As of this morning, I own 238 cookbooks. It’s a goulash of distinct cuisines, specialty diets, cooking techniques, nutritional advice, and culinary memoirs.
My bookcase is in my bedroom, so it’s not unusual for me to pull out, say, The Art of Fermentation or The Korean Table and fall asleep while reading up on sourdough starting or the making of kimchi pancakes.
I often flip through most of them, but some just collect dust. I might as well drop those off at Salvation Army (I’m looking at you, famous-restaurant, coffee-table-book doorstoppers with mile-long, fetish-ingredient lists—got Irish moss?—and poorly tested, convoluted cooking steps).
The 13 books I recommend here have been published within the last 22 years and are my most dog-eared and food-stained.
I re-read them for cooking inspiration and great storytelling, and because the recipes always turn out great. I also love to give them as gifts.
The books are not ranked—I love them equally—but if they have a common thread, it’s this: home cooks and/or cooking teachers (mostly women) writing for other home cooks, which means easy-to-get ingredients, basic cooking equipment, unfussy techniques, and recipes adaptable to allergies and diet restrictions.
They’re also fun, sometimes very funny and uplifting, and they take you around the States as well as to Germany, Japan, Rome, Israel, Malawi, and the French countryside.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I’ll get a small compensation if you buy something through those links, and I’ll immediately blow it on a case of Dom Pérignon.
From market to table, the heart of Israeli home cooking
by Einat Admony & Janna Gur (2019)
I was at Skylight Books in Los Feliz in L.A., saw the book from afar, and started laughing; shuk—spelled differently but pronounced the same—is a Czech swear word. I walked over, started flipping through it, and got hooked on the spot (and learned that shuk means “marketplace” in Hebrew).
Written by two women—one is a NY-based chef, the other a food writer in Tel Aviv—the book is aimed at home cooks who want to master things like hummus, labneh, shakshuka, tahdig, and other Israeli dishes.
Everything in the book is mouthwatering, and what I want to eat right now.
It’s all in here: what spices to get and how to turn them into spice blends; tips and techniques for salads and sauces; where to source the best tahini; how to compose an Israeli breakfast; the right way to make couscous from scratch; or the best way to bake the puffiest pita bread.
I like how wide they go with both Jewish and Arabic recipes, including Palestinian, Yemenite, North African, Libyan, Persian, Kurdish, and Eastern European.
I lived and volunteered in a kibbutz in Jerusalem for eight months in the early 1990s, enjoying the fresh, flavor-packed Israeli cuisine up close.
Shuk brought back memories of walking down Via Dolorosa in the Old City, snacking on oval sesame bagels, and getting falafel from a seaside street vendor in Eilat.
350 recipes for homestyle favorites and everyday feasts
by the Moosewood Collective (2001)
The first thing I ever baked from scratch were the Moosewood Muffins on page 26.
I completely messed up, though, because I wasn’t paying attention: I didn’t use paper liners and didn’t grease the baking mold with enough oil, so half of them got stuck to it; I didn’t spoon enough batter into the muffin cups, so they came out half-size; I didn’t monitor my ancient rental kitchen oven, so the majority got burnt. It was nothing to write home about at all.
I bravely took the three decent ones to work, and my co-worker (and now good friend) Alexis gamely tried them and even complimented me. Bless her.
Despite that disastrous first attempt, I kept baking those muffins until I got them right (BTW, I won’t bake without an oven thermometer now, because I don’t trust my oven dial), and I’ve cooked and learned other recipes from this classic cookbook.
Buy it if you’re looking for unfussy vegetarian recipe ideas—especially entrees like gratins, burgers, or stews made with easy-to-get ingredients.
I also appreciate the ethnic variety of the recipes: Italian, Mexican, Caribbean, Indian, Mediterranean, etc.
