This list of the best vegetarian cookbooks of all time has been decades in the making. While meat and fish still reign supreme in many American households, chefs and cookbook authors around the country have increasingly been jumping on the veggie bandwagon—proving that plant-based cuisine can be more than those ’70s-bred, earthy stereotypes of dense carob chip muffins and seitan “bacon” would have us believe.
Animal and environmental welfare, as well as general human health, are all good reasons for home cooks to eat less meat and experiment with veg and vegan cooking. But so is taste: As you cook your way through these exceptional plant-based recipes, you’ll learn to layer new and old techniques, textures, and flavor pairings to better harness the limitless potential of veggies. Full of wisdom and troves of practical information, they’re worthy of a spot in your cookbook collection—at the ready whenever you’re looking for an interesting way to prepare that rogue rutabaga in your crisper drawer or a make-ahead dinner party dish to feed a crowd. Read on for the 12 best vegetarian cookbooks, according to BA staff and contributors.
When I was just a young tween, I went through a samosa phase spurred by my Indian food fixation and the illustrated step-by-step guides in this 1981 book. The brilliant Madhur Jaffrey has authored 30 cookbooks (and some children’s books too—what can’t this woman do?), but somehow the one I own that’s cracked at the binding is her second, World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. It covers an almost comically large swath of the planet, from Bali to Japan to India to Iran, making the meticulously researched headnotes and vegetarian dishes all the more amazing. Once I grew out of my samosa stage, I explored the rest of the table of contents—shredded cabbage with mustard seeds and fresh coconut, hijiki with sweet potatoes, and black-eyed pea pancakes. There are enough veg and vegan recipes in here to last me at least another forty years. —Sarah Jampel, contributor
This approachable tome of vegetarian recipes will teach you how to make fruits and vegetables taste really, really good. The dishes are doable for just about every culinary skill level and use few ingredients—many of which are inspired by Lui McKinnon’s Chinese-Australian upbringing. It’s also an ode to her late father and a moving reminder of the ways food helps us all stay connected to the ones we love most, especially when they’re gone. Weeknight-friendly hits like a flaky Asian greens galette topped with browned feta, a whole head of garlicky confit broccoli, and cheesy baked rice cakes with kale will satisfy your stomach, while musings on loss, grief, and family will fill up your heart. Packed with interesting-yet-approachable ways to use vegetables, this delicious book of true comfort food represents everything we’ve come to expect from Lui McKinnon’s coveted recipes. Whenever I’m in a cooking funk, Tenderheart is the first place I’ll go for a jolt of inspiration. —Ali Francis, staff writer
Bryant Terry’s mission—not just in this book but in his career as a whole—is to honor and shine light on the culinary history of the African diaspora and to show that African and Afro-diasporic ingredients and techniques are inherently healthy, no adaptation necessary. The whole food recipes in this book brilliantly fuse flavors and ingredients from Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South: Think tofu curry with mustard greens, muscovado-roasted plantains, chermoula tempeh bites, and curried scalloped potatoes with coconut milk. And since each recipe comes with a song, you don’t even have to think about your cooking playlist. —S.J.
It’s true that I’ve been publicly critical of the humble salad in my time, triggered by too many sub-par bowls of flaccid leaves and flavorless tomatoes. But that’s well before I discovered food writer and registered dietician Sheela Prakash’s vibrant new book, which makes a compelling argument that the season for salad is…all of them. While not strictly meatless, fresh produce is the clear star of each recipe. From dead-of-winter cabbage to bursting summer sweetcorn, Salad Seasons teaches you how to turn whatever produce is around into truly great dishes. This month, I’ll be making a herby ranch yogurt for my market haul of springy little gem lettuces and charring some leeks and asparagus to serve with jammy eggs. Yes, I have already earmarked the Mediterranean-style smoky grilled eggplant showered in feta and mint and the herb-packed farro tabbouleh piled high on a cloud of whipped tahini to make this summer. Salad, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. —A.F.
A few years ago for my birthday, friends from many parts of my life came together to throw me a surprise party. Who, me?! I was shocked, thrilled, and grateful—even more so when I realized that everyone had cooked a dish from Fresh India, a book I’ve been obsessed with since it was published in 2016. It’s like the vegetarian sequel to U.K.-based Meera Soha’s first book, Made in India: a personal account of the fresh, easy recipes Sodha cooks at home. Favorites include the Goan butternut squash cafreal (which inspired this recipe for Squash With Yogurt Sauce and Frizzled Onions); paneer butter masala; cauliflower korma with blackened raisins, and spinach, tomato; and chickpea curry. —S.J.
