Best Cookbooks Of 2014 Offer Tastes And Tales From Around The Globe
2014 was a year for faraway cuisines to take up residence in U.S. kitchens — cookbook authors cast their nets for flavors from Paris, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; from the ancient spice routes and every point in between.
Meanwhile, the food world's leaders struck out in unconventional directions, and some of the year's most interesting books stray far from the glossy, aspirational approach we've come to expect from the big names. A food editor who claims she's "not a great cook" goes to chefs for advice, while another starts a farm. One chef raids the pantry for its most common ingredients, while another swoons for mushrooms alone. And apples, glorious in their variety, spill from between the covers of a cookbook with hardly any recipes at all.
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Best Cookbooks of 2014
World Spice At Home
by Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne
Ah, the quandary of spices! Bought on an impulse, doomed to a dark, dusty corner. It's hard to believe people once braved the seas and lost their lives in pursuit of spices when we can now buy even grains of paradise and fenugreek leaves with the tap of a fingertip or the click of a mouse. But Seattle-based World Spice Merchants offers a promise of redemption: a smart book packed with spice tales of origin and recipes good enough to throw open those musty cabinet doors every night. Here the spices are the star: cornbread brought to life with a dose of cumin, a glazed and broiled eggplant anointed with honey and ras el hanout. You can mix the two-dozen components of ras el hanout yourself, or if you can't be bothered, you can simply buy the mix from the authors online. But never again will you stand in the kitchen holding a half-used jar of dukkah, asking yourself, "What the devil do I do with this now?"
Fresh From The Farm
by Susie Middleton
Ever want to quit your job, move to the country and start a farm stand? That's what Susie Middleton, former editor of Fine Cooking magazine, did. Partly the chronicle of an eat-local startup, and partly a farm cookbook, Fresh from the Farm is liberally strewn with sunlit snapshots of chickens and garden beds in full production; the lettuce is so fresh you practically feel the cool droplets on the frilled edge of each leaf. Farm tales — an invasion of black raspberries, planting a daughter's small garden, the foibles of 500 laying hens — twine up and down margins of the pages, between recipes for luscious roasted vegetables, slow roasts and braises, savory gratins. And because Middleton is a flavor fanatic as well as a cook and farmer, her recipes are memorable even if you don't get to cook with still-warm eggs, or just-picked tomatoes blushing from the vine.
by Sabrina Ghayour
One of the current generation of uncategorizable European "food creatives," London-based Sabrina Ghayour writes, teaches and hosts supper clubs, all the while staunchly advocating for the Persian cuisine she had to teach herself despite growing up surrounded by it. Fortunately for those on the hunt for dried black limes, Persian food has been at the crest of a rising tide of Middle Eastern books these past few years. Ghayour interpets the many species of rice dishes and long-simmered stews in a way that's more approachable than what you'll find in traditional Persian cookbooks; when she ventures elsewhere in the Mediterranean (bastillas, kebabs, baklava, tabbouleh) she paves the way with smart substitutions and thoughtful headnotes. And she remains true to her palette — pomegranate, dates, barberries, saffron, pistachio, dill — even when experimenting with Western forms (as in pistachio-rose-raspberry madeleines). All in all, Persiana stands out as a quiet gem amid many more widely recognized but ultimately less useful Middle Eastern cookbooks released this year.
Mastering My Mistakes In The Kitchen
by Dana Cowin
Dana Cowin says the unthinkable right at the outset: "I am going to be honest: I am not a great cook." You may or may not take the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine at her word, but one thing's for sure: she certainly knows whom to ask for help. Ming Tsai, Daniel Boulud, April Bloomfield, Yotam Ottolenghi, David Chang, Lidia Bastianich — they're all here, smiling for the camera, sharing recipes and — best of all — offering kitchen secrets that make even the simplest recipes sing. (For example: take the beans out of the ice bath quickly so they don't get waterlogged, brine corn on the cob to keep it juicy, add a few drops of lemon juice to caramel so the sugar melts more evenly, add a piece of pork belly skin to give body to a stew.) The result: easy, gorgeous food that looks ready to serve on white linen. Too many cooks can spoil both broth and recipes, but in this case, it's clear the editor has the last word. These are recipes you can trust.
The Banh Mi Handbook
by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen
A sandwich that's practically a religion, banh mi could only have arisen in Vietnam, where French bread, mayonnaise and pâté met and mingled with Vietnamese pickles and fish sauce. So you don't think you could ever make your favorite postcolonial sandwich at home? Andrea Nguyen begs to differ. Her highly focused book has everything you need to pull off the unimaginable: the pickles, the cold cuts, the sauces, even the bread — all written in the meticulous, foolproof style that's made Nguyen one of my favorite cookbook authors. There are easy variations and alternatives and shortcuts, and a whole lot of droolworthy protein. Would it be easier to just scrape together your pennies and head to the nearest banh mi joint? Possibly. But the point is, now you don't have to. The perfect gift for your friend who has an app tracing the routes of half a dozen neighborhood food trucks on her phone.
