Courtesy of Phaidon

From an insider's look at Venice to a beautiful collection of menus, this season's crop has it all.

Devra Ferst
March 15, 2018
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At their finest, cookbooks teach us more than just recipes. They help us understand how to become better cooks, help us travel without leaving our kitchens, and lend us a glimpse into the bustling back of the house at some of the most prized restaurants. They are just as good reads as they are guides to cooking. And these 19 from this spring's crop, published between March and July, are no exception. 

Anissa Helou helps us understand the vast range of foods of the Islamic world in Feast, while Sam Kass, who helped not only the Obamas but the nation become healthier eaters, reminds us that we don’t need to eat “right,” we just need to Eat a Little Better. And Diana Henry beckons us into a world of menus that reminds us of the transformative and transportive nature of a well-planned meal enjoyed with friends.

Head to the bookstore, and then the farmers market. You’ll want to get cooking.

When a Plane Ticket Isn’t in the Cards

A Table in Venice: Recipes from My Home by Skye McAlpine
March 20, Clarkson Potter, $32.50

Courtesy of Amazon

Venice is a beguiling place. It is a city with an exceptionally rich food history and an outstanding outdoor market. Yet, as Skye McAlpine, who moved there when she was six years old, writes: “Hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through the city each month, and they eat at trattorie that cater to transient trade and leave having eating in Venice, but not having eaten well.” To eat well in Venice, you need to be invited to someone’s home, which is what McAlpine does in this book. Readers are welcomed in for a proper lunch of risotto with radicchio and gorgonzola. She then takes them by the hand for an early evening spritz. More than just the popular cocktail, the spritz is a cultural institution in Venice, she explains. The same goes for snacks like boiled eggs with anchovies, deep-fried sage leaves, and frittatas with zucchini, pecorino, and fresh mint. Readers come away with a glimpse of a Venice few tourists ever encounter.

The Austin Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from Deep in the Heart of Texas by Paula Forbes
March 20, Abrams, $29.99

Courtesy of Amazon

Easily the most colorful book of the season (yes, some pages are printed in millennial pink and we’re not sorry about it) longtime cookbook reviewer Paula Forbes’s first book is an enthusiastic love letter to her adopted hometown. Those who know the city well will spot recipes like Bob Armstrong dip (queso, plus a scoop of taco meat, and guacamole) from Matt’s El Rancho and breakfast tacos from Veracruz All-Natural that would make any native son or daughter of ATX homesick. Those who are new to the city shouldn’t be intimidated, though. Forbes takes on the roll of enthusiastic tour guide, leading guests to her favorite restaurants. As she points out in the introduction, the book can easily double as a restaurant guide.  

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
April 6, Phaidon, $49.95

Courtesy of Phaidon

Nancy Singleton Hachisu, who was born in California but has made her home for the last 30 years on an organic farm in Japan, is a veteran of English-language books about Japanese cooking — her book Preserving the Japanese Way, was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2016. In her new bamboo-bound tome, she draws from the entire island nation. But, as she writes in the introduction, the book “is not an examination of ‘regional’ cooking traditions, as much as a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time.” Fittingly, the recipes aren’t organized by region, but by cooking style or place within the meal (like zensai, smaller plates that can start the meal) instead. Serious students of Japanese cuisine may crave a bit more historical context than the headnotes provide, but those looking to start exploring the breadth of Japan’s cooking will find much to dive into.

Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces by Bill Kim with Chandra Ram
April 17, Ten Speed Press, $28

Courtesy of Amazon

Chef Bill Kim, who moved from Seoul to Chicago when he was seven years old, isn’t wedded to culinary tradition, but rather to an expression of his personal journey and identity. He writes: “I’m cooking my own version of what it’s like to be a Korean American.” That means incorporating influences from his adopted home country, Puerto Rico, where his wife Yvonne’s family is from, and beyond (you’ll find influences from Thailand, Vietnam, India and more in his recipes). Kim brings together these flavors in an approachable way: seven primary sauces and three essential rubs that are used throughout the book for dishes like Korean al pastor, kimchi potato salad, and gochujang sticky chicken drumsticks.

