My cookbook collection is formidable. After a decade long moratorium on purchasing new cookbooks I have fallen off the wagon in the most spectacular fashion. I’ve been hosting a cookbook club for the last year and half, so my cooking has gotten a major infusion of inspiration. We are all going to be stuck inside for a bit longer and a good cookbook really, really helps.
Scroll down to read more about each of the cookbooks that we cooked from in our cookbook club. They would make great Christmas gifts for yourself or someone you love! Each title is hyperlinked to more information about the book. You can also browse and buy ALL of the books that we have cooked from in our cookbook club here.
A couple of years ago, favorite local bookshop, Greenlight Bookstore, opened an outpost in my neighborhood. It turns out that one of the owners is my neighbor and we both belong to our local Community Sustained Agriculture Farmshare. I tend to send out lots of recipes on our CSA google group (surprise), so she asked me if I’d like to host a cookbook club at the bookstore! We were meeting quarterly before the city shut down. The bookstore folks would move a bunch of bookshelves to the side and set up a table. Everyone would cook one dish from whatever book we had chosen and we would all sit down for a potluck meal. How lovely is that? For a while when the pandemic started, we were meeting once a month over zoom, which has meant that we have had participants from other states and countries as well! We are going back to quarterly meetings starting January 25th. We will be cooking from and discussing The Mexican Home Kitchen by Mely Martinez. Click here to register if you are interested!
In addition to the cookbook club, I recently reviewed vegetable forward cookbooks for food52’s community cookbook competition. Myself and two other recipe testers cooked three recipes each from five popular vegetable forward cookbooks. You can read those reviews here.
Here are my thoughts about what makes each of the books that we read in our cookbook club special, who might like them, and what to cook from. Each title is hyperlinked to more information. You can also browse and buy ALL of the books that we have cooked from in our cookbook club here.
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden-
Who is this book for? Get Six Seasons book for someone who has recently decided to join a CSA or farmshare and is overwhelmed by what to do with all the vegetables or anyone who wants to eat more vegetables. Its also a good book for someone who is learning to cook (the author walks you through a lot of cooking technique in a way that makes it seem very easy)
Why is Six Seasons special? It has recipes for vegetables that other seasonal cookbooks ignore (I see you rutabegas and I now know how to cook you). It is full of substantial, satisfying salad recipes. I have loved every salad I’ve ever tried from this book.
What about dietary restrictions? This bok uses some meat, fish, dairy and gluten but I have fed my family (with their complex dietary restriction matrix) with great success from this book. I feel like this book would be challenging for people with nut allergies.
What should I cook from Six Seasons? Oh my goodness, there are so many I could recommend but these are the three I have cooked over and over…
- Beet Slaw with Pistachios and Raisins- Great Christmas side dish but also good for lunch any old day!
- Grilled Radishes with Dates and Apples- I make this recipe for 4 and always end up eating it all by myself.
- Lamb Ragu with Carrots and Green Garlic- Pure comfort. Works fine with GF pasta. Does not need the cheese.
- Citrus Vinaigrette- So simple to make. I refuse to eat arugula without it now.
Any caveats? I also cooked from this books for the Food.52 cookbook review and discovered that I don’t love the dishes with a lot of cheese and meat in this book nearly as much has I love the truly vegetable forward dishes. Still this is one of the best and most used books in my library and I’ve only owned it for a year and a half.
The Nimble Cook by Ronna Welsh-
Who is this book for? The Nimble Cook is a great book for someone who wants to learn more about cooking technique. Someone who wants to learn how to improvise in the kitchen and reduce kitchen waste.
Why is The Nimble Cook special? The author is making radical departure from the ridiculous assumption that everyone is cooking to feed a family of 4-6 people a night, and can spend half a day doing that. She offers techniques to properly prepare food in advance, so that you can, as a single person or a couple or a large family who all eat at different times or in different ways can quickly throw together a beautiful meal.
