There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Burt (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with. “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles. When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.” My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk. It’s not that we are unhappy people. We just like to air our grievances. But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do. For my next 16 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.
MY TOP COOKBOOKS FOR NEW VEGETARIANS OR VEGANS
I can count on one hand the novels that I’ve read more than once. Cookbooks are another story. Whether flipping through them for inspiration or reading them for fun, my cookbook collection gets a lot of love. Since not everyone has the space for or inclination to purchase dozens of cookbooks, I thought it might be useful to put together a top 5 list (which wound up as a top 6 list). This list is targeted at the new vegetarian or vegan — someone who has no meatless cookbooks and wants to put together a collection that will make them a confident meat-free cook. Here is my list in no particular order:
1. Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon (2002)
Every cookbook collection should include a comprehensive tome with ideas on how to cook just about anything. With over 1000 recipes, Passionate Vegetarian certainly checks that box, but it doesn’t stop there. Crescent Dragonwagon has more than 30 years of food industry experience, and it shows in her recipes; I have never had a recipe in this book fail. The book also includes lots of tips, anecdotes about the recipes and menu suggestions. My only complaint is that the book has no pictures, but that hasn’t stopped me from cooking extensively from it. (Note that this is a vegetarian cookbook with plenty of vegan recipes and vegan variations for non-vegan recipes).
2. The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Joni Marie Newman and Celine Steen (2010)
The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions is an adorable and handy little book that will show you how to adapt your non-vegan recipes to your new diet. The book is divided into sections based upon the food to be substituted (meat, milk, eggs, etc.) Each chapter has a chart of substitutes with tips on how to select the best substitute for each recipe. For example, based upon the number of eggs in a recipe, you can determine if they are used for binding or leavening and substitute accordingly. The chapter then continues with creative recipes featuring some of the suggested substitutions. There are full color photos throughout. Nothing is perfect, though. The index of this book leaves much to be desired and the first edition also had a few typos that I assume were fixed in later editions.
3. Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson (2011)
Vegan Diner is all about comfort food classics. Are you looking for the best recipe for vegan mac and cheese? The best recipe for barbecue sauce? The best recipe for chicken style seitan? Vegan Diner has those and more. In fact, every recipe I’ve tried has been “the best” and that’s saying a lot because I’ve tried a lot of recipes. As a bonus, the book is gorgeously designed with full-color photos throughout.
4. Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (2005)
I don’t think you can put together a cookbook collection without at least one book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and, to my mind, the original is still the best. Vegan with a Vengeance has an eclectic (and delicious) mix of recipes introduced with amusing stories from the author’s life. Buy it and make some falafel while singing a song that Moskowitz was forced to perform at Jewish day camp. It’s only natural.
5. Chloe’s Vegan Desserts by Chloe Coscarelli (2013)
If I owned only one baking book, this would be it. The book is approachable for omnis and new vegans because it does not rely on substitutions that might seem “weird” to non-vegans or be difficult to find (e.g. no tofu or agar). A wide selection of baking standards — brownies, chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake — are here, along with some creative new ideas like tiramisu pancakes and banana cobbler. Coscarelli really knows her stuff, too. The recipes are easy to make and turn out well.
6. World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan (2011)
One of the best things about becoming vegetarian or vegan is the opportunity to sample totally new foods. For that reason, my top cookbook list needed to include a book with international flair. My number one pick in this category is World Vegan Feast — both for its variety of recipes and for the fact that Grogan is a truly expert recipe developer. Although the book looses points for poor quality photos, that negative is more than outweighed by the quality of the recipes and plethora of helpful tips and interesting food facts.