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What three things do sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and pecans have in common? They’re Southern staples, they’re vegan, and they prove that down-home and plant-based cuisines can collide deliciously. That’s what inspired Mississippi-born recipe developer Timothy Pakron to write his first cookbook, Mississippi Vegan ($35), a collection of nourishing Southern recipes that will make you want to host a vegan Sunday supper. Grab a copy to find out why, and check out the below recipe for vegan pralines, which make an edible gift your loved ones won’t believe are dairy-free.

Pakron knows that most people don’t consider vegan food and Southern food to be in the same world, and he has a sound argument to challenge that. “The concept of veganism to me is a celebration of abundance: colorful vegetables, juicy sweet fruits, local and heirloom grains, a variety of nuts and seeds, and the glorious plethora of edible mushrooms,” Pakron writes in the introduction. His passion for plants teaches you that vegan cooking isn’t just about ditching the meat in a recipe; it’s about making up for those rich flavors and then some. Take his gumbo, for example. Pakron knows that andouille sausage isn’t just pork; it’s cayenne pepper, paprika, onion, garlic, and smokiness. His vegan gumbo combines all of those flavors so it doesn’t lack any of the original oomph. The same goes for his Frito pie with quick and easy chili and his PLT sandwiches with sweet and spicy potato bacon: no animal products but tons of flavor.

Most cookbooks have strong points and weak spots (e.g., a can’t-miss vegetable section and a skippable appetizer chapter), but we especially like Mississippi Vegan because it’s strong across the board. You’ll want to use it for breakfast (crispy tofu breakfast sandwiches and toasted pecan waffles with bananas Foster topping) to dessert (chocolate chip cookies with rosemary and pecans and hummingbird cake with “cream cheese” glaze).

You can stick to the recipes word for word, but Mississippi Vegan gives you the tools to create your own combinations. Try umami rice with shiitake bacon one day or lemon herb rice with blueberry barbecue tempeh the next. Personally, we’re looking forward to using the cookbook for a vegan potluck. We’d start off with toasty Creole Chex Mix and satsuma whiskey ciders, then have friends bring Pakron’s easy vegetable dishes, like glazed carrots, sesame roasted Brussels sprouts, and vegan Caesar salad. And to send everyone away with an edible party favor, we’d most definitely use the vegan praline recipe below.

Mama’s pralines

(Makes 20 to 30 pralines)

More like candy than dessert, my mama has been making pralines ever since I can remember. When I was home visiting, I explained to her that she could easily veganize them by replacing the dairy butter with vegan butter and using coconut cream instead of heavy cream. The next morning, she opened the door to my room with a twinkle in her eye and quietly said, “It worked.” Sure enough, a beautiful batch of vegan pralines was downstairs waiting for me. They were just as I remembered, but maybe a little bit better. To make sure this recipe works perfectly, I highly recommend investing in a candy thermometer to be exact.

Ingredients:

  • 1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
  • 2 cups coconut sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups pecan halves, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Open the can of refrigerated coconut milk and scrape out the hard cream into a large saucepan, discarding the liquid. Add the sugar and sea salt to the cream. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until smooth, until the ingredients are melted, about 5 minutes.

3. When you see the mixture beginning to bubble slightly, reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the candy thermometer in the pot. Bring the mixture up gradually to 238°F while only stirring occasionally. This should take about 8 minutes. Do not go higher than this temperature or the pralines will become hard like rock candy!

4. Remove the pot from the heat and stir the mixture. Stir in the pecans and vanilla to combine.

5. Using a large spoon (or a 2-tablespoon scoop), scoop heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the lined baking sheets. The goal is to create a small pool of caramel with 4 to 5 pecans per cluster. Let them sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until completely frosted in color.

6. Enjoy immediately or store between layers of parchment paper in a container at room temperature. These also freeze beautifully!

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(Reprinted from Mississippi Vegan by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2018, Timothy Pakron)