Can you recommend a good, basic vegetarian cookbook for someone just starting to experiment with vegetarian cooking?

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Answered by: Patricia, An Expert in the Easy Vegetarian Recipes Category
The most important thing you want to look for in a basic vegetarian cookbook for someone who is beginning to explore vegetarianism (or just the occasional meatless meal) is guideposts for making a meal, as opposed to just a collection of recipes.

When my daughter decided she wanted to become a vegetarian, I looked at (and bought) a lot of books that claim to be basic vegetarian cookbooks, but while the recipes are simple, they don't have any sort of guidance for putting together a vegetarian meal. Just like everyone who grows up eating meat learns how to put together a meal with meat, grain, vegetable; these authors know what needs to go into a vegetarian meal in that same almost intuitive way.

For the rest of us, we need to know how to compensate when you take meat out of the equation. How do we make sure to get a complete protein in there aside from coupling beans and rice? When I started experimenting with vegetarian eating/cooking, I had no idea how to make a meal that felt like a meal without, well, meat. I needed a cookbook that would give me some ideas about that.

I have found a few very good cookbooks that do so admirably. One author I like very much is Mollie Katzen. I have both her "Moosewood Cookbook" and "Enchanted Broccoli Forest". Her recipes are tasty and very do-able. My twelve-year-old son recently was able to make one of her tomato soup recipes with little help. Mollie Katzen also provides some sample menus and side-dish recommendations. These two are also charming in that they are hand-written by the author and are accompanied by her own illustrations. Each book runs $19.99 cover price and are smaller books, 259 and 320 pages respectively.

As for other rather good basic vegetarian cookbooks on the market. People seem to really like Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", though I didn't find it useful staring out with vegetarian cooking, thought the recipes themselves are tasty. Another popular favorite once you get started is Madhur Jaffries' "World Vegetarian: More than 650 Meatless Recipes From Around the World," but I wouldn't pick that up as my first cookbook since it focuses on Asian cuisine and so may not be for all tastes.

All that being said, my absolute favorite vegetarian cookbook is Crescent Dragonwagon's "Passionate Vegetarian." The title of the book really describes the content beautifully. Not only has almost every recipe I've tried been absolutely delicious, but the text surrounding them is warm and wonderfully written. Again, the author provides illustrations, though the recipes themselves are typewritten. Each section of "Passionate Vegetarian" comes with a story. Actually, almost every recipe does. Crescent Dragonwagon also provides complete menus to work with as well as recommendations for whether a dish is a main course, side dish, or both depending on how you treat it. It is a very encouraging book, which gives the cook express permission to play with the recipes and make them work for you.

"Passionate Vegetarian" is a huge volume of some 1,000 pages, though as a paperback it lists at only $24.95. It is also currently just being reprinted, so you'll need to find a used copy unless you're willing to wait a month or so for a new one. Crescent Dragonwagon also has another cookbook,"The Cornbread Gospels", which is on my list of books I must get my hands on.

Good luck with exploring vegetarian cooking.

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