My wife and I have an ongoing battle. I see almost every new cookbook that comes out, and they make me drool and inspire me to cook more frequently and cook better food. I bring them home. They sit on the shelves. The shelves sag. We run out of room. I let a few go, then bring more home. So this Christmas, I was resolved to bring home only one cookbook, and I knew it would be Phaidon’s Mexico—the combination of prettiness, breadth, and “do-ability” are just irresistible. Then I wrote this darn column, and now I need to purge again.
Don’t forget: the books mentioned below are available at 20 percent off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.
Let’s start with what I think is my favorite: Mexico: the Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte (Phaidon, $49.95). As I said, it’s comprehensive: 600 recipes from every region of Mexico in 700 pages. And it’s beautiful, from the papel picado cover to the lush full-page photos. And its biggest selling point, for me, is that any modest home chef can nail almost any recipe here. Recipes are well organized and clearly written (in both ounces and grams). Singling out just one recipe to make your mouth water is folly. Suffice it to say that they’re all in here, from street food and snacks through dessert and drinks. This is a really lovely marriage of form and content and well worth the money.
I had planned on skipping Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House, $45). I read her memoir and enjoyed it, but I didn’t need a recipe for Butter and Sugar Sandwiches, did I? Then I started looking through the appetizers and sent out invites for a dinner party so I could show off. I love that there’s a chapter for “lunch dessert” and another one for “dinner dessert.” They’re different, right? And all my favorite cocktails were in the back, but none that I don’t like. And the book is dripping personality, like she’s a pal in the kitchen with you. Recipes range from super-easy and light (½ ripe avocado with olive oil and Meyer lemon juice) to those that require a little more time or precision (like the Muffuletta Salad or Alda’s Zucchini Tian). So don’t dismiss this one. It’s delectable.
On the local front, there are lots of fresh releases, all with their own strengths (Slanted Door, Flour + Water: Pasta, Brown Sugar Kitchen). But the one that stands out for both its depth of technique and crazily high “yum” factor is Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns (Chronicle, $40). They take salads seriously, for example, like the tomato and pickled green bean salad with whipped feta or the cauliflower salad with yogurt and chickpeas. And there’s not a lot of Scandinavian food around here, but many of these recipes come with such an accent, like the beef tartare toast with bottarga. And the whole first half of the book focuses on techniques to best stock your larder, from alliums to drying fruits, from making kefir to sprouting various foods. Overall, it’s a lush, dense book that will further educate anyone looking to take their cooking to the next level.
On the vegetarian front, don’t miss Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed, $35). This is the follow-up to his wildly successful and well-used-at-my-house Plenty. It contains more than 150 vibrant, bold recipes with, of course, gorgeous photos and clear instruction. The twist to this book is that you may have to go a little farther afield for certain ingredients. It also delves a bit further into technique than the last book, from roasting lemons to braising lettuce and other unexpected moves. But at the very least, these are 150-plus dishes you want to eat now.
Staying on the veggie front, check out The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page (Little, Brown $40). This, too, is a sequel of sorts to The Flavor Bible and one of my favorite reference books, What to Drink with What You Eat. It’s an encyclopedic reference guide on pairing flavors, herbs, plant ingredients, spices, etc. From açai to zucchini blossoms, it’s all in here, with a flavor profile, its peak season, its nutritional value, and what it pairs well with. It is NOT a recipe book, but it’s inspiring and could lead you to rely less on recipes and more on intuition and experience. It also contains an interesting time line of vegetarianism, strategies for maximizing flavor, and a few photos. It’s a lovely gift for any vegetarian food lover or developing home cook.
And I can’t ignore the cocktail front in this town, right? The most serious and technical book we’ve ever seen is Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence (Norton, $35). The knowledge comes from Booker & Dax, New York City’s high-tech bar, and the book is chock-full of it, plus 450 color photos and 120 recipes. From getting clear ice cubes at home to nitro-muddling fresh basil to prevent browning, this is serious business. Liquid nitrogen, a centrifuge, refractometers—if you have access to any of these, please buy this book and fix me a drink. For anyone less serious, this is fascinating science reading (like Harold McGee’s classic On Food and Cooking). And there are a few recipes any beginner can make at home. For all but the pros, this is an “aspirational” book for sure. For the pros, there is nothing else like it out there right now.
I’m skipping so many worthy titles, but I hope this gives you a taste of the gems that await you in the current world of food books. We have thousands more in the store; drop by if we can help you. And may your holiday season be peaceful and delicious.
Don’t forget: Green Apple has recently opened a second location in the Inner Sunset (on 9th Avenue at Lincoln): Green Apple Books on the Park. We’ve shacked up with Le Video; they’ve moved upstairs and preserved their collection of 100,000 movies. We remodeled the ground floor to offer 25,000 new and used books in all subject areas (including cookbooks, of course!). The kids section is especially vibrant, and the space was designed for events, so expect literary hootenannies on a regular basis.