Essential Cookbooks

Librarians love to create lists, and at the end of each year we publish lists ranging from the best picture books for children to the best audiobooks. But one of my favorites is Essential Cookbooks, a selection of cookbooks for public libraries.

This wonderful list highlights titles for both avid home chefs and those just learning the rewards of making a meal. The list also supports those who appreciate the many joys of reading cookbooks, even if they rarely venture into the kitchen! These books are sure to become reliable favorites and nourish readers, today and for years to come.

We’re very proud that Sharon Rothman (pictured below), one of our adult services librarians, served on the American Library Association's Essential Cookbooks committee for the second year in a row, and we caught up with her to learn a little bit more about the selection process.–Brian Kenney

Brian Kenney: Is it true that you don’t just read the books, but actually cook from some of them?
Sharon Rothman: Yes, we cook from all of them. Not only do we cook from the nominations but we recruit our friends and family to be our tasters as well.

BK: What’s the most challenging part of serving on this committee?
SR: We’re scattered all over the country talking about food and recipes yet we will never have the opportunity to cook together.

BK: What trends are you seeing in cookbook publishing?
SR: Several trends in cookbooks include plant-based recipes, chefs’ voices that we haven’t heard before. Also, bloggers and Instagram’s food influencers turned to writing cookbooks.

BK: What’s your favorite cookbook of the year?
SR: It’s hard to decide but I pick Flavors of the Sun because this cookbook was born from NYC’s longest continually operating family-owned specialty food market. I believe the only thing better than eating food is selecting it.

BK: Finally, what’s your favorite recipe?
SR: I won’t admit to having found it because I want to keep looking.

Essential Cookbooks

Cook this Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes To Repeat by Molly Baz. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 9780593138274.
Library Catalog / Libby
In a snappy, stylish book, Molly Baz offers tasty recipes that satisfy while teaching readers to be experimental. Lovely pictures, straightforward instructions, and handy QR codes that offer demonstration videos to the uninitiated make this ideal for novices, experienced cooks, and all those in between. This is a full-service cookbook: meat, veg, salads, desserts, and snacks included. Pacchieri with Pork and Lentil Ragu deliciously combines meat and legumes in a quick and flavorful pasta dish you will love.

