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Chef Sara’s Favorite Cookbooks for Gift-Giving

Most anyone who knows me knows that I love cookbooks. My diverse and eclectic collection, dating from the mid-1800s to the present day, has a central location in my home, so I can easily retrieve a volume or two (…or three!) to leaf through while enjoying a cup of tea. In the evenings, I often take a cookbook back to bed with me to peruse before nodding off – just ask my partner, who can attest that the bedside table is rarely without a small tower of my favorites. Out of my collection, the cookbooks I turn to again and again aren’t those with the most elaborate recipes or the most stunning photography (though I certainly love them, too). More often than not, my favorite cookbooks are the ones that tell me a story – the cookbooks that paint pictures with words.

When I read a cookbook filled with stories, I’m instantly transported to another time and place. With only a few sentences, I can be in Morocco, eager to dig in to a fragrant vegetable tagine. Moments later, I can be in Scandinavia, salivating at the thought of a warm loaf of Finnish pulla to warm my snow-cold hands. Just a few sentences later, I can be in the kitchen with a beloved grandmother, adding a scoop of chocolate chips to a bowl of cookie dough. Who says magic doesn’t exist?

For this list of my favorite cookbooks for gift-giving, I’ve curated some of my favorite vegan and vegan-friendly cookbooks and broken them into categories by designated recipient. Is there a new vegan or a veg-curious pal in your life? I have an excellent recommendation for you. Looking for something for a busy mom, dad, or student? I’ve got you covered there, too. What about the activist in your life who wants to be a part of the action? Leave it to me!

As you peruse this list, my hope is that you’ll discover some new-to-you gems, and maybe even be encouraged to open up your own cookbooks and take a stroll down memory lane. Maybe you’ll pick a new recipe to try (or an old favorite!) and cook something lovely for your family or friends, creating delicious food and treasured memories at the same time. I hope you enjoy the list, and please feel free to share your own favorite cookbook in the comments!

For the New Vegan or the Veg-Curious: The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

When I became vegan in January 2014, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast, Food for Thought, was a constant companion for me in those early months. Colleen is blessed with a kind, compassionate, and eloquent way of communicating the joys and benefits of living a vegan lifestyle, and I’m so grateful to have found her when I was making the transition. Lucky for us, she’s also a fantastic cook, with several popular cookbook titles under belt. In this book, the 100+ recipes are sprinkled throughout the book, typically tying in with the subject of the accompanying chapter. For example, in the “Life after (Dairy-Based) Cheese” chapter, there are recipes for Herbed Cashew Cheese, Pasta Alfredo with Walnut Parmesan, and Strawberry Bruschetta – yum! Though this format may take some getting used to if your recipient is more familiar with cookbooks that are purely collections of recipes, the wealth of knowledge contained in this book makes up for any difficulty in navigating the chapters. As for a heartwarming side note, the 2014 re-release of this book was entirely self-published by Colleen thanks to a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign. I feel the love!

For the Locavore: For Goodness Sake: Plant-Based Recipes from the Spiral House Kitchen by the Spiral House Crew

For Goodness Sake: Plant-Based Recipes from the Spiral House by The Spiral House Crew

Looking for a gorgeous, locally-made and printed cookbook that you might not otherwise find at a chain bookstore? For Goodness Sake is the one for you! In addition to the mouthwatering vegan recipes, this book also showcases photos and stories from the Spiral House, a unique stone structure in the Hudson Valley that was designed by artist Tom Gottsleben. The book includes recipes by Chef Diane Hagedorn, and beautiful photos by the talented Andrea Barrist Stern, who generously volunteered her time and skills to photograph one of my cooking classes here at the Sanctuary in early November. Between Chef Diane’s beautiful recipes, Andrea’s stunning photography, and the lovely stories about life at the Spiral House, this book is an absolute joy to behold. For Goodness Sake would be a welcome addition to any collection, and especially for someone looking to experience a (vegan!) taste of the Hudson Valley. To learn more about the cookbook, the Spiral House, and to see more wonderful recipes, please visit the For Goodness Sake blog.

For the Foodie: My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Britton

My New Roots by Sarah Britton

I don’t follow all that many blogs, but when I find one I love, I’m hooked. And Sarah Britton’s blog, My New Roots, has counted me amongst its many fans for several years. In this, Sarah’s first cookbook, readers can expect the same creative, whole foods-based recipes; her knowledgeable and instructive writing style; and the stunning – stunning – photography that’s made My New Roots so beloved. I recommend this for your favorite foodie who knows his or her way around the kitchen, as some of the recipes call for specialty ingredients and unusual cooking techniques. (For example, the Life-Changing Loaf of Bread with Olives and Caraway is bound together with psyllium seed husks – amazing!) Also, a disclaimer: though the majority of the recipes are vegan, there are a handful that include eggs, honey, or dairy-based yogurt. I’ve had no problems veganizing the non-vegan recipes I’ve tried, and find it to be a wonderful addition to my cookbook library.

