August 2, 2021

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Simply The Best Food

3 tasty plant-based recipes from America’s Test Kitchen’s massive new cookbook

Last week, a meat lover, a long-time vegetarian and two omnivores sat down to dinner and heartily agreed on what to eat: Baja-style Cauliflower Tacos, umami-filled Spaghetti and Meatless Meatballs and Green Shakshuka loaded with spinach and Swiss chard.

While the eating labels are different, the people — America’s Test Kitchen creative director Jack Bishop and his wife and two daughters — are committed to eating more delicious, plant-based meals in 2021.

Bishop’s family may sound like yours. Study after study reveals that whether we identify as vegans, carnivores or in-between flexitarians — short ribs one night, tofu stir-fry the next — Americans are eager to move vegetables, beans and legumes center-plate while minimizing their consumption of animal products.

Hundreds of ways to eat beans, tofu, veggies and other plant-based foods await in this massive new collection. (America’s Test Kitchen) 

The new America’s Test Kitchen collection is a fine place to start. “The Complete Plant Based Cookbook: 500 Inspired, Flexible Recipes for Eating Well Without Meat” (America’s Test Kitchen, $35), empowers home cooks with an abundance of know-how on plant-based milks, proteins and other ingredients, alongside meticulously-tested, fast and flavorful recipes.

What differentiates the collection from vegetarian or vegan cookbooks is that it is written with that flexitarian in mind, with options to use, say, dairy yogurt or soy-based and parmesan or a homemade vegan substitute.

While some of the recipes are plucked from previous ATK collections — “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” “Vegan For Everybody” —  at least 200 are new and many offer global flavors, like that Green Shakshuka, which can be made with or without eggs. There’s also Dolsot Bibimbap with Tempeh, Indian-inspired Sweet Potato Curry with Eggplant, Chickpeas and Herb Chutney, and Cashew e Pepe e Funghi, a twist on the Italian classic.

“We think of plant-based eating as this new or unusual concept, but in so many cultures and cuisines it is the mainstream way of cooking,” Bishop says. “This book travels the world. And in a year when we didn’t go anywhere, that has been one of the fun things for me.”

The cookbook shares not only which plant-based dishes to cook, but how to put them together for a complete meal. Cranberry Beans with Fennel, Grapes and Pine Nuts may sound like a side dish, but when accompanied by crusty bread and a green salad, it becomes a filling plant-based dinner. You can also pair a few small dishes mezze-style to make a meal, like Beet Muhammara and Stuffed Grape Leaves with pita bread.

You’ll also find dozens of soups, stews, salads, burgers, pizzas, snacks and sandwiches to play with. There’s even dessert and brunch ideas.

“We really want to empower you to do the thing that’s right for you, and that shouldn’t feel limiting,” Bishop says. “I think this book is very much about abundance.”

The early pages of “The Complete Plant Based Cookbook” are all about knowledge. Editors tell you in what quadrant of your fridge your plant-based items will last longest — yogurt and miso in the top-to-middle back, which can be as low as 33 degrees; berries and lemons in the slightly warmer middle-to-bottom front — and they share fascinating plant food science to geek out on.

You’ll learn how to cook the perfect plant-based burger; why cashews make the best cream; and how aquafaba, the liquid in canned chickpeas, has the chemical compounds to stand in for egg whites in baked goods. Never made coffee whip? You will after you see the glossy, meringue-like results of beating instant coffee with sugar and water.

“I find the aquafaba stuff remarkable,” Bishop says. “The somewhat unappealable liquid doesn’t look or taste like egg but it is basically the same science and structurally behaves like an egg.”

Most of us don’t have 60 recipe testers, editors and cookware specialists moving about our kitchens, let alone the time to determine which non-dairy milk works best in different culinary applications. Since ATK does, this book spills those secrets, too.