The Best Vegetarian and Vegan Cookbooks
Over the last quarter-century, vegetarian cooking in America has moved away from the gloppy, heavy food of the hippie stereotype into a bright garden of possibilities. Now it's less about any particular "ism" than the celebration of the place that vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains have in so many culinary traditions. This can be bold, surprising food. With the rise of the farmers' market ethic, vegetables are finally having their day in the culinary sun, and these books deserve a place on the shelf of any cook interested in vibrant, healthy eating.
Like her popular blog, 101Cookbooks.com, Heidi Swanson's book teems with luscious photography and punchy prose. Recipes are weeknight-doable and subscribe to her definition of "natural," using whole or minimally processed foods. Notes encourage us to trust the author: Turnip Chips are "the least perfect chips you'll ever make ... but their roasted buttery sweetness makes them too good not to include." Recipes are simple and tasty. White Beans and Cabbage or Wild Rice Casserole are everyday comfort classics, and they sit alongside more boldly flavored—but no more fussy—dishes like Chanterelle Tacos or Harissa Ravioli. The latter is made with convenient packaged pasta, ingeniously fusing two Mediterranean flavors that should have been paired sooner.
GIVE THIS TO: Home cooks looking for adventurous yet uncomplicated ideas. —Robin Bashinsky
Inspired by her travels, Martha Rose Shulman shares more than 500 produce-packed recipes. Deep-Dish Eggplant Torta is a standout—a magnificent column of olive oil pastry encasing layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Traditionally, fish define many dishes from the region, but they're not missed here. Shulman maintains, after all, that the true heart of the cuisine is the produce. She embraces the spirit of the great seafood soup bouillabaisse, with not a fish in sight: One version features poached eggs on garlic-rubbed toast with a gentle saffron-tomato broth. Shulman is conscious of health and notes that she uses only enough oil to make the flavors sing; no need to lay on excess when the vegetables shine so bright.
GIVE THIS TO: Farmers' market junkies looking for tasty inspiration. —Adam Hickman
If you like cookbooks to take a big overview, this one is for you, a thunker, a global recipe survey, with advice on how to shop for, store, and prep for roughly 200 vegetable recipes. Beyond veggies, Jaffrey exhausts beans, peas, lentils, nuts, dairy, and grains. Travel memories place recipes in context, and most of them detail country of origin. Jaffrey offers American points of reference, making dishes feel familiar and exotic at once: Red Pepper Paste is likened to tomato paste in texture and use; it adds savory depth to comforting Bulgur Wheat with Red Pepper Paste. Her Moroccan harissa is garlicky, fiery nirvana—a sauce you'll look for excuses to use often.
GIVE THIS TO: Lovers of big, complete cookbooks. —Julianna Grimes
Vegetarian recipes can sometimes get too complicated as they reach to achieve richness in the absence of meat or fish. Thankfully, this book takes a breezier approach. Recipes are all main dishes, interesting but not overly complex. Thin Herb Omelet and Arugula Sandwich is amazingly easy, fresh, and satisfying. And Once- and Twice-Baked Goat Cheese Soufflés take the anxiety out of soufflé-making, relieving the cook with the notion that falling is not failure: They're baked ahead, allowed to fall, then reheated till they reinflate. Throughout are tips on accompaniments, plus fun wine and beer pairings.
GIVE THIS TO: Easygoing cooks who like to keep things casual. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
Peter Berley brings a welcome precision to this exploration of vegetarian cooking. His approach is smart: He achieves umami depth in vegetarian gravy with sesame oil and soy sauce. Trust Berley. Resist the urge to cut corners or skip steps. You'll be rewarded if you search out every ingredient he recommends, all of which are explained and sourced, and more readily available today than when the book was first published.
GIVE THIS TO: Serious cooks looking to refine their vegetarian cooking skills. —J.G.
It sounds like a preposterous idea, but Terry, a junk food junkie turned eco chef, pulls off vegan soul food deliciously. The proof is in the cooking. Quinoa-Quinoa Cornbread is light and delicious (and whole grain), better than many bacon fat-laden bombs I've tasted. As you cook, be sure to set the mood with Terry's musical recommendations; they're the gravy.
GIVE THIS TO: Hipster and homegirl cooks who love soulful music and even more soulful food. —J.G.