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In Praise of the Classic Cookbooks

My bookcase runneth over. The abundance of vegan cookbooks of every stripe is astounding. They’re gourmet (Great Chefs Cook Vegan) and simple (The Four-Ingredient Vegan), comprehensive (Betty Goes Vegan) and specific (Vegan Chocolate), health-conscious (Forks Over Knives The Cookbook) and fun-conscious (The Tipsy Vegan). There are dozens in bookstores, hundreds on Amazon and, and millions of miscellaneous recipes online. Dazzling. Who knew you could do that much with vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds?

Well, it seems that some people knew a long time ago. There just weren’t so many of them, but their culinary expertise was topnotch and they they were willing to share. They nurtured me as a new vegan three decades ago, and I raised my daughter on their recipes. Here are the five books that served me so well, with a favorite recipe from each one:

The Vegan Kitchen, by Freya Dinshah. Originally written in 1965, this book by the co-founder of the American Vegan Society taught me that it really was possible to forego eggs and dairy, still get plenty to eat, and enjoy the food.

Garbanzo Cheese

© Freya Dinshah 2004

¼ cup Brazil nuts

¾ cups water

1 cup soaked garbanzos (from ½ cup dry)

3 Tbls. nutritional yeast

1 small tomato

2 sticks celery

1 carrot

½ tsp. onion flakes

1 fl. oz. lemon juice

½ tsp. kelp powder

Mix the Brazil nuts and water in the blender, then add the rest of the ingredients and blenderize well. Place in double-boiler over boiling water. Cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Pour into a heat-proof bowl or pan that has been rinsed with cold water. Chill a few hours in refrigerator. Unmold, slice, serve.

Ten Talents, by Rosalie Hurd and her husband, Dr. Frank J. Hurd, was published first in 1968. The Hurds are a Seventh Day Adventist couple who raised a huge flock of children on these healthy recipes that are pure American comfort food minus the bad stuff.

Corn Tamale Bake

© Rosalie Hurd 2012

In skillet, sauté till tender:

1 large onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic

Oil to tenderize


3 cups canned tomatoes

1 box frozen corn

¼ cup chopped olives

½ tsp. cumin

¼ tsp. cayenne or paprika

¾ cup corn meal

Salt to taste

Simmer in skillet, covered, for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add a little water (up to ¾ cup) if it gets too thick. Put in baking dish to warm over.

The Peaceful Palate, by Jennifer Raymond, is a 1989 work with the subtitle “Bountiful, beautiful, easy, low-fat, and delicious.” I serve “Aztec Salad” whenever I have guests, and if you’re entertaining someone on an oil-free diet, this accommodates that person’s needs without any of the other guests feeling that something is missing.

Aztec Salad

© Jennifer Raymond 1996

2 15-ounce cans black beans

½ cup finely chopped red onion

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons apple cider or distilled vinegar

1 lime or lemon, juiced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a large salad bowl with the onion, peppers, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro. In a small bowl, combine the vinegars, lemon or lime juice, garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes. Pour over the salad  and toss gently to mix.

american vegetarian | main street vegan academy

The American Vegetarian Cookbook from the Fit for Life Kitchen, by Marilyn Diamond, grew from the phenomenal success of the 1980s mega-selling book, Fit for Life. I’ve made Marilyn’s “Lemon ‘Stedda’ Chicken” at least once a month since this cookbook was published in 1990.

Lemon ‘Stedda’ Chicken

© Marilyn Diamond 2009

1 pound firm tofu

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon pressed garlic

½ cup sliced green onions

1 tablespoon whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

½ teaspoon Umeboshi plum vinegar or brown rice vinegar

2 tablespoon teriyaki sauce or light soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Cut tofu crosswise in ¼-inch slices, then cut slices in 1-inch segments.

2. Heat wok or large nonstick skillet and add oil and garlic. Add tofu immediately and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add green onions and stir-fry 1 minute longer.

3. Dust tofu and onion mixture with flour and yeast. Stir-fry for 2 minutes more, allowing tofu pieces to brown and crisp slightly. Add vinegar and teriyaki sauce, then stir-fry until completely absorbed. Add lemon juice and stir-fry 2 minutes longer.

the compassionate cook | main street vegan academy

The Compassionate Cook came from PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and PETA staffers and friends in 1993. This is the cookbook, in its later editions, I most often give newbies, because the ingredients here are totally nonthreatening and I’ve never prepared a recipe from this book that I haven’t wanted to make again.

Temblique (Coconut Milk Custard)

© Ingrid Newkirk 2008

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup soy milk

2 cups coconut milk, unsweetened*

Ground cinnamon, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, mix all the ingredients with a wire whisk or electric mixer set at low speed until well blended (make sure there are no lumps).

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Beat with a wire whisk or electric mixer to ensure that it is smooth.

Transfer the custard to a bowl or individual serving dishes and refrigerate until set. Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving. Preparation time: 20 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

*This is the thick, canned coconut milk, not the kind we can now get in cartons for drinking. I’ve made this recipe with fat-reduced canned coconut milk, and it still worked. — VM


  1. This is a wonderful resource. I’ve not heard of half of them!

  2. Karen Malay says:

    Thanks for specifying that the coconut milk in the Temblique is the canned kind and not the “drinking” kind. I’ve seen so many recipes lately calling for coconut milk and, I usually don’t know which kind they mean.

    • I tend to go with the idea that if a recipe says coconut milk it means canned. Otherwise, any nondairy milk would pretty much work in a recipe, i.e., soy/almond/hemp/coconut, when they come in cartons, are pretty interchangeable.

  3. Vegrunner66 says:

    Marilyn Diamond is a bit of a nut…and I don’t think she’s vegan any longer…but I read that cookbook from cover to cover and still make many of the recipes.
    the temblique sounds delightful…will try.

    • Victoria Victoria says:

      I don’t think Marilyn is vegan anymore either (new husband, new diet — ‘seems to happen a lot) but I love her cookbook. And Ingrid Newkirk’s Templique is divine — and so easy.