Because I’ve been cooking all my life and it comes easily to me, I can generally take a look at a recipe and anticipate with some degree of accuracy, how it will turn out. But that’s not the same as actually cooking a dish from a cookbook. On this list I am covering only the cookbooks that got a “trial run.” For each of these cookbooks I cooked at least one recipe, sticking as close to the recipe as I could. I’m hoping my results along with my comments will help you to decide which of these books are for you.
So far I’ve just made one recipe from Dinner Changing the Game by Melissa Clark and I really liked it. It was the Tofu Spaetzle with Gruyere Gratin. It’s more of a main dish than a side since the spaetzle is actually shredded extra firm tofu, baked with gruyere and caramelized onions and topped with bread crumbs. My problem with the book is that in addition to really inspiring creative recipes like Fusili and Roasted Cauliflower with Capers, Kimchi Pork Chops with Kale and Blood Orange Chicken with Scotch Whiskey and Olives, there are other recipes that frankly seem like filler. There’s nothing wrong with recipes for Black Bean and Roasted Poblano Pepper Quesadillas, Smoky Fish and Potato Chowder or Mexican Tortilla Soup but none of them are anything new. They are the kind of dishes I can certainly make without a recipe. I love how many recipes use ingredients like tofu and farro, and the idea of “changing up” dinner from meat and 2 sides into something more free form.
Yemek is written by three women who I believe are German, but live in Turkey. They share the recipes for things you will commonly find in Istanbul. I was extremely excited to make cezerye, a candy that is similar to Turkish delight or “aplets and cotlets” if you ar familar with those. They are made from carrots and sugar and studded with nuts then rolled in coconut. The recipe was easy to follow and the results pleasing. The book is “kebab free” but features the kind of things you typically find in Istanbul including breads, salads, sweets, vegetable dishes, stews and dumplings. The book has a lovely design and features little insets with Istanbul locals and informative pages on ingredients and small gifts to buy for foodies. It’s a great introduction to Turkish cuisine and if you’ve been to Istanbul you’ll rejoice in having a source for things like manti dumplings, pide flatbread and gozleme spinach and feta stuffed bread and mercimek koftesi lemony lentil dumplings.
Instanbul & Beyond is a landmark book but almost the opposite of Yemek. Despite Istanbul being in the title, it features in large part the things you don’t find in Istanbul. There are all kinds of unusual dishes and interesting techniques to learn. I made the meatballs with spice butter and will be making them again! The book also offers information about ingredients and often very detailed head notes with each recipe.You’ll find many recipes from regions like the Black Sea and the Hatay Province. There are lots of vegetarian recipe, seafood recipes as well as recipes with lamb I plan to try. See my interview with author Robyn Eckhardt.
Burma Superstar the restaurant has an almost cult following and now so does the cookbook. If you love Burmese food you need this book! Many of the recipes require ingredients that will take a little sleuthing to find, but not all of them. I made the Egg and Okra Curry. It’s filled with onions and garlic and mild spices and very comforting. The recipes are very solid and clearly written.The book includes reicpes for curries, vegetables, stir fries, noodles, soups, salads, drinks, snacks, rice and snacks.
The Farm Cooking School is a book from two food magazine veterans and it offers a compelling combination of the basics like how to bone a chicken, how to make puff pastry and croissant dough, and veal stock but then surprising recipes like an Elvis Pavlova, Roasted Whole Carrot Tart Tatin and the recipe I made, the roasted Delicata and Celery Salad. I’d say this is a particularly good book for “advanced beginners” in other words, people who already know how to cook, but want to take their skills to the next level.
Autentico is written by Rolando Beremendi who is an importer of fine Italian food. His enthusiasm for quality ingredients makes him the perfect author of a book that is the very definition of “ingredient driven.” I made his recipe for Farro Soup which consists of just farro, water, olive oil, Italian fish sauce and oregano. The book is filled with Italian soul food, simple recipes but the essence of why we love the cuisine. It’s always about using the best ingredients even if it’s just simple day old bread. As an Italian food fanatic, I basically want to make everything in this book! The recipes are from different regions but most have very short ingredient lists and easy techniques, nothing fussy. Now that Winter is here I plan to make the Sausages with Lentils and Tuscan Kale, Fennel Braised in Chianti, Sweet and Sour Onions and Risotto with Radicchio.
The memoir with recipes category seems to be holding steady, and books like Unforgettable show why the category is so popular. This book spans a lifetime so there are recipes from many countries and using different techniques. You will absolutely find things in the book that you have not seen before. I made the Egg and Mint Salad repeatedly! If you’re already a fan of Paula Wolfert or never heard of her, I feel certain you will find this book as endearing as it is unforgettable. Most of the dishes are French, Mediterranean or Moroccan. If you’ve been intimidated by Wolfert’s recipes in the past, this book is particularly good as there are plenty of very, very easy unfussy recipes and basic techniques that can be used again and again such as her oven steamed salmon, decontructed hummus and the book also has many classics in one place, from hand-rolling couscous to making preserved lemons.
I became a fan of chef Jeremey Fox when I dined at the groundbreadking Ubuntu in Napa. Since then he has moved on to Los Angles but is still known for his incredible approaches to vegetables. On Vegetables is a book to inspire you! His recipes are incredibly original such as Parnsip Cream, Meringue and Citrus or Rhubarb, Ricotta and Radish Toast. His flavor combinations like goat cheese and horseradish are fresh and exciting. I made the Miso Bagna Cauda. It’s delicious but I felt the recipe needed a little tweaking to get the consistency right. His vegetable based bacon, stocks, powders, crumbles and “soils” are all wonderful building blocks for imaginative new dishes.
Disclaimer: I received all but one of these books as a review copy. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.