My spouse and I own all the requisite vegan cookbooks, but this one holds the beloved #1 spot in our kitchen. (Vegan with a Vengeance used to be #1 for us, but Vegan Express won out because its recipes are just as tasty, more whole-foods based, and lightyears faster.) Vegan Express has become our go-to cookbook for everything: fast weeknight dinners, leisurely weekend brunch, cooking for visiting in-laws, even baking a chocolate birthday cake for a vegan friend at a party full of omnivores. (On that note, this cookbook's fast, easy recipe for chocolate cake is AMAZING! So rich, no one at the party could believe it was vegan.)
Here's why Vegan Express is the best cookbook we own, and why I would give the author, Nava Atlas, a hug if I ever met her:
1) Time: These recipes are fast. Most take 20-30 minutes, including prep time, and there are some in each chapter that take (no joke) only 10 minutes. We are always amazed at how quickly these recipes come together. Although we have an extensive collection of vegan cookbooks, I can say with certainty that Vegan Express is the best for busy people and families. Nava knows what she's doing here: she has two teenage boys herself, so prepare yourself for some seriously fast, seriously good food.
2) Balanced Meals: Besides being über-quick, what we love most about this cookbook is that many of its recipes are one-dish meals, meaning they incorporate a grain, protein, and lots of veggies in a single dish. Sometimes all you need to do in addition to the recipe is cook a pot of rice (but I would still consider that a one-dish meal because rice is easy and can cook while you do other stuff). The benefits of this approach are twofold: First, it's a huge time saver because you don't have to plan/prepare any side dishes; and second, you get a balanced meal without even having to think about it. However, for those who like to plan side dishes, there are some recommendations at the end of each recipe. What's more, Vegan Express is a fantastic resource for incorporating more greens into your diet -- the recipes frequently call for spinach, chard, kale, escarole, etc.
3) Taste: Delicious, robust flavors keep us coming back to this cookbook time and again. There are just two recipes that we honestly do not like, and we've made about 85% of the recipes in this book. All the others we've tried have been fantastic and merit repeat performances.
4) Variety: I'm almost embarrassed to divulge this, but we've been using this cookbook almost exclusively for the past 8 months and have not grown tired of it. Nava pulls from a variety of ethnic cuisines -- Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, even American "soul food" -- and sometimes blends them to create excellent fusion cuisine.
5) Accessibility: Very easy to follow. The cookbook is divided into basic chapters: soups, grains & noodles, protein trio (tofu, tempeh, seitan), pizzas/wraps, and desserts. Each recipe gets its own page, which I find more easily navigable than, say, Veganomicon. One thing I really like about Vegan Express is how clearly the the ingredients are delineated along the side of the page, separate from the directions; there's no nonsense to sort through to find the actual recipe (ahem, Vegan Soul Kitchen). Also listed are basic nutrition facts.
6) Ingredients: Easy to find at a standard grocery. On average, there are 5-10 ingredients per recipe. The most unusual ingredients called for are saffron, shiitake mushrooms, and Hoisin sauce. There are no bizarro ingredients, like liquid smoke, in this cookbook.
Vegan Express is the best cookbook we own, and I can't recommend it enough. If you're in the market for a whole foods-based, QUICK vegan cookbook, you should buy Vegan Express right now. You will not regret it!
** Update, Feb. 5, 2010: We are still using Vegan Express as our main cookbook and continue to make 2-3 recipes from it every week. We even brought it along on two extended family vacations this past year so that we could cook fast, healthy dinners. I seriously do not know how we lived without it!