My Lisbon: A Cookbook from Portugal's City of Light by Nuno Mendes
April 24, Ten Speed Press, $35

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“Ironically enough, it took leaving home and traveling elsewhere for me to realize that the Portuguese table is one of the best in the world,” writes London-based Michelin starred chef Nuno Mendes. In this book, Mendes, who was born and raised in Lisbon, revisits his roots in one of the most sought-after culinary travel destinations of the moment. Like the days in Portugal, the book is “divided into chapters that follow the culinary clock,” starting with morning pastries like egg custard tarts and the lesser-known doughnuts with sweet potato custard. It moves on to snacks and late dinners of rice with shrimp cooked in fish stock. Mendes isn’t too strict with tradition, however; some of the recipes, like feijoada, a pork, cabbage and bean stew, are updated to be lighter or tweaked so they can be made with ingredients that are available year-round. If you can’t make it to Portugal, this wanderlust-inducing book with photos from Andrew Montgomery is a good substitute.

Feast: Foods of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou
May 29, Ecco, $60

Courtesy of Amazon

Born and raised in Lebanon and Syria, London-based writer Anissa Helou knows firsthand how rich the food of the Islamic world is. Her tome, which covers cooking from the vast swath of land between Morocco and India and beyond, dives deep into Islamic food culture and history, which started to develop as a rich tradition under the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 and 1261–1517 AD). The book’s 300 recipes consist of classics and her personal favorites, she says. “For a comprehensive selection, I would have needed more than one volume,” and reading this engrossing book, one might wish she had more than one.

Chapters are devoted to spice blending, roasting whole animals for celebrations like Eid al-Iftr, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan, and sweets. Each recipe denotes which country the dish is from or popular in, like meatballs in sour cherry sauce, the signature dish of Aleppo, and dukkah, a staple spice blend in Egypt made with coriander and peanuts. Perhaps most impressive is the chapter on breads, so essential in Islam that if a piece of bread falls to the floor god is asked for forgiveness. Helou shares recipes for the familiar pita and Iranian flatbread, but also for Somali pancakes and Arabian date bread. She offers helpful photo tutorials throughout for complex recipes like Moroccan pigeon pie, so readers aren’t left in the dark when it comes to technique.

For a Peek Inside the Restaurant Kitchen

Gather & Graze: 120 Favorite Recipes for Tasty Good Times by Stephanie Izard with Rachel Holtzman
April 3, Clarkson Potter, $35

Courtesy of Amazon

Stephanie Izard, who you might remember from the early days of Top Chef or as the owner of three of Chicago’s most popular dining destinations, decided it was high time to share the recipes from those restaurants. Into the mix, she threw some ideas from her home, where she lives with her beer brewing husband Gary (who shares his take on pairing food with beer in the book). While some of the recipes fall into the cheffy category—like Szechuan-style breakfast biscuits, which suggests you reference three other recipes in the book to complete the dish—others take a simpler approach, like a basic recipe for scones with ideas for tingeing them with rosemary and dulce de leche or lemon and chocolate. Look out for unexpected combinations, like miso with blue cheese whipped into a sauce for grilled shrimp, and lamb ribs with strawberry-white asparagus tapenade.  

River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli, Rose Gray
April 10, Knopf, $40

Courtesy of Amazon

Thirty years in, the team at River Cafe London takes stock of their work and remembers Rose Gray, the one-time co-owner who passed away in 2010. The book is an intriguing mix of updated classic recipes from the restaurant and 30 new ones like ravioli with ricotta, raw tomato and basil — all of which are refreshingly straightforward in their tone. With art direction by Michael Nash Associates, which balances vintage menus drawn or painted on by artists who frequent the restaurant, with black and white photos inside the space, and crisp shots of food, the book belongs as much on a coffee table as it does in the kitchen.  

