Inching toward vegetarianism: The 15 Essentials to a Vegetarian Kitchen

And the craziest thing is that folks who know me are still in shock: I was that girl at the dinner table that loathed vegetables. I made faces when others ordered them too! But here I am, a full fledged granola-kale-hemp seed card carrying vegetarian. Ten months and counting. And I've never lived more gloriously. I feel healthier and more radiant than ever before. And an added and unintended benefit, I've lost weight. Wanting to be healthier meant paying attention to how I fueled my body and that's the real reason for my shift.  However amazing though, I can't say the transition was easy--the only vegetable I ate prior to the shift was the potato, and more likely, it was fried. 

But since stepping into this veggie universe, I've discovered an abundance of options. This vegetarian culinary world rocks! I am still excitedly discovering the cornucopia of vegetables and in the process making new and delectable vegan and vegetarian dishes that have become the rock stars of our table.

My journey into vegetarianism--no fish, no animal meat, only good 'ol veggies--has been filled with wonderful and admittedly not so wonderful. Sometimes, I've no idea what the hell I am doing and poor kids, they have had to eat what I eat. The learning curve-- nutritious foods for a woman of a certain age, and two growing boys--has been exciting and everyday I pick up a new tip. No vegetarian is the same, just like no meat eating person (yes you carnivore reading this) is the same so I journey this one solo.

Becoming a vegetarian is an extremely individual journey, which makes it for fun and at times, admittedly lonely, especially if you are the only one of your friends (or family) who is a vegetarian.

But here's the thing: If you're inching your way toward eating more veggies, you not only have to make space in your head, heart, stomach and shopping cart for more vegetables, but it will require a kitchen make-over. Here are the 15 Essentials to your new vegetarian kitchen: 

I sat down with Chef Jabao, a 25-year old New York native, who is a cook at the popular Lower East Side vegan and vegetarian Asian eatery, Tiengarden. Besides being a chef, Jabao is also a martial arts practitioner and trainer--he is in incredible shape despite or because he has been vegan for the past four years he says. He broke down the 15 essentials to get your kitchen right for yummilicous vegetarian dishes.

  1. Knife: You will be doing a lot more chopping and not all knives are created equal. You'll need a well constructed knife that is strong, medium to large size and made  for slicing & chopping If you can get your hands on a porcelain knife, better. And why, because who knew, the way you cut a vegetable and with what you cut it can maximize its flavor (who knew.) 
  2. Cutting board: Steer away from plastic or glass and get a good bamboo board. Its sustainable and ages really well. When plastic starts to fall apart, bits of it may end up in your meals. 
  3. Wok: A nice deep wok that can cook vegetables fast to maintain more nutrients. You don't want to spend hours cooking your veggies, that is how they loose nutrients.
  4. Steamers: And make sure that you get a nice one. You can steam lovely with broths that seep into your veggies.
  5. Cast iron pot: An essential that will cook well on all sides.
  6. Ladle: I know, I thought this was a strange essential, but apparently, you will be making lots of soups and broths and transferring liquid. And a ladle also happens to double as a measuring cup.
  7. Rice cooker: When cooking different kinds of grains -- and you always want to do that - the rice cooker will steam all the grains the same  so no uneven rice. Hate that!
  8. Tea pot: Herbs and teas will be part of your new life so a nice tea pot, it may inspire a new tea time.
  9. Mortar & pestle: In the Caribbean Spanish, it's called el pilon, In Mexico it's molcajete, a mortar made out of volcanic rock. You will be grinding a lot more herbs and spices so get a good and pretty one too.
  10. Sea salt: Works wonders on bland dishes and it has less sodium and essential minerals.
  11. Chia seeds: This tiny South American import and food of the Aztecs is the most phenomenal addition to the North American diet--it's not only nutritious but it's soluble and insoluble and is fibrous. 
  12.  Gluten Free Soy Sauce: Only get if you are interested in adding Asian flair to your dishes. Very necessary.
  13. Sesame Oil: Great for Asian inspired dishes, and amazing as a base for salad dressings as well as stir frying.
  14. Coconut oil: Coconut is not called the miracle fruit for nothing. In addition to all of its nutritional value, you can eat it, cook with it, use it on skin, hair and makes a great repellent in the summer as well as sun protector.
  15. Fresh veggies: Never, ever, eat canned veggies. Only in an emergency can you get frozen. You want off the farm and local greens. Best way to be nourished by the nutrients is to get them fresh. When possible shop for organic and non GMO greens.