Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst has compiled a list of her favorite cookbooks of 2017, and joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young and Lisa Mullins with dishes from her top three picks.
What, after all these years of cooking and collecting cookbooks, am I looking for in a book?
I am constantly seeking to learn about different cultures, cuisines and new ingredients that will elevate my everyday cooking. I want to be inspired. There are many days, even for a food-obsessed cook like me, when I desperately need inspiration.
And, on top of a great collection of recipes, I seek good food writing — a well-written cookbook is as important to me as the recipes.
Here are my top three choices, along with a longer list of some favorites from this year.
Kathy’s Favorite Cookbooks Of 2017
“Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey,” by Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman
“Before I began traveling in Turkey nearly two decades ago, I assumed its food was largely confined to kebabs, the small plates called meze, chopped salads and baklava — the items on most Turkish restaurant menus in America,” writes Robyn Eckhardt in her stunning new book, published by Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
When Eckhardt and her incredibly talented photographer and husband David Hagerman set out to learn more about Turkish food over five years of travel, they discovered a wealth of unknown dishes and traditions. This spectacular book chronicles their journey and discoveries. The chapter titles alone clue you in on what a unique book this is: “Olives, Pomegranates & Chiles,” “Urfa Peppers & Silk Road Spices” and “Workers’ Canteens, Street Fare & a Multiethnic Past.”
I can’t wait to try the red lentil soup with chile and mint, the green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, the chickpea stew with lamb and tomatoes, fragrant orange cookies and the purple basil cooler.
I got adventurous and baked the savory coiled fennel and nigella buns called kulce, and found the recipe, while complex, so well written I breezed right through it. This yeasty dough, infused with sesame seeds, nigella seeds and fennel seeds, is so deliciously savory and appealing it will be showing up on my table regularly in 2018.
“Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life,” by Emily Kaiser Thelin, Andrea Nguyen, Eric Wolfinger and Toni Tajima
After an initial run funded by a Kickstarter campaign, this book was published in October by Grand Central Life & Style.
“Good food is memory,” writes Paula Wolfert, a remarkable cookbook author and food historian of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. But, as Emily Thelin writes in this unusual, thoroughly unique biography and cookbook chronicling Wolfert’s life, travels and career:
“She was known for her keen memory: At the peak of her career, she could re-create whole recipes from two scribbled lines. She could take one bite of a flatbread in Tunisia and compare the leavening to the equivalents in Egypt, Turkey, Israel, or Algeria…But now, at age 72, she struggled to remember the basics of any of them … In 2013 she received a diagnosis of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s.”
Wolfert’s “illness” inspired Thelin, a friend and former editor of Wolfert’s, to write this beautiful culinary biography.
Filled with stories, interviews and recipes, this is a gorgeous tribute to Wolfert, her food, philosophy and strength. The photography — a combination of pictures of Wolfert throughout her life and career, as well as stunning food photos — creates a book any food lover will want to add to their collection.
The book follows Wolfert’s life, from Flatbush, Brooklyn, to life as a “beatnik,” to her escape to Tangiers and her travels throughout the world. The writing is smooth, inviting and sharp. The recipes, culled from Wolfert’s career, equally so.
Don’t miss the potato gratin dauphinois, the pan-seared pork chops with cornichon butter, a great recipe for making couscous by hand and all the Middle Eastern dips like hummus, Turkish yogurt sauce and muhammara. The shrimp with garlic and pimenton is so good you’ll wonder how five ingredients can possibly add up to that much flavor.
There are even sections called “Paula’s Tips for Dementia Worriers and Warriors” and “Seven Keys to Retrieving Food Memory.” This book, like Wolfert and her life’s work, is one of a kind. The title really says it all.
“Dinner: Changing the Game,” by Melissa Clark and Eric Wolfinger
I am always looking to discover new food writers who have strong voices and present a world of new flavors, so trust me when I say that I tried hard to ignore this book. After all, Clark is a staff writer for The New York Times and I can read her recipes weekly.
So why would I need this collection? Because it’s an ode to making dinner accessible yet exciting night after night.
I found myself wanting to cook so many of the recipes in this thick book. Harissa chicken with leeks, potatoes and yogurt is a brilliant dish. It happens all in one pan, taking America’s favorite dinner and mixing it with new flavors like harissa, cumin and fresh herbs like cilantro, mint and dill.
Blood orange chicken with Scotch whiskey and olives looks equally good. Egg crostini with radish and anchovy, simple and fresh, is thoroughly appealing. And then there’s the spicy pork noodles with ginger and baby bok choy, shrimp pad thai with sugar snap peas and basil, black bean skillet dinner with quick pickled red onion and butternut squash polenta with ricotta and fried sage. The range of flavors is vast.
There is also a large chapter devoted to vegetarian dishes. The roasted winter vegetables with herbed buttermilk dressing gave me a whole new twist on roasting vegetables for this cold season.
“America The Great Cookbook,” edited by Joe Yonan
This is part coffee-table book — the photography is simply stunning — and part profiles of American cooks and chefs, along with a great assortment of recipes. Part of the book’s proceeds go to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry.
Yours truly was honored to be featured in this book, with a recipe for fish chowder that will warm your soul this winter.
