The Best Vegan Buys at Aldi

I am unashamed to say it: I am obsessed with Aldi. I’m not quite sure what I did before this strange, German grocery store chain popped into my life, but I would be lost without it now.

Aldi definitely has its quirks, like requiring a quarter to get your shopping cart (don’t worry, you get it back) or encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags by charging for their plastic and paper bags. But this mild learning curve is worth it for amount of high-quality (and often organic) vegan food you can purchase at extremely low prices.

The company has even recognized their customers’ demands for vegan-friendly foods and it inspired them to launch the Earth Grown brand of 100 percent vegan products.

When I switched from regularly shopping at Publix to Aldi, I literally slashed my grocery spending in half. Admittedly, Aldi doesn’t always have ever single item I want — and I sometimes stop off at another grocery store to grab ingredients like bok choy or garam masala — but the bulk of my purchases come from Aldi.

Read below to see what my favorite finds are at Aldi. I haven’t included some of the obviously vegan options (such as fresh produce or bags of dry beans and rice) but instead of have chosen to highlight specific products that I regularly use and think you would enjoy too.

Aldi Finds

The unique thing about Aldi is that while it has a swath of regularly available products, they also have “Aldi Finds” which are a rotating stock of products that change weekly. You can find out ahead of time in their sales paper what will be available and there are often a swath of vegan-friendly options.

My favorites:

  • Earth Grown meat alternatives (Meatless Meatballs, Chickenless Patties, Jumbo Hot Dogs)
  • Wonder Drink Kombucha (Traditional, Cherry Black Currant)
  • Simply Nature Peanut Butter Powder (Original, Chocolate)
  • Friendly Farms Non-Dairy Almond Vanilla Creamer
  • Earth Grown Vegan Mozzarella-Style Shreds
  • Burman’s Eggless Mayo-Style
  • Barissimo Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
  • Earth Grown veggie burgers (Quinoa Crunch, Black Bean Chipotle)
  • Deutsche Küche Bavarian Soft Pretzels

Pantry Basics

Aldi is the perfect place to stock up your pantry with healthy products. There’s a wealth of vegan staples like pasta, grains, beans, condiments, and breads to choose from.

My favorites:

  • Priano Gnocchi (Whole Wheat, Potato)
  • Simply Nature Organic Marinara Pasta Sauce
  • Seedtastic 21 Whole Grains & Seeds Bread
  • Earthly Grains Quick Cook Bulgur and Quinoa Blend
  • Casa Mamita Fat-Free Refried Beans
  • Pueblo Lindo Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • Fusia Green Sriracha
  • Simply Nature Vegetable Broth
  • Fusia Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce

Refrigerated and Frozen

The refrigerated section in Aldi has plenty of options, including non-dairy milks and veggie-based dips. Don’t forget to hit up the freezer aisle to grab a few bags of frozen vegetable medleys and fruit blends to keep on-hand for quick meals.

My favorites:

  • Little Salad Bar Hummus (Roasted Garlic, Classic, Roasted Red Pepper, Flavor Quartet)
  • Season’s Choice Steamed Quinoa (Fiesta, Kale)
  • Friendly Farms Almond Milk (Unsweetened Original, Chocolate)
  • Little Salad Bar Chunky Guacamole
  • Season’s Choice Asian Blend Steamed Couscous
  • Friendly Farms Coconut Milk
  • Little Salad Bar Kosher Pickle Spears

Snacks and Drinks

Have company coming over? Aldi has got you covered! Their line of snacks, with everything from nut mixes to crackers and chips, can keep your guests satisfied. Also check out their La Croix knock-off’s wide range of fun flavors.

My favorites:

  • Simply Nature Green Pea Crisps
  • Clancy’s Original Veggie Straws
  • Fit and Active 100 Calorie Almond and Walnut Snack Packs
  • PurAqua Belle Vie Sparkling Water (Cherry Lime, Blackberry Cucumber, Lemon)
  • Simply Nature Fruit Strips (Strawberry, Raspberry)
  • Clancy’s Pretzel Slims (Original, Everything)

Desserts and Baking

Whether it’s for a school bake sale or just because you’re craving something sweet, Aldi’s baking ingredient section is well-stocked with what you require. Sweeteners, like stevia and fair trade cane sugar, are available and displayed next to a variety of flours and seeds for all your baking needs.

