I like to do my research before writing guides like these. My wife and I cook vegetarian at home 90% of the time and are strictly vegan for a good chunk of the year, so I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what practical tools exist to make a vegetarian lifestyle more efficient and more delicious. Still, I felt it was my journalistic duty to my readers to look through a few existing gift guides for vegetarians online to see what kinds of products I might include.
This led me to discover that most folks who write gift guides assumes that all vegetarians are a) hipsters (why is there a product called "Hipster Dust in a vegetarian gift guide?) b) hippies (if vegetarians enjoy crocheted vegetables does that mean we should look for cast iron cow figurines for our meat-eating friends?), c) yuppies (try gifting this "Vegan" onesie to your pregnant friend), or d) Asian-ophiles who love plush toys.
How about a more practical approach for normal, everyday vegetarians who are just like normal, everyday people but happen to cook more vegetables than anything else? This is a guide for those folks, and these are all items I use on a regular basis.
Kuhn Rikon Vegetable Peelers
These are my favorite vegetable peelers. Sharp, light, maneuverable, and easier to handle than a straight peeler. They're also brightly colored, which means they don't get lost as easily in drawers (and even if they do, the set comes with three!). I keep a couple at home, and a couple in my knife bag to take with me.
Tofu Kit and Book
If you've never had fresh-made tofu, you have never really had tofu. It's like tasting real fresh mozzarella di bufala for the first time after a lifetime of string cheese. This tofu kit gives you everything you need to make tofu—just provide your own soy beans or fresh soy milk. Pair it with Andrea Nguyen's fantastic book on the subject, Asian Tofu for in-depth instructions on how to make various types of tofu, and how to cook them.
A Pressure Cooker
Beans are a staple in vegetarian or vegan diets, and a pressure cooker can shorten their cooking time by a full day. The Pro Stainless Steel Cooker from Presto is inexpensive but sturdy and cooks at a full 15 pounds of pressure, making short work of beans and grains. It's also great for quick-caramelizing vegetables for hearty, flavorful soups and stocks.
A Salad Spinner
"So what do you eat, like, salads and stuff?" is a question I get often during my vegan months. I'm always happy to give the answer: yes. Yes, I eat salads, and lots of them. But that's a year-round fact of life for me, whatever is currently on my diet. Having a good salad spinner is a necessity, and this one from OXO Good Grips is sturdy, spacious, stylish, and easy to use with its large, single-button operation and brake for drying and retrieving those greens as quickly as possible.
A Chef's Knife
I have a lot of thoughts when it comes to chef's knives, and if you regularly butcher meat, this guide will help you decide what knife to purchase. But for vegetable prep, I like a nice light, nimble knife, like the Global G-2 Chef's Knife. It has an all-metal handle that can get a little slick when it gets greasy, but that's not really an issue when all you use it for is vegetable prep. I've been using mine with joy for over a decade now.
A Wok With Bamboo Steamer Inserts
The wok is a fantastic way to take vegetables from raw-and-boring to cooked-and-crazy-delicious in a minimum amount of time. When used properly (and with our Wok Skills 101 series there's no reason it shouldn't be), it can deliver vibrant, crunchy vegetables with a smoky hint of wok hei. The Joyce Chen 14-inch Carbon-Steel Wok Set is inexpensive and built to last. Just make sure to follow the seasoning instructions before using it. Pair it with a bamboon steamer and you've just opened up your cooking options to a whole new avenue.
A Benriner Mandoline
The Benriner Japanese Mandoline Sliver makes short work of all of your slicing and julienning tasks. At one point in my life, I owned a fancy-pants $150 French model. And you know what? It was heavy, bulky, a pain in the butt to clean, and with its straight blade, didn't really do a great job.
The Benriner Mandoline Plus ($22.36), on the other hand, features a sharp, angled blade that cuts much more efficiently than the awkward straight blades or clumsy V-shaped cutters. Walk into any four-star restaurant, and I guarantee you'll find at least a couple Bennies—as they are affectionately called by line cooks—occupying a prominent place in the kitchen.
Great Vegetarian Cookbooks
My favorite vegetarian cookbooks come from serious recipe writers who put good flavor and good technique above all else. Both Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg and Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty have extraordinary, thoughtful recipes that yes, are vegetarian, but first and foremost are just damn good. Whoever you give these to better be inviting you over for dinner.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.