For Healthy (or Healthier) Choices

Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan by Chloe Coscarelli
March 6, Clarkson Potter, $27.99

Courtesy of Amazon

Meat lover Michael Symon, who authored the foreword to this book, starts by saying he’ll forgive those who raised an eyebrow at his devotion to Chloe Coscarelli’s food. The vegan chef who co-founded the hit spot by Chloe in New York brings a rare punchiness to vegan cooking. There are recipes for mango-guacamole crunch burgers, Hawaiian teriyaki sliders with caramelized pineapple, and fiesta mac and cheese, which Coscarelli says is a cross between mac and cheese and tacos. Recipes come with helpful tips for making dishes gluten-free or ahead of time, as well as photos that will draw in skeptics.

Vegetarian Viet Nam by Cameron Stauch
March 13, W. W. Norton & Company, $35

Courtesy of Amazon

While fish sauce, grilled and cured pork, chicken broth, and fresh fish dusted in turmeric are all essential elements to classic Vietnamese dishes, the Southeast Asian country is also home to a rich vegetarian tradition, influenced by the practice of Buddhist monks, nuns, and devout lay people. Classically trained chef Cameron Stauch moved to Vietnam in 2012 with his wife, a Canadian diplomat, and immersed himself in the country’s culinary traditions, cooking with monks and nuns as well as Nguyễn Dzoãn Cẩm Vân, who he describes as the country’s Julia Child. The result is an approachable look at the intensely fresh flavors of Vietnam’s cooking, from star anise cinnamon-scented pho to bánh xèo, a savory pancake made with rice and mung bean and filled with herbs. N.B.: Those looking to explore the book in the kitchen will need to dedicate time to building a pantry of staples like vegetable broth and annatto seed oil that Stauch outlines in the first chapter.

Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World by Sam Kass
April 17, Clarkson Potter, $32.50

Courtesy of Amazon

In 2007, when Barack Obama was pounding the campaign trail, Michelle Obama enlisted chef Sam Kass to help make sure a healthy dinner for the Obama family ended up on the table at a reasonable hour every night. Kass later became a food policy advisor at the White House, advocating for better, healthier food not just for the First Family, but for the country.

In his first book, Kass shares the lessons he instilled in the White House kitchen in a remarkably approachable way. “It’s about how to stop worrying about eating ‘right’ and just start eating a little better,” he writes. For him, that means making small changes that add up to a difference in one’s health and also the longevity of the planet. Unlike so many healthy cookbook authors, Kass isn’t dogmatic or rigid in his writing. A recipe for red slaw with warm bacon dressing starts by saying: “Yep, eating better can mean eating bacon.” He uses it as a gateway to vegetables. The recipes throughout are easy to follow and precisely how we want to be (and probably should be) eating in 2018.

Fresh India: 130 Quick, Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Every Day by Meera Sodha
May 15, Flatiron Books, $35

Courtesy of Amazon

“At the heart of every one of my recipes is a place called Gujarat,” writes Meera Sodha, author of the bestselling Made in India. In 269 B.C. Emperor Ashoka outlawed the slaughter of animals in the state, which is north of Mumbai and shares a border with Pakistan. Two millennia later, Sodha explains, Gujarati cooking is “creative, fresh and always vegetables first.” Adding: “This book is all about vegetables, but whether you call it a vegetarian cookbook is up to you.”

Her recipes range from a sweet potato vindaloo, which has ties to vinho e alhos, a Portuguese recipe explores brought with them to South Asia in the 1500s, to the familiar chana saag, made with far less oil here than you’ll find in your typical takeout bag. They draw not only on her family’s cooking and what she’s had during her time spent in India, but also from her imagination. While salads aren’t particularly common in India, she notes, she borrows from the Gujarat pantry to create dishes like a paneer, mango, and tamarind salad that would go well with just about any summer barbecue.

For Geeking Out 

The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes by James Briscione with Brooke Parkhurst
March 6, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $30

Courtesy of Amazon

Do chicken, mushrooms, and strawberries go together? What about banana and chili sauce? In 2012, James Briscione the Director of Culinary Development at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York had the opportunity to work with IBM’s supercomputer Watson. Drawing on a wealth of data, the computer would generate a list of ingredients, often ones you wouldn’t think would go together, for the chefs to make a dish with. The results were surprisingly good. But, as Briscione points out, few people have access to Watson. Briscione took the ideas from his time with the supercomputer and offers a scientific look at how flavors break down and pair up. Using a modified color wheel for foods like brassicas and crustaceans, he reveals unexpected pairings, offering recipes to prove his case.

