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.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 16, 2008; 9:50 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Cook's Library , Vegetarian/Vegan
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hi kim,

on your advice last year i tried the "vegetarian meat and potatoes cookbook" and i must profess myself underwhelmed. while it offered a lovely selection of stew-ish ideas and thoughts on jazzing up potatoes, to my way of thinking it relies too much on meat substitutes like seipan and tempeh and even tofu. i'm not anti-tofu, but when i am thinking about trying a "meatless meal" i don't care to include processed soy products in that equation.

of course, i say this as a dedicated omnivore, so your mileage may vary.

thanks!

Posted by: devra | January 16, 2008 10:40 AM

and among the "tomes", kim, what are your thoughts on them? what are the pros and cons of each one? which ones do you love?

Posted by: bufo | January 16, 2008 10:52 AM

Kim, yesterday someone on the discussion asked about the ice cream attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer. I was able to attend the discussion in person, but did want to let this person know that I have the ice cream maker attachment.

It makes good ice cream as long as the bowl is properly chilled. I keep my bowl in the upright freezer so it is ready at anytime I need it. We have made many good recipes and I'm looking forward to using it again.

I do agree with your comment, Kim, about the stand-alone machines now available. I am happy with the Kitchen Aid but may have been happier with the on the counter machine.

Posted by: Central VA | January 16, 2008 11:16 AM

I was not thrilled with A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen (although I love Jack on America's Test Kitchen!). I am also not that thrilled with Mark Bittman's new book. Deborah Madison is definitely good. I would recommend getting a few out of the library and seeing what you like. One I would recommend strongly is Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, which I've had and used consistently for more than 20 years.

Posted by: Veggie | January 16, 2008 11:23 AM

We're omnivores in our home, but that did not stop me from acquiring Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." I love to pull this book out and peruse the recipes when I am making up the weekly menu and shopping list. My husband has been a patient guinea-pig, and any recipe that passes his taste-test is marked with a colorful post-it so I can revisit it again (while I've liked everything I've tried).

My personal fav is the mushroom/spinach sautee over toast: fast, healthy, and delish! (Tho I must admit that after Kim's bacon-post, I topped it with sharp cheddar and bacon and it was da bomb!)

Posted by: harerin | January 16, 2008 11:49 AM

Kim,

There are so many Vegetarian cookbooks out there, it is very difficult to choose a favorite.

One of my "go to" books for quick, healthy and old faithfuls is the Weight Watchers vegetarian cookbook. No, it won't be grand gourmet, but, it contains some just plain old dependable recipes; most with under 8 ingredients making them quick fixes for a weeknight meal.

If you are looking for a resource for lower prices on your book purchases, check out www.deepdiscount.com. They don't always have everything I look for, but they are usually less expensive than other vendors.

Happy chefing!

Posted by: Stephanie | January 16, 2008 12:53 PM

you know, i'm a full-time vegetarian but i actually prefer non-vegetarian cookbooks. i feel like if you want to make something meatless, it's as easy as leaving out the meat and adding in some mushrooms, soy sauce and a can of beans. i try to go with whole grains, brown rice, etc to make the meal more filling, and i maybe add a little extra fat (olive oil, cheese, whatever fits).

i find a lot of the vegetarian cookbooks a little too gimmicky...i don't think that there's any big secret to making a delicious vegetarian dinner. you just need a lot of vegetables.

Posted by: melissa | January 16, 2008 1:19 PM

Although I'm no longer a vegetarian, I still cook predominantly from my vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. My favorites are the Moosewood cookbooks, by Mollie Katzen, and "How It All Vegan," by Sarah Kramer & Tanya Barnard.

Posted by: rachel | January 16, 2008 1:46 PM

Kim,

I believe it was you who mentioned Peter Berley not too long ago. For Christmas I asked for and received his "Fresh Food Fast: Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour." It's organized by season, which helps those of us who are CSA subscribers, and also provides a timeline for each meal (boil X first, then chop Y and so on). I recommend it - esp. for folks who have trouble getting everything on the table at one time, like I do. A note that several of the recipies do call for a pressure cooker.

