Thug Kitchen

The folks behind Thug Kitchen have issued a wake-up call to America. They tell us that the average American eats 270 pounds of meat annually, more than twice the recommended protein allowance. It makes us four times more likely to die of cancer – and 74% more likely die of any cause – than a whole foods plant based diet. They also claim that we spend 42% of food budget outside the home, where who-knows-what ingredients/chemicals find their way into our bodies.

The Thug Kitchen Cookbook is an invitation to elevate our nutrition and kitchen game. The authors want eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, prepare our own food, and have a bit of fun while we’re at it. And just in case you think that only high-brow, elitist snobs or hopelessly earthy granola types eat this stuff, Thug Kitchen chefs have the tattoos and potty mouths to change your mind.

It’s a good cookbook if you’re just starting out with this style of eating. The authors help you stock up on supplies (staples, herbs, spices) and equipment. They provide cooking basics for beans and grains, and the recipes are easy to follow. They also provide these words of wisdom:

  • Read the recipe all the way through so that you can be prepared for what you’ll be asked to do. It saves a lot of stress mid-cooking.
  • Pay close attention to required quantities. To that I’d add: Go easy on hot sauces, cayenne pepper, etc. You can always add some heat; you can’t take it away!
  • Change the recipe to suit you. Just don’t add weird ingredients or leave out major ones.

As this cookbook was our tenth exploration, we did not feel the need to make every recipe in the book. We opted out of desserts as well as most of the bread- and pasta-based dishes. We also passed on several been-there, done-that recipes. The remaining options proved to be some of the best recipes we’ve tasted on our cooking adventure. We will definitely make them again!

laurels kitchen

Laurel’s Kitchen made its debut in 1976 as a hand-bound publication from three dedicated foodies who were as concerned about the health of their patrons as the health of the planet. The diet they support protects against cancer, diabetes, diverticulitis, obesity, tooth decay, and osteoporosis. It does not harm animals, birds, or fish. And it focuses on whole, unprocessed foods.

By 1986, the book had made its way into a publishing house with support by a broad network of enthusiasts. That edition includes a gaggle of scientific data on nutrition, detailed information on the ingredients (e.g., vegetables, grains, legumes) and how they’re prepared, and some delightful essays on embracing a lifestyle that extols the value and sacredness of kitchen work.

The recipes come from daily living. We sampled about a quarter of them, largely in deference to my dairy and gluten sensitivities. We found them to be less complex than ones we sampled in other cookbooks, but that’s a good thing if you’re a cook who wants to master the basics. If you work through this cookbook systematically, you’ll learn to prepare delicious foods without having to refer to a collection of recipes.

The food guidelines that underscore all of their recipes include:

  • Reduce or eliminate meat, processed foods, and fried foods. Focus on whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Explore ways to flavor food without fat: parsley, lemon juice, exotic vinegars, citrus peel, yogurt, cottage cheese, shoyu, herbs, horseradish, spices. When planning dinner, allow for 2 teaspoons of oil or equivalent per person maximum.
  • Choose lower-fat milk products, and substitute them for higher fat ones in cooking.
  • Make your own salad dressings. (It’s not hard!) Commercial options are loaded with fat and chemicals.
  • Reinvent sandwiches by using bean and pea spreads instead of mayonnaise, cheese, and nut butters. They’re delicious with fresh or grilled vegetables.
  • When planning a meal, aim for balance. If you want to serve a rich dish, make the rest of the items on the menu especially low in fat.
get healthy go vegan

In the introduction to this cookbook, Dr. Neal Barnard sounds the alarm for the medical crises awaiting millions upon millions of American whose dietary habits set the stage for arteriosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. He joins with his partner, Chef Robyn Webb, in offering over 100 “easy and delicious recipes [that] will lure with their aromas and flavors” while paving the way to a heathier lifestyle.

We sampled 75% of the book’s low-fat, low-GI (glycemic index), high-nutrient recipes. They were satisfying and easy to make. They also leverage a wide array of ingredients to give the intrepid home chef a good deal of variety in daily, weekly, and monthly meal planning.

