This review is part of our community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we’re finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, Instant Pots to cooking fundamentals, and 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.
We’d originally introduced you to three community members, Grace, Rohita, and Jared. Unfortunately, during the review process, Grace tested positive for COVID-19 and lost her sense of smell and taste, making judging recipes a nearly impossible task. While she wasn’t able to fully participate in the final review, Grace still shared some of her thoughts on the cookbooks. We wish her a speedy recovery!
With that, here are the reviews of your five favorite vegan books—and Rohita and Jared’s nail-biting verdict on which one reigned supreme.
Receiving these five vegan cookbooks in the mail felt like the best present and pick-me-up for the middle of winter. We all felt invigorated to get cooking when we looked at the wide range of recipes these books offer. From Southern cooking to seasonal eating, there’s truly something here for everyone.
Each book we received has something special to offer, so before we started cooking, we set some guidelines. To evaluate the books, we decided to focus on four core criteria.
Taste: Are the recipes delicious and full of flavor? Maybe even so good we’d want to make them again?
Storytelling: Does the book have a cohesive narrative or point of view? Is the book easy to follow? How are the recipes organized?
Accessibility: Are the ingredients easy to find? Are the price points of said ingredients accessible? Are there any extra tools you need?
Audience: Who is the book for? Will vegans and non-vegans alike enjoy the recipes? Is it for both experienced and novice cooks? Is there guidance for those who may be new to a vegan diet? Or for those who may be less experienced cooks?
While these are vegan cookbooks, we didn’t want to base our assessment on the idea that they were good vegan recipes, but simply that they were good recipes. We love that all these books place plants front and center without relying too heavily on meat substitutes, and each of these authors has a deeply personal reason for choosing this way of living and eating. They invite readers along on their journey to eating wholesome, cruelty-free, and, most importantly, delicious food. Before we even cooked any recipes, we knew this would be a tough competition. In addition to the above guidelines we each agreed to make three recipes and one common recipe from each book.
The five vegan book finalists, selected by you, the Food52 community, are:
- Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
- The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out by Angela Liddon
- Mississippi Vegan: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Boy's Heart by Timothy Pakron
- Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul by Jenné Claiborne
- The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright
A Note from Reviewer Grace:
"In an unfortunate turn of events, I found out I was exposed to and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 in the midst of testing recipes from these vegan cookbooks. In fact, I realized I had lost my sense of taste and smell after I had thrown approximately 25 different herbs and spices into Timothy Pakron's red beans and rice and could smell...nothing. A few hours later I received my COVID test results with "DETECTED" written in big, bold capital letters.
Since my diagnosis I have done very little cooking (thank god for contactless delivery), but I have been flipping through the cookbooks, dreaming of the day I can taste and smell the food I am cooking again. And while all five books have recipes that I am eager to try, the two books that I am most drawn to are Timothy Pakron's Mississippi Vegan and Laura Wright's The First Mess. Both of their books approach vegan cooking with a clear love for the natural world and the ingredients it provides us with; they don't rely on recipes that re-create meat-based food, but rather create dishes that make you excited to eat the vegetables themselves. Pakron, in particular, writes with such love and reverence for the traditions, recipes, and plants of his home state that it is impossible not to be excited to try his food. I am looking forward to remaking his red beans and rice (with a side of his fluffy cornbread) when I can actually taste and smell the many layers of incorporated flavor. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the recipes from these books in my stead—each one is a veritable vegan treasure trove."
1. Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
The largest book of the bunch, Veganomicon is almost an encyclopedia for all things related to vegan cooking. If an ingredient is vegan, this book probably has a guide on how to cook it. The recipes here are extremely approachable, using ingredients and techniques that most home cooks would feel comfortable buying and attempting.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s philosophy in putting together this cookbook was to showcase the diverse, flavorful range of vegan cooking, and they certainly achieved their goal. We especially loved the attention they paid to educating readers on how to stock a vegan pantry, essential cooking terminology, and an all-important section, "How to Cook a Vegetable," detailing cooking methods for several common vegetables. We were also particularly impressed by the section on sauces and fillings, which allows a cook who’s become comfortable with vegan cooking to strike out on their own and start crafting their own dishes without formal recipes, using the book’s building blocks.
We both made the Butternut Squash Risotto, which used a cashew cream to mimic the texture dairy lends to classic risottos. The cream paired delightfully with the sweetness of butternut squash and the spice of chile flakes and garlic. The end result was garlicky, creamy, and perfectly cozy.
Jared made the Basic Scrambled Tofu, which uses crumbled tofu to mimic the texture of scrambled eggs, and turmeric for color. The end result isn’t exactly like scrambled eggs, with a texture that’s crumbly rather than creamy, and a flavor that uses spices to replace the savory taste of egg. He found that the Roasted Eggplant and Spinach Muffuletta, which featured an incredibly tasty olive salad, required a decent amount of work for a sandwich (the salad alone had 12 ingredients!), but it paid off in terms of flavor.
