You can leaf through a normal book and get an idea of whether it’s any good, but you can’t really decide about a cookbook until you try it. So we like to borrow first, then buy if it’s great.
And so we’ve tried a bunch (well over 50, I bet) in our short three and a half years of being vegetarian. I’m always surprised at the selection of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks in most libraries, even if a lot of them are those 1980’s-style designed ones, with tons of fake meat recipes that are probably a lot worse for you than the even real thing.
(Case in point: I recently saw a recipe in this book, which my sister checked out from the library, for vegan chili cheese dogs. The recipe: get a vegan hot dog, vegan cheese, a bun, and vegan chili, and microwave them. Then assemble as you would an ordinary hot dog. This book also has a “Vegan Chopped Liver” recipe …)
Anyway, my point is that we’ve tried a ton of cookbooks, and we usually end up buying our favorites. And from this handful of favorites, we cook probably 90% of the meals we make.
Before I get to my list, let me explain the criteria.
What makes a great vegan or vegetarian cookbook for athletes?
I called this list 9 Essential Cookbooks for the Plant-Based Athlete, and here’s what I mean by that. To make my list, a vegetarian or vegan cookbook’s recipes had to be:
- Whole-food based — more than any particular nutrient mix, this is my main criterion for healthy (see this post).
- Not rabbit-foodish — it’s gotta be substantial, filling, satisfying food.
- Quick — most meals shouldn’t take more than 30-40 minutes to prepare, since athletes are generally pretty busy.
- Tasty — maybe the best athletes don’t care so much about this, but the rest of us do.
- Varied — I wanted each book to have a lot of different types of food in it, so that you could buy just one and still have a nice mix of meals (as opposed to just vegan Indian or Italian food, for example).
So with that, here’s my list. Please note that amazon.com links are affiliate links, so No Meat Athlete will earn a small commission when you buy anything through them!
1. Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero.
To me, this is a classic, even if it’s only five years old. Though some of the recipes are slightly more involved than I have time for on a weeknight, most every meal in this book turns out wonderfully, and makes you feel like you did something. There’s also tons of supporting material to introduce the reader to different ingredients and techniques used in vegan cooking, making this a perfect first “serious” vegan cookbook.
See my review, along with the recipe for BBQ Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls, here.
2. Thrive Foods, by Brendan Brazier.
Probably my favorite of all, and the one that I’d rescue from a fire if some weirdo came and lit only my cookbook shelf on fire. The reason I love Thrive Foods is because it’s the perfect balance between extremely healthy (Brendan was a pro triathlete and developed many of these recipes to fuel his career) and normal. I wouldn’t call most of this food gourmet — you can tell that health comes first in most of these recipes — but even my two-year old will eat it, and that’s saying something. And the first one-third of the book makes for interesting reading about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
See my review of Thrive Foods for more, including the delicious Shanghai Rice Bowl recipe.
3. Clean Food, by Terry Walters.
Simple, seasonal, whole ingredients are what I think of when I think of Clean Food. Though it doesn’t say so anywhere on the cover, the book is entirely vegan and mostly gluten-free, too. This is my favorite cookbook for finding what’s fresh at the farmer’s market and making it for dinner that night. (Terry is also a marathoner and triathlete, so it’s no coincidence that the food here is so perfect for athletes.)
Here’s where you can find my review of Clean Food, along with a recipe for Millet Black Bean Patties with Corn.
4. Jai Seed, by Rich Roll.
Jai Seed is a little different — partly because it’s an ebook, but not just that. There’s something else about the food that distinguishes it from that of the other cookbooks on my list. The recipes are unique and interesting, and in general, the ingredients Rich uses are fresh, often raw, superfoods that he combines in simple smoothies, salads, sauces, meals and desserts — and somehow they turn out to be delicious. And it never hurts to know you’re eating the same food a vegan Ultraman triathlete eats!
See my review of Jai Seed here.
5. Appetite for Reduction, by Isa Chandra Moscowitz.
Isa is the only author to appear twice on my list, but Appetite for Reduction is somewhat different from Veganomicon, so I won’t lose sleep over including both. The focus is on simplifying, so that these meals are quicker, healthier, and cheaper than those in V’con. And my friend Matt Ruscigno, a vegan Registered Dietitian and ultra-distance cyclist, contributed a nutrition primer and lots of nutrition notes throughout the book (see the protein and iron posts Matt wrote for No Meat Athlete).
PS — We made the black bean zucchini tacos a few nights ago, and they were mind-blowing.
6. 1000 Vegan Recipes, by Robin Robertson.
1000 Vegan Recipes was the first vegan cookbook I ever bought, and my gateway from vegetarianism to veganism. To be honest, I haven’t found a ton of standout recipes in this book (Mac ‘n’ Chard is one delicious exception), but the sheer number (you’ll never guess how many!) and variety of quick and simple recipes in the book makes it a go-to for so many nights when I’ve got nothing planned but need to get something on the table fast. The salads section is long and excellent, too.
7. World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffrey.
This is the only non-vegan cookbook on my list (many of the recipes call for yogurt or other dairy products, for which you could often substitute vegan versions). But if you don’t own an ethnic cookbook, this is the one to start with. I’m always impressed by the authenticity of these meals and the depths of unfamiliar flavors in them; this is the book that helped me fall in love with vegan cooking back when I was still stuck on the idea that cooking wasn’t as much fun when you were restricted in your choice of ingredients.
8. Supermarket Vegan, by Donna Klein.
Great book, great title, kinda dumb tagline: “225 Meat-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Recipes for Real People in the Real World.” Okay, I got the first part from “vegan,” and exactly who counts as not a real person in the real world? Still, like I said, it’s a really great book — it selectively uses prepared ingredients from the grocery store to save a lot of time when you’re in a pinch, and most of the recipes turn out well. And for the most part, these meals are cheap, even when you’re paying for the prepared ingredients. If you find yourself time-crunched or otherwise intimidated about cooking, Supermarket Vegan is a place to start.
9. __________, by ___________. Ah, trickery. I said there were nine, and I could only think of eight that truly deserved to be on *my* list. But I’m only one guy, with one set of taste buds, so I want to hear what your favorite is! Leave it in a comment and we’ll have massive list of new books to try!