How 2021 Became the Year of the Global Vegan Cookbook

From Peruvian to Indian to Korean, plant-based recipes are more tradition than trend.

vegan cookbooks
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Braised tofu and mushrooms in a ginger-scallion sauce from Jeeca Uy’s Vegan Asian is a recipe so full of umami, you’ll forget all about meaty fried rice. In Edgar Castrejón’s Provecho, which features 100 vegan Mexican recipes, the mushrooms in his vegan pozole rojo—a dish traditionally made with pork and chillies—lends an earthy spin to the classic dish.

This past year, several new cookbooks by people of color, belonging to cultures and kitchens popularly known for beautiful meaty dishes, are featuring all-vegan recipes. “Veganism is growing because people are becoming more aware of what animal agriculture is doing to our planet and first of all to the animals, and they are curious about where their food comes from,” Castrejón says.

First-time author Priyanka Naik, whose cookbook The Modern Tiffin is filled with India-inspired vegan global recipes, agrees. “Through several documentaries and research made publicly available in the last decade, we have come to realize the health benefits of a plant-forward diet,” she says. And so, there is an audience who wants to cook wholesome plant-based meals, that go beyond a bowl of lettuce and avocado, which brings regional vegan cookbooks to the forefront.

These new cookbooks are tapping into cuisine such as Korean, Japanese, Mexican, African, Caribbean, and Cajun, to showcase a meat-free take on traditional recipes, but also feature intrinsic vegan dishes found in the respective cuisines. Take for example Naik’s book that has spicy chickpea bhel puri (tossed puffed rice) and coconut masala-stuffed okra. Similarly, The Vegan Japanese Cookbook by Asuka Atushi features miso-glazed eggplant and nanocha no kimono, a Japanese-style simmered squash that are not veganized on purpose.

“The biggest stereotype that I try to deconstruct is that plant-based food can’t be ‘authentic,’” says Joanne Molinaro, author of Korean Vegan. She says “a lot of vegan chefs—including myself—are blamed for watering down traditional foods and I aim to show how to tweak Korean cuisine for a plant-based diet, as well as highlight traditionally vegan Korean food that goes back over a thousand years.”

Besides the cookbook, she’s especially inspiring on Instagram. Her cathartic, beautiful cooking videos take you deep into a vegan kitchen that’s far from Korean food stereotypes. Popular K-dramas often feature bowls of jjamppong, tteokbokki and samgyeopsal, all predominantly meat-based. But Molinaro’s book showcases her mom’s Korean BBQ sauce that is traditionally vegan, cucumber muchim or kimchi, dooboo jorim or braised tofu and tteok, and rice cakes that are both vegan and gluten-free, too.

For many of these chefs, veganism isn’t a trend, but in fact the most traditional aspect of their cultural cooking that they can embrace.

“I am Maharashtrian, so our cooking style reflects that,” Naik says. “We use vegetables, grains, legumes, literally anything plant-based. It’s a vegetable-focused cuisine with so many options for the plant-based folks and most not indulgent at all. In the West, Indian food is generally deemed as ‘indulgent’ or ‘heavy’ or ‘creamy’ and I find that incredibly amusing.” For the kind of Indian food she grew up eating, it is vegan by default.

Whether you want to try their recipes for dietary or ethical reasons, or sheerly out of curiosity, we’ve got three ideas to get you started.

Edgar Castrejón aguachile
Courtesy of Edgar Castrejón

Edgar Castrejón’s Coconut Aguachile

“Aguachile is like that friend who’s always extra. As the name suggests, it marinates in a mixture of chiles blended with water so aguachile is spicier than ceviche, which may or may not have chiles. I got the idea for this recipe when I was digging out the flesh of a young coconut at a Thai restaurant. Coconut flesh has a succulent texture that’s similar to fish and can likewise soak up flavors. It also has a richness that makes it as satisfying as shrimp or scallops.”

