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Vegetarian cookbook recommendation needed

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My 18 year old son has just moved into an apartment and wants to cook vegetarian. He has some experience cooking but still probably needs a beginner level cookbook. Ideas?

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  1. When I was in his shoes, which was almost 30 year ago!!!, the answer was Moosewood Cookbook. I would still recomend it since the reciepes are simple, hearty, and quite good. (The most recent editions have reduced dairy, which bums me out, but is probably for the best.) Broccoli Forest is also a tried and true veteran in my kitchen.

    There are so many other choices that are more modern, more foodie, more interesting, more exciting... but for a beginner on a budget, Mollie Katzen's recipes are winners.

    Another extremely useful reference book is the Victory Garden Cookbook.

    1. I'm vegetarian, and mostly vegan (I eat eggs at home now, but was entirely vegan for a good 15-16 years). Many of my favorite cookbooks are actually non-vegetarian though. One that I would especially recommend is Chez Panisse Vegetables. While not all the recipes are vegetarian, many are, and others can be adapted easily with minor substitutions. Also, Alice Waters clearly loves vegetables, and has great bits at the beginning of each section (the book is organized by vegetable) about how to choose, store, and prepare many different vegetables. It's not a "beginner" cookbook, and yes, Waters is a perfectionist, but most of the recipes are fairly simple and well explained, and to me, a lot of cooking vegetarian is choosing and preparing vegetables properly, which the book does a good job of. I like The Art of Simple Food quite a bit as well, and that one has some other good general information, but it's not quite as vegetable-based.

      It might be a bit overwhelming, but I would also recommend "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman. The book is giant, and it's got some great basic cooking and cookware tips, as well as lots of fairly quick / simple recipes.

      I go back to Fannie Farmer cookbook sometimes for recipes for quick-breads and other random stuff, mostly because it was a cookbook we used around our house growing up. Some of the stuff is kind of dated, but if I want to know how to make biscuits, doughnuts, or cornbread or something, it's one place I'll look (besides online). If there's any general-purpose cookbook like that in your family (Joy of Cooking, James Beard, etc.), might buy him a copy of that also. Sure, a lot of the recipes won't be applicable, but some of the basic ideas / techniques may come in handy.

      I'll take a look at home and see if I have any others that are worth picking up. Are there any specific types of food or ethnic cuisines that he especially likes?

      On a semi-related note, if he doesn't already, he should have a *good* to great quality 8-10" chef's knife and a cheap paring knife (a set is pretty unnecessary, especially for a vegetarian), and I'd recommend reading this story (about kitchen essentials) if you haven't already:
      Try to get him to go to a basic knife-skills class (just a few hours should do it) - vegetarian cooking involves a lot of chopping, and knowing how to use a knife properly will be a skill that will greatly benefit his cooking (and help him avoid bad habits that will be harder to unlearn later). Bittman's book has some tips on knife skills, but for me, at least, a hands-on tutorial was very helpful in learning how to use a knife.

      1 Reply
      1. re: will47

        Great suggestions. He has had 100 hours of sous chef training so I think he knows the basics but a good set of knives is a great idea.

      2. I'm not a fan of the Moosewood books. But I guess they are a "staple" for a lot of people.

        My go-to books are Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and the previously mentioned "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Bittman. There is definitely overlap between the two and a normal person wouldn't need both. :) I find I go to Madison's book more frequently.

        I also have a Williams Sonoma book called "Vegetarian" that I like but I wouldn't call that a comprehensive type book. Ditto for "Olive Trees and Honey".

        1. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is terrific, and quite possibly all he needs. If he's new to vegetarian cooking/eating, he might also like The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld. It's 85% veg, with some recipes for healthy and delicious chicken and fish meals. For those dishes she also provides a veg substitute/option. Jack Bishop's (from ATK) A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen is also a great book, with lots of hearty meals that take advantage of seasonal availability -- could be particularly useful if he joins a co-op or CSA.

          1. I was vegetarian for 17 years and have many cookbooks. I'm a huge fan of Deborah Madison's first two books, "The Greens Cookbook" and "The Savory Way," though I'm not with most people on "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," whose recipes I find rudimentary and often too hippy-ish -- except for the many recipes that require extremely esoteric ingredients. It's more a reference book than a cookbook -- and it's actually sometimes wrong, relying on folk wisdom instead of science. I want my cookbooks to be tested and edited, not to tell me that "salt makes beans tough," which isn't true. I also find her tone cringingly snobby. I'm so critical of this book because of its aspirations, and because I find the other two so good.