What should I cook from The Nimble Cook? Here a few things that have made a big impact on how I cook…
- The entire chapter on apples- I now regularly make slaw from apple peels, apple core agrodolce for old-fashioned cocktails and mostarda, and pickled apples for salads!
- Orange and Fennel Pulled Pork- So much delicious for so little effort
- Seared Kale with Dates and Cream- This takes forever but the result is just ridiculously wonderful.
- Techniques for roasting vegetables (such as broccoli and beets). You think you know how to do this but she has a better way
Any caveats? This is not a book for someone who does not like to follow directions. There are plenty of invitations to improvise in this book, but the recipes that seem simple (starting points) are written with precision to teach you through specific instructions. If it calls for that much salt, use that much salt. Cut the vegetables exactly the way she describes. Yes it matters. If you follow the instructions you will learn something, even if you are a very experienced cook! The more complex sounding dishes (explorations) are really just suggestions and inspiration for how to put the simple components together and this is where you improvisational impulses can be followed.
Dishing Up the Dirt by Andrea Bemis
Who is Dishing Up the Dirt for? Working people who keep it seasonal, simple and tasty.
Why is Dishing Up the Dirt special? These recipes are not intimidating. The author is a farmer, which means she does not have a lot of time to fuss in the kitchen. There is nothing pretentious abut this food. It just tastes really good.
What about dietary restrictions? The author is focused on eating locally, which for her means lots of vegetables and little bit of meat. There is very little dairy in this book. She uses legumes and nuts really creatively to to achieve the comfort factor that most cookbooks lean on dairy for. There are only a few baked goods and they are not gluten-free.
What should I cook from Dishing Up the Dirt? These are the one’s that I’ve made more than once..
- Bourbon Thyme Cocktail- I make this a lot. It’s perfect.
- Butternut Squash Kale Salad with Maple-Bourbon Dressing- I know! You’re thinking who needs another Kale salad. Friends this is a very tasty kale salad.
- Spicy Tomato Bisque- SO comforting and totally dairy free.
- Roasted Acorn Squash with Tahini and Hazelnuts- This has no business tasting as good as it does for so little effort.
Any caveats? You aren’t going to learn anything new from this cookbook. This is more like getting recipes from your friend who happens to be an amazing home cook.
Fresh India by Meera Sodha
Who is Fresh India for? People who love Indian food and would like to incorporate into their everyday kitchen in a healthful way.
Why is Fresh India special? I’ve cooked from a lot of Indian cookbooks and they usually involve a lot of work to make very specific traditional dishes. Meera Sodha’s recipes are effortless and inspiring. She offers unique flavor combinations and techniques that I have been exciting and easy to incorporate into how I cook. Also, her recipes are really fresh and healthful which, she explains, is how Indian families really eat! The Indian food that appears in western restaurants is heavier to appeal to western tastes.
What about dietary restrictions? This book is totally vegetarian and uses a tiny bit of dairy and gluten.
What should I cook from Fresh India? This was very hard for me to narrow down to a short list
- Fennel and Apple Chaat with Caramelized Almonds- Such an elegant and refreshing salad. You’ll want to make caramelized almonds using this technique all the time.
- Baby Eggplant Stuffed with Peanuts and Coconut- Totally delicious with this specific filling but also has inspired me to improvise my own little stuffed eggplant dishes using this technique.
- Roasted Broccoli with Almonds and Cardamom- Another clever technique for packing flavor into vegetables.
- Cauliflower Korma with Blackened Raisins- Not a traditional korma. This is actually easier to make and even tastier.
Any caveats? Our cookbook club members did not have good luck with the recipes in the bread chapter. This is not a caveat, but I also want to mention that she has another amazing (not vegetarian) cookbook called Made in India. I’m basically a massive fan.
Cannelle et Vanille by Aran Goyoaga
Who is Cannelle et Vanille for? People who want to make spectacularly good gluten-free baking and elegant gluten-free meals.