New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian by Chef Freddie Bitsoie & James O. Fraioli. Abrams. ISBN 9781419753558.
Library Catalog / Libby / hoopla
Chef Freddie Bitsoie delivers a groundbreaking celebration of Indigenous cuisine from a diverse set of cultures across the Americas. These modern interpretations will make mouths water while introducing readers to the cultural heritage of Native regional cookery. Readers and cooks alike will relish exploring recipes that feature staples valued by cultures for millennia. Start your culinary exploration with the Manoomin Rice Salad. Mitsitam!
Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food: Deliciously Doable Ways to Cook Greens, Tofu, and Other Plant-Based Ingredients by Hsiao-Ching Chou. Sasquatch Books. ISBN 9781632173331.
Library Catalog / Libby
This unique, practical book, full of authentic tastes, covers a wide range of Chinese cooking techniques and uses easily findable ingredients. Instructions are clear and inviting, and will make home cooks feel comfortable while in the kitchen and help them be delighted with the results. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will enjoy the rich and savory dishes. Seared Tofu reworks a familiar pork-based preparation and is well worth trying.
Zoë Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More [A Baking Book] by Zoë François. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 9781984857361.
Library Catalog / Libby
Welcome to cake school, a sweet, lovely place where Zoë takes students by the hand and teaches each step in the cake making process. With a tone of welcome and you-too-can-bake-great-cakes, she addresses everything from mixer speed to temperature, detailing what to do and why. Upon graduation, she introduces cake after cake that suit all occasions and tastes, from knockout batters for birthdays to unusual delights perfect for a cup of chai tea and a chat. Readers will be better bakers, knowledgeable, confident, and keen, after spending time with Zoë. Don’t miss the Pumpkin-Mocha Swirl Bundt Cake.
Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple by Dorie Greenspan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780358223580.
Library Catalog / Libby
Dorie, a beloved cookbook author, talks to you as if she’s across the table in this breathtaking book. She “plays around” with variations of her many sweet, salty, and simple offerings. Mixing classics and innovations, she provides a strong balance of irresistible bakes. If you love chocolate layer cake, her Devil’s Food Party Cake won’t disappoint.
Milk Street: Tuesday Nights Mediterranean: 125 Simple Weeknight Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine by Christopher Kimball. Voracious. ISBN 9780316705998.
Library Catalog / Libby
Veteran cookbook author, Kimball, takes readers on a culinary Mediterranean tour that reaches beyond Spain, Greece, and Italy and into Northern Africa and the Middle East. Lavish illustrations accompany tidy and smartly designed recipes making use of common ingredients. Accessible, yet never dull, these recipes will help get dinner on the table on a Tuesday night or any night. Try Tunisian Chickpeas with Swiss Chard for a hearty dish utilizing pantry staples.
Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg. Artisan. ISBN 9781579659561.
Library Catalog / Libby / hoopla
Oats, quinoa, barley, and more. McFadden helps home cooks make the widest use of these powerhouse pantry staples. Arranged by grain, this beautifully photographed and delightfully designed book offers clear cooking guidance and then spills forth a range of dishes for vegetarians and meat-eaters that are suitable for both Sunday meal-prep and Wednesday night dinner-in-a-hurry. Thoughtful, useful, simply delightful, McFadden’s book is destined to become one of those books with pages spotted with tomato juice, butter, and deep abiding happiness. Try the Pilafs for Every Season.
Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth Generation Farmer by Matthew Raiford with Amy Paige Condon. The Countryman Press. ISBN 9781682686041.
Library Catalog / Libby
Raiford traces his family’s agricultural and food traditions as well as the history of the Gullah Geechee heritage corridor in this farm to table cookbook that reflects both his journey as a chef and his return home. Fresh from the earth or sea and straight to the pot or pit, Raiforddelivers fresh recipes, bucolic photos with the warmth and love that can only come from telling your family story. Bring your loved ones together over the Smokin’ Hot ‘n’ Sweet Crab Dip.
Cook Real Hawai’I: A Cookbook by Sheldon Simeon. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 9781984825834.
Library Catalog / Libby
The culinary heritage of Hawai’i is built on the history and traditions of all of the peoples who have lived and cooked there, and Sheldon Simeon’s introduction to this worldly-yet-local cuisine is a pleasure to cook from and read. These delicious, approachable recipes are accompanied by an engaging narrative about Simeon’s experience growing up on the islands and the wider context in which his life and food are shaped. Especially interesting are the introductions to “The Influencers,” from Native Hawai’ians to Japanese and Portuguese immigrants. The Spam Musubi is a winner and may be a new standard for your desk lunch.
Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora [A Cookbook] by Bryant Terry. 4 Color Books. ISBN 9781984859723.
Library Catalog / Libby
This is so much more than a cookbook; it is a cultural keystone that documents where food and nourishment intersect with many facets of Black lives. It is essays, poetry, art, and recipes by more than a hundred contributors who come together to celebrate a collective legacy of cultural contributions from the African diaspora. Enjoy some musical selections from the playlist while you get the Collards with Pot Likker, Cornbread Dumplings & Green Tomato Chowchow on the stove, and then take in some essays while they bubble away and become a tender, flavorful centerpiece for a vegetable-forward meal.
Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food by Julia Turshen. Harper Wave. ISBN 9780062993335.
Library Catalog / Libby
Comfort foods get a healthy work over and the flavors are anything but simple. Home cook, Turshen’s easygoing style and personal voice emphasize cooking as an expression of care and love. Techniques and ingredients are approachable and handy tips and lists, such as “7 Ways to Use Leftover Buttermilk,” round out the book. Start at the beginning with nutrient-dense Llubav’s Green Spaghetti and cook your way through these satisfying dishes.
Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients by Christine Sahadi Whelan. Chronicle Books. ISBN 9781452182452.
Library Catalog / Libby
Ingredients take center stage in a primer written by the heir to a middle-eastern grocery legend. What to look for, how and where to buy, and how to use these culinary staples combined with beautiful pictures, great recipes, and wonderful lists of “ten more ways to use” each highlighted item makes this an all-time reference. Drinks, salads, entrees, and sweets are organized by the type of flavor the special ingredients will add. The Za’atar Roasted Vegetables offers a new spin on an old favorite.

Essential Cookbooks 2021: The CODES List committee includes: Sarah Tansley, Chicago Public Library, co-chair; Neal Wyatt, Library Journal, co-chair; Danise Hoover, Brooklyn, NY, Sharon Rothman, White Plains Public Library, NY, P.J. Gardiner, Wake County Public Libraries, NC, and Jessica Jones, Takoma Park Maryland Library

Categories: Authors & Books, Director's Corner, and Library News.


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