A Burger to Believe In: Recipes and Fundamentals by Chris Kronner with Paolo Lucchesi
May 22, Ten Speed Press, $29.99

Courtesy of Amazon

After reading Chris Kronner’s book on burgers, even skeptics will find a burger to believe in — or at least believe that Kronner is one of the most burger obsessed men living in the United States today. The former Bar Tartine chef who launched Kronnerburger as a pop-up that developed a cult following, shares his encyclopedic knowledge in this book with essays and sections dedicated to Bill Niman and how to dry age meat at home. Instead of forcing readers into making the “perfect burger” Kronner writes: “There is no perfect...but there is bad. Bad should be avoided if possible. (Trust me on this one.)” He meets burger fans where they are. If you’re extremely lazy, he suggests, “just look at the photos and have burgers delivered.” For fries, he offers advice on how to make them at home — or buy them at the supermarket. While burgers are the focus here, there are 40 non-burger recipes, including salads and a long list of make-at-home condiments worth exploring as well.

When (Cook)books Get Personal

Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel by Alon Shaya with Tina Antolini
March 13, Knopf, $35

Courtesy of Amazon

Alon Shaya’s cooking combines flavors and techniques from Israel, Italy, and the American South. One might think the cuisines would clash, but in Shaya’s hands, they work in harmony. The chef explores his connections to the three locales through chapters like “Echoes of Israel” and “Finding Home in the South” that trace his odyssey through a deeply personal narrative. It’s punctuated with recipes that range from his grandmother’s lutenitsa, a dish made with charred peppers and eggplant, to pickled shrimp with allspice, coriander, cardamom, and star anise. The book ends with a chapter featuring recipes from his former restaurant Shaya, a relief for fans who are eagerly awaiting his next restaurant.

Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee
April 17, Artisan, $27.50

Courtesy of Amazon

“We naturally gravitate towards what is popular, what dominates culture, but I want to fill the voids in between, I want to help tell the stories that have rarely been told,” writes chef Edward Lee in the introduction to this book, which falls somewhere between memoir, travelogue, and cookbook with 40 recipes. The many times James Beard Award nominee, who was born to Korean parents in Brooklyn and made a home for himself in Kentucky, traveled around the country in search of those untold stories. He takes readers along with him to a Cambodian restaurant and an Irish bar in Lowell, Massachusetts, to a Uyghur restaurant in Brighton Beach, to the docks of Brooklyn, and down to New Orleans. At times, he draws links between disparate people and communities and their cuisines, sharing his take on their recipes. In his words: “Food can be a bridge, and the best, most thrilling dishes can result from joining two different worlds.”  

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original edited by Sara B. Franklin
April 13, The University of North Carolina Press, $28

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Through her writing, including the seminal book The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis, who passed away in 2006, helped illuminate and preserve the food of the American South. But, as Kim Severson notes in the foreword to this collection of essays about Miss Lewis (as she was often called), “Only in hindsight do the bits and pieces of a life get uncovered, the parts coalescing into a new and more powerful whole.” With essays from writers and chefs including Alice Watters, Michael W. Twitty, Mashama Bailey, and Francis Lam, this book aims to do more than just remember Lewis, but to help understand the impact she had and continues to have on American food and those who cook and write about it. As Severson adds: “Edna Lewis was a great cook in life. In death, she has become an even a greater teacher.”                                                     

How to Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories and Places by Diana Henry
May 1, Mitchell Beazley, $34.99

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When Diana Henry was growing up in Northern Ireland, travel was expensive. “If you wanted to go places, you had to do it in your head — via books — or by cooking the food of other countries,” she writes in her 11th book. At 16, she started to keep a notebook of menus (“a school exercise book I’d carefully covered in wrapping paper”). Today, her collection of 24 menus with names like “before the passeggiata,” “take me back to Istanbul,” and “drunk on olive oil,” capture a time, place, or feeling. Through her essays and the kitchen, she transports cooks there, reminding us that there are few greater pleasures than sitting down to a lavish lunch or a simple dinner with friends.