Posted by: TriciaGray | January 16, 2008 1:49 PM

Hi Kim--
Have you heard of "The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone in Between" by Peter Berley? I can't vouch for any of the recipes because I don't own this cookbook, I've only judged it by its cover as I selected it as a gift for a friend that I've taken cooking classes with, one of which was vegetarian. The concept is to basically cook the same dish up to a point where you either go meat-free or meat-full. Sounds like the perfect option for entertaining that will satisfy all your friends at the same table. As an omnivore who grew up eating vegetarian at least once a week, I like the concept of learning how to cook the same dish side by side and then making the appropriate variation to satisfy one and all.

Posted by: Sean | January 16, 2008 2:01 PM

I have two to recommend. First, the "Low-fat Moosewood Cookbook." Many of my go-to recipes in this book feature Southwest flavors. The other great thing about this book is that at the bottom of every recipe (main dish, side dish, soup, etc.) have pairing suggestions, which I find to be a big help. The other one is "Vegetarian Planet," which I believe won a James Beard award. Good food with a lot of Southeast Asian flavors, but also has a whole chapter on veggie chilis (and the strawberry cornmeal cake is a thing of beauty). Both of these books have way more 'hits' than 'misses.' The recipes are all pretty straight forward and don't require much in the way of technical expertise.

Posted by: dbrue | January 16, 2008 2:51 PM

I highly recommend Heidi Swanson's blog "101 Cookbooks" (www.101cookbooks.com), which focuses on meatless whole grain foods, rather than meat substitutes. I do not have it, but I imagine her cookbook "Super Natural Cooking" is equally great. There are several other good vegetarian--minded blogs out there too.

Posted by: MBinDC | January 16, 2008 2:59 PM

Jeanne Lemlin's "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" may be a good one for people exploring the veg side of life. Nothing takes more than a half hour of prep time, and everything's tasty. (She does have a great fondness for scallions and olive oil, but cooks can tweak to their taste, of course.) I was given it years ago, and I've given it to parents, in-laws, friends...

Posted by: ArlVa | January 16, 2008 3:14 PM

After many disappointments with general vegetarian cookbooks (including many mentioned above), I searched for "spicy vegetarian" on Amazon and found lots of good ones. Just one example - Jump Up and Kiss Me Spicy Vegetarian Cooking by Jennifer Trainer Thompson. Great stuff!

We don't eat tofu and meat analogs, and I learned fast to check vegetarian cookbooks before I buy to make sure they aren't heavy on the analogs.

I also recommend A New Way to Cook and anything else by Sally Schneider. That particular one's not vegetarian, but has lots of terrific improvisational ideas that work well for a vegetarian lifestyle.

Posted by: Leslie | January 16, 2008 4:45 PM

My mom got me the Flexitarian Table cookbook for Christmas. I've made a couple of recipes from it. It's really great, the recipes are (for the most part) easy to follow and prepare. One thing I've noticed -- the serving size is definitely a "healthy" serving, so be prepared for leftovers.

Posted by: Vegetarian living with a Flexitarian | January 16, 2008 4:51 PM

I have to agree with Kim's Jack Bishop (A Year in a Vegetarian Kithchen) recommendation. I have been a vegetarian for ten years, and this is my favorite go-to book. My brother - an omnivore - received four cookbooks this Christmas, including Jack Bishop's book, a Rachel Ray, the Joy of Cooking, and Seriously Simple. He is mid twenties and anxious to learn more about cooking. Since receiving all books, he has cooked at least four dishes from Bishop's - and none from any other cookbook! He even tried a dish with seitan. I think that the book has great insight on technique (Bishop's role as Cooks Illustrated editor). Additionally, I don't believe that Bishop's family eats 100% vegetarian - however they obviously focus on healthful, satisfying, creative, and seasonal vegetable-based meals. The seasonal approach really helps as well for farmers' market shoppers.

Posted by: RC | January 16, 2008 4:53 PM

It is admittedly a tome, maybe even bigger than some of the others, but I recently got Veganomicon (by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Romero). I have an overflowing collection of cookbooks and magazine clippings, so I'm always hesitant, but I was not disappointed with this one! I'm veggie (not vegan), but my husband is an omnivore who rarely eats meat at home. We have been impressed with every recipe we've tried, including a fantastic pot pie and spaghetti with homemade beanballs (made with kidney beans, not a meat substitute), which were quick, easy, and delicious. It's a big book to commit to, but it's absolutely worth it for vegetarians, flexitarians, and everyone else. It also has a great intro about veggie cooking, with tips stocking for stocking the pantry, lower-fat cooking, and a helpful glossary for veggie/vegan newbies.

