Help me find a vegetarian "Cook's Illustrated" cookbook!
January 3, 2012 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Does a vegetarian “cook’s illustrated” book exist? Recipes that I can follow exactly with guaranteed results. Help my head stop spinning in deciding between Deborah Madison, Madhur Jaffrey, Moosewood, etc. Personal experience with these authors appreciated.

I am having trouble deciding on purchasing ~2 of the following books after reading the amazon reviews. I want a pescatarian friendly cookbook book where:
-I can follow the recipe exactly with great results like I get with Cook's Illustrated
-Relatively fast recipes suitable for weeknight cooking
-Good flavorful food every time! Some of the reviews cite bland tasting, or not that great of food. I hate spending the time and resources in cooking only to get a dud. With Cooks Illustrated even a dud is pretty good.

Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian
Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking
Vegetarian Planet

Other Recommendations???
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, if it's anything like his other book How to Cook Everything, will be absolutely fantastic.
posted by tjenks at 7:47 PM on January 3, 2012 [14 favorites]

Yeah, the Bittman book is one of my favorites. It doesn't exactly have the same geek-in-the-kitchen vibe as the Cooks Illustrated books, but it is comprehensive and friendly.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:52 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: I've been using The Meatless Gourmet: Easy Low-Fat Favorites by Bobbie Hinman for about fifteen years now and I vouch for it. It has recipes for everthing — appetizers, sandwiches, soups, beverages, casseroles, entrees, desserts. Though I'm not a vegetarian I use it more than any of my other cookbooks. And the banana bisque recipe is killer.
posted by orange swan at 7:53 PM on January 3, 2012

Of those you list, I only really have experience with Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. (I've had the others out from the library at some point, I think, but don't have a clear memory of them.) It has led me astray only once and I generally like it as a cookbook, with a few caveats. (The disaster was some dish that consisted largely of macaroni and potatoes. It should have been apparent going in that it was going to be super dull.)

The caveats:
-It's clearly written with people not like me in mind (students with somewhat limited cooking motivation, particularly on weeknights). There are lots of really time-consuming and involved recipes. If you're good at planning how to distribute leftovers throughout the week it's not such an issue, I suppose.
-I have something of a hard time figuring out what's meant as a main and what's meant as a side dish. The 'vegetable' chapters are grouped by vegetable, not by purpose of dish. I'm sure this is dead useful if you are a more experienced cook than me, but I find it a bit confusing. (Sometimes she gives a note that makes this clear, but not always.)

Veganomicon has really become my vegetarian cookbook of choice. Most of the recipes are for things that are 'naturally' vegan, i.e. they'd be vegan in any cookbook. With the exception of the baking chapter, most of the 'artificially' vegan things can be made not vegan in pretty obvious ways, if you so desire.
posted by hoyland at 7:59 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go with Cook's Illustrated if you like hyper-involved recipes (their concept of a weekday dinner is frankly a joke--but it's perfect for Sunday). Go with Bittman if you don't need to have a precise, annotated recipe. He shows you basically what to do, which is great if you know your way around the kitchen. Go with Moosewood if you are a hippie.

(I keeeed.)

I love Moosewood, but oy, the hand-written pages, the high fat content!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:02 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bittman's vegetarian book is excellent, but don't expect point-by-point recipes to follow: he likes to play very loose with his recipes, and encourages you to add, exclude, and season to your own taste. On the plus side, if you get two or three of his basic recipes down, you'l probably have about 12 dishes under your belt.
Madison is a little more structured, but does require more chops to pull off successfully. Be aware that Madison set out to make vegetarian food with this book, not necessarily health food. Nonetheless, the dishes she does offer are tasty and very well thought out, though they might require a little bit more of a pantry.
posted by Gilbert at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far!

For clarification, I am a beginner/intermediate cook with limited motivation as hoyland put it. I've tried a few recipes from Bittman's How to Cook Everything, but they seem a bit bland (?) and require tweaking, which I'm not interested in. However, the sample size of tested recipes was small. I guess I like cook's illustrated because I know it just works, even if I've never made it before.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2012

Seconding Isa Chandra Moskowitz - simple, well-tested recipes that work reliably and taste great. I make her tofu scramble 3-4 times a month.

RE: Bittman - good for ideas, but his recipes aren't precise or tested rigorously. Many are good places to start, but need tweaking to work well (sometimes a total overhaul.)

Go with Moosewood if you are a hippie.

