Sarah and I thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite cookbooks at holiday time, for gift-giving, or as a cooking gift to yourself. Some are new, but most are older and tried and true, meaning we’d rather not live without them. If you are a millennial, don’t overlook the old cookbooks. New cookbooks are always becoming available, but they aren’t always as well-written or as well-tested as some of the old ones. Just sayin. And don’t get me started on the inaccuracy of recipes pulled from the internet (not all are created equal!).
While there is hardly an ethnic cuisine we don’t like, we have our favorites. Italian, Indian, Mexican are up near the top, so they are represented here. So many more we could list! Perhaps you’ll tell us in the comments what are your favorites…
Favorite cookbooks, for good cooking in 2021 (drum roll)...
Lidia’s Family Table by Lidia Mattichio Bastianich, 2004
Lidia’s books are also classic. This one has photos, too.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, updated in 2012
Marcella’s cookbooks have taught me to cook really good Italian food: the classic sauces, fresh pasta, the perfect vegetables and carefully prepared meats. Read, and you will hear the flavor of her voice.
Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner, by Lisa Caponigri, 2012
We chose this one because each section has a complete Italian Sunday dinner menu! What fun. The recipes are fairly simple, too. Colorful photos will inspire.
The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters, 2007
Even though there's no pictures in this cookbook, it is such a solid and reliable source for recipes - you can trust every one. Her pesto, ravioli, pasta & bolognese are classic go-to's that you'll find yourself going back to time and time again.
Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions, by Domenica Marchetti, 2016
I’ve taken a couple of zoom cooking classes with Domenica this fall and they were wonderful. There is a rich tradition of Italian jams, liqueurs, pickles, and cured meats, many of which are covered in this delightful book. I have some limoncello curing in my pantry while we speak.
Cocina de la Familia: More than 200 Authentic Recipes from Mexican-American Home Kitchens, by Marilyn Tausend, 1997
A very creative, usable Mexican cookbook, covering many regions of Mexico, as interpreted for the American kitchen, by Mexicans who now live stateside. Love the albondigas, the seafood recipes, beans, breads, chiles – it’s all here.
Just for fun, read Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times, by Rae Katherine Eighmey, 2013
This summer I was obsessed with reading about Abraham Lincoln, and found this wonderful book. It includes recipes from Lincoln’s times—if not the exact recipes he ate, pretty darned close, based on journals and saved menus. The New Orleans Chicken Curry, with a homemade curry powder, is now one of our favorites. It also tells the story of his life, through food, in a way that is charming and unexpected.
Saving the Season: A cook’s guide to home canning, pickling, and preserving, by Kevin West, 2013
I love to make jam, especially marmalade, and the occasional pickle, too. This book is beautifully laid out with useful photos, great stories, even poems and other literary references. Great to read, and great to use. We had a bumper crop of pomegranates this fall, so I made his simple grenadine. Homemade is incredibly tasty.
Madhur Jeffrey has wonderful books, and a new one out that I haven’t tried, but I trust her so much I’m recommending it here. One of my kids is going to get this one for Xmas:
I simply love Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes, and own several of her cookbooks. Indian food can be cumbersome for the uninitiated, because there are so many spices! This book is nice because the recipes are of the simpler variety. Her Everyday Moong Dal is our favorite.
The Southern Harvest Cookbook: Recipes Celebrating Four Seasons, by Cathy Cleary, 2018
A southern friend gave me this cookbook, and I used it all last summer. I still have a jar of fresh pickled green beans in my fridge that we keep munching on. For winter, I will try her Sweet Potato Peanut Stew, a Ghanaian-style recipe.
The Defined Dish: Whole30 Endorsed, Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes, by Alex Snodgrass
Whole30 takes on classic comfort food from a Texas cook. Approachable, simple recipes that are (mostly) whole30, this book is a go-to for weeknight recipes that are simple, yet full of flavor.
Cannelle et Vanille: Nourishing, Gluten-Free Recipes for Every Meal and Mood, by Aran Goyoaga, 2019
Soups, Veggies, Mains, but especially desserts, breads, and pizza. The best gluten-free baking recipes I’ve found, and I’ve tried a bunch. Also, book is artfully designed and photographed.
Mediterranean Fresh: a Compendium of One-Plate Salad Meal and Mix-and-Match Dressings, by Joyce Goldstein, 2008
These are some of the best salads and dressings you will find anywhere. Right now I’d like to make Roasted Winter Squash with Bitter Greens, with a tahini dressing. Most of these are main dish salads. There are not many grains in these recipes, so the book is mostly gluten-free.
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods you can Stop Buying and Start Making, by Alana Chernila, 2012
Make your own graham crackers, ketchup, hummus, pop-tarts, roasted nut mixes, sauerkraut, etc. A very useful book. She has newer books, too, and a blog.
And last but not least...
Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison, 2013
I can’t say enough good things about Deborah Madison’s books. Her recipes work so well, and she teaches about fresh spices and herbs in a profound way. Here you’ll learn about twelve families of plants and their relatives, and how to pair ingredients for optimum flavor. Beautiful photos, too.