Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst has compiled a list of her favorite cookbooks of 2018, and joins hosts Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson with dishes from her top three picks.
Another year, another collection of great cookbooks. I know that I say this every year, but 2018 offered so many good books it made it extremely difficult to pick my top 10, let alone my top three.
But the job must be done, so here are a few favorites.
There is much to learn from this collection — from incorporating Indian spices into everyday food, to baking unexpected combinations of fruit into pies, to finding inventive ways to use leftovers and endless ideas for making everyday cooking just a bit better.
And while air-fryer and instant-pot books abound, you won't find any on this list. Call me old-fashioned, but this collection is devoted to that good-old on-the-stove or in-the-oven kind of cooking.
May your kitchen be filled with wonderful food this coming year!
You Want ... To Wake Up The Flavors In Your Food
"Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food," by Nik Sharma
Nik Sharma is immensely talented. He not only developed this collection of outstanding recipes but also took all the gorgeous photographs found in "Season," published by Chronicle Books. Known for his blog A Brown Table, Sharma introduces us to the exotic flavors of the Indian kitchen he grew up in and shows us how he marries them to the food he cooks in his Oakland, California, kitchen today. His blog explores his life as a gay man in Northern California and his immigrant roots.
Some of the recipe are deceptively simple. Take the rainbow root raita, for example. You mix yogurt and water, and top it with grated raw yellow beets, red beets and scallions. Sounds basic, right? But wait. You then warm canola oil in a skillet with black mustard seeds, grated fresh ginger and fresh (or dried) curry leaves and heat it up until the mustard seeds pop and quiet down — much like popcorn. You drizzle this aromatic oil over the yogurt and colorful root vegetables and then magical, rich, multi-layered flavors appear. And it's stunning, like so much of Sharma's food. Toasted cumin and lime cucumber salad and the spiced beef kebabs (made with ginger, coriander seeds, mint, cinnamon, sage and dill) were also outstanding.
Although you might have to mail order a few of the more esoteric Indian spices, most of the ingredients you'll find in your pantry or local supermarket. This may be the most original book of the year!
You Want ... Savory And Sweet
"Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook," by Dorie Greenspan
This is one of the friendliest, most approachable, appealing cookbooks of the year. Unlike many of her previous baking books, this one, published by Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, covers both savory and sweet — her go-to collection of favorite, comforting everyday recipes.
I can't wait to try the chicken and salad Milanese style, the umami burgers (hint: they contain oyster sauce, soy and gochujang!), twice flavored scallops (with soy, ginger, lemon and a lemon confit jam) and the outrageous triple-layer parsnip and cranberry cake. I made the cake for Thanksgiving and it was stunning — a winner.
This collection of recipes is just like discovering a new friend who cooks exactly the way you do (or would like to.) Greenspan writes:
Over the years … I've become more easygoing. You'll see that in my recipes — my food has become simpler; the flavors wider-ranging and my style more spontaneous. If I had a handful of rules when I first started out, most of them have fallen away with time.
You Want ... A New Way To Make Pies
"Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies," by Cathy Barrow
Slab pie? What the heck?
Cathy Barrow, award-winning cookbook author, has reinvented the pie. Did it need reinventing, you may ask? Well, no — but also, it turns out, yes. In Barrow's version, you press pastry into a rectangular 9-by-12 baking sheet and you have a large, easy-to-cut slab pie. It's functional, it's beautiful and it almost always serves a crowd.
The originality of the recipes in this collection, published by Grand Central Life and Style, blow me away. Take the crusts, for example: Her all butter crust seems foolproof (there's even a version that uses vodka which is said to increase the flake and gives you an uber-tender crust.) There's cream-cheese crust and cheddar-cheese crust and caramelized-onion crust — genius for a savory, onion-filled pie — and more. The recipes run from savory to sweet and the spinach, gorgonzola and walnut slab pie with a cream cheese crust is delicious with a salad for lunch, dinner or a first course. Next up: raspberry rugelach slab pie.
You Want ... The Stories Behind The Food
"Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original," edited by Sara B. Franklin
Edna Lewis was one of the most important cooks in America. Author of several books about the South, slavery and her childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, Lewis died in 2006. Sara Franklin put together this loving, highly readable collection of essays, published by The University of North Carolina Press, about Lewis and her impact on the food community — from her lessons in regional cooking, the farm-to-table "movement" and political activism. It's a beautiful tribute to an important woman.