Rohita made the Tamarind Lentils and Samosa Baked Potatoes. The lentils were awesome, especially paired with the acidic sweetness of tamarind. Eaten with a little leftover naan, it was perfect. The Samosa Baked Potatoes was a fun recipe to try, with all the flavors of a traditional samosa in baked potato form. What a great idea!
Overall Veganomicon is an approachable, accessible book that not only helps vegan eaters learn more recipes, but helps home cooks of all levels become more confident in the kitchen.
Angela Lidden opened her book by talking about her struggles with finding a healthy relationship with food. It’s incredibly relatable and honest, and we found ourselves drawn to her approach to living a better lifestyle. She makes her style of eating as easy as possible by first presenting all the supplies and pantry staples needed to make a wide variety of recipes, and then presenting recipes that draw inspiration from a variety of global cuisines. What unites it all is that the recipes offer great flavor and nutritious meals without much difficulty.
Jared made her Luxurious Tomato-Basil Pasta using a cashew cream—almond milk blended with soaked cashews—in place of cream or ricotta cheese, and it worked perfectly, combining with tomato, onion, and garlic to make a sauce that had great flavor and richness. This isn’t food that involves sacrificing flavor or satisfaction for health, which makes it easy to love. Similarly, the Salt and Vinegar Chickpeas had the salty, tangy satisfaction of potato chips—and were far easier to make than DIY chips, as they only require an oven and not a deep-fryer.
Rohita cooked the Cream of Tomato Soup With Roasted Italian Chickpea Croutons. The result was a delicious soup that was cozy and comforting. Sun-dried tomatoes added an incredible depth of flavor, and the crispy chickpeas were delicious on their own, albeit a little mushy when mixed in with the soup. The Comforting Nacho Dip was also incredible. Although without a high-speed blender the consistency wasn’t perfect, the flavors came together with warming spices and sweetness from the carrots and tomato sauce.
For the shared recipe, we decided to try out Our Favorite Veggie Burger. Surprisingly enough, this was the only veggie burger we made from any of the cookbooks. The burger brought tons of flavor, thanks to black beans, cumin, onions, and cilantro, with oat flour and flaxseed helping to bind the ingredients. It was a solid, hearty veggie burger.
Liddon’s book helps build a foundation for readers who are newer to cooking or just looking for ways to eat more vegetables by veganizing family favorite staples, like casseroles and nacho dip. For more experienced home cooks, there are plenty of recipes to riff on.
Mississippi Vegan: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Boy's Heart by Timothy Pakron
It’s easy to tell when someone is writing from the heart—Timothy Pakron obviously is when he speaks of his home region and the foods that make it special. The way he talks about his childhood in Mississippi made us homesick for a place we’ve never been. Even before making any of the recipes, we realized we’d be just as interested in curling up and reading the book cover to cover.
Vegan or not, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the flavors of this book. The way Pakron talks about potatoes is poetry: Never have we had such a strong craving for crispy, garlicky, salty roasted potatoes. Luckily, he has recipes to satisfy our cravings.
Jared made food that holds a special place in Pakron’s heart, like Mama's Rosemary White Bean Soup that his mother makes when he visits—it offered excellent creaminess and a savory, smoky flavor. Jared also made the Roasted Pumpkin With Cheesy Walnut Crumble, which used nutritional yeast to replicate the taste of Parmesan cheese and added toasted walnuts for crunch. It was the ideal blend of savory and sweet.
Rohita cooked the aforementioned garlicky potatoes, which could have been placed in a popcorn bucket and eaten by the mouthful, as well as the Peanut Stew With Fresh Greens. The cumin, coriander, curry powder, garlic, and ginger in the stew resulted in a boldly flavored soup that balanced perfectly with the bright collard greens.
Our group recipe was the Slow-Cooked Red Beans and Rice. We loved this dish—the scent of maple syrup, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, and thyme simmering away on the stove for hours was the best fragrance in the world. The only thing better than making it was eating it, of course. It was packed with flavor, and the beans were the star!
Pakron’s stories and his commitment to flavor in his recipes are what drew us to this book. With charm, spice, and tasty food, Pakron brings us along a wonderful journey where we get to learn more about food in Mississippi and build a greater appreciation for the wide world of vegan food.
Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul by Jenné Claiborne
Jenné Claiborne believes in the power of vegan food and in the power of Southern flavors and soul food. She acknowledges the false notion that these cuisines are always fried and full of unhealthy fats by driving the point that the South is an incredibly diverse region of the United States, with influences from enslaved people, indigenous Americans, and Europeans—all leaving a distinct mark on this culinary landscape. Her mission boils down to food that not only feeds your body but that “makes you tap your foot and feel alive.” This is a mission we can get behind.