If you are new to the whole food plant based diet, the initial chapters of the cookbook cover the science behind the diet as well as helpful tips about making foods to fit your goals. The appendices provide a three-day meal plan, shopping lists, and recommended convenience foods.

forks over knives

In the Forks Over Knives documentary, Dr. T. Collin Campbell, PhD and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD make a clear and persuasive case for a whole-foods, plant-based diet. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook helps folks embrace this lifestyle by serving up a variety of recipes featuring fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, and legumes

The first 20ish pages of the book reinforce key messages from the documentary while providing useful tips for outfitting the kitchen. It’s well worth giving this section a close read. Then there are 321 recipes to explore (of which we sampled 241).

Forks Over Knives was the fifth whole-foods, plant-based cookbook that my husband and I explored. It did not turn out to be our favorite. I suspect that in creating such a large compendium, the cookbook was bound to include a lot of recipes that we found less than dazzling. And in fairness, we’ve become far more discerning now that we’ve sampled over 1,200+ recipes on our cooking journey. That being said, we may include 30-40 offerings in our “repeat” file once we stop working our way through cookbooks.

One interesting note: We were tempted to skip the dessert section as we’re watching our waistlines. But we decided to give them a go anyway. It turns out that it’s one of the best sections in the book!

straight up food cookbook

Cathy Fisher joins the cadre of chefs who meet the demand for whole food plant based recipes without added salt, oil, or sugar. Instead of salt, she lets the natural flavors of the food and spices shine. Instead of oil, she uses broth (or water) for stir-frying and tree nuts (typically raw cashews) for dressings and desserts. Instead of sugar, she uses applesauce, bananas, dates, raisins, and other fruits to satisfy the sweet tooth. Cathy also tends to use nonglutenous grains (e.g., rice, corn, oats, millet) to support those who need to be on gluten-free diets.

In addition to her tasty recipes, Cathy provides information and resources to help home cooks transition to the whole food plant based cuisine – e.g., menu planning, shopping, reading food labels, dining out. She also provides nutritional data for all of her recipes, courtesy of the CRON-o-Meter web application.

prevent and reverse heart disease cookbook

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD rose to prominence a decade ago with the publication of his New York Times bestselling book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. It documented research and science behind his advocacy of whole food, plant-based nutrition. Thousands of heart patients owe their lives to his groundbreaking findings.

Patient compliance with Dr. Esselstyn’s dietary protocols remains the critical factor in the success of his program. To that end, Dr. Esselstyn’s wife and daughter – Ann Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn – took to the kitchen to create a series of recipes that prove as delightful for the taste buds as they are to the blood vessels that sustain heart function. The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook makes their culinary expertise available to the general public.

Although my husband and I (mercifully) do not suffer from heart disease, we adopted a principally whole foods plant based diet in October 2016. I’ve really enjoyed sampling Ann and Jane’s creations and found their instructions really easy to follow. Their commentaries about each recipe brought a smile to my face!

If you’ve adopted the whole food plant-based diet or plan to do so, this cookbook would be a worthy addition to your bookshelf.

the china study cookbook

In the wake of reading Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, I was drawn to the official companion cookbook in my quest to become a happy and heathy adherent of a whole foods plant based diet. Dr. Campbell’s daughter, Leanne, compiled 120+ tasty recipes and offered a gaggle of good advice for those embarking on this journey. It was the perfect complement to her father’s groundbreaking research on the connection between chronic disease and nutrition.

Most of the recipes contemplate a larger audience than our 2-person household. They’re great for dinner parties as well as loading up the refrigerator with delicious leftovers. When needed, I scaled the recipes back to the 2-person serving size without incident.

Each recipe comes with estimates of the preparation and cooking times. My preparation times tended to be a bit longer, but I used that time to catch up with my husband after a busy day or revel in some wonderful music or both. I find that when I allocate sufficient time to “kitchen patrol,” cooking becomes a form of meditation that helps me relax and unwind.

happy herbivore, lean and light

Chef Lindsay Nixon pursues a simple, yet powerful mission – “to show how easy, affordable, approachable, realistic, and, most importantly, delicious, eating healthy can be.” This cookbook delivers on that promise. It was a great launching pad for our journey into the whole foods plant based lifestyle. Here’s why:

  • The recipes use common ingredients that most grocers carry.
  • The recipes can be pulled together with relatively little effort.
  • The instructions are spot on, and the guideposts for calories and macronutrients are quite helpful.
  • Portion sizes vary from 1 to 4 persons – perfect for our 2-person household.
  • The food is healthy and really good!

