My mind is racing, I’m social media over-excited, and my bones are aching from months of travel with my new book, and from racing up and down the stairs to stop a beeping oven— I’m in the middle of holiday baking. Still, I want to write this blog post, a first, to introduce a hyper-subjective, completely biased small group of beautiful cookbooks that I thoroughly enjoyed this year. It is tilted towards the Mediterranean because this is how I mostly cook and eat but then it also includes baking books because I’m a baker at heart. So if you are still looking for a small gift for yourself or for a cook you know, each and everyone is splendid. Enjoy, get good books, and cook. Happy Holidays!
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood When I first learned that Maureen whose blog of the same name I’ve adored for years was working on a cookbook, I knew it would be stellar. Because Maureen —with whom I share an agent (bias!)—is not only a wonderful cook with Lebanese roots but she also understands contemporary tastes and trends, and her recipes reflect that. Plus, she is the nicest person if I may say so (bias!). On my list are super-simple Warm Dates with Almonds and Lime Zest, Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems, Pan-Seared Snapper with Tahini Sauce and Toasted Pine Nuts, and next Easter I plan to make her Roasted Leg of Lamb with Black Cherry-Pomegranate Salsa. Oh my! But for now, I would be happy just with some Rose Water Meringues or a piece of her Salted Pistachio Bark with Dried Apricots.
Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins Despite its popularity and its many health benefits, good olive oil is still not well understood in this country. If you want to learn more about this “original super-food,” its history and cultivation, Nancy’s experience will be eye-opening. Interwoven with stories from her own farm in Tuscany, she explains the differences among the countless oils that reach store shelves. Plus, Nancy’s book is packed with an array of the region’s mouthwatering yet humble recipes, and I want to go straight into my kitchen to make: Braised Wild Mushrooms, Chickpeas and Greens, Shrimp Fritters, and Halibut with Saffron-Almond Sauce. Oh, and the baker in me wants to make her simple Yogurt and Olive Oil Cake, and Slow-rise Olive Oil Bread with Black Olives, using whole wheat flour. I still dream about an olive oil ice cream I once had—now I can make Nancy’s Olive Oil Gelato with Vanilla, and so can you. Go ahead.
Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts by Aglaia Kremezi Aglaia is one of my home country’s leading authorities on Greek food and author of many cookbooks, including the award-winning The Foods of Greece. I have long been a huge fan, and count her Mediterranean Hot and Spicy among my favorites. Her new book takes you all around the Mediterranean, showcasing her deep knowledge of the region’s ingredients, history, and culture. Aglaia’s recipes are lush yet accessible, even if many steps are involved. Beautifully photographed by Penny de Los Santos, this tome should be in your library. To start, I want to make her Caper, Scallion, and Parsley Spread, her Lentil Soup with Home-Pickled Cabbage, and the Quince Stuffed with Farro, Nuts, and Currants. Not to forget Flourless Almond Cookies, a childhood favorite, and Rosemary-Scented Cornmeal Biscotti. Agalia also has a beautiful blog, and, if you want to learn more about the glorious simplicity of Greek cooking, visit the island of Kea where she teaches. It’s been a dream of mine for years!
Real Sweet by Shauna Severs You might know Shauna—dynamo blogger, television host, and mom of two— from her previous splendid books but this one is right up my alley. Ever wondered what to do with all these deeply aromatic less processed sugars that have become widely available. How to use muscovado, turbinado, molasses, and the like in your baking? Can they be exchanged, and how? If you want to know, let Shauna be your guide. She is an expert baker but also a wonderful writer. And her recipes are creative, inspiring, and precise. I love Shauna’s fresh voice and down-to-earth approach—that’s why I want to make every single recipe in her book, and many use whole grain flours: from Homemade Graham Crackers, Next Level Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal and Turbinado Cream Cookie Sandwiches, to Caramelized Honey and Sea Salt Gelato. Did I mention Maple Marshmallows? You want this book. You do. Order it now.
Two more wonderful books that highlight good grains, and which I endorsed:
Sourdough by Sarah Owens. Her book was just selected by the LA Times as one of the best cookbooks this year. Bravo!
Einkorn by Carla Bartolucci who has devoted her life in Italy to bringing this delicious ancient wheat back.
And, one more baking book stood for its glorious sweet creations. Plus, it is also photographed and styled by the author, a rockstar young blogger, and it is fabulous:
Hand Made Baking by Kamran Siddiqi
Last but not least, a book I would call a bit more ambitious but amazing.
Fire of Peru by Ricardo Zarate and Jenn Garbee Years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a passionate home cook from Peru. We were chatting grains and good food during a splendid dinner at José Andrés’ Jaleo restaurant in DC. And, as she described the peasant cooking and melting pot of cuisines in her country, I kept asking myself were are the cookbooks? Well, Peruvian cuisine has arrived, and this one by celebrated Los Angeles restaurant chef Ricardo Zarate and co-authored by Jen Garbee is fascinating for its explosion of flavors on the plate, and inspiring creations. It is a chef’s cookbook, meaning these are often involved recipes, and you should have a Latin market nearby, but it also has more humble creations. As a grains lover, I was intrigued by the Purple Corn Pudding with Pineapple, and the Chocolate Quinoa Pudding with Sabayon & Puffed Quinoa Ice Cream. Or you could try the Sweet-and-Sour Salmon Sashimi-Style with Orange-Miso Sauce, Incan Potato, Pork & Peanut Stew with Mint Chimichurri, or Beluga Lentils with Grilled Romaine. Want.
And, in case you are interested in Southern cuisine, I wrote about a few great books recently.