range from very inexpensive to almost professional grade and therefore pricey. This doesn't mean that the home cook, budget friendly brands are bad, and it also doesn't mean that you need all of these tools. When I started cooking all I had in the form of equipment was a $70 Phillips blender (which I still have and use today by the way), a knife, a cutting board and a set of pots and pans. I cooked for years with this alone. With some of the tools mentioned below, no brand is mentioned because any choice within your budget will suffice. For others, where a brand is recommended, I'm providing links to Amazon just as a jumping off point and so you can take a look at photos and reviews of these products. Always check local stores in your area too, as you might sometimes find great deals in these items.
Are you ready? Once you take out the gadget geek in me out to play there's almost no stopping me, so don't say I didn't warn ya!
A good chef's knife
No tool in the vegan kitchen is as essential as a good chef's knife and this is a good example of where I do recommend spending a bit more for the good stuff since a well looked after knife can literally last you a lifetime. If you've seen chefs in movies take care of their knives and pack them away carefully after every night in the kitchen, this is not a Hollywood thing. Once you find the knife you love, you look after it like they were the nuclear codes. In fact each cook in professional kitchens is expected to bring their own set of knives on the first day on the job and every day after. The good news is as vegan cooks many of the knives that come in a traditional set are not needed (there are no bones to hack into for instance), you can completely get away with buying just one good chef's knife, a serrated knife for bread, and perhaps a small paring knife for peeling certain fruits or accomplishing small intricate tasks.
Although European knives are fantastic and some people prefer them (they are very sturdy, but can also be heavy), my favorites are Japanese knives like the Kasumi. Japanese knives are lightweight and give people with smaller hands (like me), more ease in movement, plus the blade makes you feel like a samurai which is always a plus. Just don't use a Japanese blade to hack into tough fruits like coconuts or very hard squashes. You can keep a less expensive knife for these kinds of tasks and protect your samurai blade for where it does make a difference.
Things to avoid: Never put your amazing chef's knife in the dishwasher, treat it with care and keep the blade sharpened and honed. Don't just dump it in a drawer, use a butcher's block or keep it wrapped in its case. Avoid buying big sets of knives, you're better off buying one good one than 5 or 8 standard knives that eventually will fail you.
A Honing Steel
Keep your blades sharp by using a honing steel every time you cook. This won't sharpen the blade (you'll need a run-through sharpener -manual or electric-, or a whetstone for that), it will simply maintain its sharp edge for longer. Be diligent about using it every time you cook. If you do this every day you'll be able to avoid having your knives professionally sharpened as often.
A bamboo cutting board
Just as important as your knife, is your cutting board. Use a thick, large, and heavy cutting board to make chopping a total pleasure and prevent accidents. The two cutting boards I've had for YEARS are both bamboo cutting boards and are heavy and almost don't fit in my sink, but I wouldn't change them for any other cutting board on the planet. They aren't by a famous brand, I just went to a kitchen supply store and found the largest, heaviest bamboo cutting board there was. Best money I ever spent in my kitchen. It makes all the difference, you'll see my favorite one in any of our cooking videos.
Recommended bamboo cutting board: Any large, heavy, thick (this part is important), and sturdy cutting board will work, I found mine in a kitchen supply store, and it cost me around $40. I've never had to buy another.
Things to avoid: Don't leave food on your cutting board, aka, wipe it down or wash it after every use. Don't put it in the dishwasher. Say bye bye to glass cutting boards (they're a thing of the past and you're very prone to have an accident when using one). In my opinion same goes for plastic cutting boards (unless you're still cutting meats in your house). If this is the case, keep a plastic cutting board solely for this purpose and make sure to clean and disinfect it thoroughly. Leave your bamboo one for fruits and veggies only.
A Mandolin Slicer
One of the most ignored kitchen tools by home cooks and to me one of the most important ones if you want to elevate your cooking. This tool will allow you to vary up your knife cuts, and create different textures, not to mention help save you time and create uniformity in certain cuts that are harder to do with a knife. Good news is they're very inexpensive.
Things to avoid: Avoid placing it in the dishwasher and wash it by hand immediately after use. It's very easy to clean.
A food processor
Next to my knife and cutting board, my life in the kitchen really changed when I got a good food processor. Another tool that is worth a slightly larger investment. Food processors will allow you to make delicious sauces, pestos, chop things really finely, make a variety of vegan cheeses, your own nut butters, pie fillings, pie dough, pizza dough, and anything else that requires chopping or creaming things up. Food processors are different from blenders, blenders will give you a creamy texture in things that are meant to be extremely smooth (think smoothies and soups), and food processors allow for chopping beforehand, and some creamy action as well (think salsas, dips, creamy sauces and cheeses, or a quick chop of vegetables to use for other dishes). Food processors almost always come with a grater and slicer attachment as well.