"How To Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories and Places," by Diana Henry
Lyrical British cookbook author Diana Henry has a new collection of recipes and stories, published by Mitchell Beazley, that is a must-read. Divided by seasons, it's a unique grouping. But even more special is Henry's writing: beautiful, evocative and so inviting. A gem!
You Want ... Not-Quite Vegetarian
"Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of," by Cal Peternell
It's hard to call a book with an entire chapter on pancetta a vegetarian cookbook of any sort, but I was drawn to Cal Peternell's sweet, small book, published by William Morrow Cookbooks, for several reasons: It's so well written, and those three ingredients are among my favorites.
The recipes are thoroughly appealing, from artichokes and new onions with anchovies and breadcrumbs to buttered peas with pancetta, lettuce and sage. Peternell cooked at the legendary Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse for 22 years and the vibe of most of the recipes is very California. Which is to say, they rely on the best ingredients and use simple, innovative combinations.
You Want ... Ideas For Pizza Lovers
"Mastering Pizza: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pizza, Focaccia, and Calzone," by Marc Vetri with David Joachim
This book, published by Ten Speed Press, arrived at a time when I was desperate to master really good pizza dough. I followed the recipe for Naples dough at 60 percent hydration, exactly as written (make a starter on day one, add to it on day two, finish it off and roll into balls and let rise on day three) and let's just say the results were nothing short of stunning.
If you love making pizza and want to up your game, this is the book you need. The pizza directions are given for a regular home oven, an outdoor wood pizza oven or an outdoor grill. It also boasts wonderful toppings and gorgeous photography. I can't wait to try the maurizio (mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary and sea salt) and salsiccia (fennel sausage, roasted fennel and tomato sauce.) The step-by-step photos really help you get it all just right. Mangia!
You Want ... Creative Ways To Use All Those Leftovers
I wrote a book on leftovers back in the 1980s and always wondered about doing another, updated version of that book. No need now. The talented Julia Turshen has written it: a book that provides easy-to-follow recipes and inventive ideas for reusing leftovers in creative ways.
Seasonal menus include summer simple backpack picnic, grilled Vietnamese breakfast, winter brunch for a crowd and steak house dinner for vegetarians. The book, published by Chronicle Books, has a retro-hip feel that makes it feel approachable. I loved the lists for ideas, like, "Seven things to do with leftover wine," and, "Seven things to do with cooked rice." Turshen is also an advocate of all things good and includes a wonderful essay toward the end of the book about giving back and creating community.
You Want ... To Build Community
"Feed Your People: Big-Batch, Big-Hearted Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around," by Leslie Jonath and 18 Reasons
How do you throw a party or a dinner party or a picnic for a crowd? How do you cook favorite recipes when they're meant to serve not just your family, but a whole bunch of families? Leslie Jonath and her cadre of friends who cook to the rescue.
This book, published by powerHouse Books, is one that's devoted to the notion of sharing meals and building community — the very best way to spend time with family and friends. There's Nepalese momos, big pan seafood paella, and grand aioli with roasted salmon, as well as challah cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing and Texas sheet cake. Yours truly even has a recipe in this collection: my New England fish and clam chowder is well worth trying, if I do say so myself.
You Want ... A Taste Of The South
There were many, many Southern-oriented cookbooks published this year. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
- "Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover's Tour of the Global South," by Virginia Willis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- "Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen," by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- "For the Love of the South: Recipes and Stories from My Southern Kitchen," by Amber Wilson (Harper Design)
- "Southern from Scratch: Pantry Essentials and Down-Home Recipes," by Ashley English (Roost Books)
You Want ... Restaurant Food At Home
"Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of L.A.," by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis and Lesley Suter
Bestia is an LA hot spot for pizza, homemade pasta, California-fresh salads and creatively served vegetable dishes. It's nearly impossible to snag a reservation. But with this book, you can cook their food at home. The owners/authors are self-taught chefs (who happen to be a husband-and-wife team) and their book, published by Ten Speed Books, will make you hungry.
