Cookbooks as Inspiration
For a number of years now, I have become a cookbook collector of sorts. It’s a natural gift I receive from houseguests, friends, and family (a tradition I completely adore!), and it’s become an obsessive habit to find THE cookbook that defines a cuisine when I travel. As I’m embarking on writing my own cookbooks, I flip through my favorites to check out everything from fonts to page layouts to important passages and, of course, recipes. Cookbooks have long served me as inspiration, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you here.
Now, these are rather wide-ranging, but I have to say some of my most treasured cookbooks have been sent or suggested by the individuals with whom I’ve had the privilege of cooking with in other countries. They swear by these cookbooks as “the real deal” – showcasing the cuisine’s authentic traditions – so I’m starting with those.
I LOVE this book! This dives deep into West Indian food and its multitude of influences from Indian to Chinese to Latin. I definitely use it as a flavor reference, and it’s practical chapter divisions, glossary and intense indexing make it super easy to follow.
Visiting Peru earlier this year opened up a world of flavors, produce, and cuisine styles I hadn’t experienced. The country has so many different climates, and the food reflects the terroir – coastal, mountain, Amazon. This cookbook delves into a number of the dishes I loved while visiting the country – ceviche, tiradito, the rice dishes, and the famed aji de gallina to name a few.
This, to me, is the seminal text on Ethiopian food. Not only does it give in-depth, easy-to-follow instructions for how to make all of the beautiful stews, lentil dishes, and even breads of the country, it gives a clear history of the food and culture of Ethiopia. I love that the fundamental techniques (spiced butter, how to make berbere, etc) are all outlined in this book.
A great cook in Rio de Janeiro recommended this book to me. She implicitly trusts the recipes and authenticity here and, most importantly for me, the book is written in both Portuguese and English! It has a ton of Brazilian favorites – feijoada, moqueca, farofa – and is divided by region, so it requires a little flipping through and imagination…
Claudia Roden has to be one of the most impressive food writers out there – she was born in Egypt, studied in Paris, and writes from upwards of 45 years of experience. Her first Middle Eastern cookbook came out in 1968, and she is a woman after my own heart – she learned from home cooks! These aren’t glossy, just-for-looking cookbooks; they are straight utilitarian, and some have 800+ recipes!
I recently received this cookbook as a gift, and it has shot up to one of my favorites! The story behind it is amazing – Clementine (a woman!) was the first American food journalist, writing for the New York Herald Tribune from 1936 onward. She also wrote a monthly column for Gourmetmagazine, published seven books, and traveled across the U.S. (when travel was not the easiest) to research and document immigrant, regional, and farm-to-table American cooking in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Imagine! I love flipping through this book and seeing what the cuisine looked like then, how it has evolved, and finding inspiration for today.
So, the rest of these books are reasonably priced and have rather traditional procedures for the recipes – the geek in me had to give you my favorite food science-related book. This 6-volume behemoth required a team of chefs and scientists and years of research. What started out as a 150-page book on sous-vide cooking became a 2,400+ page manual detailing the science behind cooking and over 1,500 recipes. This set may seem daunting but contains invaluable information for the serious cook. An “At Home” version is on its way for this October by the way.
These are only a few of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy and glean as much inspiration from them as I do!