Transitioning from a western diet to a whole-foods, plant-based one can be frustrating and overwhelming. There are many basics to cooking that you don't even think about until you can't use them anymore, and then you don't know how to replace them! Totally frustrating.
Before throwing in the towel on healthy eating, take a breath and relax. Cooking without animal products may be daunting, and even time-consuming at first, but only because you're learning how to cook all over again. It took you years to learn to cook dishes near the quality of your mom or grandmother. (We all know we can never cook as good as mom and grandma) So, cut yourself some slack and allow for extra planning time. Once you learn the basics needed for quick and tasty vegan foods, it's easy to keep the pantry and fridge prepped with them so that you're ready to get dinner going at night without stopping to think about what you need or how to make it.
One of the first things I worked on when I switched diets was a good base, which means stocks. Can you actually make flavorful stocks without adding bones and chunks of meat? Absolutely! In fact, I have three that I use fairly regularly and a few others I make for special dishes. Stocks are wonderful because I make them on the weekend, freeze half and keep the other half in the fridge for meals I'm planning later that week. Also, if you find your week so frazzled that you end up not using them in a few days, don't worry. Just put the stock into a pot and bring it to a low boil for 5-10 minutes every 3-4 days and it will keep in the fridge indefinitely.
Light Stock: This stock is light in color and taste. I use it in place of a chicken-based stock. In addition to using stocks for soups, stews, and gravies, I also use this instead of water when cooking rice as it adds more flavor to the finished product.
Dark Stock: This is a darker, stronger tasting stock I use in place of a beef stock. This is usually my base for making heavy sauces and reductions as it gives great depth of flavor.
Seafood Stock: Yes, you can make seafood stock without fish. To get that briny sea taste, I add seaweed, specifically kelp and dulse. This makes a great base for my paella and cioppino dishes as well as my oyster mushroom chowder.
Beans & Legumes
It's always a good idea to have a few cans of beans sitting in the pantry for 'emergency' purposes, but I prefer to make and store my own. Dried beans are far cheaper than canned, and I can cook them through enough that I don't have to deal with the flatulence canned beans can cause. I usually cook a large batch ahead of time, freeze half and then keep the rest for the recipe I'm making later. They will freeze well for up to 3 months if stored in their cooking liquid.
Depending on my schedule, I cook my beans one of two ways. If it's the weekend and I'm just hanging around my house, I'll use my dutch oven. I don't usually measure, just pour in enough beans to cover the bottom by 1/4 inch. I cover with about 1 1/2 inches of water. You can cook them like this if you want a clean flavor for a specific dish, but I usually add the following aromatics for flavor: 1/2 a yellow onion, peeled; 1 clove of garlic; 1 bay leaf; 1 1/2 tsp salt. Bring everything to a boil on the stove, uncovered. Once it comes to a boil, cover and put in the oven at 275 Fahrenheit. For small beans like navy or adzuki, bake for 90 minutes. For larger beans like kidney, bake for 2 hours. Let cool completely before storing in a freezer safe container with juice.
If I'm going to be gone all day, I will cook them in my slow-cooker. Add all ingredients, set the temp to low, and the time for 9-12 hours, depending on the type of bean. They should be done by the time you get back home.