Living the good life in the Eternal City
by Elizabeth Minchilli (2015)
I know it’s ironic to hate on tourism and be a tourist at the same time. Still, when I’m visiting a foreign city, I want to avoid crowds and tourist traps and not waste time on average things as much as I can.
I want a secret list from an insider who knows what’s up.
Elizabeth, who’s been living in Rome and writing about its food scene for decades, is a reliable insider.
In this book, which I used on both recent trips to the Eternal City, she gives valuable advice on all things cultural and culinary, including important Do’s and Don’ts—at least if you want to blend in with the locals.
She tells you where to get the best carbonara or cacio e pepe in Rome, and she includes recipes for making them.
My favorite is the pizza chapter and Elizabeth’s tips for eating it in a restaurant (there’s no sharing—everyone gets their own single-serving pizza—and they use a fork and knife; no hands please!), as well as the holy grail of a recipe for Gabriele Bonci’s pizza dough.
He’s famous for his take on pizza al taglio (baked in a large rectangular shape, cut with scissors, and sold by weight), his rigorous dough-creation technique, and his dedication to high-quality ingredients.
Last October, I dragged my mom across town to Bonci’s tiny bakery in a residential neighborhood, waited in line with hungry, impatient Romans, and bought about two pounds of the best, lightest, airiest, crispiest pizza ever. The porcini one, oozing with melted cheese, was my favorite.
More than 100 recipes and tips to transform the way you cook and eat
by Pamela Salzman (2017)
I’m addicted to Pamela’s tutorial Instagram stories, where you can follow her to Trader Joe’s or Costco and let her point out to you what’s okay to buy and what’s total crap (farmed seafood, BPA-coated cans, pesticide-sprayed stone fruit).
She’s got it dialed in when it comes to whole, unprocessed, healthy, natural, nourishing ingredients and cooking techniques, and her recipes reflect this philosophy.
Over the years, I’ve taken about 10 cooking classes with Pamela in L.A. and always enjoyed the food I got to eat at the end.
My all-time favorite is the unassuming chocolate pudding made with roasted sweet potatoes; I know it sounds strange, but it’s superb.
The book includes this pudding recipe and tons more—grain bowls, superfood salads, veggie burgers, grain-free cakes—plus a useful deep-dive primer on stocking a pantry, prepping, making a balanced meal, and common ingredient substitutions.
If you’re on a path to healthier living and cooking, I recommend adding this book to your library.
Soups, salads, muffins, and more from New York City’s favorite bakeshop and café
by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau (2003)
This cookbook served me well over the years, and it shows. Some pages are stained and sticky, in places there are mysterious crumbs scattered along the fold, and the dust jacket is long lost.
It got me into baking scones, which I’d never heard of prior to moving to the States from Prague. It taught me how to make both sweet and savory flaky crust for tarts, quiches, and pies.
And it contains my favorite Apple-Cranberry Muffins recipe.
Frank and Jerome had a bakery called Once Upon a Tart on Sullivan Street in New York City.
I remember landing once at JFK on a red-eye from LAX and heading straight to the bakery for breakfast. It was on some top-10 list I’d seen in a magazine, and I had to try it.
It didn’t disappoint: The dried ginger scone was crumbly and buttery, and the coconut macarons chewy and not too sweet.
The bakery closed in 2014, after 23 years in business—a victim to rising rent and costs—so I’m glad it gets to live at least in printed form.
by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (2012)
A California city girl meets a Japanese country boy, and they fall in love. He proposes, she says yes, and they move to his family’s 80-year-old farm in the Saitama prefecture in Japan. This was back in 1989, and what happened after is detailed in this lovely cookbook.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make tofu from scratch, master tempura and sushi rice, or pickle fresh vegetables Japanese-style, Nancy will teach you.
On top of cooking techniques and recipes, she shares stories about living and farming in the Japanese countryside and starting and running her English-immersion preschool.
I love the photos, too—not just of the ingredients, but also the documentary-style ones of Nancy, her sons, and her husband harvesting, cooking, teaching, celebrating, and playing with friends.
