21/05/2024 10:45 PM


Swing your Cooking

Meat-free meals for your recipe repertoire

We’ve chosen these books because they all show that leaving out meat or fish doesn’t limit how exciting or satisfying meals can be (iStock/The Independent)

We’ve chosen these books because they all show that leaving out meat or fish doesn’t limit how exciting or satisfying meals can be (iStock/The Independent)

The demand for vegetarian recipes has grown hugely over the past few years.

While many people are shifting to an entirely meat-free diet, loads of us just want to up our intake of health-giving veg and save those steaks for special occasions.

Sustainability and cost are also nudging home cooks towards more fruit and veg-based meals: as we become more aware of the ethical concerns and impact on the planet that meat production throws up, we’ve come to realise that we can shrink our carbon footprint and our food budget by focusing a little less on animals and more on plants.

We’ve chosen these books because they all show that leaving out meat or fish doesn’t limit how exciting or satisfying meals can be. They’re as practical, approachable and intriguing to meat-eaters as they will be to long-time veggies, their pages lined with imaginative, novel recipes.

Easy-to-find ingredients and fuss-free methods reign supreme among these recipe collections, making them really accessible and great for everyday dinners. Get ready to add some new veg-based dishes to your weekly meal rotation.

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You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best vegetarian cookbooks 2021:

  • Best overall – One Pot, Pan, Planet, by Anna Jones, £16.93, Wordery.com

  • Best for keeping track of your nutrition – Veg by Jamie Oliver, £11.99, Argos.co.uk

  • Best for indian-inspired feasts – Fresh India by Meera Sodha , £7.99, Books2door.com

  • Best for gluten-free options – River Cottage Much More Veg by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, £15.02, Agreatread.co.uk/

  • Best for barbecuing – Charred by Genevieve Taylor, £11, Onbuy.com

  • Best for asian inspired meals – East by Meera Sodha, £13.99, Blackwells.co.uk

  • Best for fuss-free cooking – The Green Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, Argos.co.uk

  • Best for practicality and batch cooking – Green by Elly Curshen, £17.99, Blackwells.co.uk

  • Best for meals to impress – Ottolenghi Flavour, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, £15, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for using store cupboard staples– Bazaar by Sabrina Ghayour, £11.49, Amazon.co.uk

‘One Pot, Pan, Planet’, by Anna Jones, published by Fourth Estate

Best: Overall

This inspiring and thoughtful recipe collection is gentle in its meat-free stance – it’s not billed as a vegetarian cookbook at all. The focus is on flavour, sustainability and affordability as opposed to vegetarianism. Meat and fish just happen to not be needed, thanks very much. The recipes have been designed for modern (read: time-poor, curious and often rut-inhabiting) home cooks, meaning they avoid fuss and complexity and embrace speed and ease. Most can be cooked in one pot, pan or tray and with a modest investment of time. That said, there are some slightly more involved, fancier dishes peppered throughout too, for when you’re not against the clock or you want to impress your pals. There are pages filled with short and concise ideas for using up budget-friendly but commonly wasted vegetables as well – from potatoes to cauli and squash. By looking at the gorgeous photography, you’d never guess these dishes were so low maintenance – and your dinner guests won’t, either.

Buy now £16.93, Wordery.com

‘Veg’ by Jamie Oliver, published by Michael Joseph

Best: For keeping track of your nutrition

You’ll just find unadulterated recipes in this book – from cauliflower tikka masala to roasted black bean burgers and summer tagliatelle – with no introductions or culinary philosophising. Each is no longer than a page (most are considerably shorter) and every single one sits opposite a bright, full-size image, so you know exactly what you’re aiming for. If your mission to eat more veggie meals is motivated by the pursuit of health, then you might find all the nutritional stats at the bottom of each recipe helpful. There are plenty of low fat, low calorie dishes that come packed with the good stuff. While there’s not a scrap of meat or fish here, animal products aren’t totally absent – a couple of ingredients such as parmesan (which contains animal rennet) are in attendance, although they’re clearly marked for anyone wanting to steer away from them. If you often run low in confidence in the kitchen, know that the methods here leave no room for error. While helpful hints will offer ways to change dishes up or how to substitute ingredients if needed, they don’t distract from the straightforward approach.