My favorites:

  • Moser Roth Chocolate (Sea Salt, Orange Almond)
  • Simply Nature Chia Seeds
  • Specially Selected 100% Pure Maple Syrup
  • Simply Nature Flax Seeds
  • Simply Nature Light Agave Nectar

Five Must-Dos in New Orleans

New Orleans is my favorite city in the United States and would be my favorite worldwide if it wasn’t for pesky old Glasgow. Since it’s only a five hour drive away from us, and you can literally find a festival or fun event for every weekend of the year, it’s no wonder that it has become our go-to vacation spot. Over the last few years, Peter and I have visited the Big Easy over half a dozen times and have plans to go at least twice in 2019. 

New Orleans is my favorite city in the United States and would be my favorite worldwide if it wasn’t for pesky old Glasgow. Since it’s only a five hour drive away from us, and you can literally find a festival or fun event for every weekend of the year, it’s no wonder that it has become our go-to vacation spot. Over the last few years, Peter and I have visited the Big Easy over half a dozen times and have plans to go at least twice in 2019. 

Even with the ever changing schedule of parades and happenings, there are some constant attractions in New Orleans that guarantee a good time. I’ve created my list of the top five things to do in the city, all of which can be easily accomplished over a long weekend. Keep in mind that I specifically chose activities in or near the French Quarter since that’s where most first-time visitors choose to stay. If you’re looking for more adventure or just want to explore different avenues of New Orleans’ districts, we also really like activities and restaurants in the Lower Garden District and Bywater neighborhoods.

Read on to learn the five fun activities you should include in your next trip to NOLA:

Ghost Tour

Since New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in America, there are approximately a million and one tour companies vying for your business when it comes to ghost tours. Our favorite is French Quarter Phantoms. Their tours are always well-run, not overpriced, and leave you knowing a lot more about the city. The best part? Their tour guides are all told to research their own lore about New Orleans instead of following a script, so no two tours are the same. If ghosts aren’t of interest to you, they also offer some great day-time options like the Saints + Sinners Tour and Garden District Tour.

woman riding ferry in new orleans

Algiers Point

Take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the city and cross the river to visit Algiers Point. Ride the ferry, which lasts about five minutes and costs $2 cash, across the Mississippi River to the little neighborhood. Walk through the streets to find adorable homes with well-tended gardens, locals lounging on their porches, and plenty of friendly cats that aren’t opposed to getting petted. Or walk along the levee for a gorgeous view of the French Quarter. If you’re looking for a drink or snack while you’re on this side of the river, visit One Stone. They have vegan pastries, coffees, and teas all served in a modern cafe filled with local art. 

sign reading "irish cultural museum"

Museums

New Orleans holds a wealth of exciting museums. For history buffs, I can’t recommend the National World War II Museum enough. It’s humongous, full of fascinating displays, and portrays individual soldiers in a very moving way. On a lighter note, culinary buffs will have fun visiting the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. It’s a wacky attraction full of interactive sections covering everything from the history of absinthe to the rise and fall of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain. If you’re looking for more of a short and sweet stop, I’d recommend the Irish Cultural Museum. It’s a free one-room museum that briefly covers the history and contributions of the Irish population in New Orleans. 

pancakes with fruit on top

French Market

While bordering on being a tourist trap, the French Market is still a fun stop on any New Orleans vacation. The outdoor market is jam packed with food stalls, local vendors, artists, and craftspeople. If you’re looking to buy souvenirs for friends back home, you can often find small handmade goods inbetween the flashier (and occasionally trashier) offerings that some vendors offer. When it comes to food, our favorite is the Meals from the Heart Cafe. The little stand is a health conscious cafe serving up vegan-friendly dishes like gumbo, blueberry pancakes (see above), and plant-based crab cakes. 

above ground tomb

Cemetery Sightseeing

It might seem odd to some that I’m recommending looking at graves for fun, but there’s no place where that’s more acceptable than New Orleans. Since the city is below sea level, all of their dead have to be buried above ground, which results in elaborate (and often creepy) burial tombs. Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is definitely the most popular graveyard to visit, with famous inhabitants such as Marie Laveau, NOLA’s first mayor, and even a preemptively purchased plot for Nicolas Cage. You can only visit the cemetery if you’re on a tour, so I recommend going with French Quarter Phantom’s option.  

