Vegan/Vegetarian Cooking for Absolute Beginners
September 14, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Please point me and my boyfriend to your best resources for vegan/vegetarian cooking instruction for absolute beginners.

My boyfriend and I have recently dived into cooking in a big way: for at least a month, we're cooking absolutely all our meals at home (using the Engine 2 diet as a guideline). But both of us are new cooks, in a sense: my boyfriend (who is vegan) is essentially brand new to cooking of any kind, and while I (an erstwhile omnivore) have much experience cooking with the help of meat and dairy, I am brand new to vegan cooking.

We are looking for resources at the level of books like Betty Crocker's Cooking Basics, How to Boil Water, and The Absolute Beginner's Cookbook.

Introductory level books, websites, videos (online, please), or inexpensive classes on cooking techniques in our area (NYC) targeted toward vegans and vegetarians are all welcome. What are the best resources?
posted by ocherdraco to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian sounds like it would be perfect for you. Once you get a few basic techniques under your belt, 101 Cookbooks is my favorite vegetarian cooking blog.
posted by rebekah at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

My favorite vegetarian cooking sources:

Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (by far and away the best vegetarian cookbook I've found - even non-veggies swoon over its recipes)

Mollie Katzen's series of books: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Still Life with Menu (out of print but worth tracking down) and The Moosewood Cookbook.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ooooh, I like the Veganomicon. All the recipes I've made from it are delicious and simple -- chickpea patties are om nom nom good.

Related: see also.
posted by at 11:32 AM on September 14, 2010

Oh! I almost forgot -- Vegetarian Supercook is fantastic, too. Really tasty stuff -- I've been eyeing the chestnut stuffed onions for a while now.
posted by at 11:34 AM on September 14, 2010

Seconding Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Absolutely the best book for the very basics, but will give you ideas and great recipes as you advance too.
posted by willbaude at 11:49 AM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a huge store of webcasts on vegetarian food preparation. Here's the website for the webcasts. And here is the recipe archive.
posted by bearwife at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2010

(And Bittman's book, while not entirely vegan, frequently has separate instructions for transforming non-vegan vegetarian recipes into vegan ones, and it generally isn't dairy-heavy in any case.

My recollection of Madison's cookbook is that the dairy products were more inextricable from many of her recipes. If you were going to get a Deborah Madison book, I think Greens is probably the better book for beginners on a healthy diet.)
posted by willbaude at 11:52 AM on September 14, 2010

Coming back in to second Mollie Katzen. Moosewood is awesome, and I'm an even bigger fan of the recipes in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd. You might want to save that for later, though, as you'll need to scale the recipes down (which means converting pounds of flour into cups, etc.) unless you're actually, you know, cooking for a crowd.
posted by rebekah at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2010

Re the Bittman book, be aware that some reviewers at Amazon say that the recipes require tweaking to be good . . . and it sounds as though you noobies may not be up to doing that off the bat. This book, however, seems like it is ideal for you, and it is extremely well reviewed. Maybe start with this, pick up the Bittman book later?
posted by bearwife at 12:01 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: it sounds as though you noobies may not be up to doing that off the bat (bearwife)

I'm comfortable with that kind of tweaking; it's the kind of thing my boyfriend wants to learn.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2010

I cook a lot, and recently ordered a cookbook by Mollie Katzen. It is all handwritten and I found this extremely distracting and disorienting. I was really excited when I ordered it, and I haven't made one recipe. Total fail for me. So, I would really suggest checking that one out of the library first to see if it appeals to you before purchasing.

Bittman's book is supposed to be amazing. I have his regular "How to Cook Everything" and use it at least once a week.
posted by fyrebelley at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: The two books that have been recommended by Mark Bittman and Deborah Madison are what you're looking for, as long as you don't mind that they're non-vegan. I use both of them regularly.

I'm not a vegan, but both books include plenty of vegan recipes and give advice on making the making the recipes vegan. They'll routinely throw in a sentence like, "You can use olive oil instead of butter here to make it vegan." Or you can simply decide to do this on your own. (You need to use some judgment -- butter may be essential to a heavily creamy recipe, but often it comes down to the fact that olive oil or butter would work fine and the author had to pick one.) They constantly tell you to sprinkle some parmesan cheese at the end of a recipe -- but this doesn't render the book useless, it just means you'll skip that step or use another ingredient (e.g. nutritional yeast). I haven't found Madison's recipe to be inordinately heavy on dairy or eggs (aside from the chapter on eggs ... but the book is a great deal even if you never read that chapter).

Both books are appropriate for "absolute beginners" -- they tell you how to stock your kitchen, give you specific instructions on what to do with each ingredient, etc. Both follow a format of: "Here's everything you need to know in general about asparagus. Now here's a super-basic recipe for asparagus. Now here are more elaborate recipes with asparagus."