Posted by: Kristin | January 16, 2008 5:06 PM

I would suggest Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian". She has a way of providing recipes that are simple and very flavorful, and this book celebrates vegetarian home cooking from around the world.

Posted by: Nupur | January 16, 2008 6:17 PM

A hearty second for Heidi Swanson -- both her blog, 101 Cookbooks (http://101cookbooks.com/index.html) and her cookbook, "Super Natural Cooking." I've made several recipes from that book more than twice -- a rarity for me. I've also used a few of the recipes for entertaining, and everything has gotten rave reviews from vegeterians and omnivores alike.

I also love the "Low-fat Moosewood Cookbook." It DOES qualify as a tome, but there's good variety. And the paring suggestions at the end are always helpful.

Posted by: A | January 16, 2008 6:59 PM

If this is just a once or twice a month thing for now, you may just want to look through the cookbooks you already own. Think of things that we all eat that are naturally meatless: bean chili, lentil soup, falafel, bean tacos or veggie fajitas, quiche, pasta, grilled cheese and tomato soup, stir fries with rice, ratatouille, vegetable soup, macaroni and cheese, etc. Just about every cookbook offers a few vegetarian options.

Once you're ready to branch out a bit more, you might just want to browse the vegetarian cookbooks at your library and see what appeals to you.

Posted by: mollyjade | January 17, 2008 10:42 AM

MBinDC: I too am a fan of Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking" and have cooked from it several times. Her blog is terrific, too.

To all of you: Thanks for so many suggestions for the meatless library. This is the very reason I only mentioned three titles, so that you would chime in with your personal favorites. Keep'em coming!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 17, 2008 11:18 AM

The Passionate Vegetarian is FABULOUS. My omnivore husband loves everything from it I have made so far. Also, Vegetarian Times is really worth subscribing to, even for omnivores. Lots of lovely recipes in it.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 12:24 PM

Along with the ones you and others have mentioned (and the downsides that you also mentioned, I have a few more. I would also like to recommend Nava Atlas (her newer ones are vegan but her older and vegetarian) but steer away from a lot of the meat analogs, we love the Family and her Express ones. And don't forget to check out Cooking Light (their website too). Each month they even have a section devoted to veggie meals and I know for a fact that Deborah Madison and Peter Berley we featured at points relatively recently. And Veg Times also has a nice website to check for recipes, along with their magazine. They seem to actually be leaning towards changing their magazine's focus to appeal more towards people who are eating more veggie meals.

Posted by: JJ | January 17, 2008 1:19 PM

Has everyone forgotten the classic Vegetarian Epicure? Anna Thomas' wonderful soup and bread (in particular her challah and Swedish rye) are not to be missed.

Also, Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, et al, has some terrific recipes and an excellent philosophy.

Posted by: Judi | January 18, 2008 6:57 AM

I have to confess to an addiction to vegetarian cookbooks. I've been cooking vegetarian meals for 30 years and I'm a compulsive cookbook buyer. I agree with many of the previous suggestions...including the blog: 101cookbooks, all of the Moosewood cookbooks, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Someone mentioned a book by Jeanne Lemlin; I highly recommend ALL of her cookbooks (Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, Main Course Vegetarian Pleasures, and Vegetarian Classics). The recipes are generally quick and easy to prepare and are always tasty (even her desserts are delicious).
I'd also like to recommend a few other books: The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman; 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains by Andrea Chesman; Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson; One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson; The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas; Good Food Book by Jane Brody; Good Food Gourmet by Jane Brody (the Brody books aren't vegetarian, but they include vegetarian recipes). Another book that I've been enjoying lately is Simply Salads by Jennifer Chandler. It's not a vegetarian cookbook, but it has many delicious salads that complement our meals.
I'd probably recommend the Lemlin books as the best choices for people looking for simple recipes that don't take long to prepare.
Hope this helps.

