Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tips for Going Plant Based - Investigating Cookbooks

One question I get a lot is 'which vegan cookbooks do you recommend?' and it's a hard question to answer because the good and bad things about a cookbook can vary from person to person.

Personal Taste

You have to take into account how a person eats. If you have a meat eater that lives on fast food, they won't find much in a cookbook that uses whole foods to create healthy vegan fare. If you hate broccoli then you shouldn't buy a broccoli cookbook!

If someone is newly vegan, I wouldn't let them go near mac & cheese made with nutritional yeast because they will probably hate it until they have detoxed off dairy.

It takes a good three weeks to change your taste buds over to a new way of eating.

I have a ton of cookbooks and every one has recipes I love, some I changed to work for me, some I didn't care for and some I won't ever even make. You can make a recipe and put it in front of 20 people and some will love it, some will hate it, some will think it's ok and some won't even try it so you can't make sweeping judgements about a recipe.

Some recipes will never work for you simply because you don't like something about it. I hate green peppers so a stuffed pepper will never be something I'll make. If you have a hatred for a specific dish, like pasta or broccoli then you will never like a recipe that has those as the main focus.

Experience & Skill Level

You have to take into account the experience and skill level of the person cooking or baking. Someone that can hardly boil water and thinks cooking is placing a frozen meal in the microwave, will not appreciate being asked to make a roux or use a candy thermometer.

You can increase your experience and skill by cooking and baking more or taking classes.


My kitchen is some sort of Pampered Chef museum. I seriously own pretty much every gadget and appliance on this planet. It took me trying to cook in other kitchens to appreciate that not everyone owns a whisk, a dehydrator, a food processor or a rice cooker. Things I use often.

Some people barely have a spatula.

If you are trying to make raw recipes, you are probably going to need to invest in a dehydrator. If you are interested in making your own almond milk then you need a decent blender and a nut milk bag.

These things aren't necessary in order to make certain recipes but they make baking and cooking so much easier and enjoyable. If there is a chore you hate (like cooking rice, chopping onions or making bread) then you need to search for a way to do it that makes it easier, like a rice cooker, a chopper and a bread machine. They are investments in your health and sanity!


My most favorite part of a cookbook are the chapters leading up to the actual recipes. You might learn about the writer and their journey to having the cookbook or they may share their diet philosophy and cooking tips. You may learn about nutrition and health. They may give you information on ingredients and techniques. You'll often be told how recipes were created and how they measured their flour, you may get a chart listing substitutions.


How creative is the person cooking? Are they able to look at a recipe and make changes to accommodate personal tastes, allergies/sensitivities or what they have on hand? Some people simply can't deviate from a recipe while others are very good at playing around with them.

The only way to cultivate creativity is to get into the kitchen and mess around! Start by subbing in ingredients you love for the ones you aren't crazy about. Have you ever looked at a recipe and thought 'that sounds good except for the ___' .. well, get rid of what you don't like and add in something else!

If you have gluten issues, learn about alternative flours. Allergic to a certain food? Learn what will work in place of it. If you make a recipe and you like ti but don't love it, figure out how to change it to work for you. I've done that with many recipes and now they are things I eat every week!

For example, I'm not a big fan of using wheat gluten in recipes because too much can make the final product chewier in texture than I personally like so now I know to cut the gluten and sub in some breadcrumbs instead.

Time Issues

How much time do you have? Some recipes are simple and quick and you can have dinner on the table in 5 minutes while some recipes can take all day to make.  It's good to have both types of cookbooks in your kitchen. I have one cookbook that I dislike because it is too simple. Every recipe has three or four ingredients and I find that boring so I just don't ever open it up but some people want that type of cookbook.

Visual Stimulation

Some people are very visual and need a photo of every recipe while some people don't even care about photos. I like to have photos because it shows me what the final recipe should look like and photos stimulate my appetite. I love photos of great food.


You have to consider what ingredients are normal in your kitchen. I have a couple cookbooks I rarely use because the writers use soy creamer, soy yogurt and processed faux meat products in the recipes and I just don't use those products and they aren't in my home on a daily basis. However, I have things in my kitchen that other people think are odd  - nutritional yeast, tamari, plum vinegar, raw cashews and homemade almond milk.


A recipe should be considered 'good' if it's clear and concise and the final product is what you were going for in general. Usually, recipes in cookbooks go thru a testing phase where a variety of people are asked to make it and report back. If you don't like the flavor of the final product that is probably your personal taste and not necessarily the fault of the recipe. If the cake falls flat or the noodles aren't cooked thru then it could be your error or the recipe. You might need to try it one more time to be sure.

So, how do you find a good cookbook?


Go the bookstore to browse. I prefer to buy my books online thru Amazon so I use the 'look inside' feature so I can get a basic sense of the cookbook. You can usually read the table of contents, get to see the first few information pages and even see some of the recipes to get an idea of what they are like. I can usually tell by flipping thru a book if I'm going to use it or not.


Many authors have websites or blogs and you can often find recipes posted there. You can try a few recipes to see if you like their style. I often google for recipe reviews when I see a recipe I want to try. 

Lots of people have blogs these days so many will make a recipe and post a photo and talk about their experience with it and they are usually honest. I googled a popular cult classic recipe before making it and I got lots of tips from bloggers.

Read Reviews

You have to be careful reading reviews. You want to look for certain things in a review. You want to look for mentions of incomplete or confusing instructions and inconsistent ingredient listings. Don't worry about comments made about how it tasted bad or it was too complicated because you can't know the personal taste or skill level of the person writing the review. Take into account the number of good and bad reviews... if you have a cookbook with 300 reviews and most people said they liked it then you're probably going to like it but read thru the ones that gave it a bad review and see why so you can determine if you may have issues with it. I passed by one cookbook because many of the reviews mentioned that the recipes used processed faux meat products and I don't eat those very often.


Go to the library and check out the cookbooks before buying them. If you know someone like me, ask to borrow a cookbook or two. If it's a book I use a lot then you'd have to come over and check it out at my house because I won't let it leave!

That said... here is my post on cookbooks I like!

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