My favorite recipe is the fried eggplant halves with sweet miso—very simple but addictive.
The very best recipes for traditional favorites
by Luisa Weiss (2016)
For three months, in my early 20s, I apprenticed in a bakery that my friend Eva’s parents operated in Hagen, Germany. Six times a week, I got up at 2am, biked three miles to work, and reported to my boss, who would assign me to a senior baker.
It was an organic, whole-foods-ingredients-only kind of place, and I would rotate between the schnitten (bars) and kuchen (sheet cakes) station and the brötchen (bread rolls) and bread station.
I made good pocket money, experienced that anal German attention to detail—which leads to product perfection—got addicted to caffeine, and became temporarily nocturnal. I wasn’t thinking about noting any recipes at the time, so Luisa’s cookbook was a sweet discovery.
She was born in Berlin, grew up in the States, and now lives back in Berlin with her husband and their kids. The book came out of her food blog, The Wednesday Chef.
It contains classic German pastries, like old-fashioned gingerbread and apple strudel, as well as regional specialties, such as Saxonian Glazed Streusel Slices or Swabian Potato-Cheese Flat Bread.
I appreciate how thorough, well researched, and reliable the recipes are. I’m a sucker for anything with sour cherries when they’re briefly in season, so I tried and loved the Sour Cherry Streusel Cake.
Meals and moments from a village in the vineyards
by Mimi Thorisson (2016)
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful French-Chinese princess and a handsome Icelandic prince.
They had five photogenic children, a pack of fox terriers, and an old château in St. Yzans de Médoc, France.
Together, they made and ate soufflés, terrines, and tatins, turning them into a swoony fairy-tale cookbook.
Every time I open Mimi’s book, it’s a salivating, day-dreaming experience: her recipes and stories and the skillfully styled, mood-filled photos shot by her art-director husband, Oddur.
Her bright purple salad made with red beets, red cabbage, radicchio, red onion, and pomegranate, which she dresses with crème fraiche, lemon, and capers, is so good!
And I’m always down to bake her version of pain d’épices—a comforting bread loaf made with buckwheat flour and chopped almonds, scented with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and honey.
I was lucky to attend one of Mimi and Oddur’s food and photography workshops this year in Turin, Italy (they live part-time in Médoc and part-time in Turin) and meet all of them—including their kids and three dogs—in real life.
Nine of us foodies went on a fun, educational culinary tour through Piedmont, stuffing our faces with agnolotti, hazelnuts, and Barolo while learning how to take great food pics.
Cooking and gardening with 12 families from the edible plant kingdom
by Deborah Madison (2013)
Are you a cook AND a gardener? If the answer is yes and yes, then this is your new 300-recipe bible.
It’s from the writer who gave us Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (also a bible), and it’s my source for a tasty faux-egg salad made with firm tofu.
In Vegetable Literacy, Deborah breaks down the edible flora families: the Carrot Family, the Cabbage Family, the Nightshade Family, the Grass Family, the Legume Family, and a few more.
She tells you about each member, how best to grow them, and their nutritional and health benefits, providing several delicious recipes.
I don’t have a garden in L.A., but if I did, I would totally get into the Knotweed Family.
Have you heard of them? Their names sound like aliases for undercover agents: Dock, Bitter Dock, Rau Ram, Sorrel, Buckwheat, Giant Knotweed, Rhubarb, Monk’s Rhubarb, Sea Grape, and Pigeon Plum.
Let’s say you’re a carrot fan: You can whip up the brilliant, bright orange-yellow Carrot Almond Cake, which is made with grated carrots and ground almonds and doused with limoncello.
Or you can take a combo of white carrots (yes, they exist!), white rice, and white onion and turn them into the simple but stunning Ivory Carrot Soup, pure as the driven snow.
Recipes from the kitchen of Georgia O’Keefe
by Margaret Wood (1997)
Three summers ago, I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to attend the Opera Festival there.
