Identifying a central theme among this year’s cookbooks was easier than picking a ripe banana. The best and brightest recipe collections are ones that celebrate a specific way of cooking or a class of ingredients.
For us, vegetable-based cookbooks edged out the year’s meat-minded tomes; we were drawn to the ever-advancing glorification of seasonal produce. Gift givers will be glad to hear that, with a few exceptions, works of modest size and price tag are the norm. The Middle East continues to pique our interest in ethnic cuisine. Some very fine food blogs yielded fine cookbooks.
Here are our picks, listed alphabetically within categories.
CANAL HOUSE COOKS EVERY DAY • By Christopher Hershimer and Melissa Hamilton (Andrews McMeel)
The meals these business partners (and food experts) made and shared at work evolved into a thick compilation of recipes you’ll want to make - often. Rich Ragu Bolognese is an indulgent pleasure.
GRAN COCINA LATINA • By Maricel E. Presilla (W.W. Norton)
Impressive in scope and depth of research, this volume delineates Latin American cuisines with history, and by ingredients. The tradeoff of no photos vs. insightful essays and 500-plus recipes seems more than fair. Helpful “What to Drink” and serving suggestions are included.
HERBIVORACIOUS • By Michael Natkin (Harvard Common Press)
If we had to choose one book to cook from in 2012, this would be it. The vegetarian blog of the same name has produced a recipe collection that’s varied and draws on many cultures. The author’s talent for tweaking flavor combinations elevates standard dishes and condiments. His Shiitake Tacos With Asian Pear Slaw makes a fine Dinner in Minutes.
JERUSALEM: A COOKBOOK • By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press)
The Israeli city imprinted their food, the authors say, but their recipes reflect a broad range of Middle Eastern influence. The dishes are beautiful. This book’s all the motivation you need to put barberries, sumac, pomegranate molasses and fenugreek seed in your pantry. Worth a look: Shrimp and Scallops With Tomato and Feta.
MASTERING THE ART OF SOUTHERN COOKING • By Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith)
If anyone can do for Southern food what Julia Child did for French, it’s the estimable Dupree. Recipes for Southern mainstays come with a storehouse of tips: how to cook a country ham, how to kill a trout, how onions can save a marriage. We liked Fig and Pecan Tapenade With Goat Cheese, Frozen Fruit Salad and White Fruitcake.
PRESERVING • By Pat Crocker (William Morrow)
This is a big, beautiful bargain of a book that is almost a solo effort by the author - including the photography. Keep Curried Summer Stone Fruit in mind for after Memorial Day.
PURE VEGAN • By Joseph Shuldiner (Chronicle)
The food is elegant, the photos are striking and the lifestyle proselytizing is absent. Shuldiner is a graphic designer, and his book is intelligently organized with the cook in mind. Jicama Salad is simple and flavorful.
ROOTS • By Diane Morgan (Chronicle)
Root vegetables are treated with respect, and photographed to stunning effect. The author spent more than two years researching, writing and developing recipes; her work is our reward. Try her Salsify Provencal.
SLOW COOKING • By Antony Worrall Thompson (Mitchell Beazley)
A chef’s skill set is applied to the humble appliance, and that means some recipes push beyond the dump-and-wait routine. Most helpful: a chart that converts oven and stove-top cooking times. Check out Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes; Pork, Apple and Lemon Thyme Meatballs.
THE SMITTEN KITCHEN COOKBOOK • By Deb Perelman (Knopf)
Here’s another fine example of blog-to-cookbook success. It’s a fun, empowering read with recipes that beckon. Her Linguine With Cauliflower Pesto is a quick and popular meal.
BAKED ELEMENTS • By Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart Tabori & Chang)
The owners of Brooklyn’s Baked bakery disclose their 10 favorite ingredients - one is caramel - and use them in cookies, pies, puddings, cakes, even milkshakes.
BAREFOOT CONTESSA FOOLPROOF • By Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
Her recipes are reliable and uncomplicated. Don’t miss the Contessa’s Cinnamon Baked Doughnuts and Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad.
BOUCHON BAKERY • By Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan)
When a famously exacting chef turns his attention to baking, you expect precision and perfection. This book delivers. Case in point: a four-page pretzel recipe.