Recommended food processor (mid-price range): Kitchen Aid
Recommended food processor (professional range): The Robot Coupe Blixer (very expensive but it can basically grind a shoe! A wonderful tool if you like making vegan cheeses, nut butters in seconds, and these types of foods).
Things to avoid: Avoid buying a cheap version of a food processor, it's better to save up the money and buy any of the better known food processors that have a powerful motor. The two above are my favorites, but other good brands include Magimix and Cuisinart. Always buy one that has a large bowl and large blade as well as a small bowl and small blade. The grating and slicing attachments are also vey helpful if they're included.
Mixing bowls and mise en place bowls
Mise en place is the French term used to describe the act of getting all your ingredients measured out, washed, dried, cut and organized before beginning a recipe. It's a great habit to get into and it saves so much time in the kitchen and especially reduces stress while cooking, making it more enjoyable. For this you'll need a variety of bowls in many different sizes, from large mixing bowls for using in the actual process, to medium sized ones for smaller tasks, as well as a wide variety of small and tiny bowls for holding ingredients.
Measuring cups and spoons
I grew up with the typical pyrex measuring cup that had lines marking the different measurements. Although this is perfectly useful and they tend to be quite durable, I much prefer individual and separate measuring cups and spoons since you can use the same measuring cup to scoop out ingredients, and levelling off the ingredient at the top will ensure the most precise measurement (which is important, especially in baking). It also means they're lighter and you have several to use at the same time in a recipe, avoiding the constant washing and drying of a large measuring cup. Same goes for my recommendation of buying a set of measuring spoons which are much more precise than using actual spoons or teaspoons from your cutlery set.
Recommended measuring cups and spoons: any will do, stainless steel ones are more durable than plastic. Here's a cool set that includes both.
Things to avoid: If you cook a lot, buy at least two or three sets of each to make your life easier in the kitchen.
Blenders and High Powered Blenders
Although I use my food processor much more often than my blender, it's an absolute must have, especially if you enjoy making smoothies, soups, and anything that needs to be creamed up really well and is mostly liquid based. They also help with pulverizing spices or other ingredients (I pulverize dried mushrooms in my blender and add them to veggie burgers for example), and of course the high powered blenders are incredibly versatile tools that will save enormous amounts of time in the kitchen and provide a creamy texture like no other (ideal for creamy cheeses, cheese sauces, perfectly smooth soups, creams, gravies, sorbets, etc).
High speed blenders are very expensive, so if one isn't in your budget yet, a good standard blender will do just fine. In our cooking videos and classes at Brownble we've always shown techniques that require blending in the standard blender I recommend below.
Recommended traditional blender: The Phillips blender with a smoothie setting with a filter attachment (sold for crushing ice but perfect for grinding spices). I bought it so long ago that it might be hard to find now, the key is trying to buy a Blender that has a motor blending power of 600W or above, like this one, also by Phillips. Traditional 400W blenders can perform many tasks as well, but if you go over 600W you'll be in smoothie heaven without the cost of a high powered blender. This Oster blender also fills the criteria but I haven't personally tried it, same goes for this Hamilton Beach blender.
Things to avoid: Keep in mind that the Vitamix blender originally came with a very tall glass that wouldn't fit on your counter if you had any cupboards above it, they've since made a newer shorter and wider model that is much easier to find a place for in the kitchen, measure your space before choosing the right high-speed blender since they tend to have a bigger base than traditional ones.
An immersion blender
Traditionally used for soups, this is a manual tool that allows you to blend or purée a soup right in the pot. This is a task that can also be achieved by simply adding your soup to the standard blender, but here's where an immersion blender really comes in handy: 1) You control how much to purée in case you just want to purée some of the soup (there is more control than with a blender), and 2) MA-YO-NNAISE!! You can make fantastic eggless mayo at home using this tool, as well as tartar sauces and homemade aiolis. You also have an easier time cleaning this handheld blender than the standard blender, which is always a plus, and also great when making small batches of foods like salad dressings.
Recommended immersion blender: The Phillips hand blender with a 650W motor. For a less expensive brand you might also enjoy the Kitchen Aid Hand blender Empire which has excellent reviews at a lesser price.
Things to avoid: Make sure your immersion blender comes with the glass or plastic long thin beaker for blending in, especially if you'll be making mayonnaise at home.
A Tofu Press
This little tool makes pressing tofu a snap, and it provides a dreamy tofu texture like no other method! Fellow blogger Sam Turnbull of the awesome vegan blog It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken recently wrote a post titled The Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tofu (video included!) all about tofu presses and her discoveries using different methods so make sure to check it out.
Things to avoid: Patience is the name of the game! Plan ahead and let that tofu press really well before using it in certain dishes that call for pressing (not all tofu recipes require this). If you want a firm slice and aren't crumbling your tofu (say for a scramble), make sure you use super firm or extra firm tofu as the other types will crack under the pressure.
