Serving vegan and vegetarian holiday meals is all the rage this season, which makes plant-based cookbooks an excellent gift. With pandemic-fueled interest in veg foods continuing its upward ascent, publishers responded with plenty of new books. I’ve sifted through this year’s tasty vegetarian titles and selected these eight books, which cover a range of interests and abilities, as the best plant-based books of 2021.
I’ve divided this collection of books into categories so you can easily find one best suited for cooks who are health conscious, meat lovers, young or food history buffs. As the categories show, vegan meats continue to be a major food trend this year, with many of the books incorporating these ingredients. Meanwhile, those books showcasing whole foods recipes tend to avoid them.
Other continuing cookbook trends this year include the widespread embrace of cauliflower, jackfruit, chickpeas and aquafaba. For 2021, we need to add vegan cheesecake to the list of top plant-based cookbook trends. After the year we’ve had, I think each of us deserves a slice.
“The Jane Goodall Institute #EatMeatless,” with a foreword by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE. NewSeed. $30.
BEST FOR: Goodall fans, animal protectors, plant-based food eaters
In support of the global conservation nonprofit founded by Jane Goodall, this plant-forward cookbook packs in 75 recipes and numerous nuggets of Goodall’s wisdom and history. Goodall began eating meatless 50 years ago and is now a vegan. She writes, “We are part of and not separated from the rest of the animal kingdom.” And while the environmental outlook seems bleak, Goodall tells us, “I do have reasons for hope.” The cookbook, which emphasizes whole food ingredients and avoids store-bought vegan meats, highlights many dishes to be hopeful for. Recipes include cauliflower steaks with curry sauce, black bean avocado sopes, broccoli-kale chickpea frittatas and creamy cashew pasta primavera. Breakfast serves up tofu scramble wraps and sweet potatoes with nondairy yogurt, while dessert caps things off with aquafaba chocolate mousse, banana-coconut nice cream, apple cranberry crumble bars and strawberry cheese cake.
“The Vegan Athlete’s Cookbook,” by Anita Bean. Bloomsbury Sport. $24.
BEST FOR: Runners, friends with gym memberships, family members training for a triathlon
Former British champion bodybuilder Anita Bean’ fourth cookbook is all vegan. Bean, a sports and exercise nutritionist, reports she’s witnessed a “huge rise in interest in vegan diets among athletes in my practice,” which prompted her to write the book. It begins with a multi-chapter section devoted to sports nutrition, including Bean’s vegan athlete’s plate graphics and charts listing foods with the most calcium, iron and other nutrients. The recipes – for such dishes as black bean burgers with guacamole, Thai green curry with crispy tofu balls, falafel with tahini sauce, lentil and mushroom no-meatballs in tomato sauce and cashew apricot sage nut roast – are packed with protein, whole carbs and lots of fiber and avoid highly processed ingredients. Sweets range from baked lemon cheesecake with strawberry sauce and protein chocolate mug cakes to chocummus (chocolate hummus) and super seedy bars. Recipes for smoothies and morning meals are also included.
“The 5-Minute Vegan Lunchbox,” by Alexander Hart. Smith Street Books. $19.95.
BEST FOR: People who pack lunches, veg students, salad lovers
Straight to the point with little chat, this colorful book dishes out more than 50 recipes for salads, wraps, noodle bowls and bento boxes. The recipes emphasize few ingredients and limited prep time and call for shortcuts such as using canned beans along with store-bought vegan meats and dairy products. Those eager to get out the door will appreciate that the book aims for speed, not DIY. For instance, chia seed granola with berries builds upon store-bought granola. Filled with leafy greens and a variety of proteins, the salad-forward recipes include cannellini bean niçoise salad, falafel salad, black bean chopped salad, Moroccan-spiced couscous salad, kimchi rice salad, BBQ tempeh coleslaw wraps, curried eggless salad wraps, sort-of dan dan noodles, Vietnamese noodle salad with pickled veg, ranch zoodles, Greek salad bento, and san choy bau bento.
“The Vegan Meat Cookbook,” by Miyoko Schinner. Ten Speed Press. $28.
