Recommended Vegetarian Cookbooks for New Vegetarians
by Guest Blogger Lisa Goldman
[Eric’s note: I am occasionally asked for vegetarian cookbook recommendations by people who are becoming vegetarian or looking to eat less meat. Given that my cooking repertoire is quite limited and usually involves the microwave as a key resource, I asked my wife Lisa–who actually does cook using cookbooks–for her expert opinion. Note: the links are Amazon affiliate links, but I recommend you try out any cookbooks from the public library before buying.]
Eric has requested many times that I write a guest blog post on Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbooks. I promised to deliver and then, much to his dismay & frustration, delayed many months because I wasn’t sure where to start.
The Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbook category has exploded in the last decade. Back when I started to cook (around 1993 when I moved into my first college housing with a kitchen), library & bookstore shelves had such a limited selection, it was easy to navigate and narrow down which books to select or recommend. But now, their shelves practically groan from the load. This is a good thing! However, it has become impossible to put together a well-researched list that’s truly exhaustive of all the choices available.
My thoughts and recommendations below reflect only my narrow and somewhat dated sampling (I haven’t purchased nearly as many cookbooks in the past ~3 years as I did the previous 5+ years before that). Still, I hope it’s helpful, and I welcome your feedback.
CATEGORY 1 – MY FAVORITES
(1) Moosewood Cookbook – I’m talking about the original from Mollie Katzen. I think this was my first cookbook and it’s one of the top 10 best selling cookbooks of all time *in any category.* Originally published in 1977 (updated in the 1990s), some of the recipes are a little dated. But, many are still great. Three of my favorites: Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Lentil Bulgar Salad and Gypsy Soup. This one will never lose its spot on my shelf.
(2) Veganomicon – Isa Chandra Moskowitz has published many cookbooks. If I could only pick one, it would be this one, although it would be tough to part with her original book Vegan with a Vengeance. There are a lot of great recipes here. If you want to “try before you buy,” check out the dozens of recipes she’s posted at her website. Favorites include: Snobby Joes, Pineapple Cashew Quinoa Stir-fry, Lentils & Caramelized Onions, Pasta Della California, Tamarind Lentils, Potato & Kale Enchiladas, Jambalaya & Manzana Chili Verde.
(3) Peas & Thank You – I picked this one up on a whim at Costco a couple years ago. Author Sarah Matheny has a very popular blog. Her recipes are simple and very kid/family friendly. This isn’t the book I’d necessarily use to impress guests, as some of her shortcuts result in less exciting flavors than in Veganomicon (for example), but it still very good and certainly beats microwaved frozen food.
MY “PRETTY GOOD, IT HAS AT LEAST 3 RECIPES I REALLY LIKE AND HAVE MADE MORE THAN 3x SO I’M KEEPING IT” CATEGORY
I don’t have a lot of bookshelf space, and as Eric will tell you, I can be pretty unsentimental and ruthless in sorting and giving away lesser-used items in my house. So, the cookbooks that have made this category, while not my favorites, still deserve consideration.
(1) Books by Dreena Burton. I own Vive le Vegan and Eat Drink & Be Vegan. I’ve found many of her savory recipes to be serviceable but not “wow this is amazing.” In my opinion, she really excels in the sweets category. If you are interested in baking vegan, look here first. I prefer her chocolate chip cookie recipe to anyone else’s (including Isa’s), but all of her cookie recipes are excellent. If I were buying today, I’d probably go with her most recent and well-reviewed Let Them Eat Vegan (but I haven’t tried that book myself yet).
(2) Books by Nava Atlas. I own Vegetarian Express (now updated/revised and called Vegan Express), Vegan Soups & Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and Vegetarian 5 Ingredient Gourmet. I think Vegetarian Express might have been my second cookbook after Moosewood. It’s sort of the predecessor to Peas & Thank You: a simple cookbook for getting healthy meals on the table for the family quickly. No “wow” recipes, but lots of reliable and easy stand-bys (Mexican Casserole is my favorite). Nava also has a website if you’d like to try out some of her recipes to see if her tastes suit yours. I confess that, in the past few years, her books have collected dust on my shelf. I cannot recall the last time I cracked one. It might be time to pass them along. If I had to keep only one, it would be her Soups and Stews book because I’m a real soup & stew lover.
(3) Moosewood Restaurant Books. These cookbooks are often confused with Mollie Katzen’s original Moosewood Book. In fact, Mollie has nothing to do with these, and they are written by a variety of chefs from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca. Still, these books are generally very good. I own Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites and Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I flip through these on a regular basis. I particularly like the Lentil Sambar recipe in Low Fat Favorites. I’ve also heard good things about the Moosewood Daily Specials cookbook. I’m not sure I’d buy these retail, but if you see a deal on them somewhere, they’re worth picking up. (Note, most of the Moosewood Restaurant books have a “fish” chapter, but they are otherwise entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World – If you’re really interested in vegan baking and cupcakes in particular, this cult favorite by Isa & her friend Terry Hope Romano is definitely fun. If I ever want curry favor with Eric, I know that the Banana Split Sundae cupcake recipe here will do the trick.
