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Feb 19, 2010 10:46 AM

Vegetarian cookbook recommendation needed

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 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)