Whether you’re a lifelong vegetarian or curious about eating more plants, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at vegetarian cooking. The past decade has seen an explosion of restaurants that offer solely vegetarian and vegan food, along with a surge of plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives on grocery store shelves. And cookbook publishers have taken note: To capitalize on the growing awareness around plant-based eating, they’ve been turning out vegetarian spins on almost every kind of cuisine. Do you like to make Mexican food, Korean food, Japanese food, or sandwiches at home? There’s a vegetarian cookbook just for you.
With the plethora of plant-based primers out there, though, it can be hard to decide which cookbook is right for the kind of cooking you want to do. If you’re new to the art of making plants your primary source of sustenance, should you pick the several-hundred-page manual or the slimmer, niche volume?
That’s where the following list comes in: It’s a non-comprehensive but wide-ranging look at both old and new cookbooks that will kick-start your creativity, whether you’re interested in eating less meat or going full vegetarian. There’s something for every kind of cook here — from the full-throttle herbivore to the one only reluctantly giving up burgers. No matter which you are, your vegetable drawer will thank you.
Of Meera Sodha’s three fantastic cookbooks, Fresh India is the perfect addition to any vegetarian cook’s kitchen. In it, Sodha explores vegetarian recipes from the Indian subcontinent, with an entire chapter on eggplant — think eggplant fesenjan and sesame and tamarind eggplants with cracked wheat — and a helpful guide to menu ideas for dinner parties. The section on pickles, chutneys, and raitas is an especially welcome if you want to have essential garnishes on hand for any future endeavors into vegetarian Indian cooking. If you want to further explore vegetarian cooking throughout the Asian continent, try Sodha’s East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes From Bangalore to Beijing, which has vegan recipes to boot.
A cookbook (and a restaurant!) that has stood the test of time, Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook — first self-published in 1974 by the cooks and staff of the namesake Ithaca, New York, restaurant and then fully revised and updated in 2014 — has the simultaneous charm and earnestness of a vegetarian cookbook published during the height of the hippie food movement. Along with being fun to read — the extensive section on both hot and cold soups is a testament to the time period in which it was published — it provides a great foundation for learning how to make simple and nourishing meals, like carrot mushroom loaf and gazpacho, with only a few in-season ingredients. Plus, Katzen’s illustrations are so fun.
You’ll find dog-eared, stained, and sticky copies of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian in many home kitchens. When it was published in 2007 as a follow-up to 1998’s How to Cook Everything, it was the perfect gift for the friend trying out vegetarianism or the college student who was learning how to cook on a budget. In classic Bittman style, the book’s hundreds of recipes are short and to the point, and they provide a tool kit for new vegetarians with any skill level to try a range of cuisines with a range of dishes, from black-eyed peas with smoked tofu to spinach ricotta ravioli. You may not rely on it years into your vegetarian journey, but it remains a timeless foundational text for those experimenting with meat-free living for the first time.
Hetty McKinnon is the kind of cookbook author who makes everything sound so good that you don’t even stop to ask if it has meat in it or not. The Australian chef’s family-oriented cookbook is deeply personal, both in McKinnon’s nostalgic storytelling about her mother’s home cooking and in the casual, easygoing way she writes her recipes. Start your journey with a big breakfast and end it with desserts that are decidedly not too sweet, and you’ll see how McKinnon manages to make “Asian-ish” vegetarian cooking (the smashed cucumber salad with tahini and spicy oil is a hit) approachable and delicious and deceptively meatless.
A common misconception about vegetarian and vegan cooking is that it must by necessity be verdantly green and boringly wholesome. Headley’s 2018 Superiority Burger Cookbook, named after his beloved New York City restaurant, provides a glorious and definitive rebuttal: It’s a paean to the vegetarian hamburger, sandwich, and side. The tofu-fried tofu sandwiches are the stuff of legend, the braised collard greens with hot sauce and honey are a delightful side, and the burnt broccoli salad is a welcome accomplice to lunch, dinner, and late-night cravings satisfied straight from the fridge. And given the restaurant’s recent reopening, there’s no better time to dive into Headley’s world.
One of the most lauded cookbooks of 2022, Hannah Che’s The Vegan Chinese Kitchen upends and celebrates tradition in Chinese cooking. Che spins traditional meat-laden dishes like mapo tofu into deliciously vegan ones while showcasing recipes that are historically or naturally made vegan, like pea shoots in mushroom broth. The highlight of Che’s book is her history of vegetarian eating in China, as well as her definitions of different kinds of dietary preferences and terms, from lacto-ovo vegetarian to “side of the pot” vegetarian, meaning vegetarians who eat dishes made with meat but avoid pieces of meat in the dishes themselves. It’s as much a cookbook as it is a historical document and educational resource to turn to time and again.
The author of four vegan cookbooks and Black Food, an art and culture cookbook that features a plethora of vegan recipes, Bryant Terry is the chef and cookbook author to call upon when you want to get rich flavors into your plant-based cooking. Vegetable Kingdom is organized in a nontraditional way, making it all the more interesting for any home cook coming to vegetarian or vegan cooking with fresh eyes. Instead of cataloging by dish, Terry organizes his recipes by ingredient type; this allows home cooks to better acquaint themselves with the kinds of foods that plant-based cooking is composed of, with recipes like hot-sauce-soaked cauliflower over whole wheat bread and panko-crusted cauliflower and coconut curry. These are vegan recipes at their finest, with a playlist featuring artists like H.E.R. and Duke Ellington to go along with them, and guidelines for how to make full and exciting meals.
Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, With 125 Recipes
One of the most important things people should tell you when you become a vegetarian is that you should invest in bean stock — pun intended. You’re about to eat a lot of beans. Anyone with any amount of dry goods storage is confronted with the feeling that sometimes knowing exactly what to do with mason jars full up with beans is a challenge. So thank Joe Yonan for writing a cookbook dedicated to the subject. There’s no bean that he can’t tell you five things to do with: Snack on bean dishes like Ecuadorian lupini bean ceviche or spicy Ethiopian red lentil dip, call on fava beans to make fava, ricotta, and lemon pizza, and red beans to make red bean ice cream. Cool Beans will handily add beans to your cooking arsenal if they’ve never been there before.
Originally published in 1997 and updated and revised in 2014, Madison’s 600-plus-page opus is a compendium of simple but elegant recipes for vegetarian dishes to serve at every meal — more than 1,600 of them. Artichokes braised with leeks and peas might be the move for that dinner party you’re hosting, or maybe it’s the tamale pie or chestnut and lentil soup. If it’s just you cooking for yourself, Madison, a chef and lifelong vegetarian food expert, is a proponent of the leafy salad or the humble sandwich — or, as she calls it, a casual meal. This is the kind of genre-defining cookbook that is as ubiquitous on shelves as any by Diana Kennedy or Julia Child.
Dayna Evans is a writer and baker based in Philadelphia. She is the owner of and head baker at Downtime Bakery. You can read her writing work here.
Marylu E. Herrera (she/her) is a Chicago-based Chicana collage, print media, craft, and fiber artist. Her collage work has been featured in the Cut, the Los Angeles Times, Bitch Media, Eater, and Punch.