New cookbooks for vegans, semi-vegans, and the omnivores who love them

Fruits of nature: Vegan eating is coming to a table near you.
Fruits of nature: Vegan eating is coming to a table near you. Photo: Supplied

Forget sports, forget politics, forget the whole darn world. The big scoop this year is that veganism's gone mainstream, with plenty of Australians skipping those awkward vegetarian years and going straight to a life without dairy, meat or eggs.

There are also more ways of "going vegan" than ever before, with people dipping in and out of vegan lifestyles for health reasons, to save money (it turns out meat costs quite a lot!), to annoy their friends and loved ones, or even for a monthly challenge – to try new things and force yourself to think about your grub.

Vegan cookbooks have been around since the dawn of plantkind, but here's a roundup of eight new ones from the last few months. Some are vegie cookbooks that happen to be heavy on vegan stuff, while some are hardcore bibles to satisfy the strictest cook.

Okonomiyaki from The Vegetable.
Okonomiyaki from The Vegetable. Photo: Supplied

Cooking with Kindness

Compiled by Pam Ahern and Edgar's Mission, Affirm Press, $35

This friendly-feeling book is a greatest hits collection from every vegan restaurant in Australia you've heard of, plus some you haven't, with proceeds going to Edgar's Mission, a Victorian sanctuary for animals rescued from farms. Treat it as a grab bag of recipes from all levels of vegan dining, from cafes to bakeries to on-trend bistros; mix Serotonin Eatery's medicinal Mexican waffles with Smith & Daughters' sopa seca (Peruvian pasta bake). All have brought their A-game, a good heart, and a bit of freaky spirit.

I made: Red Sparrow's supergreen pizza, cheese-free pizza by experts of topping and base.

The Vegetable cookbook.
The Vegetable cookbook. Photo: Supplied

Good for: The armchair tourist and the indecisive eater.

I loved: Seeing so many cooks' techniques outlined in the different recipes – it's like reading a really good cooking magazine.

Australian Bush Superfoods

Lily Alice and Thomas O'Quinn, Hardie Grant, $29.99

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A wild one, literally. This travel-sized handbook wants you to cook at home using the kinds of native ingredients you'd mostly see in pretty fancy places, except, of course, this stuff was here before the British landed – it's just that we don't see it in supermarkets very much. From desert lime cheesecakes to rainbow salad with ice plant, everything looks like food you've made before but a little bit different.

I made: Jackfruit tacos with muntry coleslaw ("muntry" also known as native cranberries or crab apples) – elaborate but perfect.

Good for: People who want a twist in their lives and a new kick in their kitchens. It's not a pick-up-and-go book; it's a learning experience.

I loved: The extensive guide to what you can find fresh, dried, and frozen, and in what season, with ingredients depicted in clear, usable photos.

Taste for Life

Animals Australia, ABC Books, $39.99

Prepared by the nation's leading animal protection organisation, this cooking guide sets you up with all you need to try a vegan diet, even if you're really scared of doing it, and especially if you're worried you might have to cook some complicated things. It walks you through the many possible reasons for trialling a vegan lifestyle, and mixes advice on healthy eating and sustainable living with classic all-time bangers from the vegan playbook, like cauliflower soup and ginger and sesame tofu.

I made: Classic potato salad. Nothing wrong with potatoes covered in creamy vegan mayo at any time of the year.

Good for: Great weeknight meals, and total confidence in an edible outcome.  

I loved: All the practical pathways for getting into vegan food, whether you want to start slow or jump right in and do it.

Bliss Bites

Kate Bradley, Hardie Grant, $19.99

This pocket-size book is a powerpack of "balls, bars and bombs" – not the kind of thing you'll serve as a main course at a dinner party, more like the kinds of treats you'll shove into your bag for picnics, parties, school or work. There are savoury bites, healthy snacks, not-so-healthy desserts, and basically enough tiny things, generally very attractive, that you could confidently open a very cool-looking edible art gallery. They're full of flavour, portable, and they look like toys and sculptures.

I made: Cashew cheese balls – they're just globs of miso, cashew and yeast for smearing on crackers, and that's why they're great.

Good for: Anyone who's sick of Clif Bars and celery in the lunchbox.

I loved: The commitment to everyday ingredients, instead of expensive superfoods – no obstacle to making something tasty, healthy and pretty.

Elsa's Wholesome Life

Ellie Bullen, Pan Macmillian, $34.99

It could just be the pics of the author in sarongs and sunnies on every page, but this book felt like the perfect starter kit for a healthy pop-up vegan beach shack. Entrepreneurs and future stars of Instagram, take note. They're all things you'd definitely order from a specials board on a lazy summery day, including miso-caramel macadamia cups, a dreamy dragon smoothie, and crispy jalapeno-infused cauliflower tacos. This is energy and comfort at the same time.

I made: Green soup with polenta dippers. "At first glance," the recipe says, "this soup may look like a big bowl of goo", but I thought it looked like a slimy green fantasy, and it was.

Good for: Beach pangs.

I loved: The guide at the start to keeping your vitamins and minerals balanced when you're going vegan – the food is fun, but the author is also a dietician.

The Vegetable

Caroline Griffiths and Vicki Valsamis, Smith Street Books, $49.99

Stately and special. The title says it all, but just in case you missed it, so does the arty picture of a veiny green vegetable on a moody black background on this substantial hardback. The goal here is putting vegies (often whole vegies) at the centre of a dish, and it's really putting its money where your mouth is. Everything is simple in that way that's actually super-sophisticated; it might take a bit of finesse, some clever ingredient-shopping, and a bit of technique, which means it's the right book for impressing dinner party guests.

I made: Smashed edamame with mint and soba noodles – a big twisted heap of sesame brilliance.

Good for: Statement dishes that can carry the whole dinner party. Note: this one is not strictly vegan, but worth it for vegans? Yes.

I loved: The big bold photography (the best in this bunch).

The Moosewood Restaurant Table

The Moosewood Collective, St Martin's Press, $49.99

The newest cookbook from one of the founders of America's farm-to-table movement, this book, like the restaurant, was made by a whole committee, or really a collective of 19 members – some of whom have been with Moosewood since the beginning, way back in 1973. The food can be luscious one page and totally sensible the next, with some surprising combinations for everyday meals, like spinach salad with blueberries and corn.

I made: Zowie Thai fried rice – it's the most elaborate fried rice production I've ever seen, but it's so bulked out with flavour that it's worth the prep.

Good for: Thoughtful cooks who trust the classics and like nice things.

I loved: The extra "serving and menu ideas" at the bottom of every recipe, with suggestions for sides and matching recipes spread throughout the book.

Alternative Vegan

Marie Reginato, Page Street, $32.99

In this fun, no-nonsense book, Reginato is the "vegan next door", meaning she's no vegan in the traditional sense at all. She grew up in America on doughnuts and frozen pizza, but a trip to Italy introduced her to vegetables and true indulgence all at the same time. As such, this is the loosest cookbook with "vegan" in the title you have ever seen: there's a chapter of seafood recipes and one subtitled "Just throw an egg on it", which solves a lot of cooking problems if that is your thing. Fruit and vegies are good, she says, but no diet meets all needs, so "if a craving for pizza comes on, I'm going to make sure it's the best damn slice of pizza I can find".

I made: Sautéed collard greens with sautéed tofu and spicy black-eyed peas. It's very easy, very green, and very tasty.

Good for: Anyone who likes the idea of this vegan thing, but also needs permission to go easy on the rules.

I loved: An omnivorous cookbook that puts vegan eating smack in the middle of a flexible diet. It makes you wonder why more cookbooks and restaurants don't do this.