A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
Maybe you’re finally feeling ready to eat a more plant-based diet, but aren’t totally sure how to prepare vegetables without being totally boring. Maybe you’ve decided to give up all animal products in your diet, but aren’t sure where to start, or maybe you’re a longtime vegetarian or vegan who’s trying to shake up your routine and get a few new vegetarian recipes under your belt. Whatever your reason for wanting to cook more vegetarian dishes or vegan recipes, there’s a cookbook that can help you make better plant-based and vegetarian meals, no matter your skill level. And to find the best vegetarian and vegan cookbooks out there, I spoke with plant-focused cooks and vegan chefs from around the U.S. (and one from Canada) about their favourites.
“Sure, it’s out of date (although they have issued a new edition). It’s from 1974 and was originally self-published. But no chef cooking vegetables can afford not to read the Moosewood Cookbook. Will you ever cook from it? Well, I did when I was in university, and the approachable recipes were a great way to ease me into the kitchen. But these days, it’s much more valuable as a historical document, a marker that shows where vegetable-cooking was, how far it’s come, and how in some ways, for some chefs, it hasn’t really changed at all. And for me, it’s almost like a scrapbook, reminding me of when I tried to make gypsy soup, of hours spent poring over the recipes for vegetable and walnut pâte, stuffed aubergine, and lentil burgers, trying to figure out how to tweak these dishes to make them better, learning from what they were doing, and slowly, page by page, without even knowing it, becoming a chef.” — Amanda Cohen, chef and owner, Dirt Candy, New York
“Chez Panisse Vegetables feels like the most resourceful vegetable-cooking dictionary. Creating meals that would be traditionally meat-centric with vegetables instead is less challenging and more exciting with this book on your side.” — Clara Polito, owner, Clara Cakes, and author, Clara Cakes, Los Angeles
“I’m from Brooklyn and was never really exposed to southern food, except through a handful of spots that did it in NYC, which … who knows? So if I want a gumbo, I’m always like, “Am I doing that right?” I love that Sweet Potato Soul includes whole fresh ingredients, lots of grain, beans, veggies, and, yes, sweet potatoes. It’s very accessible. I love that Jenné tells stories and gives backgrounds. Cookbooks are bedtime reading for a lot of people, and her voice and the beautiful photos are perfect for flipping through when you’re in your jammies thinking about what you’d like to make for dinner this week.” — Isa Chandra Moskowitz, chef and owner, Modern Love, New York
“This book taught me how to cook. It includes basic vegan cooking techniques, and a wide range of recipes to suit every dish, flavour, ethnicity, and skill level. I have never had a dinner flop, and I refer it whenever I am asked for my go-to cookbook recommendation. There are many new and more ‘modern’ approaches to vegan cooking out there now, but this book will always be my vegan bible. If I need to learn something new, I turn to Isa [Chandra Moskowitz]. The sarcastic humor helps as well.” — Candice Hutchings, author, The Edgy Veg, Toronto, Canada
“When I had just gone vegan, I’d look at Vegan Stoner’s blog all the time. The cookbook is even more intriguing. The recipes are affordable, delicious, and have beautiful illustrations that familiarised me with so many cooking-ingredient staples. There’s just enough comedic relief to loosen you up and have fun cooking!” — Polito
“The original edition of this book was my go-to reference for meat-free cooking when I moved to Brooklyn in 1997, and I continued to reference it as a culinary student and beyond. Deborah Madison’s modern approach to working with vegetables continues to inspire my cookbook writing, and her knowledge and experience pushes me to continue growing as a food writer. With more than 1,600 recipes, this book provides enough unfussy recipes, tips, and tools to give culinary novices the confidence to dive into vegetarian cooking, and it is a valuable resource for experienced chefs, as well. I’ve given it as a gift to dozens of friends — omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans — and they all have only good things to say about it.” — Bryant Terry, chef in residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora and author of Vegetable Kingdom, San Francisco
