Book-Off

The 5 Books That Made Vegetables Cool Again

Think: whole-vegetable roasts, blanching 3.0, actually satisfying salads.

by:
September 10, 2020
Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS.

This post is part of our new community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we're finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, one-bowl to weeknight-friendly, cake to cookies, to name a few), and putting them through a series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you.


Last month, F52ers Reba, Margaret, and Jen sourced, baked, and consumed a very impressive amount of flour and sugar in determining the ultimate cake book.

Two months ago, brave reviewers Alison, Melissa, and Theresa tested your most referenced, timeless books on basics.

This month, as we settle into this in-between season where markets are especially abundant, we’re thinking about vegetables. Introducing: the five most beloved vegetable-forward cookbooks chosen by you, our community.


Your 5 Best Vegetable-Forward Cookbooks

1. Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons

Photo by Amazon

Farmer-turned-chef-turned-vegetable-whisperer Joshua McFadden’s debut book Six Seasons delighted absolutely everyone, converting even the most vehement salad haters. In it, you’ll find insider tips for growing, harvesting, preparing (slice celery along its length to maximize juiciness and minimize fibrous-ness; tuck a bitter greens salad into a cozy blanket of cheese, and not preparing (have you tried turnips or asparagus raw? McFadden thinks you should) every vegetable under the sun.

2. Anna Jones’ The Modern Cook’s Year

Photo by Amazon

The Modern Cook’s Year is a compilation of beloved blogger, food stylist, and prolific author Anna Jones’ meals year-round. The book is organized by seasons, each chapter offers up a wealth of vegetable-forward recipes that go way, way beyond just salads and sheet-pan dinners. There’s chocolatey porridge strewn with honeyed pears; homemade misos (including one made with grated apples!) to whisk into broth for a supper in seconds; and nests of soba cloaked in a velvety squash broth.

3. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Photo by Amazon

Many credit their culinary chops (and adventurousness) to Ottolenghi’s books and instruction—namely Plenty and its 100-plus brilliant ways to eat a vegetable. A recipe with Ottolenghi’s name attached promises home cooks not only innovative flavors and techniques (we’ve not been shy about our love for the Caramelized Garlic Tart, but also an infectious love for ingredients, and respect for a dish’s backstory.

4. Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom

Photo by Penguin Random House

Chef, educator, and author Bryant Terry’s M.O. is making vegan eating more accessible to everyone—regardless of class, race, or geographic location—and just straight up more fun. Vegetable Kingdom is brimming with aspirational but attainable recipes, innovative tips (blanching then grilling) for breathing life into farmers-market-fresh (or fridge-wilted) vegetables, and musical pairings (think: Stevie Wonder and butter bean salad; Drake and bunny chow).

5. Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Photo by Penguin Random House

Deborah Madison equipped vegetable-curious home cooks with stem-to-tip know-how well before sustainable or zero-waste cooking was considered mainstream. Many of you wrote in to say that, when encountering an unfamiliar vegetable at the farmers market, Madison’s book has been there—for decades—not only to help with identification, but five or so ways it could become dinner tonight. And with more of us taking growing and harvesting into our own hands, it’s made green bounties feel less daunting or relentless, and more exciting.


Meet the Reviewers

Ruth

“It's not groundbreaking or original to say that Ottolenghi, more than nearly any cookbook creator I can think of, has changed the game for this field. To the question of why cookbooks are still relevant in the online era, he has provided an answer and a path forward for many others. What I value most about Plenty and his other books, though, is that the recipes are really well scaffolded, so that they lend themselves to flexibility and using the ingredients I have on hand.”

Shereen

“I nominated Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I have used the original cookbook since it was first published. At that time, I loved finding new-to-me vegetables at the market and then turning to Madison’s book to learn about them and find great ways to cook them. Now that we grow our own vegetables, it’s an inspiration for delicious new twists on cooking our favorites. A fantastic classic from the book is Green Lentils With Wine-Glazed Vegetables.”

Erin

“I was slow to catch on to Six Seasons, but once I finally started cooking from it, I could not stop. I'm a fan of the fact that Joshua McFadden has so many big, hearty salads that are truly meals unto themselves. I can't believe how good that beet slaw with pistachio butter is. It's already been declared an official dish for Christmas dinner by my family...but I also just eat it for lunch, year-round, all by myself. His recipes remind me of my grandfather's cooking, which is very high praise. My grandfather was a farmer and a renowned and beloved home cook (but McFadden uses way more fresh herbs!).”

To determine the ultimate, most vegetable-celebratory, vegetable-forward book, our three reviewers will be using these four guiding questions and themes to inform their review process:

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I also own all of Ottolenghi’s books and cook from them often, I only wish he had an online consolidated index to make it easy to find recipes across books— one of the most useful tools Ina has given us!”
— Judy
Comment

Audience. Who is the book aimed at? Experienced cooks or novices? Vegetarians or omnivores? Is there a separate section on vegan recipes, or are vegan recipes clearly marked? Does the book provide guidance for those who might be new to vegetarian cooking?

Education. How much general guidance does the book give? How informative are the headnotes, and do they include cultural information when appropriate, i.e., if a recipe is drawn from a particular tradition or part of the world? Is nutritional information included? Does the author rely on general techniques that can be applied across a range of recipes and will stand up to improvisation?

Organization and Accessibility. How is the book structured? By ingredient? By technique? Is it organized seasonally, with suggestions for improvising based on what is fresh and locally available? Is there a balance of main dishes, side dishes, easy weeknight meals, and dishes that might be more complicated and time-consuming to prepare? What proportion of the recipes require specialty ingredients, and are they ones I would use again?

Inspiration. Is the book inviting? Do I want to try the recipes? Are the ideas fresh and exciting, and does the book introduce me to new vegetables or ones I thought I didn’t like? Do the recipes work? Would I buy this book and cook from it again? If I could have just one vegetable-forward book on my shelf, would this be it?

Which one of these has your vote? Tell us about it in the comments!

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Roberta
    Roberta
  • Judy
    Judy
  • pulkrevolvingdoors
    pulkrevolvingdoors
  • johnsofats
    johnsofats
Comment
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.

4 Comments

Roberta September 14, 2020
I just saw Bryant Terry on one of the hours of tge Today show. Can't remember at the moment what he made but I immediately put his name on the top of my book list. My sister gifted me one of Ottolenghi's latest. I perused it from over to cover but haven't made anything yet. My sister LOVES his books. This was a great article.
 
Judy September 13, 2020
I own all but Anna Jones, and hands down Six Seasons is my favorite. The recipes are delicious, well written and if you have a CSA the season orientation is great.
I also own all of Ottolenghi’s books and cook from them often, I only wish he had an online consolidated index to make it easy to find recipes across books— one of the most useful tools Ina has given us!
 
pulkrevolvingdoors September 10, 2020
For me Ottolenghi is the absolute no brainier winner here. Those recipes work every. Single. Time.
They changed the way we cook, and still offer incredible complexity. He was also a leader, so many blogs copy each other but he has consistently led the way.

Anna Jones for me unfortunately suffers from chronically badly tested recipes. There are good ideas there but I’ve had so many recipes turn out wrongly , or have poor instructions that I gave up entirely .
 
johnsofats September 10, 2020
The one that came to mind for me is Tender by Nigel Slater