Trying to eat more veggies (and less meat)? Former Fat Girl Lisa Delaney shares her picks from the new crop of vegetarian cookbooks.
Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I’m trying to learn to enjoy veggies more (and eat less meat, cheese and processed foods at the same time). Do you have any favorite vegetarian cookbooks to recommend? Thanks!—Callie
DEAR CALLIE: Yay for you! I can relate: When I was a kid, the only vegetables I wanted to eat were corn and potatoes. I could barely choke down anything green, even if it was doused in cheese sauce, butter or some creamy salad dressing. Only as an adult have I become a veggie lover—and certain cookbooks have been key to my conversion. In fact, I think the first cookbook I ever owned was The Moosewood Cookbook by the iconic Mollie Katzen, probably THE top vegetarian chef and restaurateur in the country. The book, published in 1977, features recipes from Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. Since that first book, many, many have been published (I have several in my cookbook library); and a new one, Moosewood Restaurant Favorites, is coming out in September. It’s worth investing in one or two of these books, particularly Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, which won a James Beard Award when it was released in 1997.
But enough of the nostalgia. I’ve had several new cookbooks (like, from this millennium) cross my desk that are worth checking out. Here’s a selection.
For everybody: 50 Best Plants on the Planet: The Most Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables, in 150 Delicious Recipes, by Cathy Thomas and Melissa’s Produce. A combination cookbook-encyclopedia, this lovely book will make you want to experiment with the exotic (dandelion greens and gooseberry, anyone?) and get you excited about old standbys (Brussels sprouts and oranges). Not only do you get detailed information on the benefits of the nifty 50, gorgeous photos of each, and simple, interesting recipes, but author Thomas also includes trouble-shooting tips for preparation, advice on choosing and storing, and simple cooking ideas (for when you’re not up for following a step-by-step recipe).
For everybody: Vegetables Please: The More Vegetables, Less Meat Cookbook, by Carolyn Humphries. I love the exhaustive, pictorial guide to ingredients like mushrooms, beans, oils, seeds and herbs, with little snippets of info on choosing, using and storing. Recipes run the gamut from stews, curries and casseroles to grills, grains, soups, stews and egg-based entrees. An appendix gives how-to visuals on techniques such as stir frying, sautéing, seeding tomatoes, dicing onions, prepping herbs and spices and more.
For busy cooks: Rose Elliot’s 30-Minute Vegetarian, by Rose Elliot. Vegetarian cooking can be somewhat laborious, I have to say—partly because of the tricks, techniques and ingredients you sometimes have to use to pump up flavor and increase satisfaction. This book of 30-minute dishes like Egyptian Rice and Lentils with Caramelized Onions and Pine Nuts makes weeknight veg cooking seem more doable. I’m dying to try the Oven-baked Asparagus and Pea Risotto.
For Southern foodies: The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table, by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence. First off, let me note that vegetarianism isn’t a sure ticket to good health. Cake and ice cream are, after all, a vegetarian dish. As are cheese grits, fried green tomatoes, and Bourbon Pecan Tart (one of the recipes in this book), since we’re talking Southern here. As long as you approach this and other vegetarian cookbooks knowing that desserts are desserts, carbs are carbs and fried foods are fried foods—and thus should be eaten only occasionally—you’ll be good. That said, this creative tome is great for non-carnivores who love Southern flavors. You’ll have to be picky to avoid the landmines in this book, but gems like Miracle Mushroom Gravy (a sausage-free sub for the white gravy typically served with biscuits), Sweet Potato Grits with Maple Mushrooms and a Fried Egg, and even Vegetarian Boudin Sausage make it worth the effort for adventuresome cooks.
For creative types: The Vegetarian Pantry: Fresh and Modern Recipes for Meals Without Meat, by Chloe Coker and Jane Montgomery. I appreciated the primer in the introductory portion of this beautiful book on “The Healthy Vegetarian,” which emphasizes a balanced diet, and includes as a key ingredient, happiness. “Some things in your diet should be used to simply feed the soul and make you feel good,” the authors write. I agree! As promised, the book contains a list of pantry items, but really gets into the recipes fairly quickly. Note that there is some deep frying going on in these pages, but you’ll appreciate creative ideas like Roasted Beetroot Pesto, Curried Lentil Soup with Fresh Herb Puree and a yummy Moroccan Vegetable Tagine.
For Indian food fans: Indian Vegetarian Feast: Fresh, Simple, Healthy Dishes for Today’s Family, by Anjum Anand. For someone who’s struggling to embrace the veg, Indian cooking should be one of your first stops. The mix of spices and hearty approach to dishes like the Tandoori Vegetable Feast, in which you can mix and match anything from artichoke hearts and broccoli to bell peppers and asparagus, means you won’t miss the meat in the least. Expect relatively long lists of ingredients (many of which are spices) and some off-the-beaten-path ingredients like tamarind root—but the results are worth the effort.
For comfort food-lovers: Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking, by Mary McCartney. You’d expect luscious food photos from McCartney, daughter of Paul (yes, THAT Paul) and vegetarian icon Linda. But you might be surprised by such down-home dishes as Lip-Smacking Minestrone, Corn Fritters, and One-Pot Mushroom Rice. You’ll have to watch for copious amounts of cheese, butter and cream in some of these recipes, but there are some real, family-pleasing winners here.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.