Buy now £11.99, Argos.co.uk

‘Fresh India’ by Meera Sodha, published by Fig Tree

Best: For indian-inspired feasts

With a family hailing from Gujarat – an Indian state with a millennia-old vegetarian food culture – and a childhood spent in an English farming village, Meera brings together the best of both culinary worlds in this veg-led Indian cookbook. Using the resourcefulness and ingenuity her Indian mother put into practice when she moved to the UK in the Seventies, Meera has come up with a catalogue of fresh-tasting and happily achievable Indian-inspired recipes that make the most of British-grown ingredients (with the odd easy-to-find Indian staple thrown in too). Darjeeling momos are stuffed with shredded carrot, cabbage, spring onion and paneer, while cauliflower korma with blackened raisins breathes new life into the humble brassica. Recipes are really easy to follow and avoid speciality ingredients and equipment, making them an ideal way for UK home cooks to take vegetables in all kinds of new directions and inject some serious punch into mealtimes.

Buy now £7.99, Books2door.com

‘River Cottage Much More Veg’ by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury

Best: For gluten-free options

As opposed to avoiding meat or dairy, these recipes are instead about packing our plates with as many fresh, vibrant and nutritious vegetables as possible. So, while animal products aren’t criticised or scoffed at, they remain absent from the pages – as do bread, pasta, pastry and other refined flour products – to allow vegetables to sit right at the centre of each meal. This inclusive book, then, is not only a great shout for vegetarians but also vegans and those with gluten intolerances. The main meals, salads, soups, sides and small plates here reimagine popular veggies, seeing them prepped and cooked in new and tempting ways and showing off their versatility and appeal. Lesser-used grains are given a deserving platform too – such as pearled spelt, which is put to work in a pea, lemon and hazelnut riff on risotto.

Buy now £15.02, Agreatread.co.uk

‘Charred’ by Genevieve Taylor, published by Quadrille

Best: For barbecuing

Whether you’re a vegetarian or meat-eater, Charred can revolutionise your barbecues. No longer will you automatically reach for the burgers and sausages when you light those coals, and nor will corn on the cob or halloumi be your vegetarian go-to’s (unless, perhaps they appear in Mexican-spiced skewers or a watermelon and lime-pickled onion salad, that is). That’s not to say that meat is demonised here – this fire-cooking pro loves a flame-licked slow-cooked joint as much as the next barbecue fanatic. Instead, Charred aims to prove that the alchemy at play when cooking with smoke and coals can elevate vegetables just as much as it can a hunk of brisket. Start with the smoky baba ganoush with crisp breads; sweet potato with spiced and caramelised red onion; and miso grilled aubergine with sticky pumpkin seeds, and take it from there.

Buy now £11.00, Onbuy.com

‘East’ by Meera Sodha, published by Fig Tree

Best: For asian inspired meals

This is one of the most-used cookbooks on our shelf right now – you can tell by its crinkled and sauce-splattered pages. East’s 120 vegetarian recipes are influenced by – as you might have deduced at this point – the food and cookery from across the eastern world. Inspiration comes courtesy of everywhere from Korea to India, China to Japan. That said, most dishes are fit for speedy weeknight cooking and all are approachable to Western home cooks – strict authenticity is less of a priority than practicality and accessibility for this Indian cook and food writer. With sections on noodles, curries, rice dishes and sides (among others), the book also organises some dishes by occasion for quick reference: think speedy dinners, picnic dishes, breakfasts and storecupboard creations, for instance. The peanut and purple sprouting broccoli pad Thai, chilli tofu and aubergine larb with crispy shallot and peanut salad are go-tos for us, and every time we flick through these pages another corner gets folded down.

