12 Cookbooks: The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

Post by Matt, Information Services staff

Welcome to 12 Cookbooks! In this series, I read, cook from, and lightly review twelve cookbooks from Kitchener Public Library’s extensive collection. Every month I pick a book, make some food, and share my experiences. Let’s get cooking!

Vegetarians have been around for a long time. The practice of vegetarianism has its roots in the spiritual beliefs of the Hindus and Jains of India who began promoting a meatless diet sometime between the 6th and 9th century BCE. Since then, vegetarians have popped up all around the world – through an ancient Greek group known as the Pythagoreans, through Chinese folk practices similar to the Christian lent, through Medieval Christian monks and their attempts to remove all pleasure from their lives; vegetarians have been giving animals a free ride for millenia. Some famous vegetarians, both erstwhile and lifetime, include Leonardo da Vinci, Gandhi, Mary Shelley, Jane Goodall, Benjamin Franklin, and Mr. Rogers.

Today, an estimated 10% of people are full-time vegetarians, including my partner. While I’m sure they wouldn’t mind the publicity, going forward I’ll refer to them by their codename: Tofu. Tofu’s parents ate a vegetarian diet for several years when Tofu was growing up and, after a period of carnivorous gluttony as a teenager, Tofu has been a full-time, card-carrying vegetarian for more than a decade.When asked why they’re still a vegetarian after so many years, Tofu responded:

A text conversation
Me: What are the top three meat products that you miss?
Tofu: Is this for your blog?
Me: And why are you a vegetarian? Yes.
Tofu: I'm vegetarian because after dissecting fetal pigs in grade 12 I was talking about how I thought it was upsetting/unethical to take pig fetuses from a pregnant pig for science, and a friend said if I really didn't agree with it, I would be vegetarian. AND I'VE BEEN VEGETARIAN EVER SINCE just to show that person I was serious.

A bit drastic in my opinion, but I can certainly appreciate the dedication. My follow up question is, I think, a common one fielded by vegetarians, but Tofu’s answer struck me as insightful about our relationship with food in general:

Text conversation.
Me: And what 3 meats do you miss the most?
Tofu: Top three meat things I miss the most/think about the most 1. Homemade chicken soup 2. chicken wings from the Mandarin 3. Can't think of anything else right now. Oh, kielbasa on a bagel. I used to eat that after ballet on the weekend. All of these meat things have memories attached to them. It's not so much because of the meat items themselves.

Our sense of taste is a powerful memory trigger and the rituals we enact with food can be equally powerful. I’d guess that almost everyone has a type of food or a meal that reminds them of a positive time in their life. I’m not surprised that Tofu’s memory of meat is actually more about memories with family, but I am surprised that they don’t miss meat for meat’s sake. My experience has not been as serene.

You may recall that I promised to eat vegetarian for the whole month of October in the last edition of 12 Cookbooks. I’m here to tell you now: I have kept that promise!

As you’ve read previously, many of the meals I make are vegetarian already for Tofu’s sake, especially dinner. Prior to October, the only consistent times I would eat meat were for lunches and our weekly takeout. Eliminating the deli meat in my daily sandwich was a constant frustration because the vegetarian replacements are not great. Tofurkey, for example, will never get a ringing endorsement from me. Eventually, I managed to find a satisfying substitute by bringing a whole avocado in my lunchbag and cutting it into slices just before I ate. It was tasty, filling and even added a little protein to my diet (I’ve since learned hummus is a better vegetarian protein replacement – but I don’t like it as much).

Lunches had been solved, but it was being vegetarian and ordering takeout that made me struggle most. My partner laughed out loud recently when I complained that eating vegetarian narrows your choices down to only one or two options at most restaurants. They had already experienced this for years; I knew that, but it was another experience entirely to be bound by the same restriction. I missed the ease of ordering whatever I wanted, enjoying burgers, wings, sandwiches and other meat-centric meals without guilt. Grumpy, whining, but undeterred, I carried on, reminding myself that I was doing something infinitesimally small, but good for the planet. Day by day, avocado by avocado, the month passed and I had accomplished my goal.