Our house of aging punks + baby cooks from either Daily Special or Sundays at Moosewood at least once a month (preferable to the '70s, sour cream-slathered approach of their earlier books.) ;)
posted by ryanshepard at 8:19 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bittman recipes always skew bland, presumably to appeal to a broader or less adventurous audience. We keep pretty fresh spices around and always up them from his recipes by at least double; 3x if you're doing anything like curry.
posted by tau_ceti at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks are strongly ethnic -- nothing wrong with that, but if you're looking for quick American-style standards using easily obtainable ingredients, they are emphatically not what you're looking for.

The Bittman book is very good, but can be a bit bland. My personal favorite for dependable deliciousness is Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons, and its sequel, Entertaining for a Veggie Planet. Both are delightfully written and I have turned out many, many excellent dishes from them. Not superfast -- about 45mins to complete most, some a bit longer, some half-day showstoppers. If you want something really fast, try Short Cut Vegan by Lorna Sass -- very minimal recipes that end up being much more than the sum of their parts.
posted by apparently at 8:27 PM on January 3, 2012

I was coming in to recommend Veganomicon, but people already have that covered. Honestly, I am biased and I will buy every cookbook Isa Chandra Moskowitz has any sort of hand in, but Veganomicon is just a ridiculously solid cookbook that tells you how to cook vegetables in an easy and interesting way.

Moskowitz's may also be worth a look for you. While it's a "low-fat" cookbook, the recipes are flavorful, all pretty quick (45 minutes or less for the most of them) and grocery-store friendly overall. I've made quite a bit out of it and have enjoyed just about everything and it's great for ideas and how to build meals.

Now, I rarely follow a recipe exactly so I'm probably more prone to experimenting than you might be, but I tend to recommend vegan cookbooks to vegetarians because I don't think it's that much of a leap to add butter or cheese to a lot of things. I think vegan cookbooks tend to work with more interesting flavors than just straight vegetarian cookbooks and I think it's pretty easy to ignore stuff about tofu/seitan/etc. if you want.
posted by darksong at 8:42 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really like Moosewood's Simple Suppers and use it quite a bit. Everything is simple and easy but tasty, and I like it much, much better than the original Moosewood.
posted by My Top Secret Sock Puppet Account at 8:44 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take any Moosewood recipe, cut the fat in half, cook, and eat. They are simple and straightforward and have a nice, old-school charm to them.

If you ever stop being a pescatarian you can cook them the way I do, which is to quarter the fat and add 3-4 italian sausages. With the pescetarianism you can probably get away with just cooking the recipes and adding a simple catfish or tilapia side to everything.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:49 PM on January 3, 2012

I was very excited to receive a Moosewood cookbook. Then, I opened it. The handwritten pages are a real turn off for me, as is the ridiculous fat content and the call for non-common ingredients. I haven't made one recipe from that book.

Bittman is a go to for me, but I see you're not a huge fan. That's all I've really got as far as an answer, just think about whether handwritten recipes will work for you before investing.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:53 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: I'll add a plug for Madhur Jaffrey. I find her cookbook easy to follow. It's not standard American fare, very obviously, but it's flavorful and interesting, and several of her dishes have become standards in our house.

I also own Moosewood, which is a nostalgic college standard for me, and Deborah Madison, which I've had good experiences with, but I don't reach for it as often as the Jaffrey.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:01 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: Jeanne Lemlin doesn't get nearly the love in these threads that she deserves. Her stuff is uniformly tasty and simple to prepare. Her book Vegetarian Classics is one of my go-to cookbooks for weeknight cooking, and her out-of-print Vegetarian Pleasures has some pretty impressive stuff in it too.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:24 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: We love Nava Atlas' cookbooks, especially the "Family" and the 5 Ingredient Gourmet. Easy recipes, not a ton of ingredients, pretty much everything we've made has been tasty. Recipes that aren't already vegan have suggestions for making them so.
posted by upatree at 10:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I almost always reach for the Madhur Jaffrey book when I want vegetables -- it includes a ton of recipes, both quick and elaborate. It's fun to flip through, and the index is also easy to use... and everything I've made from it tasted great the very first time. If you like world cuisine you'll love this book.
posted by vorfeed at 11:02 PM on January 3, 2012

I have not been a vegetarian for years, but I still refer back to Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (just the other day in fact, when I wanted to make a veggie stock for a parsnip soup instead of the chicken stock the recipe called for). I like that she gives you basic info on nearly everything, including what sorts of things go with other things. I very rarely use it to follow exact recipes, but more to get a general idea of how to make a souffle or a gratin, and then change it up. It's a cookbook that lends itself very well to flexibility, hence why I keep referring back to it when I'm not sure how to do something. I've learned that her spicing is timid for my taste, and if I do follow the recipe I taste frequently and correct it. It's very good if you got a CSA box and need to figure out what to do with the contents.