COOKBOOKS ON MY SHELF THAT I WISH I COULD SPEAK HIGHER OF, BUT RARELY USE
(1) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – Deborah Madison is a highly regarded cookbook author, and this book makes lots of other people’s “must have” lists. However, I have been disappointed with it. The recipes taste good; she does know how to cook! But they tend to be on the rich side, and she regularly does the “recipe within a recipe” stunt, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I detest getting knee deep into a recipe only to realize that ingredient #7 is actually an entirely separate recipe (e.g. “add 1T of Romanesco sauce, found on page xx” which of course is complicated and makes a 2C batch, so now you don’t know what the heck to do with your 2C-1T of sauce). I rarely cook from this book.
(2) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – This one was released more recently and is authored by Mark Bittman, whom everyone seems to love. And, while I have been impressed with several of his articles, I’ve been underwhelmed by the handful of recipes I’ve tried from this book. Nothing awful, but no obvious “must repeat” recipes either. Maybe I’ve just selected the wrong things. I’m not ready to toss this into the give-away stack quite yet, but it’s hardly at the top of my recommendation list.
(3) How it All Vegan – The was one of the first popular vegan cookbooks, and used to be talked about regularly, but it’s completely dropped off my radar in favor of more current vegan books like Veganomicon. I love the spirit of it, but I think Veganomicon supersedes it; no need for both.
(4) Vegan Brunch – I bought this because I thought Isa could do no wrong. And while I wouldn’t call this book “wrong,” I haven’t found a lot right with it. I like her coffee chocolate chip muffin recipe in here. Otherwise, nada.
(5) Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker – I LOVE the concept of the slow cooker. When I come home at the end of the day, I’m already too hungry to start cooking. It’s not uncommon for me to eat some crappy microwave dinner just to sate myself, and then start cooking a decent meal which I’ll have the next day (which rarely tastes as good as eating something freshly made). But with a slow cooker, I can prep in the morning, and then it’s ready for me when I come home later. But, there’s a price to pay for that convenience. Most veggie meals I’ve attempted in the crockpot come out mediocre. I bought this cookbook to help with that, but haven’t found anything amazing. Still, I’m holding on to it, because hope springs eternal. I’ll keep trying. The No Hurry Curry recipe isn’t bad.
(6) World Vegetarian – I like Madhur Jaffrey for some reason I can’t even recall. Maybe I saw her on a cooking show? Who knows. I also like the idea of this book. In general, I favor ethnic foods with interesting spices and flavors. So, I thought it’d be awesome to sample all sorts of exotic recipes from this book. Somehow, I haven’t ever found my favorites in this book though. Check it out from the library and see what you think. Let me know if you find some winners.
MY COOKBOOK WISHLIST
(1) Plenty or Jerusalem – Both of these cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi are bestsellers. With beautiful pictures and purported great recipes, there’s a lot of inspiration here. Yotam is a professional chef. I checked out Plenty from the library once and tried a couple recipes. They were very good, but pretty heavy (lots of oil) and somewhat complicated. I’d still love to have one on my shelf so I could have more time to peruse and try my hand at lightening some of them up a little for my tastes.
(2) The I [Heart] Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook – I am a loyal TJs shopper. I have previously purchased a cookbook devoted to TJs products before, but it wasn’t vegetarian and there weren’t many recipes that appealed to me. But, I’d love to give it another shot with this edition.
(3) The Indian Slow Cooker – I mentioned my unrequited love for the slow cooker. This book has good reviews, and I think many vegetarian Indian dishes may actually lend themselves to the slow-cooking methods. I wish my library had this book so I could try it out. Until then, it’s on my wishlist to purchase. (Not entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Super Natural Every Day – Heidi Swanson authors the very popular 101 Cookbooks blog. She’s based out of SF and I like her focus on health rather than diet. Her photography is beautiful too. Another highly reviewed cookbook that I’ve sampled from the library and enjoyed.
(5) Appetite for Reduction –Isa published this one a year or two ago. I’ve checked it out from the library a few times. The recipes are good. Not as amazing as some of the Veganomicon ones. There is a price to pay for cutting out so much of the fat and calories after all. But, if you’re interested in some lighter vegan recipes this is a good book to have around. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t put this on my shelf yet. (Hey Eric – do you SEE my spending restraint?!)
(6) The Sprouted Kitchen – I keep hearing great things about this one from people I trust. I’ll be looking to check this one out at the library soon. (Not completely vegetarian, but almost.)