Some people might call it a problem. I call it a library. I know that there are so many cooking sites to visit online. The recipes are solid, they’re free, and you don’t have to pack them into boxes and lug them across the country when you move. (We’re MOVING in February!) But I’ll never get over books. I like the way the matte pages feel, I like the feel of flipping a page over, and with cookbooks, I love the photographs. I really feel wild about a good cookbook. People ask me all the time what my favorites are. I’m making a list my my ten more consulted here. I love many others, but this is part 1 of core group that I return to over and over. One of them is new and is an instant classic that I am currently in a deep love affair with. Since these are in no particular order, let’s start there:
1. Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison: This book is the kind of book I always found myself looking for and could never find. But now here it is. Part encyclopedia, part cookbook, this volume tells you everything you might want to know about things that grow and then we eat them. She tells you how things grow and where, what kinds of nutrients they have to offer, how they like to be cooked and what they go well with. She tells you how to store things, what to look for when you shop. I read this thing like a novel, from cover to cover. The recipes range from incredibly simple to simple, but with some labor. Nothing is difficult and all her combinations that I’ve tried tend to sing. Her Red Lentil and Coconut Soup with Black Rice, Turmeric and Greens is one of the best soups ever. I could eat that jazz every day.
2. Clean Food by Terry Walters This book is the perfect introduction to clean cooking and eating. Ms. Walters has organized it by seasons. For people who are new in the kitchen, this is so helpful because the recipes match up with what looks good in the market. As you get accustomed to shopping and cooking, eventually your body will acclimate to its natural yens rather than feel confused by the general processed food that we often eat in the Standard American Diet. In addition to supporting beginning cooks and cooks new to this kind of cooking, Ms. Walters gives a great variety of choices for each season including desserts. Her sweet choices are always made with alternative flours and sweeteners making her recipes much easier on the system without skimping on flavor. She tends toward very simple preparations with pops of satisfying flavor.
3. A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell I would like to spend a year in her kitchen, too. This is one of my very favorite books for flavor. Ms Gyngell is from London so sometimes there are ingredients I can’t find in San Francisco, but WHO CARES?!? This is a woman who cooks like a painter. The flavors in each recipe hit all parts of the tongue and her preferences tend toward explosive color. She begins this book with her version of a toolbox, or what she believes are the staples a cook should have in their kitchens at all times. She talks about how flavors work together, what different components come together to work in shaping a taste experience, plus the book is gorgeous. It’s a small little thing with soft matte pages and dreamy photographs that make you want to follow all her directions to a tee. Her roasted tomatoes changed my life, even without the sugar, not to mention her pickled pear relish and her chilled almond soup.
4. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi This might be one of the most elegant vegetarian (not vegan) cookbooks in existence. The work in this book is so varied and covers so many different styles of cooking that it feels as much like a travel log as it feels like a cookbook. It’s downright romantic the thing is so gorgeous. The recipes range from simple to all day prep affairs. Some of these recipes will make their way into your No Big Deal catagory without even batting an eye, whereas others may stay on your When Company Comes list for a year or more. But even when the meals look over the top, they are so much fun to read and look at, that the very act of perusing them will ignite your creative kitchen fire. The Cardamom Rice with Poached Eggs and Yogurt just slays me and I’m not mad about the Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger either.
5. The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry Bryant Terry designs the meal for you. Each recipe comes with a drink and damn soundtrack. Mr. Terry made this book so that each turn of a meal is designed around an entire experience, born from the inspiration of jazz and hip hop. I love this book for its intimate invitation to hang out with your chef. You get stories, you get a radical kind of politic, you’ll find yourself jamming out to his ideas about sustainable food cultures and social movements. This book is so much more than a standard cookbook experience and his success with it is deeply moving. Not many chefs offer you justice and compassion with their entrees but for Mr. Terry, his ethic about life is not separate from his cooking. He understands that food is a right and healthy food is a gorgeous experience that supports artistic, beautiful and creative living for all people. Cooking from this book, for me, has been not only a creative and fun experience, but each time, it feels like an honor to connect with Mr. Terry’s world. Plus the sweet potato curry is fabulous.