Vegetarian cookbooks, both new and tried and true
May 15, 2012
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to go meatless every once in a while. In fact, even carnivores such as Mario Batali have begun a Meatless Monday movement at their restaurants, offering veggie-centric specials for that day of the week. Though eating a grain and produce-based diet is healthier as well as easier on the planet, the best reason to focus on vegetables is their tastiness and diversity.
Here are our four favorite cookbooks for vegetarian mains, sides and snacks.
Blogger Heidi Swanson is best known for her site, 101cookbooks.com, which she started when she decided to stop (or scale back on) purchasing new cookbooks and use the ones she had. Armed with a camera, a journal and ingredients, she’d attack a recipe and offer up her honest opinion about it – why it worked, why it didn’t, what she changed. Her mission has evolved a little, as she’s writing her own recipes now.
Readers new to her site might not realize her vegetarian proclivities. She doesn’t make a point of talking about them, and there’s no sense of deprivation in her work. She is committed to using all-natural ingredients – no aerosol nonstick spray or fake sweetener for her. Rub that dish with butter; use four eggs in those quinoa cakes; pour on the maple syrup to sweeten.
Divided into chapters on breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, drinks, treats and accompaniments, the inventive and earthy recipes are usually simple, delicious and easy as stand-alones or as sides to meat or veggie meals. Our favorites are the baked oatmeal with blueberries (it works beautifully with frozen berries), kale with toasted coconut and farro and the “Mostly Not Potato Salad.” Our only gripe is the occasional use of tempeh, and that’s just personal preference.
Brits have been enjoying Yottam Ottolenghi’s sassy veggie dishes since he opened his upscale markets, Ottolenghi’s, in various London neighborhoods. When the Guardian approached him to write a weekly column, The New Vegetarian, he balked. He wasn’t a veg-head. Surely there were better options? But that was exactly the point. He wasn’t a vegetarian, he just really loved vegetables, and it showed in his markets. Readers could relate to him. (They also took him to task for suggesting grilled lamb chops as a perfect accompaniment to a particular salad. Oh well, live and learn.)
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His new book, “Plenty,” is his second. But it’s a chart-buster. His chapter headings are revealing as to how he thinks of his food: roots, funny onions, the mighty eggplant, green beans, pulses, peppers and many more. Some are ruminations on one ingredient, such as mushrooms. Others are broader, such as grains. But all offer fun options. We particularly like the cover recipe, eggplant with buttermilk sauce. Garlicky and succulent, it’s a beautiful main dish.
The culinary equivalent of “Joy of Cooking” for vegetarians, Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” is tried and true. Probably the best compendium of all veggie dishes out there, it’s already had two printings since its 1997 release.
Beginning with basic cooking methods like roasting and sauteing as well as cutting and chopping, it’s a good book to give to a beginner. But don’t mistake the intro with less-than-terrific recipes. Some are basic and others are complicated – but they are for the most part delicious and eye-opening. With headings on soups, stir-fries, gratins, grains and subsections on every vegetable out there, it’s a massive tome. We especially love her recipe for fideos, a Mexican dry soup with noodles and a chile broth.
New York Times writer Mark Bittman followed up his “How to Cook Everything” cookbook with this vegetarian slant. It follows Bittman’s own interest in vegetarian eating. He’s got a rule of thumb: Go veggie for breakfast, lunch and snacks. And then go nuts for dinner. It’s his own formula for staying fit.
The man has a way with legumes, and especially utilizes chickpea flour with commendable inventiveness. Drawing from international culinary traditions, chapters on items like dumplings might jump from Italy to China without blinking. Filled with lists suggesting mix-and-match options, the “everything” in the title is no joke. This book is packed. We adore the recipe for socca, a chickpea pancake known throughout France and Italy, as well as the decadent poblano custard.