Here are 10 vegan food books worth owning or giving as gifts, all of which were published this year - plus one that can't be counted as vegan but is still worth a look.
The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page with photos by Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown)
Easily one of the most remarkable food-oriented books to come out this year, it's restricted from the list below on something of a technicality: While overwhelmingly vegan-friendly, this A-Z guide, true to its title, is vegetarian rather than vegan. It's not just semantics - with entries on buttermilk, eggs, cheese (12 pages of entries, plus listings within other entries throughout the book) and the like, it's analogous to a vegetarian cookbook that happens to contain a healthy number of vegan recipes - yes, vegans can skip over the nonvegan bits, but we can do that in an omnivore cookbook too.
That said, any vegans who are interested in better understanding flavors and/or improving their own cooking should check this out: With the help of Dornenburg's sharp-eyed photos, Page walks us through each ingredient's strengths and affinities, making clear why some foods work together better than others and how different foods might be balanced or substituted in different cases with positive results. Additionally, notes from vegan chefs are included, both within the ingredients' entries and in a well-composed, exhaustive introductory section that contextualizes the data to come. Rich Landau and/or Vedge are mentioned several times in specific reference to bringing out vegan flavors. The book succeeds as both educational reference and fascinating recreational reading. All in all, a near-vegan winner that's hard to improve on - yet it still might be, as The Vegan Flavor Bible.
10. It's Easy to Start Eating Vegan by Rebecca Gilbert (Montara Media)
This is a short primer but does contain vegan recipes, as well as clippable coupons for vegan food - yes, Rebecca Gilbert really intends to make it easy! I spoke with her about it for V for Vegan back in October.
9. More Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson (Andrews McMeel)
Back in the day, Robin Robertson wrote a popular guide called Quick-Fix Vegetarian. Then, moving into the vegan cookbook genre, she wrote Quick-Fix Vegan, which became a best-seller. Now comes the sequel, with an additional 150 recipes that take 30 minutes or less of active prep time, which is a boon to new vegans and those dipping a toe into the eating pattern. Both accomplished and down-to-earth practical, Robertson frames the recipe collection with sensible time-saving tips and suggestions for stocking your pantry to be ready to whip up animal-free meals in a trice. And the foods are, as usual with Robertson, both creative and easy to grasp - sometimes literally, as in the case of the "Philly uncheesesteak."
8. Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick (Vegan Heritage Press)
These "authentic & inspired recipes for Mexico's favorite street food" come from Wyrick, the founder of the food magazine The Vegan Culinary Experience, and the book in some ways reads like a magazine, with always remarkable and colorful layout elements, and plenty of helpful listicles packaged in with the recipes themselves, including sections on roasting chiles and on making your own tortillas, plus instructions on hosting the perfect taco party. From the most basic fillings to creations such as BBQ sweet potato and Chile Peanut tacos or Baja Tacos with Lobster Mushrooms, Wyrick emphasizes the fun element in this cuisine while conveying plenty of the history and culture that surrounds these endlessly adaptable treats that, as Wyrick notes, serve as great vegan food ambassadors.
7. The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook by Anne Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn (Avery/Penguin)
A star of the groundbreaking documentary Forks Over Knives, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is responsible for the clinical research that helped establish that a low-fat plant-based diet can reverse heart disease, as he explained in his own Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (2007). Now Esselstyn's wife Ann (who created recipes for the aforementioned book) and daughter Jane (who did the same for Rip Esselstyn's My Beef with Meat) have combined their talents to make eating a low-oil vegetable-rich diet as accessible as possible. While the main selling point here is health, clarity of flavor is a side benefit: As Samuel L. Jackson writes in his recommendation, he found it "truly amazing what the things I already liked really tasted like."
6. Happy Herbivore Holidays and Gatherings by Lindsay Nixon (BenBella)
Lindsay Nixon has created a series of top-selling books combining the low-fat principles of the Esselstyns with a fun and quirky attitude that make for a fun and newbie-friendly vegan mix. In the latest offering she ramps up the challenge by combining healthful principles with holiday food, two things we don't think of as having much overlap. Nixon steps up with Thanksgiving Loaf, Hot Chocolate Muffins, Cauliflower Hot Wings, Portobello Reubens and my fave, "No-Eggplant Caponata" (I'm not familiar with Caponata but applaud any dish that makes a point of excluding eggplant). Ever-responsive to her fans, the "herbies," Nixon includes answers to questions about how to deal with holiday gatherings as a vegan among nonvegan relatives - though perhaps the best way is by presenting them with some of these mouth-watering vegan concoctions.