Posted by: Jennifer | January 18, 2008 9:59 AM

I echo the recommendations for Moosewood cookbooks. I have the revised original (given to me in 1992) and it's been a go-to book. I'm even having spinach ricotta pie for lunch (I substituted chevre for ricotta and got a unique flavor).

For specialized cooking, I suggest going to a cuisine where vegetarian eating is the norm. This is Indian cooking for me. The dishes are rich, but I've found one can cut the fat in half without adverse effects. I use a mixture of clarified butter and canola oil for my ghee to cut the cholesterol. The Art of Indian Cooking is my go-to book; it's not vegetarian, but there are many fish and vegetarian recipes in it. I think there are some low-fat Indian cookbooks out there, but haven't tried them so I can't make a recommendation.

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | January 18, 2008 1:07 PM

I agree with the Moosewoods suggestion but wanted to jump in and say that my favorite of is "The Moosewood Cooks at Home". It has lots of great world flavors and I've enjoyed everything I've made from it.

Posted by: late to the party | January 18, 2008 1:14 PM

I just thought of another one after reading the post by Blade who recommends exploring vegetarian cooking through world cuisines. For me that would be "The Red, White, and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables" by Faith Willinger. This is NOT a vegetarian cookbook as the Italians by no means embrace vegetarianism, but they do love their vegetables! The book is organized into chapters by vegetable groups (e.g. the broccoli chapter also includes recipes for cauliflower; the chapter on greens has spinach, kale, and mustard greens, etc.) that highlight the recipes of Willinger's Italian husband, friends, and restauranteurs who shared. She also provides interesting histories on each of the veggie groups. Naturally there are many pasta recipes but also plenty of sautes, fritatates, etc.

Posted by: Sean | January 19, 2008 6:52 AM

I've made a few recipes from Mark Bitman's "How to cook everything..." food bible, with my own twist on things, and they were great. Those interested in dipping in the world of vegetarian cooking may want to check out where you can find many interesting, and easy!, recipes and ideas for meatless meals. Also check out "Vegan w/ a Vengence," it's a fun cookbook. I find that substituting tofu (pre ssed,smashed and mixed with your fav italian herb blend) for some of the ricotta and meat in lasagna is good. Also replacing meat with grilled eggplant is good is making fajitas. Litelife brand Tempeh (available is most groceries, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods) is a great substitute for meat in soups, chilis, fajitas, and baked pasta dishes; it's great in fajitas when rubbed with spices, lime, and rum then grilled (tofu is good the same way). Just don't be afraid of trying new things.
PS- Whole Foods brand tofu is cheap too($0.99) so trying something different wont necessarily break the bank for the week.

Posted by: Mike P | January 20, 2008 11:56 AM

I have long searched for but have never found a good vegetarian cookbook on Asian cuisine (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese). Something similar to "A Spoonful of Ginger" but purely vegetarian.

Posted by: Sarah | January 22, 2008 1:23 PM

I am a die-hard "Passionate Vegetarian" fan. Her recipes are just delish, different, and devine.

Posted by: Sarah | January 24, 2008 2:06 PM

My favorite vegetarian cookbook of all time is Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family by Ken Haedrich. I have had this book for over 10 years and it is still my favorite. I have not been disappointed in any of its recipes. Haedrich has other vegetarian cookbooks as well - I just made "healthy" chocolate chip cookies using his Country Baking cookbook and my eleven-year-old said they were great - this from a boy who if vehemently protests if he suspects whole wheat flour has been used.

Posted by: Bess S. | January 24, 2008 2:52 PM

Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything: Vegetarian
is my new go too that I recently bought, as is:
Myra Kornfeld's The Healthy Headonist, a "Flexitarian" cookbook (some chicken and fish)

My good ol' standbys are:
Madhur Jaffry's Vegetarian Cooking
and
Diana Shaw's Almost Vegetarian (also includes some chicken and fish)

Posted by: DeenaJR | January 25, 2008 12:31 PM

Had a veggie [soy]meat substitute a renfair
had a texture like chicken was boiled and served with a sause any ideas?

Posted by: lyladaugherty@yahoo.com | March 8, 2008 8:31 PM

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