Notable Cookbooks of 2016 Satisfy Worldly Palates
Cookbooks have to do with turf, whether it's that of a single ingredient like pumpkin, or a large swath of terrain like Persia. It might be a destination bakery near Boston, or a vegan hot spot in Philly. In some of these 2016 notable cookbooks, the authors take you along for the journey. There are heavily scripted accounts of the lands of pomegranates, rose water, saffron and sugar cookies.
Even the books on this list that have no foreign anchor contain recipes like Mujadarra stuffed peppers, harissa farro, asparagus pistachio pizza, huevos haminados, cardamom risotto with ginger stewed plums, and zucchini with freekeh and za'atar. They reside alongside recipes as American as holiday turkey sandwich with apples, cranberry and Swiss, braised cabbage, rum-pear cider, and road-trip caramel corn.
Your own supermarkets are more than ever able to accommodate. They've become gateways to ingredients that satisfy our worldly palates. This isn't the year of the locavore!
1. "The Portable Feast: Creative Meals for Work and Play," by Jeanne Kelley, Rizzoli ($35.00)
Preparing your own "to go" meals is far from routine in this cookbook by Jeanne Kelley, a terrifically talented recipe developer and gardening expert. Her earlier cookbook, "Salad for Dinner," gained fame in my household for her lobster, arugula, watermelon and mint, and for her Italian chopped salads. In "Portable Feast" you can trust Kelley to balance a dandelion salad with turnips, or Mexican fruit cups with lime and chili, and to not make the red lentil with coconut milk and turmeric soup too sweet. These aren't just nifty "for freshly packed lunches, breakfasts and picnics," as claimed. You don't have to go farther than the kitchen table to enjoy a bowl of greens soup, or roasted spiced carrots and quinoa with turmeric vinaigrette. When you do venture out the door, you'll be hipster and healthy carrying that chopped Greek salad with herbed bulgur.
2. "The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook," by Salma Hage, Phaidon ($39.95)
I cleared my agenda when I picked up this one. The recipes have an ease and the ingredients are mainly familiar ones, but then comes a technique or a pairing that adds seductive allure or ingenuity. Buckwheat pancakes gains sweetness from blending dates with almond extract and coconut milk; Be prepared to keep that blender going! Tahini and gram marsala that might otherwise go into a topping, instead flavor the chickpea and cauliflower patties. New Englanders will be at home and far away at the same time with sweet potato and cranberry spicy rice. Coming from an area of the world where meat is a small part of the diet, celebrated cookbook author Hage grew up in a community where vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains were used creatively in a vast array of meals. This isn't vegetarian for the sake of ethics and the environment, but for taste, nourishment and survival.
3. "Mad Hungry Family: 120 Essential Recipes to Feed the Whole Crew," by Lucinda Scala Quinn, Artisan ($27.95)
The author is a no-nonsense culinary sensualist in a hurry to feed, delight and spoil you. Yet this book wasn't in a hurry to be made. It takes talent to develop simple yet ingenious recipes and let's face it, when we skim through our cookbooks we're often looking for the under-an-hour meal with easy-to-find ingredients. After making Quinn's flat roasted chicken from her earlier cookbook "Mad Hungry Men," I've never strayed from making it any other way. Now, flat roast citrus chicken, with olives, currants and cloves is a new favorite. Quinn makes "eating in" sumptuous; her recipes are easier than expected for their taste. Minus the cooked rice, shrimp curry is made in less than the combined time of making reservations, being seated, and waiting for your order. Budget considerations have not gone out of style. A penne with cabbage, bacon and currants is based on ingredients that once you spring for will last multiple meals.
4. "Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Café," by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick, Ten Speed Press ($35.00)
Yes, you'll have to source some ingredients, but you'll stop complaining when you see how far that pinch of saffron strands, sumac or tablespoon of barberries go. There's dried spearmint in the spanakopita serpentine, yufka pastry and nigella seeds in the cheese Boret, fenugreek leaves in the legume noodle soup, fishcakes with tamarind date sauce, and cherry nectar in the red dragon iced tea. Your New England neighbors might accuse you of "getting fancy" but expect them to ask for the recipe for fish with pomegranate molasses and saffron. While some recipes are more broadly Middle Eastern, Sortun and Kilpatrick might one day be credited for making Istanbul the culinary sister city to Cambridge, Mass. where Sofra Bakery and Café is located. This cookbook is for the experienced home cook. Adjustments to measurements and cooking times are sometimes needed, and the book's index could be fuller.
