WHEN I BECAME a vegetarian in middle school, my parents put up with my dietary special needs on the condition that I learned to cook for myself. Enter Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, the cookbook that kept me alive for the next decade. So I mean no disrespect to Katzen and her brand of hippie-inflected vegetarianism when I say that I never, ever need to see another recipe for marinated tofu in my life.
In the past few years, there's been an absolute explosion of vegetable-focused cookbooks. Some are written by vegetarians and vegans and some aren't, but all focus on showcasing fresh vegetables in ways that absolutely overturn the notion that vegetarian cooking has to be dreary, healthy, or laden with meat substitutes.
I've cooked recipes from all of the books on this list, and they're listed in order of most used to least used in my kitchen.
by Yotam Ottolenghi
The Israel-born and London-based Ottolenghi isn't a vegetarian—he just really likes vegetables. Take, for example, an extremely simple recipe for a vegetable "mixed grill" tossed in a parsley sauce—it's quite possibly the most interesting thing anyone's ever done with a carrot. (In the kitchen.) Bright flavors abound, as well as yogurt and tahini sauces; citrus, cilantro, and garlic show up often. Beginning cooks might be a bit put off by some of the techniques required (are you comfortable blackening an eggplant under a broiler? You'll be fine, if so.), but this is one of the most consistently rewarding cookbooks I own. If you only make his fresh-corn polenta with eggplant sauce, you will be glad you bought this book. Let me just repeat that: polenta. With fresh. Corn.
River Cottage Veg
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
A household name in the UK, known for a farm-to-table sensibility that's showcased at a working farm where he slaughters his own animals, Fearnley-Whittingstall isn't exactly the poster child for vegetarianism, either—but he knows how to work a vegetable. River Cottage Veg is a chatty, good-humored guide that keeps its expectations low and gets consistently good results. This is an incredibly practical cookbook, full of ways to simplify evening meals and brown-bag lunches without sacrificing flavor or quality—I'd recommend it to anyone looking to save money by cooking at home more often. The recipe for homemade Cup o'Noodles alone is a life-changer.
by Deborah Madison
From one of the most trusted names in vegetarian cookbookery, the veggie-focused Vegetable Literacy is part cookbook and part gardening/botanical guide. Madison steps out of the kitchen to consider vegetables in a seasonal, gardening context, and then steps back into the kitchen to explain, with utter authority, the best way to roast an artichoke, why you shouldn't cook peas in a pressure cooker, and how to make a mustard butter you will soon be eating on everything. (If you're looking for an everyday cookbook, Madison just released a revised version of her encyclopedic classic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I spent $40 on this book while broke as fuck in college and never regretted it.)
Lust for Leaf
by Alex Brown and Evan George
These two beer-guzzling, pot-smoking bloggers from LA also happen to be some of the most interesting vegetarian chefs working today. I'm pretty sure their MO as chefs is "get wasted and invent new foods and then eat the foods while still pretty wasted." This cookbook would be insufferable if the recipes weren't so excellent—not to mention mind-bogglingly creative. (Have you ever wanted to make your own NyQuil? Why not?) It's summer-party themed, which means tacos with jackfruit carnitas, corn on the cob loaded with spices and cheese, spicy kale slaw, homemade veggie dogs... and a beer pairing with each recipe, natch.
by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey
Amanda Cohen is owner/chef of tiny Manhattan restaurant Dirt Candy, and her motto is blunt: "Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to the professionals." Dirt Candy is half comics-form memoir, half illustrated cookbook, and 100 percent no-nonsense in its emphasis on the practical aspects of home and restaurant cooking. (Also, kimchee doughnuts.) I don't find myself cooking out of this one too often—it's definitely a special-occasions, impress-your-friends-with-something-weird kind of book—but the memoir portion of the book is a great read, especially for its back-of-the-house window into the restaurant world.