Chat Leftovers: Cookbooks for Meatless Reasons
During yesterday's What's Cooking , a reader from New Orleans, La., with a few holiday gift cards burning a hole in her pocket expressed an interest in vegetarian cookbooks. In response, I asked for more information about her cooking habits and interests, and here's what I found in the queue after the live hour:
We cook three to four times a week, eating leftovers otherwise. Not vegan -- but looking to reduce meat consumption for environmental and budgetary reasons. We like ethnic food, we dig hippie grains, etc, we are adventurous, and we're looking to expand the number of foods we eat per week.
I also found this post from "Midwest," who writes:
Can you recommend a Web site or book that offers recipes for relatively simple, hearty (but not high fat or calorie) vegetarian main dishes? Hubby has agreed to try a vegetarian night once every couple weeks, but I am having a hard time finding recipes suitable for a weeknight and hearty and flavorful enough so that he doesn't immediately regret the decision.
The good news is that the playing field of meatless cookbook options is sky wide, perhaps more than ever before. An amazon.com search of the words "vegetarian cookbook" yielded a return of 1,888 results; "vegetarian cooking" resulted in some 3,859 possibilities. The challenge is in wading through the sea of choices, a daunting task for vegetarian first-timers and wannabes.
Essentially, both readers are presenting the same scenario: Meat eaters eager to diversify their diets with less meat, more plants, but in need of a stable of enticing suppertime mains to help sustain the momentum of this dietary shift. Because the goals are clear - at this point, there's no apparent desire to give up meat entirely -- I would recommend, for the moment, staying away from the big tomes, such as "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" (Mark Bittman), "World Vegetarian," "The Passionate Vegetarian" (Crescent Dragonwagon) and even the beloved "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." (Deborah Madison) Despite their virtues, these omnibus titles present more of a survey course in vegetarian cooking, a case of too much information, which as we know, can be overwhelming. Once these cooks find their vegetarian way and are hungry for more, any of these titles would prove to be invaluable.
Instead, I'd zoom in on books with a specific focus -- those that ask "What's for (vegetarian) dinner?" I'd also choose titles that offer fewer recipes -- as in less than 300, which is nothing to sneeze at -- to reinforce the idea of structure and focus. To that end, I'd recommend the following: Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Suppers," Robin Robertson's "The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook" and Jack Bishop's "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen." All offer main-meal focus, but with an enthusiasm for cuisine and ingredient diversity. Plus, they all pass the Goldilocks test -- not too big, not too small.
These readers may also want to consider perusing the veggie blogosphere, a vibrant, constantly growing planet of passionate meatless cooks. And of course, they can learn a thing or two in the vegetarian version of What's Cooking, held the last Thursday of every month at 1 ET (coming up: Jan. 24).
Veggie veterans, here's your chance to weigh in and help out these two veggie newbies looking for a hand. Share your meatless cookbook faves in the comments area below.
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