The chapters on curing meat, salami and sausage are thorough, but complex. Steer toward simpler dishes in the salad chapter, like the farro salad with pomegranate and walnuts, or the pickled shallots or candied blood orange peel. And if you're feeling adventurous, the meatballs with creamy ricotta, tomato sauce, braised greens and preserved lemon is one of the most delicious dishes I tasted in the last year. It's time-consuming to make, but well worth your effort.
You Want ... Ideas For Baking And Desserts
"Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit," by Lisa Ludwinski
When I was in Detroit recently, several people told me I had to go to Sister Pie. It was breakfast time and I hadn't even had a cup of coffee when we arrived at the small, cozy, crazy delicious-smelling bakery (a former beauty salon). After a mug of strong coffee and a slice of salted maple pie and the plum crumble, I quickly understood what all the fuss was about.
I was psyched to learn that Sister Pie has a new cookbook, published by Lorena Jones Books. The pies focus on seasonal ingredients in new, unexpected combinations: cardamom tahini squash pie or buttermilk pumpkin streusel anyone? Sweet potato coconut pie? Sweet beet pie?
The bakery and the cookbook are both devoted to using seasonal ingredients, working with farmers from within 50 miles of Detroit. And, they offer free pie to people in need, in a kind of pay-it-forward philosophy. A true community bakery.
Its mission statement:
Sister Pie aims to celebrate the seasons through pie; to provide consistently delicious, thoughtful, and inventive food; to foster a welcoming environment for employees and customers through transparency, community engagement, and education.
"Food52 Genius Desserts: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake," by Kristen Miglore
Food52 presents a collection of baked recipes from some of the best and most interesting bakers in the country — from Meera Sodha's three-ingredient coconut fudge and sunset, to Stephanie Spencer's whole orange cake, to Dorie Greenspan's peace cookies, to Nancy Silverton's butterscotch budino. This book, published by Ten Speed Books, is a great choice for the baker who likes to experiment and try new recipes.
"Rose's Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes, with More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos," by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Rose Levy Beranbaum is a trusted author and baker who presents a delicious array of baked goods. Her recipe writing is thorough and clear and her recipes work! Ideal for the beginning baker, you'll find step-by-step photos and recipes in this book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
You Want ... To Learn About A Totally New Cuisine
"Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook," by Yotam Ottolenghi
Many fans of Yotam Ottolenghi's past best-selling books ("Jerusalem," "Plenty" and on and on) felt that his recipes were just a bit too involved and time-consuming. This, his latest book, is just what you ordered. "Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press, offers recipes that can be easily made on a weeknight (in about 30 minutes) but still offer vibrant flavors, colors and textures.
I tried the lamb and feta meatballs, served them over a bowl of rice with some sautéed spinach and a cold Tuesday night suddenly looked far brighter. Other recipes I look forward to trying: the roasted asparagus with almonds, capers and dill; soba noodles with lime, cardamom and avocado; beef meatballs with lemon and celery root; and mint and pistachio chocolate fridge cake.
Part memoir and part cookbook, this is a gem — a charming, beautifully written book about a cuisine we generally hear very little about: the foods and baked goods of Puerto Rico.
Diaz grew up in the South but spent summers living with her adoring grandmother, Tata. You'll find yourself happily lost inside Diaz's stories of her summer adventures, and the flavors and tastes of Puerto Rico she brought home with her and into her adult life in New York. But you'll also find recipes in this book, published by University of Florida Press, that will introduce new flavors and techniques — from asopao de pollo (chicken and rice stew) to camarones a la vinagretta (shrimp in citrus vinaigrette) to mango remoulade and cazuela (pumpkin, sweet potato and coconut milk custard). I've tried the pollo en agridulce, a fabulous sweet-and-sour chicken dish that includes brown sugar and chorizo — it's one of the best chicken dishes of all chicken dishes! Also, there's the amazing Mami's bizcocho de ron (Mami's rum cake).
The photographs, by the very talented Cybelle Codish, will also transport you from wintertime to the lush, gorgeous beaches and mountains of Puerto Rico.
Also, here are two books to check out if you're interested in Israel and Israeli cuisine:
- "Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel," by Alon Shaya (Knopf)
- "Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious," by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This segment aired on December 13, 2018.