My Paris Kitchen
by David Lebovitz
David Lebovitz trained long ago as a chef at Chez Panisse, but in his second career has evolved into one of the most prolific and reliable cookbook authors in the business. Having long since proven he can make magic out of anything sweet (his ice cream book is a bible in my household), in this book he turns to the savory side of life in Paris, where he has made his home for a decade. Here we have consistently mindful, mostly slow, deeply French recipes inspired by daily interaction with the market vendors, butchers and bakers of the city. Whether it's a regal dose of garlic in the "snail butter" for some beans (that's butter for snails, not from snails) or American-in-Paris hybrids like chicken pot parmentier or ribs glazed in caramel, Lebovitz can be counted on for layered and meticulous yet homey recipes any grand-mère would be proud to serve. And if cooking like a Parisian is too much work, you can just bring the book to your armchair and enjoy Lebovitz's charming expatriate anecdotes, which will make you wish you, too, could drop everything to live and eat in Paris.
by Becky Selengut
I think it's fair to say that most professional cooks are generalists, as comfortable breaking down a game bird as they are layering a ratatouille. Pastry chefs excepted, it's rare for them to focus on just one tiny corner of the food pyramid. But Seattle-based chef Becky Selengut has a thing for fungi, and we should all be grateful for that.
Chapter by chapter, Shroom offers up a careful selection of just 15 relatively easy-to-find varieties. The recipes are tributes to each mushroom's specific character: meaty shiitakes standing up to soy and fish sauce and glamming it up over plain rice; delicate-flavored, buttery chanterelles gently jostled among aromatics and herbs; woodsy black trumpets enhanced with smoke and wine; costly truffles married with rich meats. And because readily available dried mushrooms are in many cases even more powerful than their fresh counterparts, you can commune with your inner hobbit both in and out of season.
My Perfect Pantry
by Geoffrey Zakarian, Amy Stevenson and Margaret Zakarian
The thing about chef books is that usually chefs have a lot of things you don't — for example, squads of prep cooks, access to specialty ingredients and hours of time to do nothing but cook. New York-based restaurant and TV chef Geoffrey Zakarian has them too, but in this book he doesn't use them. Instead of reaching for the foams and emulsifiers, he raids the pantry for the stuff everybody has — canned beans, pasta, vinegar, jam. Then he turns them into food everybody wants — 45-minute dinners with fewer than a dozen ingredients. Soups, salads, chops, tarts, meatloaf, snacks: all produced apparently from thin air. If you've been accustomed to moaning "there's nothing to cook!" before reaching for the takeout menu, I'm afraid you've just lost your last excuse.
Cooking Light Global Kitchen
by David Joachim
There's a reason you'll recognize many of the international foods in this book — they're the ones that made it to this country and became national favorites: pizza, pad thai, chicken tikka masala, moussaka, bulgogi, baklava. Veteran cookbook author David Joachim has translated them all into culinary make-your-own adventures. Bright, large-as-life photographs and honest time estimates prepare you for what you can expect as you head into the interior to slake that brutal carving for feijoada or souvlaki. There's just one small problem: because they're ostensibly Cooking Light recipes, the calorie counts, and in turn, the portion sizes, can be on the austere side. And they're too good not to have seconds. If it says "Serves 4," invite just one very, very good friend to share with you.
Baking Chez Moi
by Dorie Greenspan
French home baking, despite what you might think, is easy, says baking goddess Dorie Greenspan. All you need are a few high-quality ingredients and a bit of care. ("Easy for Dorie, or easy for me?" you may ask.) Some of these recipes are variations on simple butter cakes, and some are more assembled than baked (like the mindblowing "Moka Dupont," which uses Petit Beurre cookies like Legos). And while there are, here and there, recipes for those who can't resist a fuss — a 3 1/2 page macaron recipe, for example — mostly these are painstakingly described recipes that will bring sure and swift rewards if you follow every word. Greenspan is a past master in this domain, so nearly every page promises some useful tips and shortcuts for the avid baker (a tart dough that barely has to rest at all before you blind-bake it!). And if you are simply unable to follow a recipe infallibly? Greenspan's exhaustive testing guarantees you'll at least end up with the tastiest of failures.
Apples Of Uncommon Character
by Rowan Jacobsen
With this obsessive tribute to "the fruit most likely to be taken for granted," Rowan Jacobsen has crowned himself poet laureate of the Apple Kingdom. Opening the pages of Apples of Uncommon Character is like walking into a portrait gallery flooded with russet, bronzed masterpieces bathed in golden light — forget about Magritte's Granny Smith-bedecked Son of Man! Here are the Winesap, the Pound Sweet, the Maiden's Blush and Black Twig, rendered in a vivid prose rarely seen outside of the wine list: "The deliciously strange flavor [of Tolman Sweet] has elements of Calvados, chanterelle ice cream, and a pear that fantasizes about being a pumpkin." Heady stuff!
With a mere 22 recipes (including savory temptations like apple pakora and duck/apple risotto along with the obligatory baked goods), this isn't exactly a cookbook. But for anyone who's willing to get swept up in the grand romance of food, this handsome volume will make for seductive reading.