COOKBOOK REVIEW: Meatless meals, Asian flavors

“East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing” by Meera Sodha (Flatiron Books, $35)

No one has to convince me of the benefits of a plant-based diet. I know my body would be better for it, as would the earth. But I must confess that most vegan meals tend to leave me longing for at least a smidgen of meat or dairy.

Meera Sodha used to feel that way. Then the London-based food writer got tapped to write a vegan column for the British daily newspaper, the Guardian. She’d won national praise for her debut cookbook, “Made in India” and its vegetarian follow-up, “Fresh India.” This assignment, though, would be a different kind of challenge – not only because of the ingredient restrictions, but also because she had her hands full as a first-time mom.

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Those constraints, she writes in the introduction to her latest book, became “a catalyst for creativity,” forcing her to look beyond her Indian heritage for meatless inspiration, while shopping and cooking on a tight schedule. Building on travel memories to Thailand and Sri Lanka, dining explorations around London’s Chinatown, and research from her extensive cookbook library, she learned new techniques and broadened her Asian pantry to flavor veggie-based meals in a hurry.

Those lessons fueled recipes for her weekly newspaper columns that form the backbone of “East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing” (Flatiron Books, $35), which she supplements with a handful of less restrictive favorites that allow for dairy and eggs. Chapters revolving around staples such as curries, tofu, noodles and rice reflect the types of meals found across South, East, and Southeast Asia.

I didn’t miss the meat a bit in Kung Pao Cauliflower; New Potato, Chard, and Coconut Curry; and Autumn Pilau with Squash, Lacinato Kale, and Smoked Garlic. And imagining a future meal of the Chile Tofu she calls “brazenly addictive stuff” makes me downright hungry.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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