Baked BBQ Tofu

bbq-tofu

I gotta be honest, now that I live in the ‘burbs I can smell about half of the neighborhood grilling on any given weekend and that has left me craving some smoky foods.

As someone who has zero skills at grilling, and also not enough time or patience to actually learn it, I’ve got to find some other way to get my fix with minimal effort. That’s where my oven comes into play.

Baking tofu leaves it chewy and gives it crispy caramelized edges when sauce is applied. Add extra layers of flavor thanks to a dry rub and pickle juice brine, and you’re set with a plate of BBQ tofu that would be welcome at any cookout.

Since I am a self-admitted BBQ novice, I drew inspiration for this recipe from Food Network’s Rib Dry Rub and the sauce is a riff off an oil-free recipe on Inside Kelly’s Kitchen. Both were great jumping off points for mixing and matching to my family’s tastes.

bbq-tofu-2

Baked BBQ Tofu

Serves 4, 4 slices per serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 blocks firm tofu, drained and pressed
  • 4 cups pickle juice (can be from store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coconut or brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 (8 oz.) can of tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ⅛ teaspoon liquid smoke

Directions:

  1. Cut each block of tofu into 8 ½-inch thick slices. In a shallow casserole dish, layer tofu and pour pickle juice over. Marinate for at least 1 hour, flipping tofu as necessary for all sides to be well coated.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. In a shallow bowl, mix together cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, sugar, black pepper, and white pepper.
  4. Drain tofu and roll each piece in the dry rub mixture. Place tofu on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, yellow mustard, and liquid smoke. Set aside.
  6. Once tofu has baked for 20 minutes, use a basting brush to coat one side of tofu pieces with sauce. Bake for 5 minutes. Flip tofu, baste the other side, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serve with any leftover BBQ sauce on the side.

    Nutrition per serving:
    Calories: 181 Fat: 7.5g Saturated Fat: 1.4g Protein: 17g Carbohydrates: 16g Sugars: 7.8g

Easiest Ever Kimchi

bowl-of-kimchi

I often hesitate to use the word “ever” in a recipe. Descriptions like “The most decadent pie ever,” or “The best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” are just a little bit too over the top because these statements hardly ever turn out to be true. But I kid you not, this recipe for kimchi is the easiest you’ll ever find. You mix up some brine, stir in chopped veggies, and then let it sit out for a while. You’ll be rewarded with salty, funky, and crunchy kimchi that is addictive.

A lot of the ingredients (rice powder, gochugaru pepper flakes, and sesame oil to name a few) that I needed to buy individually (according to kimchi recipes I found in cookbooks) are all ingredients found in gochujang paste. Since I’m on a budget, and didn’t want to buy half a dozen ingredients that I might only use occasionally, I subbed these with a combination of gochujang paste and other condiments.

Now this isn’t by any means a traditional recipe. Honestly, your Korean grandmother might be rolling in her grave right now because of the ingredients list. But even with it taking a different avenue from other versions, the results are a delicious ferment. As with most recipes, feel free to swap out some of the ingredients to make it as spicy, sweet, or tangy as you’d like.

kimchi-bowl

Easiest Ever Kimchi

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 napa cabbages or large bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions (green parts only), chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
  • 10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup gochujang paste

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, onions, and salt. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to sweat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.
  2. Once the cabbage and onions have wilted slightly, add enough water to the bowl to cover the vegetables. Roughly mix the cabbage and onions in the water with your hands (to remove any excess salt that’s left) and then drain well.
  3. Add the drained cabbage and onions to the gochujang mix. Toss with either gloved hands or tongs until everything is well coated. Put the kimchi mixture into 4 clean pint jars, leaving headspace of about 2 inches. Use a fermentation weight to weigh down the top of each jar, ensuring that the cabbage stays underneath the brine. Now you can either cover each of your jars with a regular lid (and ‘burp’ them daily to release excess pressure) or choose airlock lids for less hassle.
  4. Store in a cool place away from sunlight for 3 to 5 days and start checking the taste of the kimchi on the third day. It’s ready once it’s bubbly and tastes delicious. Store in the fridge for up to a year (but I promise it won’t last that long).

