Essential Cookbooks

This is the time of the year when librarians create lists of the best or recommended books of the year—from best picture book for children to best audiobook books for adults. And we’ll be highlighting many of these over the next few weeks. But here’s something completely new: a list of the essential cookbooks, suitable for both avid chefs as well as those just learning the rewards of making a meal.

This was the first time the American Library Association ever created a list of recommended cookbooks, and I was happy to serve on the committee. And while it sounds like fun—and it was!—it was also lots of work. Cookbooks are really expanding, with hundreds being published each year, and many go well beyond just recipes to include cultural history or memoirs.

Furthermore, we didn’t just read the cookbooks, but we actually cooked from them. How else can you tell if the recipes really worked? At least this year I have a professional excuse for gaining a few pounds over the holidays.

To put a title on hold, simply click on the title or the book cover.

Dinner Illustrated: 175 Meals Ready in 1 Hour or Less by America’s Test Kitchen.
The perfect book for the fledgling cook, this super-well organized volume provides complete menus for 175 meals, including sides. Much like the popular meal kits, every step is broken down and photographed. This global collection of recipes also includes many vegetarian options. Try the black bean and sweet potato tacos.

Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories by Naz Deravian.
Epitomizing the best features of cookbook-as-memoir, Deravian offers stories seasoned with joy and melancholy, underscoring how food conjures home. Her wide-ranging and deeply authentic debut showcases dishes made redolent by rose petals, limes, fenugreek, and saffron. Savor the Roasted Squash and Grapes.
Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook by Dorie Greenspan.
Everyday Dorie is stunning and accomplished but unpretentious enough for a Monday night. Delight in discovering how to take Dorie’s classics and make them your own. Give the Gingered Turkey Meatball Soup a try.
Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou.
Located at the intersection of culture, cuisine, and history, Feast is as joyful and accessible as it is far-reaching and authoritative. Over 500 pages, the recipes range from pita and chapati to rich curries and fragrant biryanis to more complex dishes as Helou explores South Asian, Arab, Persian and North African cooking. Don’t miss the Ramadan date cookies.
Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill In Seven Sauces by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram.
Delivers elaborate flavors in a down to earth package that is pure Bill Kim. You don’t need a grill to enjoy these recipes, just a sense of fun and adventure. Fire up your grill for the Sesame Hoisin Chicken Wings.
Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit by Lisa Ludwinski.
Feel confident that you can make pie crust, and baked goods, with the aid of this warmly supportive cookbook. A feeling of community and empowerment flows out of charming pages that are as rewarding to read as to cook from. Roll up your sleeves and bake the Honey Lemon Meringue Pie.
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook by Matty Matheson.
Great storytelling and even better recipes from Toronto- based Matteson, a YouTube sensation and the star of Viceland’s It’s Suppertime and Dead Set On Life. While the recipes range from the simple to the complex, they’re all as full of flavor as Matheson is full of personality. Start with the Mussel Stew and end with the Blackberry Coffee Cake.
Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Simple is not a word generally used to describe Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, but it’s an apt title to his latest cookbook. That’s not to say the recipes are all easy, but rather they hone in on the essence of the dish without fussiness. Add to the fact that many dishes can be made ahead of time or under 30 minutes and you’ve got a keeper. See for yourself with the Pasta alla Norma.
Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards.
As the name of his cookbook suggests, Richards's delivers the pure life force of southern cooking. Call your friends and family, turn up the radio and head to the kitchen. Amp up your entertaining with the Grilled Peach Toast with Pimento Cheese
Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma.
Nothing about Nik Sharma’s debut fits neatly into a cookbook category. Sharma is not a professionally-trained chef nor does the food subscribe to any one type of cuisine. But there lies its appeal: the recipes are unique, creatively (ahem) seasoned and Sharma’s voice is passionate and inspired. A welcome addition. The Bombay Frittata should convince you.
Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.
This gathering of classic dishes and culinary history is a jubilant, expanding romp, as the award winners behind acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant Zahav take readers onto the streets of Israel and then urges them into their home kitchens to cook. Step-by-step directions, a litany of variations and dish toppings, and a strong point of view make the collection deeply inviting, and engaging. Give the 5-Minute Hummus a test-run.
Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India's Regional Cuisine, edited by Sonal Ved.
Tiffin is more than just a cookbook. It’s a tour through India that sheds light on the country’s regional specialties and nuanced flavor combinations to demonstrate the culinary diversity of the country. As much a reference title as an indispensable cookbook. Seize the day and start with dessert; make the Banana Coconut Bake.

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