BREAD • By Nick Malgieri (Kyle)
The hand of a master baker offers entry points for all skill levels, plus complementary recipes. Cinnamon Knots: Yes, please.
COOKING WITH LOVE • By Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko (Free Press)
This first cookbook from “The Chew” co-host and former “Top Chef” finalist comes across as warm and genuine as Hall is in real life. “Catering Like Carla” tips are savvy.
CRAZY GOOD ITALIAN • By Mike Isabella (Da Capo)
Not all home cooks will want to wrap shrimp in lardo, but most recipes are accessible in this first cookbook from one of Washington’s favorite “Top Chef” alums. We liked his Broccolini With Roasted Red Pepper Relish and Feta, and Nutella Pudding With Hazelnut Crumble and Grappa Cream.
THE FARM • By Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
His family’s farm inspired the author, a former recipe tester for Gourmet, to create straightforward dishes like Beet and Snap Pea Salad With Ricotta.
THE FOOTHILLS CUISINE OF BLACKBERRY FARM • By Sam Beall and Marah Stets (Clarkson Potter)
Sounds rustic, but Blackberry Farm is a luxury resort in Tennessee known for farm-to-table food. Marbled Potato Salad With Arugula Pesto is a work of art.
GREAT FOOD STARTS FRESH • By Nathan Lyon (self-published)
The Arlington, Va., native who made a name for himself on Season 2 of TV’s “The Next Food Network Star” presents simple food with an emphasis on seasonal local ingredients. Basics such as Shrimp With Cheddar Grits and Chorizo fill the pages.
MAKING ARTISAN PASTA • By Aliza Green (Quarry)
By hand or by machine, follow these comprehensive steps to a universe where flour, eggs and water can yield such different results.
THE MEAT LOVER’S MEATLESS CELEBRATIONS • By Kim O’Donnel (Da Capo)
The author’s smart menu approach takes the guesswork out of creating vegetarian feasts. Kudos to her inclusion of a simple quart - not a gallon - of homemade broth.
MODERN FLAVORS OF ARABIA • By Suzanne Husseini and Petrina Tinslay (Appetite by Random House)
In a large field of new Middle Eastern cookbooks, this one stands out. Classic Arabian food gets a modern makeover.
MODERNIST CUISINE AT HOME • By Nathan Myhrvold with Maxime Bilet (The Cooking Lab)
If you can devote about two hours toward Low-Temp Oven Steak, you’ll be rewarded with better-than-sous-vide results.
THE PRESERVATION KITCHEN • By Paul Virant with Kate Leahy (Ten Speed Press)
There’s a certain level of sophistication here, with tempting ingredient combinations such as Peach Saffron Jam.
A RETURN TO SUNDAY DINNER (REVISED AND UPDATED) • By Russell Cronkhite (Thomas Nelson)
These days, it takes a Saturday head start to bring the book title’s tradition back to the Sunday table. That type of advance planning and prep is featured here.
SIMPLY SENSATIONAL COOKIES • By Nancy Baggett (Wiley)
Natural’s the key mode in the author’s third cookie-centric compilation, drawing on colors and flavors of herbs, teas, citrus and edible flowers.
SINFULLY EASY DELICIOUS DESSERTS • By Alice Medrich (Artisan)
At this point, when we see that big block type and the author’s name on the cover, we expect good things. Her Crunchy Almond Butter Meringue With Berries and Cream is a keeper.
SWEET CELEBRATIONS • By Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne (HarperOne)
Georgetown Cupcake’s founding sisters are back with recipes for macaroons, tea sandwiches and phyllo pastries.
VEGETARIAN • By Alice Hart (Lyons Press)
With universally appealing dishes, the author has aimed her book at anyone who’s thinking about eating less meat. Summer Vegetable Carpaccio With Horseradish Dressing is good; Warm Salad of Slow-Roasted Tomatoes With Almonds is even better.
VIETNAMESE HOME COOKING • By Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press)
The owner of the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco shares his native country’s fundamental flavors and basic techniques. Try Charles Phan’s Beef Jerky.