For the Soup Lover: Love Soup by Anna Thomas

Love Soup by Anna Thomas

It’s been said that there are “soup people” and “salad people”. If this is true, I’m undoubtedly in the soup camp, as I can eat soup any day of the year, even on the most sweltering summer day. If you have a “soup person” in your life, this James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning cookbook would make a thoughtful and appreciated gift. The author, Anna Thomas (whom you may recognize as the author of the 1973 classic, The Vegetarian Epicure) has a lovely, flowing writing style that’s both instructive and supportive, practical and poetic. The recipes read like mini-stories, and the finished dishes taste absolutely incredible, to boot: my favorite is her Green Soup, which somehow manages to be both deeply nourishing and mouthwateringly delicious. As in my previous review, this book does contain occasional mentions of dairy and eggs, though the majority of recipes are vegan or easily veganized. There are so many excellent vegan soups in this book, it would take months, if not years, to try them all!

For the Lover of Literature: Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner by Ellen Kanner

Feeding the Hungry Ghost by Ellen Kanner

The next book on my list looks like a novel, and reads like one, too. It’s the kind of book you carry with you everywhere, reading voraciously in every scrap of free time you can find, until you finish it, only to sigh with satisfaction and gratitude and start it again. At least, that was my experience with this book, which is a thrilling mélange of delicious food writing and simple, but special, vegan recipes. This is the perfect gift for the literature aficionado in your life: the friend who rereads their favorite books until they’re falling apart. Arranged into four long chapters – The Seed, The Flowering, The Harvest, and The Compost – with each chapter containing short stories and recipes drawing on a central theme, Feeding the Hungry Ghost is the book I turn to when I’m seeking comfort that even a cup of tea can’t provide. It never ceases to rekindle my love for the written word, and also inspires me to revisit some “old favorite” recipes, such as Broccoli with Lemon and Mint (Broccoli for Beginners), Harira, and Summer Tomato Salad with Za’atar.

For the Passionate Activist: Cookin’ Up a Storm: Sea Stories and Vegan Recipes from Sea Shepherd’s Anti-Whaling Campaigns by Laura Dakin

Cookin' Up a Storm by Laura Dakin

I can’t remember a time when whales weren’t some of my very favorite animals. It’s unfortunate that my childhood experience with these beautiful creatures was reduced to seeing them in tanks at SeaWorld, but thankfully I’m now more informed about the atrocities whales face both in captivity and by being hunted in the wild. The Sea Shepherd crew, who fight so tirelessly to end the illegal whaling trade, are some of my biggest heroes. Whether following them on social media or watching them on TV’s Whale Wars, I love to dream about joining their ranks someday. If you have a passionate activist in your life, this behind-the-scenes cookbook would make a great gift. Aside from the simple and satisfying vegan recipes, I especially love the stories about life on board the Sea Shepherd ships, as well as the tales of some of the confrontations the crew have experienced at sea. It’s a beautiful, immersive book, full of excellent food and exciting stories.

For the Wellness Warrior: The Moon Juice Cookbook by Amanda Chantal Bacon

The Moon Juice Cookbook by Amanda Chantal Bacon

To those in the know, Moon Juice is a super-trendy juice bar and wellness boutique with multiple locations in the Los Angeles area. Lucky for us, we don’t need to be in California to enjoy the innovative, superfood-packed drinks and dishes made popular by founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, thanks to this cookbook! This would be the perfect gift for your most health-oriented friend: the person in your life who views food as medicine and has a happy relationship with his or her juicer and food dehydrator. The recipes are nutrient-dense and usually raw, and call for a variety of superfoods to use in new and exciting ways. The juice recipes are some of my favorites: thanks to this cookbook, I discovered that you can, indeed, juice a sweet potato, with delicious results. Aside from a few recipes that call for honey, the remainder of the book is vegan.

For the Busy Parent or Student: Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson

Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson

The slow cooker is making a comeback, and for good reason: it’s so convenient to start a recipe in the morning and come home to a hot dinner at the end of the day. Slow cookers work especially well for vegetables and beans, which is a real boon to those of us embracing a vegan lifestyle. In this book, veteran cookbook author Robin Robertson presents 200 (!) vegan recipes for your slow cooker, making it a great gift for busy parents or students. I’ve been a longtime fan of Robin’s recipes, and find that they consistently work exactly as written and taste wonderful, too. Aside from all the great recipes for the usual soups, stews, and chilis, check out the chapters on appetizers, condiments, and even dessert. This cookbook has something for everyone!

Thanks for reading my list, Chef Sara’s Favorite Cookbooks for Gift-Giving! Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!



Compassionate Cuisine, Love Spoken Here


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