Why is Cannelle et Vanille special? It’s written by a pastry chef who had to give up gluten. I’ve done a decent job learning how to adapt all of my homey baking (cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits) to be gluten free, but in this book Aran Goyoaga has succesfully tackled all the fancy baking that I don’t have the skills to master on my own (bread, sourdough, puff pastry, pasta).
What about dietary restrictions? In addition to being gluten-free, there are a lot of vegetarian and dairy free recipes in this book. Her savory recipes for vegetables are always beautifully flavorful and (unlike the baking recipes) are quite simple to do.
What should I cook from Cannelle et Vanille?
- Gluten-free sourdough starter- to make the sourdough boule or waffles
- Roasted Carrots with Red Lentil Hummus- a good example of a simple, perfectly balanced dish that happens to be GF, vegetarian and dairy free
- Tomato and Romesco Tart- With a gf puff pastry!
- Frozen Raspberry Custard with Hazelnut Crunch- I have not tried this one yet, but it was highly recommended by a cookbook club member and the 4 family members she fed it to.
Any caveats? Well, obviously not everyone NEEDS an advanced gf baking book. Honestly though, it would be worth it for the other recipes, even if you never made any of the baking. You do need to actually follow her meticulous instructions for the baking recipes…. but that is true of any advanced baking. Another not caveat- I also love her first book Small Plates and Sweet Treats. The baking is simpler in that one.
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton- Martin
Who is Jubilee for? Anyone who wants to learn about the culinary history and contributions of African American cooks and chefs. Your friends and loved ones who grew up eating and love excellent, classic American food. My husband is from Tennessee and when he flipped through this book at the breakfast table he turned to me and said, “Please cook all of this”.
Why is this Jubilee special? You know those great recipes that your Grandma made from the cookbook that her church published in 1972 for fundraiser? This book gathers the best of those recipes in one place and throws in some treasures from the kitchens of the finest restaurants in the country as well. In addition to great recipes, the author offers context and history, filling in gaps you didn’t know you had in your knowledge of how black people have formed our national cuisine.
What about dietary restrictions? There is plenty for me here as someone who can’t eat gluten. There are actually a lot of great vegetarian recipes. But this is not a book for folks with multiple dietary restrictions.
What should I cook from Jubilee? I have not had has long to cook from this book, but everything I’ve made so far has been fabulous…
- Nigerian Black Eyed Pea Fritters- These are magic! You can grind up soaked black eyed peas into a batter and when you fry them they basically make bread! It’s insane and delicious and so exciting for a gluten-free person.
- Rice and Peas with Coconut- Simple, healthful, inexpensive and satisfying.
- The cookbook club recipe testers gave thumbs up to the Pork Chops with Rich Caper-Lemon Sauce and ALL of the simple classic vegetable side preparations (there are a lot of them)
Any caveats? Not that I’ve found yet.
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
Who is this book for? The Taste of Country Cooking would be a great gift for anyone who enjoy sstorytelling, food writing, culinary history and fantasizing about lush menus for huge gatherings.
Why is this The Taste of Country Cooking special? It was written by Edna Lewis, a national treasure who is widely credited with elevating our understanding of Southern Cuisine. She paints such a clear picture of her childhood community and how they cooked and ate. Each recipe is simple but they are into around elaborate menus for seasonal community celebrations like Wheat Harvesting Midday Dinner, A Late Spring Lunch After Mushroom Picking or Morning After Hog-Butchering Breakfast.
What about dietary restrictions? Anyone who enjoys reading about food would love this book, but if you want to cook these menus it would be more satisfying to be able to eat everything.
What should I cook from The Taste of Country Cooking? We JUST read this book recently , so I have not had a chance to dive deeply into it yet…
- Skillet scallions- Just as simple as it sounds but you will want to make them all the time.
- Green tomato preserves- Lewis writes, “Their taste against a hot biscuit is very much like that of mild honey”. It’s true!
- Plum tart- One of the cookbook club members made this one and it looked amazing.
Any caveats? The menus in this book really made me miss cooking for my community. I’m not sure I can bear to look at it more until we can all eat together again.