Nutrition per serving (1/4 cup):

Calories: 33 Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 6g Sugars: 4g

Adventures in Fermentation (and Some Beginner Cookbook Recommendations)

two canning jars and two fermenting cookbooks on a green background

There’s something about doing things yourself that really makes me happy. Baking bread, creating condiments from scratch, or mixing your own tea blends are all things that I’m gung-ho about. But there’s one food ‘project’ that has really caught my attention lately: fermenting.

My first introduction to fermented foods (not counting the occasional sauerkraut on a veggie dog) was during our honeymoon. We visited the farmers’ market in downtown Austin, Texas which included Buddha’s Brew, a kombucha company with a variety of flavors for sampling. Neither of us had heard of such a thing, but we happily drank up the blueberry version whilst eating tamales and listening to the vendor explain the various health benefits to us.

Fast forward to three years later and nearly every counter in my poor, overworked apartment kitchen is covered in a myriad of jars and bottles containing bubbling ferments. In the last few months (especially thanks to three weeks off in-between jobs) I’ve started to seriously work on developing my fermenting from a fair-weather hobby into a real skill.

gallon jar of kimchi with a hand nearby to show sizeSo far, I’ve perfected my own recipes­—after drawing inspiration from various cookbooks—for lemon-dill sauerkraut, kimchi (see right, blog post coming soon!), and fennel-white peppercorn carrots. Obviously I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can even call myself an experienced fermenter, but I’m excited for the challenge.

Along with just being really delicious, fermented foods have a big health benefit: probiotics. These helpful little gut bacteria can help with an assortment of things, including digestion and boosting your immune system. Every time I have to take antibiotics, no matter the medicine’s strength, I’m always violently ill with a sick stomach. But if I take my meds with fermented foods (I usually drink a glass kombucha in the morning and eat a spoonful of kimchi at night) then my symptoms never get worse than a little nausea. Before, I would run out and purchase these items, but now I can just make my own ferments at home to keep illness at bay.

There are roughly a million other fermentation books that I’d like to add to my cookbook collection, but I’m starting small for now. These are the books that I’ve really been enjoying reading and learning from so far:

Ferment for Good: Ancient Food for the Modern Gut: The Slowest Kind of Fast Food—Author Sharon Flynn has created a career from her passion for fermenting, and you can definitely tell by reading her book. It’s an impassioned beginners guide that covers everything from the equipment you need to what all of the ‘scary’ looking changes are that occur when fermenting foods (most of which are perfectly safe and natural). Not to mention, she has some delicious recipes, most of which come with suggestions on how to mix-and-match ingredients to create your own unique ferments.

Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments—This book is hot! Literally. The recipes range from basic spicy relishes to sophisticated-sounding condiments (Habanero Carrot Sauce, anyone?) and each is sure to impress any heat-lover in your life. If you’re worried about making hot ferments and then not knowing how to use them, they’ve covered that too. There’s an entire chapter with delicious-sounding suggestions for using the recipes.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World-I almost feel silly listing this because it’s such a well known book, but I’m doing it anyway. This is basically the bible of fermenting, written by Sandor Katz, the famed fermentation revivalist who credits these probiotic-rich foods with helping his health after an AIDS diagnosis. At nearly 500 pages, there’s a wealth of knowledge tucked in-between the two covers. Learn about which salts are best to use, traditional methods from a wide range of cultures, how to ferment non-dairy ‘cheese,’ and more!

Seitan Shepherd’s Pie

seitan shepherds pie in a casserole dish

While I’m all about fancy foods and impressive dishes, sometimes it’s hard to beat a good casserole. When I’m craving comfort food and want something that’s easy to make, I turn to a classic: shepherd’s pie.

Although it’s usually made with lamb or beef (hence the name), my favorite filling to make a ‘meaty’ dish is seitan (say-tan). This wheat gluten-based food is packed with protein (actually more than tofu) and touts a short, recognizable ingredients list that you can feel good about. Best part? By making a vegan version of this often over-indulgent dish, each serving comes in at just above 200 calories.