5. "The Rye Bread Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America," by Stanley Ginsberg, W.W. Norton ($35.00)
What about not just recreating the taste of rye bread from your childhood, but experiencing the tastes of rye breads from France, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Iceland and beyond? That's at least partly the thinking behind the success of Stanley Ginsberg's "The Rye Baker." There may be a temptation to put this book on the back shelf, after you see the instructions and history detailed here. (The author himself admits to this being a retirement project.) But New York corn rye and Boston brown bread may make you decide all the fuss of creating yeast, sourdough, fermenting and handling incredibly sticky-starchy rye dough is worth it. Obsession sets in quickly. My own to-bake list includes Galician and Belarusian sweet ryes.
6. "V Street Vegan Cookbook: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking," by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, William Morrow ($27.99)
There are those vegan cookbooks filled with tough talk and hungry-man/woman type recipes for teenage appetites--as if there's a rush to scarf down a bowl of chili without carne before eating meat becomes too tempting. "V Street" is for the secure vegan, and appreciators of vegan cuisine. Chefs Landau and Jacoby are like merchants who have sought out delights from foreign lands. In lesser skilled hands recipes they've brought back from their international travels would be a mishmosh, the flavors oversaturated. But here an Isreali grilled eggplant is lovely next to Tandoor zucchini. A spicy Szechuan dan dan noodle dish may not be eaten at the same sitting as Soondubu Jjigae, a Korean tofu kimchi stew, but certainly in the same week, which could also include Za'atar grilled corn with zhoug , a Yemenite hot sauce. Vedge and V Street are the couple's two Philly restaurants featuring innovative vegan cooking.
7. "Purely Pumpkin: More Than 100 Seasonal Recipes to Share, Savor, and Warm Your Kitchen," by Allison Day, Skyhorse ($24.99)
In many New England homes a pumpkin never gets farther than the front porch. Allison Day takes the gourd to the chopping block and it's not always an orange one. There is no sense that reaching 100 recipes was a forced effort. While there's an indulgence of pumpkin flavored drinks at the start of the book, like spice latte and seed "nut" milk, and pumpkin deserts at the end, in between there's a broad range of entrees. Pumpkin "friends" well with ingredients like mushrooms, tofu, coconut milk and, who knew?--but it makes sense--pumpkin polenta. You'll gain fast affection for the pumpkin veggie burger, which has a natural sweetness that other veggie burgers can lack. A hallmark of the sweeter recipes is a teaspoon of sugar here and there, more guilty pleasure than addiction. As benefits someone from Eastern Canada (or New England) Day reaches often for the maple syrup. The writing is more chatty than authoritative. She doesn't discuss what's actually in canned pumpkin (apparently, it's squash). Let's just say all pumpkins may be squash, but not all squash are pumpkins
8."The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen," by Yasmin Khan, Bloomsbury ($35.00)
Khan's cookbook accesses the rich and varied cuisine of Iran. While it's a travelogue with personal and cultural anecdotes by a curious and thoughtful young British-Iranian cook, it's arranged as a cookbook. You know where to go for date and cinnamon omelet or scrambled eggs with feta and dill, as well as mezzes, soups and main dishes. It's nice to get a back story served with your recipe but just like at a restaurant you don't want the waiter to go on and on. Here the balance is just right.
"Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan," by Naomi Duguid, Artisan ($35.00) Duguid's book is a bigger stretch--it attempts to cover cuisines of Iran (a country of 80 million and half of India's land area) and enriches the mix with recipes from smaller areas like Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Really Iran is the dominant culinary culture in the region given its huge population and varied terrain. However, you'll learn good ways to use pomegranates, apricots, rice, buckwheat, yogurts, cheeses and of course the kebab--the sirloin steak and hamburger of all of Central Asia. The tales are engrossing and the book's major focus.
