"Just throw the whole lemon in the food processor for lemon bars."
"Don't just soak your dried beans — brine them!"
"You don't need a whole day (or two) to make a good sauce."
Some of the things this year's cookbooks said to me as I tested them were downright contrarian. But that's the brilliant thing about cooking in a global, crowdsourced, Web-fueled world: People no longer cook according to some received wisdom handed down by a guy in a white toque. They figure it out as they go along, and if they stumble on a shortcut, it's blogged and shared in no time flat.
The rebels, rule breakers and renegades who rule this year's Top 10 list aren't looking for a Ph.D. in Traditional Cooking. They're pleasure seekers whose books are filled with quirky facts, gorgeous pictures, ingredients deployed in unexpected places. They're informative, thoughtful and well packaged, and traditional only in the sense that they make classic perfect gifts.
For More 2012 Cookbook Recommendations:
- 2011's Best Cookbooks: Revenge Of The Kitchen Nerds
- 2010's Best Cookbooks: Real-Life Labors Of Love
- The 10 Best Cookbooks Of 2009
- See T. Susan Chang's Honorable Mentions List
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Finally, one more cooking-related contest: the race for best cookbook of 2012. Food writer T. Susan Chang has compiled her list, and she tells us about her favorite.
T. SUSAN CHANG FOOD WRITER: I spent a lot of 2012 testing cookbooks. And what I loved about the ones that came out this year is that they were so contrarian. I mean, we're living in a globalized, crowd-sourcing world. We're not interested in taking orders from some guy in a white chef's coat. So this year's cooks are figuring it out as they go. They're stumbling on shortcuts, and as soon as they do, they're taking pictures, blogging and sharing in real time.
One great book for that kind of thing is "Susan Feniger's Street Food." I should say this book comes with a warning: You're going to get messy. It's full of fried things that'll get your backsplash dirty. There are tomatoey things that'll stain your apron. You'll end up with a fridge full of mysterious sauces. But you know what, it's worth it.
Try the Singapore crab cakes with red chili sauce, or the Ukrainian spinach dumplings with lemon marmalade and sour cream, or Burmese melon salad with ginger and green lentils. I know you'll see what I mean. This is food from all over the world, and it's bone suckingly good.
After a week, the book's pages should be spattered, your kitchen should be filthy, and you should be full. That's how you'll know you got it right.
SIEGEL: That was T. Susan Chang. Her latest book is called "A Spoonful of Promises: Stories & Recipes from a Well-Tempered Table." You can read about her other favorite cookbooks of 2012 at npr.org/bestbooks.
From a well-tempered table. You can read about her other favorite cookbooks of 2012 at npr.org/bestbooks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.