I was lucky enough to have Sweet Earth reach out and send me a goodie bag packed to the brim with their multiple seitan products. Their varieties come in different cuts (strips, slices, or grounds) and there are even flavored versions, all of which are delicious. For this recipe I used their ground seitan, which holds up well in the rich gravy and gives a savory boost to the dish.

seitan shepherds pie in a glass casserole dish

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 (8-oz.) packages white mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. ground seitan (like Sweet Earth Traditional Seitan)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Steam the frozen vegetables and and pour into a 9×13-inch casserole dish.
  3. In a large pan, bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in mushrooms and seitan, cooking until the mushrooms have become tender. Add the seitan mixture into the casserole dish.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together water, milk, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, Italian seasoning, pepper, and cornstarch. Add the sauce mix to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until thickened.
  5. Pour the gravy over the vegetable and seitan mixture and stir together. Spread prepared mashed potatoes on top and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, remove foil, and bake for 15 more minutes. Sprinkle more nutritional yeast on top, if desired. 

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 208 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 15g Carbohydrates: 32g Sugars: 7g

5 Tips to Make Weekly Batch Cooking a Breeze

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If you had told me a year ago that every Sunday I would be regularly batch cooking my meals for the entire week, I would have said that you merely had a pipe dream. I assumed then that batch cooking must involve strenuous hours in the kitchen, eating up an entire day of my precious weekend. Though this length of time may be true for the first few times you batch cook, it eventually will become easy to only use a few hours to cook meals and snacks ahead for the entire week.

When I batch cook, I find that it saves me time throughout the week and I’ll naturally opt for healthier lunch and dinner options simply because they’re already prepared. Plus, when you have no real rush during cooking (unlike when your stomach is rumbling on a busy weeknight) there’s plenty of time to be creative and try new things in the kitchen.

While it might seem intuitive to just jump in and start cooking, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that can help you quickly begin food prepping for the week with ease.

Start with a Clean Kitchen

It seems like common sense, right? But there have been plenty of times I’ve begun cooking with the sink half full of dishes and quickly regretted my decision. It’s harder to find space to drain pasta, fill up large pots, or throw your newly dirty dishes into. Just take the 15 minutes ahead of time to wash a load of dishes and wipe down the counter. You’ll thank yourself later.

Strategize Your Recipes

Once you’ve chosen your recipes for the week and done all the grocery shopping, it’s time to make a game plan. You can either print out each recipe, or, like me, just have them all open on your computer. I look at each recipe, ordering them from the most to least amount of cooking times, and then figure out what needs to be started first. You wouldn’t want to begin your recipe that takes two hours at the very end of your cooking session. The easiest thing (for me) is to start my basics first (baking potatoes, cooking grains or legumes, marinating tofu, etc.) and then begin making more specific components of recipes.

Wear Shoes

I feel a bit silly putting this in the list, but it’s not something I thought about when I first started meal prepping. I don’t wear shoes at home, or in my kitchen, so why start now? Well standing up for two or three hours on a hard wooden floor will definitely come back to bite you the next day. I quickly learned my lesson thanks to aching feet, and now wear sturdy tennis shoes every time I know I’ll be cooking more than one meal. For extra comfort, think about purchasing a kitchen mat too.

Invest in Containers

My kitchen is constantly overflowing with colorful bowls, plates, and other fun dishes. I didn’t think I’d need to buy any containers since I’m already a bit of a Pyrex pack rat, but I quickly got tired of putting plastic wrap and foil on the many lidless plates and bowls I own. If you don’t own products specifically designed for storage, you might end up wanting to invest in some. I snagged 10 three-cup Pyrex containers during a sale at Target and they’re the perfect size for lunches. That way, between Peter and I, we have the right amount of containers to pack five lunches ahead for our workweek.

Keep Yourself Entertained

If you’re a cooking novice, it might take your full concentration to make each recipe. But if you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you may find your mind wandering while you cube a five-pound bag of potatoes, or roll a dozen burritos for the freezer. Keep yourself upbeat and high-energy by listening to fun music (Disney, anyone?) or occupying your mind with an intriguing podcast. For true crime buffs I recommend The Generation Why or Crime Junkie, or for those wanting to take the foodie route, A Taste of the Past and Gravy Audio are great listens.