We scoured our library looking for some of the 20th century’s most original and essential vegetarian cookbooks. Here’s what we found.
The New Cookery
By Lenna Frances Cooper
(Good Health Publishing Company, 1913)
In 1913, Lenna Frances Cooper—head dietician at Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium—let the world know what was wrong with vegetarian food: it didn’t taste good. The New Cookery, her corrective text, aims for palatability as well as wholesomeness. The temperance advocated by 19th-century health reformers comes through in many of the recipes here—the alcohol-free “Mint Julep”, the coffee-free “Cereal Coffee”—but Cooper’s book will surprise anyone who thinks that Kellogg’s was all cornflakes. The New Cookery is shot through with sugar and drenched with eggs and cream (sometimes all at once, as with “Baked Eggs in Cream”).
History buffs will enjoy the antecedents to today’s mock meats: Protose—a canned Kellogg product of mashed beans, peanut butter, and onion water—is central to the “Meat Substitutes” chapter, with nut meat loaf calling for a full pound of it (to say nothing of Broiled Protose, Protose Cutlets, or Chipped Protose in Cream). Austere black-and-white photographs depict a lablike, sterile kitchen of precise measurements and methods, and scientific explanations of common kitchen activities—”Stirring is accomplished by a rotary motion of the arm”—ensure that even the greenest cook can proceed. —Karen Shimizu
The Vegetarian Epicure
By Anna Thomas
(Vintage Books, 1972)
Anna Thomas was just 20 years old, and a struggling UCLA student to boot, when she wrote The Vegetarian Epicure. With her tone of easy authority and paeans to the gustatory pleasures of meatless eating, Thomas shattered the stereotype of the “cranky vegetarian”. Instead, she urged readers to think beyond the “square meal”, to revel in a democracy of dishes rather than subjugate vegetables to the tyranny of meat substitutes. (And in case vacillating would-be vegetarians should quaver at the task, she provides bold menus—such as Chilled Dill Soup in tandem with Cheese and Onion Pie, String Beans Vinaigrette, and Muzarek and Fresh Fruit—that push cooks in the proper direction.) Julie Maas’s drawings of winsome men and women with liberated hair chopping vegetables serve to amplify the emancipatory tenor of the text.
Proving it was perfectly in tune with its time, The Vegetarian Epicure became an instant classic, sent Thomas through film school, and financed her first film. Subsequent—and equally successful—versions of the cookbook incorporated a broader range of international recipes and reflected a maturing concern with health issues (less butter, fewer eggs). But the original is still a carefree treasure; Thomas thoroughly groks “buckwheat grouts” (kasha) and doesn’t hesitate to recommend a bowl of strawberries and a pot of cream for the “blind-munchies” brought on by the hypothetical post-prandial joint. —Karen Shimizu
Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East, Vegetarian Cooking
By Madhur Jaffrey
When the seasoned cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey moved from Delhi to the UK, she was 19 years old and had never cooked a day in her life. But a person can tolerate only so much fish and chips, and soon enough she was longing for the home-cooked meals of her native country. Through detailed letters exchanged with her mother, Jaffrey learned the ins and outs of Indian cuisine and, lucky for us, decided to share her knowledge with the rest of the world. In this book, one of her first, Jaffrey travels beyond India to explore the myriad meatless dishes of Asia—like mung bean pancakes from Korea and Indonesian tempeh cooked in coconut milk. Readers are in for a delightful trip across the subcontinent, with vegetables riding shotgun. —Justine Sterling
The Savory Way
By Deborah Madison
(Bantam Books, 1990)
I’ll admit that the recipe “Quesadillas, My Style” made me raise an eyebrow: who doesn’t know how to make a veggie quesadilla? But that was before I learned that Deborah Madison essentially spearheaded mainstream vegetarian cuisine with her San Francisco restaurant Greens—and that back in 1990, when The Savory Way first hit shelves, meatless diets hardly marked the height of sophistication.
Indeed, to Madison’s credit, apart from the quesadillas, The Savory Way works boldly to raise vegetarian dishes to new, elegant levels with dishes like saffron butterflies with basil and peas and fennel soup with watercress puree. Vegetarians may be more worldly today, but Madison’s witty style, sumptuous descriptions, and flexible and easy-to-love recipes have kept them coming back for more. —Leo Rodriguez
The Vegetarian Hearth
By Darra Goldstein
(Harper Collins, 1996)
Nowadays, single-topic cookbooks are all the rage, but in 1996, The Vegetarian Hearth, devoted exclusively to a meatless winter pantry, was one of a kind. In it, Goldstein, a professor of Russian culture and cuisine and the editor of the food and culture journal Gastronomica, celebrates the comforts of cold-weather foods such as cheese baked in grape leaves, mushroom and barley soup, and rutabaga pudding. Goldstein’s love of eastern European fare is evident in her choice of dishes, but she also throws in a few recipes for Basque-style scrambled eggs and spicy soba that will keep you warm on a cold winter’s night. A tireless scholar, Goldstein even mines history to teach readers about unusual wintertime meals. (Snow pancakes, anyone?) If the thought of winter sans sausage is too much for you to bear, think again. The Vegetarian Hearth challenges cooks to make do with less, but with results no less satisfying. —Leo Rodriguez