            I also have to dissent on any of the old Mollie Katzen books, which are certainly enthusiastic -- but are on the whole probably most responsible for 1970s vegetarian cooking's often-deserved bad rap. The flavors are muddy, and the combinations of ingredients range from uncreative to acid-trip bizarre. The original recipes were also unbelievably high in fat, though new editions have lightened them up, I believe.

            All of Madhur Jaffrey's books I've tried are excellent, particularly "World Vegetarian." Seppo Ed Farrey's "3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery" is fantastic, imaginative and contemplative. Even though I'm back to omnivore status, I still cook from it.

            Also check out "The Passionate Vegetarian" by Crescent Dragonwagon and of course Bittman.

            Charlie Trotter's "Raw" has some delicious, exceptionally labor-intensive recipes. Please ignore the silly "science" of the raw food cult, though, and just enjoy the nice salads masquerading as main courses.

            5 Replies
            1. re: dmd_kc

              Awww! I love Veg Cooking for Everyone. Hippy-ish in this context means not very sophisticated and vegetarian for the sake of being vegetarian, with no regard to actual resulting flavor or texture. Is that the sense you mean to convey? If so, I would disagree with you. It is true that not all recipes in this book are suitable for an elegant dinner to serve to company. But then most of my cooking is for the family. So it suits my cooking style perfectly. As for the salt and beans thing, I want to go check the tenth anniversary edition (yes, I have two editions of this book!) to see if she fixed it. In either case, in many recipes - like the split pea soup I've been making a lot lately - I know she says to add salt plus water and then cook.
              Time to start agreeing with you a little, dmd_kc .. ;-) I did love Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian! I liked Bittman's too, but haven't bought myself a copy yet. I think the times I borrowed it, I got lost in the variations too much instead of focusing on one. I look forward to checking out your other recs.

              1. re: sweetTooth

                By "hippy-ish," I mean that too many of the "recipes" involve just cooking whatever vegetables/starches you have and throwing them together, often with butter or cheese. There's one recipe in there that's macaroni, onions and potatoes thunked together in a bowl, if I remember correctly. That was the first one that really made me think, "Hrm -- she's reaching back to before she knew how to cook." It's one of several that make me think of prison food.

                It's just that the other two set such a high standard and are so very creative. "Everyone" tries to be a how-to manual, but it just falls short for me. I don't like being critical, but that one's a particular sore spot for me.

                1. re: dmd_kc

                  I find her recipes to be very simple, but I don't think that's a bad thing (certainly good for a beginning cook)...since I tend to avoid recipes with much cheese I guess I didn't notice those recipes in her book...so far I have very much enjoyed everything I have made from this book and have not found it hippyish (I would consider Moosewood hippyish). It's a huge book though with tons of recipes...I'll have to try the other two though.

              2. re: dmd_kc

                I'm not vegetarian anymore, but I was for years, so I still have quite a few vegetarian cookbooks. I have to agree with you on Deborah Madison. I've had Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone forever and rarely use it (except for bean recipes - I find that she's quite good on beans). On the other hand, I really enjoy The Savory Way. However, it's kind of fussy, and also somewhat expensive to cook from, not great for a beginner.

                I recently bought How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for my dad, who sticks to simple recipes, and he loves it. This is probably what I would choose for my desert island vegetarian cookbook, and I think it would be great for a young person just starting out. I would actually like to have this book but I can't rationalize the purchase since I already have How to Cook Everything. How many giant Bittman books does one person need?

                I've had a lot of Katzen/Moosewood books in my time, and I got rid of all of them except "Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home." Even this one I don't use too much, but my mom likes it a lot.

                1. re: dmd_kc

                  I also love Greens and Savory Way. Greens is somewhat more complex; Savory Way simpler, but both are very solid. I have Veganomicon, but haven't been as thrilled with the recipes I've tried. While not 100% vegetarian, I've found 660 Curries to have a wide variety of interesting recipes that are vegetarian. That's the one I've been going to most lately when I am making something for my vegetarian daughter (and the rest of us)

                2. Thanks for all the suggestions. Guess I'll hit a bookstore this weekend and pick one for him.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ola

                    Not sure if it is available where you are but the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook (by the owners of Rebar Restaurant in Victoria BC is fantastic.... even if you aren't a vegetarian).

                  2. Yet one more vote for the Bittman book. I have about 60 veg cookbooks, and when my sister got me the Bittman for Chrismas, I thought it would be pointless. It's a *great* introduction to techniques as well as recipes. And of course, nowadays, with the internet, finding recipes for veg food is simple. Google "recipe vegetarian panna cotta" (or whatever) and you'll get 50 choices. Also, if your son goes to Youtube, you'll see tons more recipes (which has the advantage of being able to watch the dish actually being made.).

