It used to be that if you picked up a cookbook, you wanted to cook something. If that’s still true, it’s only true sometimes; other times you’re probably in it for the idea. From a humble place of expository instruction, modern cookbook writing has made a narrative leap into the realm of creative nonfiction. Winding introductions coupled with lush photography and impressive PR campaigns suggest that readers aren’t just hungry for dinner but stories, too: stories of a chef, a restaurant, a region of the world, and even a time in history. These are the cookbooks from 2015 that told them best.
Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
From Lucky Peach, the food and culture journal of Peter Meehan and Momofuku chef David Chang, a collection of whimsical Asian-inspired recipes that could make the specials list at one of Chang’s celebrated restaurants: “Rotisserie Chicken Ramen,” “Fried Rice, Two Ways,” “Spicy Mushroom Ragu.”
GP Recommends: “Pesto Ramen” (Page 130).
Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking
Home cooking teacher Naoko Takei Moore teams up with Kyle Connaughton, the former head chef of three-star Michelin restaurant The Fat Duck, for Donabe, a lesson in the communal, traditional Japanese cuisine cooked in clay pots. Beautifully shot, the book offers an introduction the necessary tools and ingredients for donabe preparations, along with a range of different recipes, from the elementary level (“Salmon Chowder”) to the more nuanced (“Miso Keema Curry”).
GP Recommends: “Chicken Hot Pot” (Page 68).
Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel
Acclaimed writer Heidi Swanson brings the aesthetic qualities of her photography and food blog, 101 Cookbooks, to her newest print release. Near & Far is bountiful with insights and recipes from her travels to the gastronomic capitals of the world — Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, India — as well as Swanson’s home in San Francisco. Per usual from Swanson, careful and understated photography abounds.
GP Recommends: “Red Lentil Hummus” (Page 24).
Milk Bar Life: Recipes & Stories
Christian Tosi of Milk Bar, the dessert chain of Momofuku, has made a name for herself as the queen of unorthodox, wildly delicious treats such as corn cookies and pretzel shakes. For her second cookbook, she strays from her beat to bring readers simple recipes for dishes she often makes off the clock — “Choose Your Own Adventure Chorizo Burgers,” “Kimchi Quesadillas” — but she adds in a handful of cookies, too.
GP Recommends: “Grilled Cheese à la Pauly Carmichael” (Page 101).
A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden
Following the success of 2012’s A Girl and Her Pig, acclaimed chef April Bloomfield of NYC restaurants The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and John Dory looks to her garden and local farmers markets for inspiration in her latest cookbook, the vegetal-heavy A Girl and Her Greens. It’s an all-season companion that proves vegetables, like meat, can anchor dishes when cooked with a bit of care.
GP Recommends: “Kale Polenta” (Page 142).
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V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks
Like A Girl and Her Greens, Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony’s V Is for Vegetables proves that plant-based cooking, when done right, can elate even the pickiest eaters. Anthony uses vegetables as starting points and provides a slew of different preparation methods for each. For example, options for artichokes include “Whole Stuffed Baked Artichokes,” “Artichoke Hearts with Crab & Tomato Sauce,” or “Braised Baby Artichokes with Oyster Mushrooms.”
GP Recommends: “Stuffed Peppers with Chorizo & Wild Rice” (Page 239).
The Nomad Cookbook
The Nomad Cookbook from chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara of the Nomad Restaurant in NYC, who both run the three-star Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison Park, is a mammoth collection of food and cocktail recipes coupled with a revealing introduction from Guidara about the culinary mission at the Nomad: to reinvent the grand hotel as a place of gastronomic importance. What follows are hyper-refined instructions (with measurements in the metric system) for making challenging dishes; nonetheless, the pictures will make readers hungry, and probably inspire some to get into the kitchen to cook something, anything. Or at least make a reservation.
GP Recommends: “Biscotti” (Page 281).
Big Gay Ice Cream: Saucy Stories & Frozen Treats
In 2009, Bryan Petroff and Douglass Quint started Big Gay Ice Cream, an NYC ice cream truck-turned-storefront turned de-facto institution with lines around the block and strange toppings like olive oil and sea salt, cardamom and cayenne, or wasabi pea dust. For their wildly inventive cookbook, they cover the gamut of desserts — ice cream, floats, shakes, sorbets, etc. — with a clever little introduction by “Monsignor Anthony Bourdain,” whom you might know from No Reservations and Parts Unknown.
GP Recommends: “Date Shake” (Page 112).
CCCP COOK BOOK: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine
CCCP COOK BOOK would more accurately be described as a creative history book, featuring 60 recipes from the Soviet Union during an era of scarcity. Portrayed by images sourced from actual cookbooks from Soviet Russia, recipes include everything from basic staples (“Fried Eggs with Jam”) to banquet feasts fit for communist leaders (“Suckling Pig with Buckwheat”), and, of course, “Beef Stroganoff.”
GP Recommends: “Shi [Cabbage Soup with Brisket]” (Page 56).
The Nordic Cookbook
Chef Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken Magasinet, one of the world’s most fascinating restaurants, has risen in culinary ranks thanks to his hyper-seasonal menus of Swedish ingredients. Here, he widens his scope to examine Nordic culture as a whole. The result is an incredibly well-researched book filled with Nilsson’s own photography “about documenting and telling you how it really is,” he writes. 768 pages chart nearly as many recipes from Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
GP Recommends: “Tore Wretman’s Meatballs” (Page 374).
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Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán
Eric Werner and Mya Henry left NYC to start a new life in rural Tulum, Mexico, where they opened Hartwood, a restaurant with a refined take on local Mexican ingredients. Its menu is filled with dishes like “Jicama Salad with Mint Crema,” “Red Snapper with Chayote and Avocado-Leaf Dust,” and “Agave Pork Belly with Grilled Piña.” “Hartwood is the place I dream about,” writes culinary legend René Redzepi in this book’s introduction. We’re dreaming, too.
GP Recommends: “Fish Head Soup” (Page 179).
The Chili Cookbook
James Beard-winning cookbook author Robb Walsh looks back at the long, convoluted history of chili to bring readers a multitude of recipes on this most American of American staples, ranging from Texas-style “Chili con Carne” to the recipe that cooked by President Obama when he was still in college.
GP Recommends: “El Real’s Chili Con Carne” (Page 87).
Toast: The Cookbook
Toast might often be an afterthought to rushed breakfasts, but prolific author Raquel Pelzel aims to change that with 50 tartine recipes to elevate your game. Think “Dutch Apple Pie Toast,” “Lemongrass Kiwi Toast with Honey Cream,” or good old-fashioned “Cinnamon Toast” — the possibilities go on.
GP Recommends: “Thanksgiving Toast” (Page 27).
The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual
The recipes in The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, from NYC’s The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, attempt to rescue the near-forgotten cocktails of a bygone era, mostly from the turn of the 20th century. Favorites include “Absinthe, Swiss Style” and “Champagne à la Fouquet.”
GP Recommends: “Glee Club” (Page 236).
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook
Does authenticity matter? Not really, argues Anthony Bourdain in one of two forewords to The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook. (The other is written by David Chang.) From its outposts in San Francisco and New York, the restaurant serves inventive and insanely popular Chinese-fusion dishes like “Kung Pao Pastrami” and “Thrice Cooked Bacon” — and all are found here.
GP Recommends: “Mapo Tofu” (Page 62).