Even Non-Vegetarians Have Much to Learn from These Top Vegetarian Cookbooks

updated Apr 30, 2019
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The notion of just eating vegetables has changed quite a bit over the last few years. That’s not to say that the lentil loaf has gone out of style — just that there’s a new vibrancy to how we think about eating vegetables, and it will make you rethink what a good vegetable or vegetarian cookbook should be about.

There’s a long history of excellent cookbooks that have been in the business of turning any kind of eater into a veggie-lover; there’s also a crop of newcomers with something refreshing to add to the conversation. That’s exactly what makes these cookbooks some of the best.

I know a lot of “best” lists seem random and arbitrary, but these cookbooks have some serious lessons to teach us, regardless of whatever else happens to be on our plate. These cookbooks are vegetable-focused and most are vegetarian or even vegan. And they’re the best because you don’t have to be either of those things to love the recipes, tips, and wisdom they share.

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Bryant Terry’s vegetable cooking is always going to do two things: make you incredibly hungry while also erasing the notion that vegetables (or vegan cuisine for that matter) do not satisfy. I received this book as a gift when it first came out in 2009, and it’s been a favorite ever since.

There’s a creative spark in every recipe: Collard greens get cooked with raisins and OJ for a sparkling take on the long-stewed staple of the Southern table, the richness of creamed corned is balanced with biting ginger, and even black-eyed peas are reimagined in dishes like BBQ baked beans.

The canon of soul food has always been an endless trove of inspiration. Terry has explored it for us and brings lessons of flavor and technique to the forefront and shows us what they’re all about. He just happens to teach those lessons through his unique take on vegetables.

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It is impossible to flip through a book by Yotam Ottolenghi and not learn something new. Whether you’re being introduced to a new ingredient, flavor combination, or technique, his vegetable-forward cooking is always instructional, although you’ll never feel like you’re being lectured.

All of his cookbooks (especially Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty, Plenty More, and Nopi) stoke curiosity through the visual appeal of the food and Ottolenghi’s ability to turn the flavors of his Middle Eastern heritage into a universal definition of delicious vegetable cooking. Plenty and Plenty More are vegetarian, but there’s delicious inspiration for your vegetable cookery to be had from the whole suite.

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Laura Wright’s plant-based recipes have a dreamy quality to them, but they’re never so precious that you feel intimidated about making them. That same spirit, originating on her blog, found a home in her first cookbook. With a seasonal focus and a strong nod to the ability of plants to make us feel better, she’s created a collection of recipes for anyone seeking to bring some wellness-through-food into the routine. There’s a lifestyle in her food, but it’s more invitational than prescriptive and it relies heavily on the idea that plant-based foods should be delicious. The stunning photography doesn’t hurt either.

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4. Veganomicon, $35

Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been in the business of teaching people to love vegan and vegetable-based foods long before the idea of “eating plants” was a part of how we talked about vegetarian and vegan diets. With her show Post-Punk Kitchen, she created community around vegan foods and instructed people how to make things like vegan mac and cheese, tamales, and baked tofu. Basically, the food you want to eat. You can learn how to cook from this book, and that’s not something many vegetarian — let alone vegan cookbooks — set out to do.

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How many root vegetables are you truly familiar with? This encyclopedia-cookbook hybrid sets out to introduce you to a whole new world of root veggies while giving you a fresh take on the old regulars. If you’re still asking WTF is kohlrabi? but also need a new way to cook your sweet potatoes, you’ll find the answer and a handful of delightful recipes in this thoroughly tested and beautifully written book.

Note: This book is out of print, but it’s such a classic that I had to include it. You can still get it for your Kindle or find a used copy!

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Mark Bittman has made a habit of explaining how to cook things simply, efficiently, and deliciously over the course of his extensive cookbook career. In this book, the cooking centers around vegetables and the simplicity remains. If you vibe with the format of How to Cook Everything, with recipes building off one another in the effort to teach handy techniques, then this book will be no different in its usefulness. The latest edition of this book includes recipes that represent how we think about vegetable-focused cooking today, so expect to find chia pudding next to a basic and very tasty recipe for lentil soup.

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The Georgia-based chef Hugh Acheson had your farmers market and CSA in mind in writing this cookbook. It’s organized by ingredient, with the idea that you could flip to the chapter on carrots when you ended up with a stunning bunch in your weekly box. You won’t find old rehashed recipes here, though. Each feels fresh and clever but never so chef-y that you’re put off from trying them. (As for those carrots, Acheson offers up recipes like carrot soup with brown butter, pecans, and yogurt.) A caveat: This isn’t a vegetarian cookbook — meat, fish, and seafood do make an occasional appearance — but the flavor and innovative use of these recipes make it instructive for every kind of eater.

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The breakfast chapter alone is the reason to add this vegetarian cookbook to your collection. The recipes are inventive, but they still manage to capture the satisfaction of a hearty Southern breakfast. Whether it’s the sweet potato grits with maple mushroom and a fried egg or the eggs Benedict with a rich espresso red-eye gravy, the boldness of the flavor combinations makes this a refreshing vegetarian cookbook that’s filled with plant-based takes on the foods you want on an abundant Southern table.

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There are plenty of classic guides on vegetable and vegetarian cooking out there, but Barbara Kafka is who you turn to when you want someone who really loves their veggies to teach you a few things. This is one of those books that concentrates on the vegetable more than the vegetarianism — and the essential information is indispensable for anyone who finds themselves eating mostly plants out of love for vegetables. The chapters are broken into vegetables by region, so you can explore what grows in the Mediterranean Basin one night and have something from North Africa the next. With more than 750 recipes and a voice and enthusiasm that adds to the pleasure of cooking from it, Vegetable Love is one of those cult-favorite cookbooks that has been a staple on many shelves since it was published in 2005.

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10. Provisions, $30

Perhaps the freshest take on vegetarian food right now comes from sisters Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau. Their book explores the roots of Caribbean cooking, taking particular care to highlight the vegetarian recipes that come from the region’s rich history. The recipes are undoubtedly modern, but they weave in the ingredients, flavors, and techniques of the West Indies and surrounding islands to include dishes like okra with scotch bonnet, cilantro, coconut, and lime or a pot pie stuffed with callaloo, plantains, and goat cheese. Every recipe is a wake-up call to what vegetarian cooking can be when you step off of the beaten path.

Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this? Add them in the comments below!