• 3-4 young Thai coconuts
• 1 red onion (thinly sliced)
• 2 limes (juiced)
• 2½ cups Persian cucumbers (cut into 1 by ¼-inch strips)
• 3 cups cilantro (chopped)
• 2 serrano chiles (stemmed)
• 1 jalapeño (stemmed)
• ¼ white onion (finely chopped)
• 3 garlic cloves
• ½ cup fresh lime juice (from about 5 limes)
• 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
• ¼ cup fresh coconut water
• 1 packet tortilla chips
• handful of tostadas
• ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise
• 1 avocado (sliced)
• cilantro and freshly ground black pepper to serve

1. Trim the top off 1 coconut with a knife. The outer husk should come off easily to expose the coconut shell. Gently tap the shell with a cleaver to create an opening and remove the shell.
2. Strain the coconut water through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; reserve and refrigerate ¼ cup of the coconut water and save the rest for another use.
3. Discard any shavings in the sieve. Gently scrape out the coconut flesh with the back of a spoon. Set the flesh aside. Repeat with the remaining coconuts.
4. Cut the coconut flesh into 1 by ¼-inch strips and transfer to an airtight container. Add the red onion and lime juice. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight for best results.
5. Meanwhile, make the aguachile sauce. Combine the ingredients and blend until smooth, about 1 minute 30 seconds. Set the sauce aside until use.
6. When the lime-cooked coconut is ready, combine with the cucumbers and aguachile sauce in a large bowl. Mix well.
7. Serve the coconut-aguachile with tortilla chips, or spread vegan mayonnaise on the tostadas and top with coconut-aguachile, avocado, a bit of cilantro and black pepper. Refrigerate any leftover coconut aguachile for up to 1 week.

Joanne Molinaro Pecan Paht
Courtesy of Joanne Molinaro

Joanne Molinaro’s Pecan Paht

“I wanted to make pecan pie that my family would actually eat. We’re not fans of overly sweet desserts, but my father absolutely loves pecans. The answer to creating a less cloyingly sweet filling was simple—paht! Not only is the red bean paste far less sugar-y than the typical custard-like filling of a traditional pecan pie, I knew my family would instantly appreciate the familiar flavor.”

• 1½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ⅔ cup cold vegan butter (cut into ½-inch cubes)
• 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
• ¾ cup brown rice syrup
• 6 tablespoons oat milk
• 1 cup paht (red bean paste)
• ¼ cup light brown sugar
• 4 tablespoons vegan butter (melted and cooled)
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups pecans (chopped)
• 3 ½ tablespoons potato starch
• 1 cup pecan halves

1. To make the pie crust, in a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse while adding the butter, a few pieces at a time. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a dough starts to form.
2. Shape the dough into a ball. Do not handle more than necessary. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but best if overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. To make the pie filling and topping, in a medium bowl, combine the brown rice syrup, oat milk, paht, brown sugar, melted butter, salt, vanilla, chopped pecans, and potato starch.
5. Place the pie dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pie dough gently until it is large enough to line a 9-inch pie pan.
6. Ease the crust into the pan and trim any excess dough at the edges with kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife. Pour in the filling. Top the filling with pecan halves.
7. Transfer the pie to the oven and bake until the pie filling sets (i.e. doesn’t jiggle too much). Those should take about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool the pie on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.

Priyanka Naik Indian Home Fries
Courtesy of Priyanka Naik

Priyanka Naik’s Indian Home Fries

Sweet, crunchy, spicy—everything you need in a well-balanced dish. They’re perfect as an accompaniment to your savory brunch, sweet pancakes, or even as a warm salad. Plus, this is perfect to make with a variety of potatoes. Don’t have sweet potatoes on hand? No worries, russets work just fine. And even fingerlings are a great choice! Fun fact: I cooked up a rendition of this dish on Food Network’s Cooks vs Cons in 2017 and I won!”

• 1 tbsp coconut oil or neutral oil
• ¼ heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
• 2 medium sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into ⅛-inch-thick slices)
• 2 Indian green chilies (cut in half lengthwise)
• 3 tablespoons unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
• 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro (coarsely chopped)
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ wedge fresh lemon

1. In a large nonstick skillet, pour the oil to coat the skillet and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds. They will become fragrant and pop.
2. Add the charred potatoes to the cumin seeds. After about 60 seconds, add the chilies, 2 tablespoons of peanuts, and 2 tablespoons of cilantro.
3. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through, flipping halfway through. They should have browned on each side—like home fries! Do not cover at any point, otherwise the potatoes will steam and not char.
4. Make sure to spread the potatoes in the skillet so each touches the pan to evenly cook.
5. Add the salt, making sure to sprinkle it all over the potatoes.
6. Right at the end, squeeze in the lemon juice from the wedge, add the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons of cilantro depending on your taste, and toss. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanuts.

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Sonal Ved is a Thrillist contributor and the author of Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine. She is the content lead at India Food Network and Tastemade India, and the food editor at Vogue India.