I’m convinced that if you don’t like cookbooks, you probably haven’t read one in a while. Maybe you don’t cook much. Or you just think cookbook writing is as dry as a stale Saltine. After all, if you wanted a recipe, you could always just Google it.
I couldn’t agree less.
Reading this year’s crop of cookbooks reminded me of their value in the cultural maelstrom that is the internet. By proximity, they offer an opportunity to discover dishes many of us never thought to look for, from budae jjigae (“army stew”) to Catalan custard. But a well-written recipe also reveals something deeper about the person who wrote it: where they’re from, what they cherish. Sometimes that’s tradition; other times, health. Whatever it is, there’s often a strong sense of pride veiled in the glossy pages of a modern cookbook. And that counts for something.
Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner
For years, Poole’s Downtown Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, has occupied critics’ “best of” lists. Best in the South. Best in America. The chef responsible: Ashley Christensen, who won a James Beard Award back in 2014 for recipes that elevate homey old-school favorites, such as Macaroni au Gratin (a.k.a. macaroni and cheese) and Fried Chicken with Hot Honey.
Lucky Peach Presents Power Vegetables! Turbocharged Recipes for Vegetables with Guts
This collection of inventive, umami-rich recipes — provided by the likes of Ivan Orkan and David Chang — prove that vegetables aren’t just delicious, but also opportunities for experimentation and discovery. Buffalo Cucumbers, anyone?
Clean Soups: Simple, Nourishing Recipes for Health and Vitality
Winter may be the season to satiate our bodies with heavy foods and heavy drinks, but you can still balance the calories — and your guilt — with wholesome soups from wellness author Rebecca Katz, including a vitamin-rich green soup that’s delicious, too.
Appetites: A Cookbook
Like his show, Bourdain’s first cookbook in over a decades marries a lowbrow sensibility (Bodega Sandwich, The Grill Bitch’s Bar Nuts) with well-traveled culinary chops (Portuguese Squid and Octopus Soup). It also has one of the best covers of the year, illustrated by the one and only Ralph Steadman.
Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day
Okay, so breakfast isn’t really the most important meal of the day. But it still holds a special place in the hearts of all Southerners, including James Beard Award winner John Currence, whose treatise on breakfast can, at times, verge on the excessive and extreme (Homemade Pop-Tarts, Sausage Cinnamon Rolls) — in the best way.
Food52 A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead
Perhaps no website has done more to assist and elevate the home cook than Food52, which gathers wholesome, practically-minded recipes for the weeknight. Food52 A New Way to Dinner carries that concept to print, helping readers tackle dinner with a collection of base recipes made on the weekend, that can later be used to whip up something quick, healthy and delicious for the whole family.
Classic German Baking
Germany may be the land of sausage and beer, but it’s also home to one of the world’s best baking traditions, which includes all shapes and sizes of Kuchen, Brötchen and strudels. This book has them all.
China: The Cookbook
Dinner at the Long Table
Andrew Tarlow isn’t a name everyone has heard. But the Brooklyn chef-turned-restaurateur’s growing portfolio of eateries — Diner, Marlow & Sons, Marlow & Daughters, Reynard in the Wythe Hotel — have independently made names for themselves with diverse menus that celebrate community and seasonality. Read for recipes on large-format meals with a global perspective, including ragu, paella and cassoulet.
Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes
To say that Southern food is having a moment is to ignore the local diversity of the region. Victuals explores the oft-overlooked culture and cuisine of Appalachia. Each chapter devotes itself to the specific histories or conventions of the mountainous South, with thoughtful recipes — Buttermilk Cornbread, Skillet Fried Chicken — that read like personal essays tucked in between.