Buy now £13.99, Blackwells.co.uk

‘The Green Roasting Tin’ by Rukmini Iyer, published by Square Peg

Best: For fuss-free cooking

Sure, we all want colourful and exciting dinners packed with flavour and texture but – let’s be honest – we’re really not here for the pile of washing up that usually comes with them. Which is precisely why Iyer’s series of roasting tin cookbooks has been such a triumph, we reckon. The Green Roasting Tin is made up of vegetarian and vegan recipes that see the oven doing most of the heavy lifting. Hands-on time peaks at half an hour in one case (happily, most recipes call for just 10 minutes of prep) and equipment is pretty much limited to a knife, chopping board and that all-important roasting tin. Recipes are organised into categories of quick, medium and slow, so you can choose them depending on how much time you have – or how urgently those hunger pangs need tending to. Recipe pairing suggestions help you to create themed feasts (think picnics, group lunches or seasonal eating, for instance) although most recipes are more than substantial enough to fly solo.

Buy now £9.99, Argos.co.uk

‘Green’ by Elly Curshen, published by Ebury Press

Best: For practicality and batch cooking

Rather than focusing on cutting ingredients out of your meals, Green is all about what extras you can pack in – namely, more vegetables, fruits, greengrocer bargains and garden gluts. And it does this with the restraints (time) and priorities (satisfaction) of busy home-cooks in mind, too. Base recipes to batch and freeze are not only in attendance but come with different methods for reviving them from their icy slumber. For instance, rose harissa chickpeas become a hearty toast topping with fresh gremolata for a satisfying lunch, and also get baked with za’atar-coated feta and served with a lemony salad for a punchy dinner. One-pan meals, 20-minute recipes, frittatas and on-toast suggestions follow, all showcasing really easy and imaginative ways to prep, cook and pair veggies. With slightly more involved dishes for weekends and a section to help you prep for the week ahead, Green is a modern and practical book that can not only help you change up your meals but also the way you shop and cook.

Buy now £17.99, Blackwells.co.uk

‘Ottolenghi Flavour’, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press

Best: For meals to impress

This book focuses on the things that bring out the best of a vegetable’s flavour: the cooking process, what you pair it with and knowing when to let it shine alone. And there are lots written about each of those three tactics, as well as on specific ingredients and their nuances. But there’s no reason to get bogged down in the alchemy of it all if you’re solely after hearty and offbeat dishes to help ramp up your veg game – just skip straight to those all-important recipes. Dishes take the form of riffs on classic meals (traybake ragu made with mushrooms, carrots, lentils and grains, and aubergine dumplings alla parmigiana) as well as novel, imagination-sparking plates like melon and mozzarella salad with kasha and curry leaves, and stuffed aubergine in a curry and coconut dal. All have the eyebrow-raising intrigue that we’ve come to expect from this Middle-Eastern chef.

Buy now £15.00, Amazon.co.uk

‘Bazaar’ by Sabrina Ghayour, published by Mitchell Beazley

Best: For using store cupboard staples

If it’s new ideas for old faithful vegetables you’re after, Bazaar might just come up trumps for you. Get those carrots lingering in your fridge drawer involved with a grater to make carrot, halloumi and dill balls perhaps, or root around in your store cupboard to make chickpea and vegetable koftas. In fact, it’s surprising how many of these novel recipes you’ll already have most of the ingredients for – this book is just about nudging you to use them in new ways. As with most of Ghayour’s recipes, there’s a distinct Middle Eastern thread running throughout these dishes, but by blending different ideas and concepts together they dodge any pigeonholes and can’t be consigned to one cuisine or region. Small plates to snack on or share are followed by comforting soups and stews, fresh salads and impressive main courses, so that whatever the occasion (or vegetable) you have in mind, you’ll find a recipe that hits the nail on the head.

Buy now £13.99, Amazon.co.uk

The verdict: Vegetarian cookbooks

All of these books bring something different to the vegetarian cooking scene. That said, so packed with novel, attainable recipes and practical knowledge is Anna Jones’ One Pot, Pan, Planet that it has to be our best buy. Plus, it’s a pretty gorgeous book to look at (meaning it makes a great gift, too). East by Meera Sodha also deserves special mention for its ability to inject some real veg-based excitement into mealtimes, and Genevive Taylor’s Charred is the top pick for those who love to cook outdoors – you’ll go back to it every time you reach for those firelighters.

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Need more kitchen inspiration ? Try the best gluten-free cookbooks or the best vegan cookbooks to accompany you in the kitchen