Bryant Terry’s 2020 cookbook Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes presents vegan dishes from a variety of culinary traditions, with a particular emphasis on ingredients and flavors featured in African and African-American cooking. There are a lot of things to like about Vegetable Kingdom. I agree with Terry’s idea that plant-based eating has many health and environmental benefits, and I liked that the recipes didn’t fall back on the common assumption that vegetarian recipes must feature a central protein (like tofu or seitan) that substitutes for meat. As the title suggest, vegetables are the star here. Terry’s writing style is engaging and often funny, and many of the recipes are accompanied by stories of events where the dishes featured in the book were served, ranging from a catered celebration for Angela Davis’s birthday to one of his first dates with his now-wife. Terry also includes a playlist of suggested songs to listen to while you are cooking these dishes, which is just cool. The food photography throughout the book is beautiful. All of which is to say, as a book I really liked Vegetable Kingdom.
As a cookbook, however, I found Vegetable Kingdom less successful. I should be an ideal audience for these recipes. I’m a long-time vegetarian (although not vegan) and I cook at home most days, so I’m familiar with cooking as both a hobby and a chore. But I don’t think I’ll ever make the vast majority of the recipes featured in this book. Why? First, many of the recipes feature produce that isn’t widely available to readers who (like me) live outside of major cities and do their shopping at conventional supermarkets. I imagine that kohlrabi, fresh peas, and sunchokes are readily available in San Francisco where the author lives and works, but are aren’t something I’m going to have around when I need to make dinner. (This may sound like the reverse snobbery of someone claiming to be a “real American”, but I promise it’s not—I would love to have this variety of produce readily available to me, but that’s just not the case.) Similarly, many of the spices included in these recipes are going to require some effort to acquire – in the headnotes for his Creamy Coconut Carrot Soup, Terry notes “store-bought ras el hanout is fine” and I thought “I don’t even know what ras el hanout is, I’m definitely not worried about making it from scratch”. (It’s a North African spice blend.) This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – one of the reasons we buy cookbooks is to inspire us with new ideas, after all. But the somewhat complex recipes (many of the included recipes have 2, 3, or 4 different sub-recipes that combine to make up the finished dish) compared with difficult to find ingredients are likely to be a barrier for many home cooks looking to branch out.