December 12, 2012
Our favorite cookbooks of the season take us down culinary roads less traveled. From the Vietnamese cooking of the famed Slanted Door, to the diverse cuisine of Jerusalem dished up by an unlikely duo, one Israeli, the other Palestinian.
From a celebration of root vegetables to an encyclopedic tour of Latin America. Even a dip into the seemingly familiar Southern kitchen surprises with its masterful depth. Whether destined for loved ones or your own bookshelf, what lies between these covers will make cooking about the journey as much as the destination.
— Bill Daley, Judy Hevrdejs and Joe Gray, Tribune Newspapers
For a pictorial recap, please view our photo gallery.
'Cook's Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking'
You follow recipes to the letter, have "Joy of Cooking," but are stumped by the occasional culinary failure. Consider this book. In addition to 400 recipes "engineered for perfection," its focus is on culinary "whys." Instead of appetizer-to-dessert chapters, you have "Concepts," as in "Slow Heating Makes Meat Tender." Sidebars ("Practical Science: Chicken Safety," "Why This Recipe Works") plus explanatory visuals pepper the volume, making it more accessible than some other science-focused books.
America's Test Kitchen, $40
'Vietnamese Home Cooking' Charles Phan
Chef-owner of San Francisco's famed The Slanted Door, Phan is an amiable guide to Vietnam's culinary treasures. His approach: Learn techniques (chapters include steaming, braising, etc.), understand ingredients and tools (images, especially the glossary, buttress info), then appreciate the country's eating style. Street food and soups get special attention. Photos of Vietnam, dishes and how-to photos (dumpling folding, etc.) are a bonus.
'From a Polish Country House Kitchen' Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden
Erase visions of stodgy pierogi from your culinary database. The globe-trotting authors' approach to Polish cooking ("the ultimate comfort food") respects its legacy, while embracing refreshed versions. Among the 90 recipes are classics (caviar with blini, pierogi, beet soups), plus variations (cabbage rolls stuffed with wild mushrooms) and sauteed duck breast with pears. Nice touches: A "larder" chapter (pickles, flavored vodka, etc.) plus technique and finished dish photos.
'Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America' Maricel E. Presilla
To capture the culinary gems in countries from Mexico to Argentina, you'd need an encyclopedia. And Presilla delivers in this almost 1,000-page book. The New Jersey restaurateur with a background in medieval history cooked and researched her way across Latin America. The result: A book that's as much a conversation about cooking (tools, customs, lore) as it is recipes — simple (Ecuadorian aji) to involved (a tamale such as the Venezuelan Christmas hallacas Caracas style). Reading (for armchair culinarians) can be as much an adventure as cooking.
W.W. Norton, $45
'Jerusalem: A Cookbook' Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
One is an Israeli, the other a Palestinian; both consider Jerusalem home. This handsome cookbook is an affectionate but realistic tribute to their shared city. The London-based restaurateurs and authors celebrate Jerusalem's diversity, acknowledge its deep divisions and proudly present the city's shared culinary bounty. "It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it ... to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will,'' they write.
Ten Speed, $35
'Roots' Diane Morgan
This book, encyclopedic in scope, covers roots common and rare, from carrots to celery root, potatoes to parsnips, arrowhead to yuca. There are more than 225 root recipes ranging from a pickled crosne martini to sweet potato waffles to stir-fried lotus root with snow peas. There's a bit of history and lore for each root, along with helpful marketing and storage tips. Handsome yet informative photographs aid in identification.
'Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking' Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart
Southern cooking in all its variety — old, new and barbecue — has long been America's hottest food trend. Credit Dupree for fanning the flames nearly 40 years through her teaching, her cookbooks and television shows. This handsome, 720-page book distills all she and co-author Graubart know into a comprehensive guide to Southern cooking even non-Southerners will crave for insightful how-to's on topics ranging from pie crusts to vegetable cookery to organizing one's pantry.
Gibbs Smith, $45
'The Mile End Cookbook' Noah and Rae Bernamoff
Born of homesickness for the taste of smoked meat and a serious love of Nana's cooking, the tiny Brooklyn deli Mile End embodies that borough's food movement — it preserves Old World Jewish deli food with a modern approach. Here the Bernamoffs tell their success story with its from-scratch, do-it-yourself ethic (smoked meats, schmaltz rendered daily, ambitious pickling) and share their flavor-upon-flavor recipes. Their quest to prove deli food can be made deliciously at home has us longing for gribenes (chicken skin cracklings).
Clarkson Potter, $27.50
'Nick Malgieri's Bread' Nick Malgieri
Baking class is open. Starting simply with a one-step, no-knead loaf and progressing through the complex (brioche and baguettes), veteran cookbook author Nick Malgieri instructs in a sure manner that inspires confidence. The best chapter, for our money, teaches how to make better versions of everyday supermarket rolls like kaisers, hamburger and hot dog buns, and English muffins. And in a clever which-comes-first construct, recipes that utilize your finished baked goods in soups, salads, sandwiches and such entice you to make the breads themselves.
'Hiroko's American Kitchen' Hiroko Shimbo
Food authenticity lies in the tongue of the beholder, or so Japanese-born, U.S.-based Hiroko Shimbo would have it in her new book, which combines American ingredients with readily available Japanese seasonings and product. At the book's core: Six easy sauces that give 125 modern recipes authentic taste. Don't balk at making them. These sauces will transform such all-American ingredients as corn on the cob into something more intriguing — and truly Japanese in flavor.
Andrews McMeel, $24.99