Even if you're not a vegetarian (or were only a vegetarian for a week in college) chances are you have a vegetarian cookbook on your shelves. Why? If done right, vegetarian food can be some of the most amazing and innovative food available. Despite being identified by what you can't eat, the truth is vegetarian cooking is very flexible and can accommodate many kinds of diets and preferences, including (gasp!) those who want to add a bit of meat now and then.
So what are some essential vegetarian cookbooks that we always keep on our shelves, no matter what the current food trends? The ones we reach for, whether we're pulling together a dinner party or just trying to get tonight's supper on the table? And what about the newer vegetarian cookbooks? Are there any instant classics out there? To answer this, we gathered a list of 10 essential vegetarian cookbooks. Take a look and see if your favorite is among them.
Note: These are specifically vegetarian cookbooks. While meat is excluded, other animal products like dairy, honey, and eggs are allowed. This list is in chronological order of release date.
1. Still Life with Menu Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, $35
Mollie Katzen has given us numerous vegetarian cookbooks from her wonderfully hand-lettered The Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest to her latest, The Heart of the Plate. But it's Still Life with Menu that pulls at my heart, with its colorful paintings and 32 delicious and varied vegetarian menus. Beyond that, Katzen offers vegetarian versions of Thanksgiving, Seder, and barbecue menus, as well as many pasta, stir-fry, and quick dinners. Her colorful and lively recipes are always a delight, but the black bean chili with pineapple salsa alone is reason to keep this book around.
2. Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective, $27
It can't be a vegetarian cookbook list without a Moosewood title, right? But which of their many excellent volumes to choose? The answer is easy for me: Sundays at Moosewood is my hands-down favorite. This collection of recipes is drawn from their special Sunday night meals when they presented foods from one particular ethnic, national, or regional cuisine, giving this book tremendous scope and usefulness. Here you will find recipes from the Caribbean, Chile, Japan, North and South Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Serbia, the American South, India, Finland, the list goes on. A wonderful source to dip into and discover something new and exciting to play with.
3. Fields of Greens by Annie Somerville, $40
Fields of Greens is part of a trio of vegetarian cookbooks released in the late 1980s and early 1990s that really elevated vegetarian cooking from its stogy, tired reputation as beige, indigestible hippie food. I could have chosen any of those three books (The Greens Cookbook and The Savory Way are the other two), but I really wanted to highlight Somerville's pioneering farm-to-table recipes and her sophisticated yet approachable recipes. Her abundant use of fresh herbs, lively peppers and spices, and hyper-seasonal ingredients creates a palate that is just as modern and relevant today as it was back in the 1990s when this book was published. Many dishes from Fields of Greens are still in rotation in my kitchen today, but I have to say her ginger pound cake cannot be beat.
Your vegetarian cookbook shelf would not be complete without something from Madhur Jaffrey. While it was tempting to include her seminal Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, I settled on this more contemporary and ultimately more comprehensive volume instead. With 650 recipes representing five continents, Jaffrey explores the vast range and diversity of vegetarian cooking. Its scope means that you will be able to pick this book up and find dozens of ways to work with beans, lentils, vegetables, dairy, and grains. Drinks, soups, and salads are covered as well as desserts. The wisdom of Jaffrey's decades spent in the kitchen (in between her acting gigs!) is abundant and evident.
5. The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley, $22
It's with The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen that our list begins to turn from tried-and-true classics towards a more modern approach to vegetarian food. I've often referred to this book as the best vegetarian cookbook you've never heard of. Here you will find fresh and innovative takes on working with traditional vegetarian foods like tofu and tempeh woven in with pastas, polenta, and hearty stews and soups. There's everything from tempeh and vegetables braised in a spicy lemon-coconut broth to string beans in a honey-lemon mustard vinaigrette. Berley is a master instructor and has much to teach us about the pleasures of the vegetarian kitchen.
6. How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, $35
This book has more than 2000 recipes (and variations). That's kind of astounding! Clearly "everything" here actually means everything, literally from soup to nuts. If you want to whittle your cookbook collection down to a few efficient volumes, then you can't go wrong with having Mr. Bittman represent your vegetarian repertoire. Bonus points for highlighting recipes that can be made in advance, or in less than 30 minutes.
7. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi, $35
London-based Yotam Ottolenghi has become an internationally known restaurateur and cookbook author with millions of books in print. Dive into Plenty (and its follow-up Plenty More) and it's quickly apparent why. Here is fresh, Mediterranean-influenced food at its finest, with pops of bright, acidic flavors from barberries, lemon, and sumac. Here are eggplants broiled into submission, carrots roasted until sweet and tender, and sauces made with tahini or thick yogurt. Fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds are strewn everywhere, and silky green olive oil runs like a river. To cook from Plenty is to invite a world of vivid, sensuous flavors into your kitchen. I hope you're ready!
8. Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen by Heidi Swanson, $23
Heidi Swanson leads with a whole foods approach to vegetarian food, with equal weight put on deliciousness, nutrition, and beautiful presentation. The recipes here are straightforward and bring an elegant aesthetic to the vegetarian table. The 'Every Day' in the title means that these aren't going to be overly fancy or complicated recipes and that you might find yourself, indeed, reaching for this book nearly every day. From her beautiful photographs to recipes for breakfasts, snacks, dinner, and dessert, Swanson builds a world that I am more than happy to inhabit.
9. The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking: Templates and Lessons for Making Delicious Meatless Meals Every Day by Martha Rose Shulman, $33
A beloved columnist for the New York Times cooking section, Martha Rose Shulman has created thousands of vegetarian recipes over her career, which spans several decades and also includes several cookbooks. Clearly she knows what she is doing. In this book she takes a master recipe approach, something Emma really appreciated in her review. Shulman starts off with a basic recipe that acts as a template and then expands on that to create delicious and seasonal-appropriate variations. This is the book I pull out when the CSA box arrives and I'm at a loss for what to do with all the bounty. Martha Rose Shulman to the rescue!
10. The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, $40
I've said it here many times, but I'll say it again: If I could choose only one cookbook (the horror!) to cook from for the rest of my life, either edition of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone would be it. Comprehensive, relatable, innovative, and yet practical, this book has never let me down. Although I've been cooking from it since its first edition was released in 1997, I still learn something new or discover a forgotten favorite every time I pick it up. The new edition and the old sit side by side on my cookbook shelves, in a place of honor they will forever occupy.
Obviously there are many worthy books that did not make this list. Most of the titles listed here owe a debt to earlier vegetarian cookbooks like Ed Brown's Tassajara collection, the ultra-hippie Laurel's Kitchen, and Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure. Another book I find myself reaching for is The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, which pairs ingredients with flavors for a handy reference. And who knows what will happen to the popular vegetarian books from today! Will Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Cook or Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast become perennial classics? How lucky we are to have so many truly helpful and inspiring cookbooks that bring the tastiest dishes to our tables!