But I couldn’t do it without the help of America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

The complete vegetarian cookbook cover
The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook
America’s Test Kitchen
463 pages

This ironically beefy book has over 700 recipes that are all thoroughly tested and totally without meat of any kind. It has sections on appetizers, mains, sides, salads, soups, pastas, sandwiches and more. The only thing missing, I thought confidently, is desserts! And then I remembered that those don’t usually contain meat anyway… 

After shaking my head, I set out to choose the recipes I would make in October. I decided on a “Salad with Crispy Spiced Chickpeas and Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette” and a “Tomato Tart” – the very same tart that graces the cover of the book.

Deciding to tackle the latter recipe on a Sunday afternoon, I began by making what the book calls an “All-Butter Press-In Tart Dough.” Mixing flour, sugar, salt, butter and ice water together, I took the crumbly, cakey mess that resulted and pressed it down in small clumps into a tart shell. Then, after a brief chill in the freezer, I did what’s commonly known as blind baking – that’s when you bake a pie or tart crust without the filling in order to ensure that the whole crust is baked through properly. Often, small metal balls or a metal chain known as a pie weight are used to weigh down the crust and avoid bubbling, but you can also use other objects like rice or dried beans. I used dried chickpeas.

While baking, the crust browned and shrunk slightly, resulting in these cracks but, luckily, the finished tart still held together. I resolved to spread my dough more evenly next time. 

Then I assembled the filling. I chopped several tomatoes, laid the slices out on a plate lined with paper towel and sprinkled them liberally with salt, invoking the miraculous power of osmosis to suck out excess liquid. A little cheese-mixing and tomato-layering later and I had a tomato tart ready to be baked and eaten. Despite being a little light on tomatoes, the finished tart was amazing! The combination of the crisp, flaky crust with the soft, melted cheese and the acidic tomatoes was an absolute winner. Sprinkled with fresh basil, it looked pretty nice too. Here it is with some bonus leftover green beans I made for Thanksgiving (another recipe from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook):

a pile of green beans and a slice of the finished tomato tart topped with basil

But I wasn’t finished: I wanted to really shake things up and eat a meal…without cheese! 

a man screaming at the camera

Later on that week, I cracked open the cookbook to “Salad with Crispy Spiced Chickpeas and Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette,” known henceforth as ‘Spicy Chickpea Salad.’ While easy, this recipe involved doing a bunch of little tasks before bringing it all together. I started by washing and drying a can of chickpeas before frying them in oil until they were golden brown and crisp. Tossed with a blend of spices including smoked paprika, cumin, and cayenne, they transformed into the greatest chip replacement I’ve ever had (kale chips paled in comparison). I resisted eating them all, chopped a red onion, broiled it on a tray for 8 minutes, and mixed it together in a bowl with some mixed greens and the fried chickpeas. A quick-whisked honey-mustard vinaigrette later and I was done:

a bowl of salad greens topped with onions and chickpeas

The chickpeas were delightfully crunchy and flavourful, the onion was nearly carmelized and surprisingly sweet, the mixed greens were a little tough and peppery, and the dressing brought it all together with a combination of sweetness and bite. I cannot recommend this salad enough.

And I can’t recommend The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook enough! It’s full of easy, delicious recipes that can help you survive a month, or a lifetime, without meat. You’ll even like the recipes without cheese! For anyone with further dietary needs for vegan or gluten-free recipes, this book provides hundreds of potential options. That said, it’s a little flimsy in terms of binding, so be careful if you borrow the library’s copies; I want to use them for the next several years.

Though I’m certainly (and eagerly) returning to a diet including the occasional meat product in November, I’m glad that I managed to abstain the whole month. It wasn’t impossible, just annoying sometimes, which is about the level of change I can muster these days. If you’re interested in going vegetarian or just introducing a few more plants into your diet, please check out The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook or these plant-based alternatives:

Come back in November for the penultimate edition of 12 Cookbooks, when I explore some Hanukkah favourites with Leah Koenig’s The Jewish Cookbook.

Have questions? Want more recommendations?  

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