“American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea,” by Barton Seaver
When it comes to knowing (virtually) everything there is to know about what goes on in American waters, Barton Seaver is your man.
This authoritative and nearly encyclopedic book combines gorgeous graphics with clear writing and essays on the state of our waters and seafood — including history, environmental issues, technology (finally, aquaculture explained), diet and health. You’ll learn about varieties of American seafood you thought you knew, and others you’ve never heard of.
The book includes a terrific collection of recipes. Keep it in mind for the seafood lover in your life.
“Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes,” by Alison Roman
A highly appealing collection of recipes that will get dinner on the table quickly.
“I promise that I will never ask you to remake something in two skillets if it can be done in one. I will never ask you to buy an ingredient you’ve never heard,” writes Roman, explaining the philosophy behind much of this book.
I can’t wait to make the baked eggs with crushed chickpeas, chorizo and bread crumbs, the crispy-skinned salmon with spicy radishes and green romesco and the salted butter and chocolate chunk shortbread.
“Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved,” by Julia Turshen
Activism and food merge in this delightful little book, with proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s all about building community and fighting for what you believe in.
Recipes are divided up into chapters like “Easy Meals for folks who are too busy resisting to cook,” and “Feeding the Masses: food for a crowd.” Recipes range from spicy tandoori cauliflower with minted yogurt to easy posole to chocolate espresso pie bars.
“Meehan’s Bartender Manual,” by Jim Meehan
This is the book you need for your favorite would-be bartender.
It covers everything from the perfect equipment and garnishes to cocktail history and recipes for old favorites, like Negroni, margaritas, Pimm’s Cup and Old-Fashioned cocktail, to new concoctions like Blood and Sand, which combines Scotch, orange juice, vermouth and cherry herring. ‘Tis the season.
“My Rice Bowl: Korean Cooking Outside the Lines,” by Rachel Yang and Jess Thomson
This is a collection of innovative recipes with Korean flavors. The food in this book is not straight-up traditional but, like Yang — a Seattle restaurateur — unique and memorable.
She puts it best in the introduction:
“This is the authentic food of a Korean immigrant who tried everything she could to become an American but only became one when she realized that her culture — among many — is what makes America so delicious today.”
In some ways, the recipes for sauces and pickles are the best because if you try them, they will change your cooking forever. For instance, the sweet and spicy all-purpose sauce combines Korean chili paste, mirin, sake, soy, ginger and garlic. It’s an utterly simple but powerfully flavored sauce that will make almost anything you cook taste better.
The well-written description for making dumplings may just make you get over your fear of making these classics at home. Other chapters include noodle dishes, pancakes, barbecue, rice and grains and hot pots. The miso-cumin grilled eggplant will have you swooning.
“Night + Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends,” by Kris Yenbamroong and Garrett Snyder
If you think Thai food is simply for takeout, think again.
“Night + Market” presents tempting, gorgeous Thai food — some of which you can put together in a lot less time than you might think. Night + Market is an uber-hip, uber-noisy, uber-popular Los Angeles restaurant, which I visited on my coast-to-coast road trip earlier this year. The food is spicy and full of big, loud, bold flavors. This book provides a good introduction to the basic ingredients you’ll need to make Thai cuisine.
The chicken larb — one of the most popular items on Night + Market’s menu –combines ground chicken, fish sauce, sugar, chile power, shallots, mint and lime. It’s so good you’ll want it again and again.
“Peppers of the Americas: The Remarkable Capsicums That Forever Changed Flavor,” by Maricel E. Presilla
For the chile lover, the pepper obsessive and the cook who wants to learn everything there is to know about a single subject, this is the book.
It features gorgeous photography of nearly 200 pepper varieties — from poblano and cayenne to jalapeño and habanero — along with history, recipes and tips. This book is a beautifully put together love letter to peppers.
For lovers of pho, the hearty and delicious Vietnamese noodle soup, this is a wonderfully approachable guide to making your own at home.
“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking,” by Samin Nosrat and Wendy MacNaughton
A truly original book — with fun illustrations instead of fancy food porn — divided up into the four elements of good cooking: salt, fat, acid and heat.
“Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious,” writes Nosrat. ” … There are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavor; fat, which amplifies flavor and makes appealing textures possible; acid, which brightens and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.”
There are illustrated charts, like how to dice an onion, and text explaining the basics in clearly written language, with a collection of great recipes like shaved carrot salad with ginger and lime, basic salsa verde and pasta alle vongole (spaghetti with clam sauce, or “A Lesson in Layering Acids.”)
This is one of the most original cookbooks to come along in a while, and a great choice for beginners or any cook who wants to delve a bit deeper into the “whys” behind cooking.
“Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites,” by Deb Perelman
Smitten Kitchen is a hugely popular blog, and Deb Perelman has produced another volume of the type of food her readers love: comfort food, or elevated home cooking.
It features over 100 recipes, like sticky toffee waffles, artichoke and parmesan galette, caramelized cabbage risotto and pretzel linzers with salted caramel — very few of which could be described as healthy, but still qualify as irresistible.
The gorgeous photography makes me want to cook so much of this food.