BEST FOR: Miyoko Schinner fans, DIY vegetarians, on-trend meat-eaters
The latest cookbook from the founder of Miyoko’s Creamery deftly explores the hot topic of vegan meats and begins with an overview of a few dozen of the most readily available store-bought meats. Most of the cookbook is filled with meaty dishes, such as roasted cauliflower steaks, sausage calzones, beer-battered fish, boeuf bourguignon, bouillabaisse, chicken confit, lobster Thermidor, and chicken pad Thai. The recipes call for using store-bought, plant-based meats or making them using the recipes provided, which include steak, ground beef, pork Tenderlove, prosciutto, roasted chicken, and Schinner’s legendary Unturkey (which involves eight steps using seitan and yuba and was originally published in her 2001 “The Now and Zen Epicure” cookbook). Vegan lobster meat is made by steaming a mixture of soy protein powder, nori and konnyaku (Japanese mountain yam cake). Not surprisingly, the Queen of Vegan Cheese tosses in recipes for vegan paneer, vegan Buffalo mozzarella and vegan hard Parmesan.
“The Vegan Butcher,” by Zacchary Bird. Smith Street Books. $40.
BEST FOR: Meat fans who like plants, adventurous non-vegan chefs, lovers of seitan and tofu
The veteran cookbook author is back with a comprehensive guide to making every kind of plant-based meat imaginable. He starts out with the basics – how to make seitan, tofu and yuba – and then dives into specifics with chapters devoted to vegan poultry, fish, pork, beef, charcuterie and burgers. He proceeds to make well-known dishes vegan, such as Nashville fried chicken, whole turkey, sashimi, fish sticks, grilled shrimp, pork belly, prosciutto, lamb shish kebab and pulled pork burgers. Plus he includes 12 variations for making plant-based bacon. Each recipe is starred from one (easy) to three (advanced), helping readers determine if they’re ready to tackle a complex three-star recipe like maple bourbon fauxducken, a two-star recipe like General Tso’s chicken or a one-star recipe such as king oyster mushroom scallops.
“Be More Vegan,” by Niki Webster. Welbeck Publishing. $16.95.
BEST FOR: Teens, college students, new vegans with limited cooking skills
This hip book speaks to today’s well-informed young people with an exploration of vegan conundrums (such as the worldwide spike in demand for quinoa causing price increases for the people who’ve traditionally eaten it) and responses to common questions asked of vegans (is honey vegan? No.). All the recipes are tailored to new cooks, featuring numbered steps, full-color photos and lots of tips. The book includes DIY recipes for plant-based milk and nut cheese as well as recipes for on-trend eats, such as overnight oats, fancy toasts, nice cream (vegan ice cream) and mug cakes. Among the more than 50 recipes in the book, find banana pancakes, bean chili nachos, tofu stir fry, harissa falafel burgers, corn fritters and hoisin jackfruit burritos. Sweets include millionaire’s shortbread slices, gooey caramel choc cups and chocolate chip oat cookies.
“Omari McQueen’s Best Bites Cook Book.” Scholastic. $18.95.
BEST FOR: School-age chefs, kids curious about cooking, lovers of Caribbean cuisine
This young vegan chef, who has taken the United Kingdom by storm with a cooking show and a dip company, released his first cookbook at the start of the year, and it’s perfect for kids who like to cook. All of the book’s 35 recipes are short with numbered instructions and an illustrated list of ingredients, making it easy for inexperienced cooks to follow along. McQueen’s parents hail from Jamaica and Antigua, giving his recipes a warm, Caribbean flavor. This shines through in dishes such as Jamaican patties, BBQ jackfruit, tropical pizza, chickpea curry, Rasta pasta and rice ’n’ peas. Desserts include banana fritters, strawberry coconut cheesecake, cherry brownies and tropical fruit salad. Since this is a British book, know that measurements come in grams rather than cups and be on the lookout for British words, such as biscuits (cookies), courgettes (zucchini) and mince (meat). Look for McQueen’s next book, “Vegan Family Cookbook,” due in bookstores in January.
“Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat,” by Dick Gregory. Amistad. $17.99.
The late comedian and civil rights activist published this fascinating book in 1973, and it was rereleased this year because of the upsurge in interest in books about plant-based diets and about civil rights. Gregory tackles both. The book isn’t a cookbook, although it does contain a handful of recipes (nut milk, apricot butter, banana nut rolls, avocado dressing) and a number of daily menu suggestions. Instead, this slim paperback opens a window onto 1970s food culture (wheat germ, yogurt, brewer’s yeast) and gives us a glimpse into Gregory’s own family and food traditions. Gregory, who spoke at the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, rejected the animal-based soul food he grew up eating and eventually embraced a mostly raw food diet with periodic juice fasts, which he did for both personal and political reasons. Gregory even tackles the on-trend topic of making homemade pet foods. Four years after his death, Gregory is still urging us to get our food from Mother Nature’s own kitchen.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]