Sweet Potato Soul gives you everything you need to get started with Southern vegan cooking—something both of us have had little to no experience with until this competition. This book ensured we never felt lost (and as lovers of sweet potatoes, we particularly appreciated the section on different varieties of the potato and how to cook with them).
Jared made the Black-Eyed Peas Hummus, which was as easy as breaking out the food processor. It offered the creaminess of chickpea hummus with a flavor that was different enough to feel like something brand-new. The Southern Patatas Bravas were similar, using a spiced sauce that made roasted potatoes into something special!
Rohita made the Cardamom Apple Pie, which produced a wonderfully flaky crust using vegan butter and sweet apples that had a little extra something from the spice. Plop some nondairy ice cream on top and experience bliss! She also made Claiborne’s Skillet Cornbread, which had just the right amount of sweetness and was the perfect pairing to winter soups and stews.
Clairborne’s passion for vegan cooking and the Southern palate are evident from the first page of the book. Vegans and non-vegans alike will be inspired to step into the kitchen not only to make food that’s better for the planet, but food that’s comforting, flavorful, and just plain delicious.
The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons by Laura Wright
In the introduction to her cookbook, Laura Wright describes food as “a driving force of pride, success, and pleasure.” She writes fondly about how her childhood exposure to farm-fresh produce and home-cooked meals helped her develop her approach to cooking, and of her desire to give others the ability to make meals as satisfying and wholesome. And with her book, she does just that. The First Mess Cookbook is an excellent all-purpose vegan book with a wide collection of recipes, spanning various flavors and cuisines, which should make a wide audience happy. Just about anyone will be able to find a number of recipes that appeal to them.
We started out with the Tofu Noodle Soup With Coconut Lemongrass Broth, which was light, refreshing, and satisfying all at once. Doing something as simple as blending cilantro and coconut milk with a few other ingredients makes a broth that’s delicious and versatile. We loved the hearty additions of broccoli, tofu, and snow peas, though we suspect they could easily be replaced with any vegetables that happen to be in your fridge. (Rohita added mushrooms and soba noodles, and they fit in perfectly.) The only downside to this dish is that after sitting in broth overnight, the broccoli and tofu went from having a firm bite to complete mush. The leftovers were missing a much-needed crunch.
Rohita also made the Eggplant "Bacon," which she found to have a pleasingly sweet, smoky, and salty flavor balance, but a chewiness that didn’t quite live up to the crispier bacon-like texture she was looking for. She also went for the Tandoori-Rubbed Portobellos With Cool Cilantro Sauce, which used a familiar spice blend in an unfamiliar and exciting way. The smoky, warm spice worked well with the flavor of the mushrooms, which developed an excellent char in a cast-iron pan—though grilling them, as Wright suggests, would make them even better.
Jared tried the Pepperoncini Lentil Crunch Salad and the Roasted Cauliflower With Green Tahini, and was delighted by both. The salad paired familiar ingredients (lentils, onion, red pepper) with a dressing that called for pepperoncini pickling liquid blended with cumin, white wine vinegar, and maple syrup. Jared had used tahini in his own cooking plenty of times before, but Wright’s suggestion of blending it with basil, green onion, and maple syrup made for a flavor that was entirely new to him, and very much welcomed. It was a perfect accompaniment to the tender roasted cauliflower and crispy chickpeas. Not only does he plan to make this recipe again, but he plans on trying the green tahini sauce in other dishes as well.
Wright’s passion for vegan cooking is apparent from the first page of The First Mess, and when home cooks try a few of her recipes, they will likely feel the same enthusiasm for produce-forward cooking. This is indeed food to take pride in.
Mississippi Vegan by Timothy Pakron
Although we were impressed by all five of the nominated books, we ultimately decided that Mississippi Vegan was our overall favorite. What really set Mississippi Vegan apart was its storytelling. Pakron’s story isn’t only limited to the book’s introduction, but woven throughout the recipes, making his book almost like a memoir in cookbook form. Still, the book is more than just a good story—the recipes themselves are superb, taking ingredients that are easy to find at most grocery stores and techniques that should be manageable for all home cooks and using them to build dishes with exceptional flavor. Little touches here and there, like liquid smoke in the white bean soup and maple syrup in the red beans and rice, gave the dishes a satisfying depth, and ensured that even the more humble dishes never felt boring. The word that comes to mind when thinking of Mississippi Vegan is "rewarding": learning about the cuisine and culture of the South is rewarding, trying the techniques of said cuisine out for oneself is rewarding, and of course, eating the results is rewarding. An excellent book all around.
The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).Order now