It's often said that Bittman makes his recipes as generic templates. Sometimes they're too bland and you have to know that you should add things to it. But it's not like he just leaves this up to you -- he'll typically give a basic recipe followed by 1 or 2 or 3 variations -- or even 10 or 20 or 30 variations. For instance, his pasta recipes include "garlic and olive oil" and "tomato sauce." Are those basic and mild? Of course! That's why he doesn't just leave it there -- he gives several variations on "garlic and oil," and he includes a huge list of 25 (!) variations on a basic tomato sauce. And that's not a cursory list of ingredients that he's saying it's OK to add -- each one is a whole recipe unto itself (keeping in mind that you should still be guided by the initial recipe). His shaded green boxes are often very useful -- for instance, if you're reading the soup chapter, you'll notice a box with step-by-step instructions on "How to Improvise a Soup." You don't need the rest of the chapter or any other soup recipe in the world! Just follow that box and have fun with it. As Bittman says, "It's just soup." There's a lot more room for variation and experimentation and addition and subtraction than most cookbooks acknowledge. (Fortunately, Madison and Bittman both acknowledge it. Madison's notes in red text in the margins are also wonderful in this regard.)

Here's my main point about Bittman: If you get Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, use the basic recipes as a guide to the process, but focus on the variations to add flavor and character. People who write him off by saying, "His recipes are bland!" may be sort of missing the point.

That said, my hit/miss ratio is better with the recipes I've made from Madison's book.

Here's what I recommend. If you live anywhere near a Borders or Barnes & Noble, go there. Look at the Bittman and Madison books. Flip through them. Does one appeal more to you than the other? Does one (or both) of them seem overly dominated by dairy or egg recipes that would be too hard to make vegan? Use this as your guide. Frankly, neither book is going to have you feeling starved for vegan recipes. (I think each book is over 700 pages. You are not going to make even half of the recipes in 10 years!) The question is which book you're going to find the most inspiring, and we can't tell you that. I assure you, as someone who has spent a lot of time looking at both books: there is no way for you to really tell which one (or both, or neither) would be useful to you without physically flipping through the pages in person.
posted by John Cohen at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and whether or not you buy Bittman's book, please, please read this article:

Serving Pasta? Forget What You Learned.

It's not about vegetarian or vegan cooking, though it includes at least one vegetarian recipe. The more important thing is: if you're embarking on vegetarian/vegan cooking, you're probably going to be making a lot of pasta. Some people will be like, "No, don't have lots of pasta, it has so many carbs and it's not nutritious!" Well, one thing is to use whole-wheat or vegetable-based (or quinoa-based) pasta, which is more nutritious than the standard white pasta that dominates the supermarket aisles. But that's aside from Bittman's article, which is about ratios...
posted by John Cohen at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2010

I am vegan and really like the Bittman book, but I haven't made that many recipes from it. It is great for simple recipes. When I have an oven dish for dinner and need a vegetable to go with it, but don't want to make another entire recipe, I turn to Bittman and find a way to make something that's just a little more interesting than plain boiled/steamed vegetables. I haven't found another book with such a focus on simplicity and I really love it for that. I think it is exactly what you want if you want an Absolute Beginner's Cookbook.
posted by davar at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: You might want to take a look at The Complete Tassajara Cookbook as a how-to (rather than what-to) cook book (especially on how not to get stuck on recipes). It's been over twenty years since I brought a copy (and that was lost long ago) but it gave me a through grounding in a short time and I've since gone on to cook for large numbers of people (and have been paid to do so).
posted by tallus at 1:43 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I've purchased the Bittman book, and I've put a few others on my wishlist for later, including Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and The Complete Tassajara Cookbook.

Online resources (particularly videos) about things like knife skills (which we need so bad—anything involving chopping vegetables is taking way too long) would also be particularly welcome. Know any good YouTube channels?
posted by ocherdraco at 2:38 PM on September 14, 2010

I'm vegan and use the Veganomicon and its predecessor, Vegan with a Vengeance, quite frequently. My only complaint is that many of the recipes are rather involved and require a pretty significant time investment. As a beginner, I would have found this really frustrating, but you may be more patient than I am. I will say that everything I've made from either cookbook has been really tasty.

I do like that both of the aforementioned books and Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian have recipes that don't require a lot of special vegan ingredients. I have some vegan cookbooks that necessitate walking a mile to Whole Foods to buy $6 vegan "cheese", which is irritating.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2010

Online resources (particularly videos) about things like knife skills

Basic knife skills and knife maintenance and sharpening.
posted by tallus at 10:45 PM on September 14, 2010

VeganYumYum (a good blog in itself) has some How To's on how to roast a pepper, slice a mango, etc.

Fat Free Vegan is a blog with a focus on healthy recipes. Her recipes are somewhat hit or miss in my opinion, but many people like it and the recipes are at the very least good starting points. You may also like the Ridiculously Easy category. The blog spawned from the Fat Free Vegan website which I now see has redesigned. The old site has a lot of recipes, many from cookbooks or magazines. See for example the Eat to Live category for recipes with a focus on health, likely following the Engine 2 diet recommendations.

Happy Herbivore is another blog with many healthy recipes. The author also has a cookbook coming out .
posted by davar at 12:17 AM on September 15, 2010

Online video's showing how to make a vegan recipe: Everyday Dish TV.
posted by davar at 2:31 AM on September 15, 2010

« Older Am I getting bitten by bugs?   |   BBC Radio Logos Wanted Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.