World of the East is a different animal: good for learning about more, er, eastern ingredients. I don't use it as a general "here's what to do if you find yourself with two pounds of cabbage" sort of cookbook, but use it to make specific recipes. Still very good, but I only get into it if I want to make baklava or stuffed grape leaves or chawanmushi.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:17 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: The three cookbooks I cook out of most often are:

Moosewood's Simple Suppers -- Really tasty, simple recipes. If you want fast weeknight suppers this is my #1 recommendation.

Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen -- I find this less intimidating than Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, which I also own. Some of the recipes are really more involved than I want for a weeknight supper, but my results have been delicious.

Veganomicon -- I'm way not a vegan and often find myself substituting cream or dairy yogurt for the soy products in the recipes, but almost every time I cook something from here I'm really happy with how it turns out. Even if it's a vegetable I didn't previously like! Her writing style is friendly and funny and the recipes have icons to indicate if you can cook them in under 45 minutes or make them with supermarket ingredients.
posted by Jeanne at 1:41 AM on January 4, 2012

Best answer: We just got recommended Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty by a good friend and cook. We are thouroughly enjoying the very tasty recipes so far.
posted by charles kaapjes at 2:39 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can't help you with the "pesce" part, but if you're willing to try vegan cooking, Vegan on the Cheap is our go-to cookbook. Seriously I have over 30 cookbooks and this is nearly the only one I use. Everything I have made from it has been outstanding (and cheap, and makes a lot for leftovers).

I'd also suggest my friend's (internet, not IRL) cookbooks, Linsday Shay Nixon aka Happy Herbivore.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:05 AM on January 4, 2012

Best answer: I really dislike Veganomicon (which a bunch of people above recommended). I hate the cutesy writing, and I find the recipes WAY overly complicated which does not sound a fit for you at all. I like their other books but for some reason this one just doesn't work for me. There are few recipes from it that are indeed excellent and I use frequently - but I don't like the book overall. I am an experienced cook and don't mind time-consuming recipes on occasion, but I do not always get a good payoff from this book, and also find the times they estimate to be lower than it takes me. I don't get much out of Bittman either.

I'm Nthing Moosewood's Simple Suppers. I love Deborah Madison but she can be overly fussy too, and some of her recipes just end up being duds (after loving some of her recipes, I spent hours on a super complicated gratin that ended up being basically flavorless). If you want to try her books after the mixed reviews her books have been getting in this thread, my personal favorite is the Savoury Way, it's intended more for people like you who are just cooking on weeknights. And it has a lot of good stuff that's in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but simplified or altered to use grocery store items and convenience foods. I also like Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen as a book simpler than the Greens Cookbook or Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
posted by fireflies at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2012

Best answer: I've recommended Jack Bishop's Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen on askme before; it's awesome and reliable, and Jack Bishop is this guy from America's Test Kitchen. He has other books that might suit you too, but Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen in particular is meant for weeknight cooking.
posted by clavicle at 10:00 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I chose my vegetarian cookbook after having checked it out from the library and reading through it and making a few recipes I really liked out of it.

The book I chose was Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but you can try them all by going to the library and seeing what they've got.
posted by garlic at 11:29 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister and I are both big fans of The Passionate Vegetarian. Some of the recipes are more complicated/time consuming than others, but with over 1,000 recipes, the comprehensiveness can't be beat.

I love knowing that whatever random ingredient I have on hand, be it asparagus, kale, beets, one look at book's index will yield at least 5 recipes for the ingredient.

The author covers everything from hearty stews to simple sautées, and has a lot of great ideas for tofu. Some people don't love the chatty extras, and some of the recipes call for harder to find items (fenugreek, what?) but I mostly use the recipes as a starting point and tro not to worry too much about having all of the ingredients at hand if I'm in a hurry.

It's my favorite go-to reference book for when I'm hungry, want to make something new, and don't want to go to the store.
posted by nerdcore at 10:18 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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