Between Roméo et Juliette and Don Giovanni, I took a break and signed up for a Southwestern food class at a local cooking school. The demo (and the lunch after) consisted of delicious recipes from this slim but wonderful book.
Margaret, who stopped by to say hello and assist the teacher, had been a companion of Georgia O’Keefe, who lived on a ranch near Santa Fe.
Between 1977 and 1982, Margaret and Georgia cooked nutritious and seasonal meals together, sourcing them from the artist’s organic garden and local farms.
My favorite recipe here is the Apple Walnut Pie Cake, basically my go-to coffee cake.
You can make it in one bowl with just flour, butter, diced apples, walnuts, one egg, brown sugar, and spices.
Sweet and sour, salty and bitter
by A.A. Gill (2007)
This is not a cookbook, but a collection of hysterical restaurant reviews, funny writings on random ingredients (durian, cabbage), and acerbic essays on eating while traveling from one of my favorite food writers and restaurant critics.
His observations and comments (not always politically correct, mind you) are spot-on, and his mastery of English is superior. I wish he were still alive and writing.
Grab it if you want a good laugh. Here’s a short excerpt from a restaurant review to whet your appetite:
“The ingénue vegetables were midgets and dwarves, boiled so that they held their natural shape only by a collective act of nostalgia. But they were ambrosia compared with the mutton. The colour of a gravedigger’s fingernail, it was a mortified curl of muscle from some unknown extremity of ancient ovine. It resisted knife and fork, being mostly translucent, sweaty gristle and greasy fat. It was inedibly disgusting, without question the nastiest ingredient I’ve been served this year.”
The inadvertent education of a reluctant chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011)
Can an accomplished chef also be a brilliant writer? Yes, she can.
Enter Gabrielle Hamilton and her evocative memoir. I couldn’t put it down.
It goes from her bucolic childhood in rural Pennsylvania—running around with her four siblings and learning how to cook from her glamorous French mom—to her parents’ sudden divorce, to breaking into neighbors’ houses, shoplifting, and snorting cocaine at 13, to being poor and tired and working for big catering companies in Manhattan, to finding a rat-infested space and turning it into a restaurant, to finally meeting her Italian husband, becoming a mom, and cooking and summering with her sweet, 80-year-old mother-in-law Alda in Rome and Puglia.
If you’re in NYC, make a reservation at Prune, Gabrielle’s fantastic restaurant, and one of my favorites.
Adventures in tea
by Henrietta Lovell (2019)
As I’m writing this post, I’m sipping a cup of dragon well (lung ching) green tea. I scooped out 2g of the loose, sword-shaped leaves and dropped them into my glass teapot. I poured 150ml of filtered water (heated to 80°C) over them, and infused for exactly 120 seconds.
Dragon well has a pretty jade green color and a smooth, buttery taste of pistachios, corn, and squash.
The smell reminds me of a forest meadow on a rainy Sunday morning.
I didn’t know how to source or prepare high-quality tea (and honestly, neither was I interested; I was a four-cups-a-day coffee addict) until recently, when I spotted this book—with its cool, gold-green cover—in a store.
Henrietta, aka the Rare Tea Lady, pulled me in with her stories about how she goes around the world to find the best-tasting, most precious teas.
She writes about farmers in remote corners of China, Malawi, South Africa, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka, and their organic, non-commercial ways of growing tea.
Then, she brings that special tea to chefs in high-end restaurants—like Noma, Momofuku, or Eleven Madison Park—who add it to their menus.
After finishing the book, I threw out all my industrial, subpar teabags (most were from 2014 anyway), ordered a temperature-control electric kettle, and bought a bunch of loose-leaf teas.
I drink them in the afternoon, instead of coffee, and I really appreciate the steady, mild caffeine high I get from them.
PS: If you want to send me a hand-crafted tea gift from Henrietta, here’s her awesome online shop.