“While I anxiously await Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s upcoming totally vegan Japanese temple food book (it’s in the works, I hear, but a year or so off — it’s definitely gonna rule), I have been lately been reenraptured by The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. It’s a classic of the genre and a really fun time capsule of mid-1970s vegan cookery. It holds sentimental value for me as one of the first real countercultural things I discovered as a kid in the suburbs of Baltimore circa 1986 or so when I checked it out at the public library. You probably need to zing up the recipes with supplemental olive oil, chili flakes, farmers’ market vegetables, and vinegar, but really, it’s not so much about the recipes as it is this just perfect primordial ooze of a hippy vegan cooking manifesto. There’s a lot of meat-analogue stuff in it but prepared with ingredients you understand and can recognize. Take that, Silicon Valley tech-bro faux-meat nerds! These guys had you beat by 40 years! God, I love this book.” — Brooks Headley, chef and owner, Superiority Burger, New York
“I love Epic Vegan because it is over-the-top, saucy, messy, in your face, mouthwatering, just good vegan food. For anyone that thinks vegan food is about sprout sandwiches and tofu stir-frys, this book will make them think twice. Dustin matches the most crave-able traditional dishes and one-ups them with a vegan twist.” — Chloe Coscarelli, chef and author of Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan, New York
“This book, like a couple of Robin’s books, is just jam-packed. Her recipes make very clever and innately desirable combinations of ingredients and are usually very simple to prepare. I always direct people who are new to vegan cooking to Robin Robertson because her recipes are so easy to work with and the final results always knock it out of the park.” — Adam Sobel, chef, Cinnamon Snail, New York
This books provides a fresh, colourful, and delicious vegan take on Mexican food. I love how easy and approachable the recipes are, like cóctel de champiñón (mushroom cocktail), tacos de yaca al pastor (jackfruit al pastor tacos), and capirotada de xocolate (chocolate bread pudding). — Jenné Clairborne, author of Sweet Potato Soul, Los Angeles
“Easy and fantastic. I am a big fan of the one-bowl dish, especially for lunch, and this is the book for that. This is for people who want to put together great meals on a regular basis and draw from ingredients they should have in a healthy fridge.” —David Laris, chef, EDEN Local, New York
“When looking through a cookbook, I want to be transported — whether it be into someone else’s kitchen or to another place entirely. Near and Far does both. Heidi takes you on her travels to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India, making recipes inspired by the flavours in each country, then brings you back to her kitchen in San Francisco. Since I’ve been reading and inspired by Heidi’s recipes (through her site 101 Cookbooks) for over a decade now, I’ve come to trust her — I know her recipes work and will strike the right balance between decadence and health.” — Amy Chaplin, author of Whole Food Cooking Every Day and chef-owner, Bramble, New York
“A vegan cookbook that we love is Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen. The miso soup recipe with shiitakes, soba, and asparagus totally inspired us to bring something similar onto our winter menu. The recipes are simple, vibrant, and delicious.” — David Rodriguez, co-owner, Butcher’s Daughter, New York
“The Wicked Healthy Cookbook is great because the focus is truly on making something delicious — the ingredient lists just happen to be plant-based. It really encourages you to think about cooking in a different way.” — Tal Ronnen, chef-owner, Crossroads Kitchen, Los Angeles
“Love Ottolenghi and Cooked Raw. Both cookbooks take inspiration from many different cuisines. It’s real honest cuisines. And chef Amanda Cohen, too. She rocks.” — David Lee, chef, Planta, Miami Beach, Florida
“I wouldn’t recommend it for first-timers, but if you really want to step up your game, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s Vegetarian Flavor Bible is what you need. It’s not a cookbook but more like the ultimate reference work for vegetarian food. It focuses on flavour pairings, like explaining why grapefruit pairs with fennel and arugula, which is the kind of thing that I find invaluable for thinking about recipes. Page is more of a vegetarian advocate than I am, but even so, her book rewires how you create dishes, putting the focus not on slavishly following steps and measurements but forcing you to dissect flavour and mouthfeel and making you really think about your food. Who would have thought to pair achiote seeds with coriander without this book?” — Cohen
“I love this book — it’s so thoughtful and well put-together. It is not only looking at plant-based cooking but really opening up the reader to a world of so many new techniques and ingredients that should (and must) be part of not only plant-based eating fans’ diets but everyone’s. Love the author and the passion behind this book.” — Laris
“This is a very intelligent and serious vegan book [by vegan chef Matthew Kenney] that goes deeper into the movement, providing more serious insights for the established cook.” — Laris
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