Israeli-born British chef, restaurateur, and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi has published enough cookbooks (10) to make him a household name, but it’s his 2014 hit, Plenty More, that I cook from most. Whenever I’m hosting or bringing dishes to the house of a carnivorous friend, I know there’s something hearty, exciting, and crowd-pleasing to be found in those olive oil-stained pages. The book is organized by common cooking techniques, such as “Steamed,” “Baked,” or “Sweetened,” and brims with innovative tips that make for some seriously flavorful plant-based eating. After I’ve nailed the formulas for each globally-inspired dish—like my favorite bouncy, savory cauliflower cake or an Indian-inspired ratatouille with cardamom and curry leaves—I’ll make substitutions with whatever produce I have lying around. If you’re looking for recipes that’ll please omnivores and meat-abstainers alike, this book is for you. —A.F.
Power Vegetables! by Peter Meehan and the Editors of Lucky Peach
R.I.P. Lucky Peach, and thank you so much for leaving us with this wacky, weird, and wonderful cookbook proving that, yes, vegetarian food can be fun, too. The LP team set some smart constraints that pushed them (and, me) to be more creative. Pastas and egg-on-it grain bowls were not permissible (I can figure those out myself), but fish (in the form of anchovies and fish sauce) and dairy were fair game. Now, I keep a bottle of pomegranate molasses in the pantry so I can make muhammara whenever I want it, and the pappa al pomodoro (made with dried-out English muffins!), spanakorizo, and zucchini mujadara are in my regular plant-based cooking rotation. —S.J.
“Of a time” is how my parents always describe this book, which is a classic representation of a certain era of hippie-style, cottage cheese-heavy vegetarian meals in the US. First published in 1977 as a collection of recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, it’s handwritten and illustrated, with recipes like mushroom moussaka, broccoli strudel, and gado gado that draw from many parts of the world. So what if it’s not the most hyped-up, 2023-feeling cookbook; that’s what I like about it. It feels like I’m cooking from a zine. The food is neither too sexy, serious, nor sophisticated—it’s open to my tweaks and whimsies and perfect for cooking in sweatpants for my closest friends. —S.J.
Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s in-depth follow-up to Mexico: The Cookbook features over 400 foolproof recipes that show how vegetable-diverse Mexican food is across every region. I made a homey and simple poblano and pea soup that I froze and defrost as a comfort lunch. I flagged an almond mole that you spoon over broiled portobello mushrooms. Spicy cauliflower enchiladas, bright green veggie pozole, savory carrot soufflé, a sweet tomatillo tart—I’ve got my year cut out for me. —Alex Beggs, contributor
When I’m in a rut, this is first the book I flip through, knowing I’m guaranteed to land on something delicious-sounding. It’s organized by season, with 250 recipes for snacks, breakfasts, desserts, and, of course, dinners that run the gamut from aspirational (a “wedding-worthy” tomato tarte tatin) to more realistic (chard pasta with ricotta). There isn’t a recipe I haven’t bookmarked: pistachio and ricotta dumplings with peas and herbs; black sesame noodle bowls; miso-roasted squash and potatoes with kale; yellow split pea soup with green olives; chard, lentil, and bay leaf gratin; velvety squash broth with miso and soba. The recipes often rely a little on instinct—but with ideas and flavor combos this good, I’m happy to forgive a couple overlooked details. Just as valuable as the recipes are the supplementary informational spreads, like a guide to brewing herbal infusions, using the freezer to its full potential, making curry paste, assembling sheet-pan dinners, and composing hearty salads. —S.J.
In McFadden’s book, mushrooms, cabbage, and even kohlrabi are described as “sexy.” An in-season tomato is capable of “moving your soul.” Yeah, there’s some meat in the mix, but the veggie flavors are big: Capers and garlic jump-start roasted turnips, and tomatoes are marinated in falafel spice and zapped with herb-packed yogurt. The recipes are layered and complex, despite their apparent simplicity. What will really change your vegetable cooking is McFadden’s approach to seasoning, learned in part from Mona Talbott at the American Academy in Rome: Add the acid and seasoning before the oil when making salads and many veg dishes, tasting and tinkering to get it just right before you stir in the lubricant to “carry and marry all the other flavors,” writes co-author Martha Holmberg. Read this book and you’ll never look at cabbage the same way again. —Christine Muhlke, contributor
I’ll argue with anyone who insists that a vegetarian diet can’t be a nutritionally-balanced one (I get enough protein, okay?). But I will concede that it does take a bit of mindfulness to make sure that a meat-free meal is satisfying; otherwise, I’ll eat a bowl of creamy pasta for dinner, then wonder why I’m hungry an hour later. Which is where Gena Hamshaw comes in. A registered dietician, Hamshaw offers 100 recipes that contain the right mix of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) to feel nourishing. That means that when I make her smoky red lentil stew with chard or pudla with spicy sautéed spinach or charred broccoli salad with freekeh and spring herbs, I don’t have to make any additional elements—it’s all there. Even when I’m not cooking from Gena’s book, her voice (“does your meal include a fat, protein, and carbohydrate?”) gives me the direction I need to put together something smart. —S.J.
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This article was originally published in 2020 and was updated in 2023.