                    1. In addition to what other posters have recommended:
                      1,0000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles. fairly "new" and current, as opposed to Moosewood, lots of grains, veggies, desserts, not so much, but some, tofu or seitan.
                      The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley. Baking and much more, somewhat "restaurant" style cooking from the chef of the venerable Angelica Kitchen in NYC, involving a higher skill level, but since your son sounds like he's on his way to a culinary career, he may find this one useful.
                      I like both of these and Deborah Madison has my heart.

                      1. I will once again reiterate "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian". It's a fantastic resource. Kind of the vegetarian's Joy of Cooking.

                        Also, if your son likes ethnic cuisine, I love Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian". Although she's known for Indian cooking, this book has recipes from all over the world. I've had it for almost a year, and I haven't even come close to cooking all the recipes that I'd like to.

                        1. My first immediate thought was The Student's Vegetarian Cookbook. It focuses on simplicity and economical ingredients, perfect for those living in student apartments or dorm rooms. But the fact that he has some chef's training, it may be a bit too basic for him. I'd still take a look through it if you happen to see it in the bookstore. Can't remember the author though.

                          1. I spent a wonderful rainy afternoon at the bookstore on Sunday. Though I liked both Madison's and Bittman's books, I thought they would be intimidating for an 18 year old. I finally picked "The Vegetarian 5 Ingedient Gourmet" by Nava Atlas.
                            Thanks for your suggestions.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ola

                              Surely if he's worked as a sous chef for 100 hours, he can handle a cookbook designed for home cooks.

                            2. Jeanne Lemlin also has fabulous, easy-to-use veg books--"Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" and "Simple Vegetarian Pleasures." Highly recommended.

                              1. Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero's Veganomicon. It's vegan, not vegetarian, but it's a fabulously modern, flavorful, non-sloppy, non-hippie vegetable-centered cookbook. If you want to make the recipes lacto-ovo veg it's easy to add cheese or eggs. There is a huge reference section on how to prepare beans, grains and veggies and a nice range of flavors and spices.

                                1. I want to echo the recommendation for How to Cook Everything. Best $40 I have ever spent on my kitchen. The book is easy and fun to read, has great recipes and encourages actually learning to cook rather than just following recipes.

                                  When I started cooking exclusively vegetarian at home I picked this up and it changed my kitchen. I had been cooking for a few years, but my roommate who had never cooked also got into it and now that we're in separate countries, she emails me her cooking adventures based on Bittman's book.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: montrealwaitress

                                    I was a vegetarian for twenty years or so, and my favorite cookbooks to begin with were the two Vegetarian Epicure books by Anna Thomas - probably too heavy on dairy for many today, but I have no problem with fat or dairy. Her macaroni and cheese is still my favorite , to this day. I never much cared for the Moosewood Cookbooks, except for Sundays at Moosewood, which I actually still use all the time. I have Veg. Cooking for Everyone and find I almost never use it - my opinion of it is similar to dmd kc's.

                                    My best friend just got the Bittman book for Christmas and it's kind of inspired me to want to get it, even though I have his other books. It really does cover a lot of ground. But the book I loved the most, and maybe the ONLY cookbook I literally cooked all the way through from cover to cover, was Madhur Jaffrey's Vegetarian Worlds of the East. Oh my god! That and the Joy of Cooking provided most of my basic cooking instruction. I haven't really looked at her World Vegetarian, but I assume it would be great.

                                  2. I really like Clean Food by Terry Walters. http://whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010/02/...

                                    Also, Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cathyeats

                                      Sorry, I should have copied my blog posting here instead of just linking to it (per Chowhound etiquette!). So here is my mini-review of Clean Food:

                                      One of my most recent purchases is Clean Food, by Terry Walters. I think the back cover convinced me to buy it, with shout-outs from heavy hitters like Mario Batali, Charlie Trotter and Alice Waters.

                                      I would file this one on my “super wholesome” shelf, because it focuses on vegan food with simple, unprocessed, nutritious ingredients. Many recipes contain legumes and interesting grains like quinoa, as well as meat substitutes like seitan (hey, don’t knock it – I will make a seitan lover out of you soon enough) and of course, seasonal vegetables. While she occasionally calls for a few ingredients you might not have floating around your kitchen, such as mirin or kombu, the recipes are generally very simple to make. I whipped up a meat loaf-ish thing with lentils, nuts and apples, which tasted like Thanksgiving stuffing, but with less carbs. Right up my alley.