In short, this cookbook is a great resource for everyday cooking. It also provides a number of options that work well for casual dining with friends.

Lindsay supports a website that provides 7-day meal plans and the associated shopping lists to make healthy eating even easier. Check out What could be easier?

the south beach diet

The South Beach Diet is billed as “the delicious, doctor-designed, foolproof plan for fast and healthy weight loss.” So when I needed to lose a few pounds some years ago, I thought I’d give it a whirl. The diet definitely lived up to its billing. I enjoyed the food, and the meal plan always kept me satisfied throughout the day.

Phase One is quite restrictive – e.g., no starches or fruits – which is very difficult for an avowed fruitaholic. But it only lasts 2 weeks and provides a jump-start that builds momentum for staying the course. By taking advantage of all of the recipes in the book, the diet feels less onerous and more adventurous. Phase Two reintroduces fruit and starches (used sparingly) as well as chocolate! Phase Three starts when you’ve reached your goal weight. It is quite livable, especially after adding recipes from the gold-covered South Beach Diet Cookbook. We more-or-less stayed on that plan for years.

We liked most of the 98 recipes that we prepared. The majority of our samplings drew from the Phase One and Phase Two fare. Of those, we’d consider roughly one-third for a repeat appearance. They’re great when you’re on a weight loss plan, but not-so-great for “maintenance.” The red meat dishes also got the “once was enough” treatment even though most were really, really good. Unfortunately, they have a negative impact on our serum cholesterol.

While I’d planned to make every recipe in the cookbook, I stopped at the 80% mark. Spike and I decided to adopt a whole foods, plant based diet based on research by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. That being said, if you are committed to the Western Diet and/or want a livable program to shed some extra pounds, South Beach merits serious consideration.

Fields of Greens Cookbook

Greens Restaurant is a celebrated San Francisco eatery that features gourmet vegetarian cuisine. Having read the rave reviews, I purchased the Fields of Greens cookbook shortly after its 1993 publication. While I tried a couple of the recipes, the book pretty much collected dust for the next 20 years. I read through the recipes from time to time but felt as though the skills required to prepare them escaped me.

In September 2015, I decided to challenge myself to make every recipe in the book within a 16-month time horizon (which I beat handily). To my surprise, you don’t need years of training, fancy gadgets, or access to exotic food suppliers to make everything in the book. And Chef Annie Somerville’s expert instruction provided just the right amount of guidance.

One thing you do need is time. Some of the recipes take advanced planning to make ingredients that go into the main recipe (e.g., soup socks, curries). Most recipes require a lot of slicing and dicing. Fresh herbs need to be washed, picked, and chopped finely. Nuts need to be roasted or pan seared to bring out their flavors. Tomatoes need to be flash boiled to loosen and peel their skins before seeding and dicing. (Some of these activities can be done while watching TV.) In short, this style of cooking is not for the faint of heart!

The Fields of Greens cuisine is not low in calories. During the 10+ months of this cooking challenge, we went through more butter, flour, and sugar than we had in the previous 5 years. We both had a bit of trouble maintaining our weight, and I’m not entirely certain that we got a sufficiently balanced intake of macronutrients.

I kept a log that tracked when each recipe what prepared and what we thought of it. With very rare exception, we liked each of the 284 recipes that we sampled. Several dishes were out-and-out WOWs!  Some were too much effort to contemplate preparing them again. Some were a bit too rich for our tastes.

I think of this cookbook as a “fancy meal” resource, not our everyday fare. The soups and salads will inform my ongoing experimentation with cooking. I’ll definitely keep my favorite curries and stews in the rotation. Otherwise, I’ll likely refer to Fields of Greens when preparing for special occasions.