A Vegetable Spiralizer
A very inexpensive tool that will allow you to create noodles out of vegetables and fruits for delicious healthy meals, and especially to add variety in presentation and texture. These are so simple to use and quite fun. The more expensive ones will provide more sizes in the noodles that come out, but a simple inexpensive one will do the trick.
Recommended spiralizer: The Spiralizer 5 blade vegetable slicer.
Things to avoid: Wash your spiralizer right after use to avoid bits of vegetables from getting stuck in the grating attachments, as well as stains from the juices that might come out of certain veggies.
A more expensive and advanced piece of equipment, ideal if you're into more advanced techniques like using food powders (the ground up powders from dehydrated fruits and veggies), varying the textures within cooked dishes (aka adding both fresh and dried versions of ingredients to create certain effects in a dish), or if you're exploring raw vegan cooking.
Things to avoid: Avoid round dehydrators as the air circulates in a less efficient way. Always try to purchase a dehydrator with the heating units in the back of the dehydrator to achieve the best air circulation and results.
A Pasta Machine
Great if you love making your own fresh pasta at home, and such a fun and versatile machine if you're an Italian food lover like me. You can use it to make almost any kind of pasta, from filled pastas to lasagna sheets and of course spaghetti, fettuccine and the works.
Things to avoid: Clear up your counters well before using it or make your pasta in a large table, lots of pasta sheets will start coming out of this baby, and space and organization are key. Don't be intimidated though! Making pasta as home is very simple and so much fun.
A Coffee or Spice Grinder (for grinding spices)
Curry freaks like me will appreciate having this tool in the kitchen. There's nothing like grinding your own spice blends and for this, you can buy any basic coffee or spice grinder.
These are handy tools if you love to bake. Although many vegan desserts rely on simply using a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl, having an electric mixer will give you so many additional options when it comes to the desserts you can make. Handheld mixers are inexpensive and my favorites for making whipped cream or a simple quick frosting. A more advanced countertop mixer is perfect for just about anything you may need in baking, especially whipping up aquafaba, a big batch of frosting, creaming up butter and sugar for moist cakes, and the number one way I use my mixer: making pizza dough and bread without kneading by hand.
Recommended handheld mixer: The Kitchen Aid 5 speed
Recommended countertop electric mixer (mid-range): The Cheftronic Mixer
Recommended countertop electric mixer (higher end): The Kitchen Aid Artisan
Things to avoid: Although most include this attachment, make sure your mixer comes with a dough hook, the attachment used for kneading doughs in the mixer. If choosing a different brand than the ones mentioned above, check the reviews and be on the lookout for whether the paddles reach the bottom and sides of the bowl well or badly, this is the most important factor when choosing a mixer.
An electric griddle
If pancakes are a part of your life like they are mine, an electric griddle will be your new best friend. You'll get to make a big batch of pancakes all at once, as well as things like grilled cheese sandwiches, paninis, not to mention "grilling" veggies indoors. In our house however there is a golden rule: the griddle is only used for pancakes and making English muffins or other pan breads like naan. That way you get to keep it in pristine condition and your pancakes will never stick. An inexpensive tool that will help you a ton if you have a big family or are a pancake stack eater!
Things to avoid: Wash it carefully with a sponge and then wipe off and dry it well, use minimal oil on it, and never let water touch the electrical circuit.
An outdoor grill /and or grill pan
One of my favorite cooking tools for both grilling and smoking, but with the only problem that you need to have an outdoor space to grill in. If you don't, buying a cast iron grill pan like the Le Creuset will give you a nice char and grill marks on your foods and a very similar flavor, but if you do have the space, a grill is not reserved only for meat eaters!
Recommended outdoor grill: Any gas or charcoal grill within your budget will work. Charcoal ones give a smokier flavor but are harder to light and clean. Gas grills tend to be used a bit more frequently because of this issue but you don't get the charcoal flavor. We've had both and have settled on gas for its larger surface area and ease of use. What you want in a grill is the direct contact with the fire and heat, and both will provide that.
Note that I didn't mention pots, pans, woks, dutch ovens, pressure cookers or slow cookers in this post. There's just so much to say about them that we'll be dedicating a future post and episode to these soon.
There are so many simple and also more advanced tools I didn't get the chance to mention, but with these you'll have an awesome kickstart to your home cooking, always remembering the golden rule: good ingredients, creativity and practice in the kitchen are far more important than having all the latest gadgets. These serve a purpose and they make cooking simpler and more fun, but all you need to start cooking is the desire to head in there and create something yummy.
For other tools and ways to expand your culinary knowledge, you may want to check out our cooking gift guide, a recent post we wrote to help you celebrate with the cooks in your life. Plenty of simple tools, plans, inspiration and books for the cooking aficionado are included there.