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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

6 Cookbooks from Black Authors That Will Help You Enjoy More Veggies

published Jul 28, 2021
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It’s always a good idea to build your kitchen skills and diversify your arsenal of go-to meals. Why not do that and bring more veggies into your life? Whether you’ve decided to veggify your diet due to health concerns, climate reasons, or good ol’ curiosity, working more plant-based dishes into your repertoire can introduce you to new ingredients and flavor combinations. 

As a co-owner of BEM books & more, a new online bookstore devoted to food literature of the African diaspora, I love being able to recommend recipes and resources that expand a home cook’s toolkit and imagination. The bulk of our collection consists of cookbooks that do just that, and we also carry fiction, nonfiction, kids’ books, and poetry that honor the culinary heritage of Black cultures around the world. In particular, many of our vegetable-forward cookbooks reference the deep legacy of plant-based eating across the diaspora.

Here, I’ve rounded up six cookbooks that will bring some intrigue to your veggie routine — they all center and celebrate vegetables and their glorious possibilities from distinctly Black American and Caribbean perspectives. If you’re looking to up your plant game, dig into the books below!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. The Ethnic Vegetarian by Angela Shelf Medearis 

In the introduction to her 2004 cookbook, Angela Shelf Medearis shares that adding vegetarian dishes to her family’s omnivorous diet led to “adventuresome” eating and a cultural revelation. Exploring her own African, African American, and Native American heritage with chapters dedicated to Caribbean, Creole, and Cajun cuisines as well, this book takes readers on a journey filled with charm and inspiration. From the anecdote introducing Djaja Tarat (The Chicken That Flew), a Moroccan vegetable stew indeed devoid of chicken, to her invocation of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom to preface her simplified rendition of South African Samp and Cowpeas (or Umngqusho — it’s titled both ways), you can count on The Ethnic Vegetarian to bring big flavor and thoughtful connections to your cooking. 

The recipes are clear and often straightforward, and many — from all the regions represented — can be pulled together with ingredients you’re likely to have on hand (and if you don’t, the Ethnic Vegetarian Kitchen section will help to get you there!). For an expansive and accessible vegetarian addition to your cookbook collection, this book is an excellent choice. 

Buy now: The Ethnic Vegetarian: Traditional and Modern Recipes from Africa, America, and the Caribbean

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. Vegetable Kingdom by Bryant Terry 

Vegetable Kingdom empowers home chefs by introducing them to new flavors, ingredients, and techniques. The recipes in this book focus on the culinary heritage of African and Asian diasporas and will teach eaters of all ages different ways to enjoy the abundance of vegetables. Complete with tips for advance prep and music pairings throughout, this cookbook will encourage you to grab something unfamiliar at the market and see what you can build around the ingredient.

The book is thoughtfully structured — the first recipe in each section is designed to deepen the kitchen skills that will buoy your confidence when working with something new. Terry knows that food can be studied as high culture, with history written right into recipes, and that everyday meals will always constitute the foundations of family and community. Both angles are fully present in the pages of Vegetable Kingdom, which will make you a better cook whether you’re strictly vegan or just wading into the pools of plant-based eating.

Buy now: Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet

When Gregory Gourdet — Top Chef favorite and acclaimed chef-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Kann — got sober, he also embarked on a new dietary path. Everyone’s Table is a reflection of that journey, enriched by the flavors of his Haitian heritage, Southeast Asian influences, and formidable knowledge and culinary skills. With 200 recipes that cover everything from suggested serving temperatures to the continents where the ingredients come from, you’re likely to find yourself so enthralled that you won’t even realize that the recipes are also entirely free of gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, and legumes. 

Gourdet approaches diet flexibly with a deep respect for the craft of cooking and hospitality. He “aims to be rather comprehensive,” so there are chapters devoted to seafood, birds, and meats, but there are beautiful veggie recipes throughout like the perfectly seasonal High-Summer Salad with Coconut Dressing and Lots of Herbs or the standout Whole Roasted Jerk Cauliflower. You’ll also find a Tomato-Hazelnut Milk Soup with Garam Masala before you reach the “Ferments, Pickles, and Preserves” and “Purées, Sauces, Dressings, Oils, Butters, and Milks” chapters. This is a book that provides stellar building blocks for increasing flavor and dimension in your own freestyle veggie inventions with a focus on healthful “superfood” ingredients. 

Buy now: Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. Sweet Potato Soul by Jenné Claiborne

For those new to vegan cooking and who want to infuse their food with flavor, Jenné Claiborne’s Sweet Potato Soul is a wonderful introduction to the world of plant-based cookery. Claiborne draws from her upbringing in Atlanta and plant-oriented African foodways to craft the much-talked-about recipes that are featured in this cookbook (and on her blog and YouTube channel!). 

From scrumptious holiday swaps like Maple Sausage Ciabatta Filling to treats like No-Bake Sweet Potato Gingerbread Bars, Sweet Potato Soul will have you serving comfort food favorites without relying on animal-based proteins. The handy introduction also provides guidance on setting up a vegan kitchen and, naturally, outlines the various types and uses of the ever-versatile sweet potato. The book is full of beautiful photography to accompany the easy-to-follow recipes and family anecdotes that give the book its heart. 

Buy now: Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

5. Plum by Makini Howell

Makini Howell’s cookbook is guided by the idea that veganism offers expansion rather than limitation. From Tiramisu Pancakes to Grilled Black Plum and Jicama Salad with Radicchio, Plum offers something for “every meal and mood.”  With a range of gluten- and soy-free recipes, the book also includes a Transitional Raw chapter, as well as one devoted to seitan, tofu, and tempeh. 

For vegans, the egg foams and soy creams in the fundamentals section are sure to become invaluable standbys (like in the Toasted Chocolate Bread with Cream Cheese Crème Fraîche). And pizza-lovers, take note: Recipes for Pesto Plum Pizza with Balsamic Arugula, Grilled Spelt Crust Pizza with Pears and Ricotta, and Kale Pesto ”Pizza” all appear in the book, so you’ll have plenty of options to dig into and enjoy.

Buy now: Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

6. Provisions by Michelle & Suzanne Rousseau

Co-authors, restaurateurs, and sisters Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau describe this cookbook as an “ingredient-focused vegetarian book.” Provisions offers a range of vegetable dishes from across the Caribbean, including Cassava Fries with Sous de Pinda, a sumptuous peanut sauce inspired by a food-truck snack in Curacao, and Mamacita’s Arepas with Black Beans and Queso Blanco.

The book also illustrates ways to use the same ingredient in different preparations such as ackee, which is a fruit native to tropical West Africa that migrated to the Caribbean. In Provisions it anchors both tacos with “Island Guacamole,” and a vegetarian lasagna. Similarly, plantain is paired both with Gruyère in a gratin and Parmesan in an arugula salad. Most readers will find both familiar comforts and new ideas among these pages. It’s the perfect cookbook for those who want to indulge in vegetables with rich flavors and thoughtful combinations.

Buy now: Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking

What are your favorite vegetable-centered cookbooks? Let us know in the comments!