In the early days of my learning-to-cook journey, (before Al Gore invented the Internet), I was a sucker for just about any cookbook that had “Vegetarian” in the title. My library was impressive. It took a cross-country move (i.e., packing) for me to realize I didn’t cook from most of those books. Some had a couple dog-eared pages with smears of dried sauce, signifying my go-to recipes. But the rest? Inspired writing, and hunger-inducing, air-brushed food photography do not always translate into useful cookbooks. I gave many of them away. (Today, I’d deposit them in my Little Free Library, but those weren’t invented yet, either).

Now, here’s how I buy a cookbook.

First, I read a review by a trusted source, the New York Times Best Cookbooks lists (sorry if you hit a paywall); Bon Appetit; or Then, if my interest is piqued, I walk down the block to my favorite bookstore, plop onto the floor in front of the Cooking Section, and study the recipe list of the book(s) I’m considering. Will I make at least half of the dishes? If not, the book — no matter how sublime the photography — goes back onto the shelf.

Buyer Beware: These days, social media food influencers are cranking out cookbooks faster than it takes a mustard seed to pop. If an Instagram star is popular enough to land a book deal, chances are you can find dozens, likely hundreds, of her recipes on-line. For free. That said, some are huge talents, whom I want to support. When that’s the case, I walk down the block to my local bookstore …. (see above).

My 10 Favorite Cookbooks 

  1. East, by Meera Sodha. Possibly my favorite cookbook ever, new takes on recipes “from Bangalore to Beijing.” This was my COVID project: I cooked almost every recipe in this book.
  2. Isa Does It, by Isa Moskowitz. Isa’s recipes are easy to follow, and work. The ingredients are simple and accessible; the way Isa combines them is nothing short of genius. (You can tell how much I’ve used this book by it’s damaged spine in the photo).
  3. Veganomicon, by Isa Moskowitz. See #1, above. I have the 2007 edition, and there’s a “newer” one from 2017. Should I buy it?
  4. I Can Cook Vegan, by Isa Moskowitz. See #1, above.
  5. Love Soup, by Anna Thomas. I love making soup, and I love this soup-making book. The author dedicates her book “To the farmers, and to all the workers who labor in the fields and the orchards.” It made me tear up. Really.
  6. Vegetarian India, Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey’s written a number of cookbooks, I assume all as excellent as this one. But this is the one I have. Her recipes are simple, delicious, and doable for the home cook. May require a trip to an Asian food store for spices.
  7. Love Real Food, by Kathryne Taylor. This was the first cookbook I bought after following someone on-line. Taylor’s recipes are straight-forward, her salads and dressings are stand-outs, and most recipes can be made in under 30-minutes.
  8. Viva Vegan, by Terry Hope Romero. Empanadas, tacos, tamales, inspired plant-based Latin cooking. Every time I make the sweet potato chipotle tacos from this book I proclaim, “this is my favorite meal.” Then, my husband Max reminds me, “you say that about a lot of meals.”
  9. Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking, by Dana Shultz. Another cookbook author with a strong on-line presence. Shultz’s website and books make most “Best of” lists, and it’s easy to understand why. Her specialty is “10 ingredients or less” recipes, perfect for weekday nights.
  10. The Buddhist Chef, by Jean-Philippe Cyr. The most recent addition to my cookbook library, sent to me by a Canadian friend, who couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this guy. So far, I’ve made about a quarter of the recipes, and each one is a repeater.

Special Mention: The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page. This is not a recipe book. It’s a history of vegetarian and plant-based gastronomy, a nutrition primer, an A-Z guide to the herbs and spices that best enhance fruits and vegetables, and tips for combining ingredients for maximal flavor. It’s a Geek’s Guide to Plant-Based Cooking.

Caveat: Some of the favorites on my list are vegetarian, not 100% plant-based. Most of the vegetarian recipes are easily vegan-ized.