5. Vegetarian to Vegan by Sarah Taylor (The Vegan Next Door)
When I interviewed Senator Cory Booker about his 'vegan experiment,' he remarked that "the compelling reasons that made me become a vegetarian are pretty much the same compelling reasons for me to become a vegan," and its that point that the Vegan in 30 Days author underscores with this book, which includes recipes by Mark Reinfeld but is more focused on making the case to vegetarians that whether one's rationale is based in etchics, personal health or environmental impact, the logically consistent choice is to eat vegan. After Taylor lays out the case for whyto go vegan, she moves on to "how," which leads to recipes veganizing vegetarian faves such as Eggless Egg Salad, Fettuccini Alfredo, Ranch sauce, quiche, Chocolate Mousse and Raw Cheesecake. Taylor's prose and Reinfeld's tasty creations make the case that milk and eggs are as unnecessary and worthy of dietary exclusion as meat.
4. The Lusty Vegan by Ayinde Howell and Zoe Eisenberg (Vegan Heritage Press)
Despite the scientific correlation between meat-eating and impotence, mainstream culture likes to think of vegans as sexless puritans, eschewing sensory pleasure of every kind to focus on self-righteousness. A corrective was needed, and The Lusty Vegan fills that niche with verve and sexy sass. Written by two vegans, a man and a woman who have both only dated nonvegans, this nicely designed tome freely mixes relationship advice (e.g. don't try to convert your partner; if you wind up living together, no cross-contaminating), omni-friendly vegan recipes (Vodka Cranberry Sauce, Mexican Lasagna) and sumptuous color photos of both food and people. Impudently and sometimes naughtily riffing on the topics introduced in Anne Dinshah's 2012 Dating Vegans, Howell and Eisenberg mix love, sex and vegan food into a deliciously welcome melange.
3. Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe by Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos and Jorge Pineda (Ten Speed Press)
With three well-loved NYC restaurants (Candle Cafe, Candle 79 and Candle Cafe West), founders Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza have put gourmet vegan food on the map, if not all over the map, of Manhattan. Now Pierson and two Candle chefs have assembled a TOME worthy of the sophisticated fun that the Candle restaurants are known for, centered on "celebratory menus and recipes" for entertaining around holidays and big events. Most of these are dishes set to impress, and if your guests need help getting in the mood to be impressed, there are a host of fun libations included as part of the celebration. You'll find creative entrees for occasions as serious as a Passover Seder (Sweet Potato Latkes with Almond Creme Fraiche, Gefilte Tofu with Fresh Horseradish and Beet Relish) or as frivolously festive as a Super Bowl party (Wheat Ball Heroes, Stout Brownies). With inimitable style, the Candle team have delivered a handsome volume that's a delightful party in itself.
2. Vegan without Borders by Robin Robertson (Andrews McMeel)
This sumptuous, colorful collection of "Easy Everyday Meals from Around the World" is another winner for the prolific Robertson, who still manages to keep the quality level remarkably high as she delivers another fresh spin on vegan eating. Surveying Europe, The Americas, Africa, The Middle East, India and Asia (with many per-country subsections), Robertson combines the geographically authentic with her own practiced palate to generate adventurous yet comforting dishes from Szechuan Bok Choy to Kale-Stuffed Phyllo 'Pens' to Three-Corn Cornbread. It's no wonder Robertson is commonly (and tweetingly) known as the "Global Vegan."
1. Plant Power by Nava Atlas (Harper One)
While all of the books listed here have great positive attributes, with Plant Power, Nava Atlas seems to put most if not all of them together in one comprehensive package. It's largely why I chose this book as the prize for the best Philly Vegan Day activity. On a mission to help readers "transform your kitchen, plate and life" with plant-based cuisine, Atlas methodically and engagingly steps through all the aspects of vegan cooking as they intersect with real-world concerns. She spends a good deal of time on the setup, with not just the usual glossary and pantry suggestions but with tips on how to shop, how to deal with family concerns around the table, how to set up a flexible weekly meal plan and how to massage kale. With all the helpful prose, it's not until page 81 that the first recipe appears, but as Atlas has pointed out, these are all meant to be swappable and flexible elements that the reader can adapt and put together according to time and taste.
The recipes themselves are enhanced with gorgeously shot food photos and elements like ideas for adapting a given dish's leftovers or the best recipes with which to combine it for a full meal. Here the tips, observations and asides continue, so that any issue you may have with incorporating these ideas into your cooking, Atlas has a helpful perspective, from how to tackle and subdue winter squash to matching summer fruits for the most visually inviting effect. As a trained visual artist, Atlas brings her eye for form and color to her cooking presentation, but more than that she brings a lot of heart, matched with earthy good sense, and puts them together for a personal presentation that feels like it's delivered by a dear friend.