9."The Short Stack Cookbook: Ingredients that Speak Volumes," by Nick Fauchald and Kaitlyn Goalen, Abrams ($40)
Gently layer the contents of 18 small softbound cookbooks, one for each ingredient. Do not stir. Simmer under a hard cover. Yield: This book; a short stack, of course. Serves about 150 (recipes, that is). The featured ingredients are apples, bacon, Brussels sprouts, butter (!), cheddar, chicken, chile peppers, eggs, Greek yogurt, honey, kale, lemons, mayonnaise (!!), rice, sourdough bread, tomatoes, wild shrimp, and winter squash. OK, it is a bit of a gimmick, but the recipes certainly do not lean toward tired tastes. Try the garlicky kale, clam and chorizo pasta, for instance, or the caramelized onion bread soup. Simple, new, straightforward, and easy to make. For the cost of the book you would only be able to buy three of the original soft-bound editions in their original form.
10. "The Forest Feast Gatherings: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods," by Erin Gleeson, Abrams ($35.00)
This recipe collection for your next "gathering" should aptly state "little assembly required." It should be written in different scripts with pointing arrows for emphasis, and a mini photo of the main ingredient on the recipe page. There's a lot of specific instruction done with visuals for recipes that don't require much prep. But it works as intended, to help you put together an array of stylish, healthy noshables. The back-to-the woods backdrop has a hip urban professional sensibility. The hors d'oeuvres and salads have a "foraged" look, but you'll find some opened cans and pre-prepared ingredients in the kitchen. Don't get your apron in a snit. The radish, squash cucumber tea sandwiches, hummus deviled eggs and truffled cucumber rounds are easy, colorful and look great on a platter. The clementine cocktail is your reward. While the mix of graphic design elements and photos are visually tantalizing it can go too far with faded print overlaid on pinkish color pages, including the index.
Notable Coffee Table Cookbook
"Dalí: Les Dîners de Gala," by Salvador Dalí, TASCHEN ($59.99)
Mix sumptuous and sly Salvador Dali artwork with sumptuous 1950's -style recipes and you have a magnificent, inspiring, coffee table book for a professional chef or for healthy adults with a lot of time on their hands and a willingness to exercise off the excesses. Many of the really interesting dishes take hours of prep and cooking time--even if you have your market or fishmonger do deveining, filleting, shelling and so forth. Almost all use heavy cream, butter or egg yolks and sometimes all three....and sausage. Go for it! The recipes are well written with lots of great advice. Just part of one, for a prawn parfait: In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and egg yolks. “Put on the fire and let it thicken. But, watch it! Do not let it reach the boiling point! In order not to err, use a wooden spoon...when you can run your finger through it and leave a clear imprint on the cream... remove from the fire... Add garlic...crushed prawns...put the mixture in the freezer. Take out every 15 minutes and stir vigorously to prevent...ice crystals."
Notable Culinary Read
"Ten Restaurants That Changed America," by Paul Freedman, Liveright, W.W. Norton ($35.00)
OK, so the author is a Yale history professor, teaching close to where Frank Pepe of Pizzeria Napoletana, was reputed to have brought pizza to America in 1925. Ok, so the author ignores Pepe's. OK, so six out of the 10 restaurants he documents in great detail were started in New York City, two in the San Francisco area, and one in New Orleans. Far be it from me to openly criticize a maker of lists, especially lists of items involving food, like lists of cookbooks. Besides, Freedman redeems himself with a rollicking history of Howard Johnson's, founded an hour from Nashua in the Boston suburb of Quincy. Cigar and ice cream maker Johnson's new restaurant was saved during the Great Depression by Boston's banning of a Pulitzer Prize winning play, Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude." The four-hour play (with dinner intermission) found refuge in less-prim-and-proper Quincy, at the theater right next door. Howard Johnson's orange-roofed restaurants followed the nation's highway expansion well into the 1960s.
Rachel Ellner is a food and cultural affairs reporter and long-time contributor to the Nashua Telegraph. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org