It's National Vegetarian Week, so if you've been thinking about going veggie, now's the perfect time to start. But even if you are firmly a meat-eater and always will be, it goes without saying that most of us could do with consuming less meat and incorporating more plants into our diets. Although the number of people turning to a vegan lifestyle is rising rapidly, it won't be for everyone, which is why a vegetarian approach is a great happy medium, offering a little more flexibility to a plant-based lifestyle. We've rounded up 10 essential ingredients to stock up on which are brilliant to have on hand, allowing you to knock up a delicious meal at a moment's notice.
You might have dabbled in making your own hummus but chickpeas can be used to create loads of different meals and snacks. Throw them into a vegetable or lentil curry to increase protein, process them with herbs and spices to make falafels or roast them in the oven to make a healthier alternative to crisps. You can even make healthy cookie dough! It sounds mad but trust us - just google it!
There are countless meat substitutes available these days including sausages, nuggets, bacon and burgers, many of which are very realistic. However, the best all-rounder, cost-effective and least processed product has to be good old tofu. Extremely versatile, tofu is loved by meat-eaters and meat-avoiders alike thanks to its satisfying texture. It can be cut into cubes and fried before being tossed into a stir fry or served on top of rice, it can be blended to make meatballs or crumbled to make vegan scrambled eggs.
If you have eggs then you can almost always put together a meal, even if it's just an omelette or frittata, which are also fantastic ways to use up leftover vegetables and cheese. Leftover rice or potato dishes can be made into a more complete meal by adding a poached or fried egg on top, or you can even boil them and make them the protein element of a curry instead of chicken. Got some tinned tomatoes? Then a shakshuka is one of the easiest and most delicious things you can make with minimal ingredients.
Oats aren't just for porridge! You can blend them into smoothies to up the fibre and protein content, whizz them up to make oat flour for unrefined baking or even throw in a small handful into chillies, soups and stews to thicken them up. Homemade flapjacks and granola are also a great way to use up oats and you can control what goes into them if you find supermarket versions too sweet.
You might only be used to eating mushrooms alongside a cooked breakfast or in a stroganoff but they're a lot more versatile than you think. If you're craving something meaty, mushrooms can be blitzed in a food processor with oats and breadcrumbs to make satisfying meatballs. Use mushrooms as pie filling, in a savoury strudel, in a stir fry or even in a curry to up the plant-based protein content.
We couldn't write about a vegetarian diet without mentioning lentils. This little protein-packed pulse can do a lot more than just lentil soup and there are countless ways to use the various varieties. Brown or puy lentils offer a more al dente texture when cooked and magically soak up flavours, making them excellent for hearty warm or cold salads. They can also be processed into veggie meatballs along with oats and breadcrumbs. Red lentils are typically used in lentil soup but can also make the most delicious and warming curries and daals. Lentils are also very useful for adding a meat-like texture to a vegetarian bolognaise or chilli, bulking them up at very little cost.
Cheese has a way of making everything better with very little effort. Leftover veggies can be stuffed into bread with slices of cheese and turned into a sumptuous toasty. Homemade pizza is super simple to make and helps you utilise basically anything in your fridge - you can skip the yeast and rising process if you're short on time. Got some puff pastry to hand? Chuck on in-season vegetables and a generous scattering of cheese for a simple supper.
Open any recipe book and you'll be hard-pressed to find a dish that doesn't call for onions. Used as a base for countless recipes, onions add a rich, savoury profile that is essential for building flavour. Family favourites like tomato-based pasta sauces, chillies, stews and curries all start with frying off an onion, but onions are also great in their own right - steep them in vinegar to make pickles that liven up any sandwich or caramelise them in the oven and serve as a side dish.
Every kitchen up and down the country is guaranteed to have a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes squirreled away in the cupboard, and with good reason. Tinned tomatoes are especially essential when fresh tomatoes are out of season, giving a rich tomatoey flavour to pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, ragu and shakshuka.
When in doubt, throw in some fresh herbs to take any dish to the next level. Coriander adds freshness to rich curries, and basil is perfect in cheese and tomato sandwiches, or scattered on top of an otherwise boring shop-bought pizza. Try adding oregano and mint to a feta salad for a refreshing edge, or pulse in parsley when making veggie meatballs.