This year’s cookbooks offer gift givers a full menu of holiday pleasers. From vegans to barbecue lovers, beginners to kitchen adepts, there’s something they would love on this list.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science By J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Norton, 958 pages, $49.95
A Christopher Kimball for the Internet Age, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has built a following on the SeriousEats.org food site by challenging the received wisdom of home cooks with scientific method and open-minded improvisation. His improved recipes and method essays, illustrated with clear color photographs, are published in Serious Eats’ The Food Lab. Now they’re available in a cookbook – or perhaps textbook is a better term. An invaluable volume for cooks who want to know not just how, but why, a recipe works.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook By Danny Bowien and Chris Ying, Ecco, 318 pages, $34.99
Danny Bowien has developed a distinct school of American Chinese cuisine that leaves the compromises and equivocations of the egg foo yung generation behind. Kung pao pastrami, salt cod fried rice and thrice-cooked bacon are stars of his revolutionary Chinese menu, but Bowien’s book is the complete course, from cooking rice to selecting Sichuan peppercorns, combined with a compulsively readable tale of how a young chef with more drive than knowledge stumbled his way into acclaim as an American culinary star.
Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine By Tal Ronnen, Artisan Books, 304 pages, $35
Crossroads is one of the best vegan restaurants in one of the best vegan dining cities in the world, Los Angeles. Chef Tal Ronnen isn’t interested in mocking-up meat dishes from soybean analogues. He presents vegetables that satisfy vegans and omnivores alike by focusing on sensations like smokiness, savory smoothness, or deep-fried crunch. An excellent book for the vegan who wants to add a fine-dining touch to Sunday dinner, or the vegan-curious afraid of being trapped in a tofu cage.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto By Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay, Ten Speed Press, 240 pages, $29.99
Six years ago, Aaron Franklin started selling barbecue from a trailer next to the highway in Austin, Texas. Today, people who have traveled from across America, and further, line up outside Franklin Barbecue to buy brisket, ribs and links until they’re gone. The nation’s hottest pit master reveals all that goes into his art. Franklin’s guidance is a doctorate-level barbecue course that posits recipes in an extensive framework of barbecue theory and research. These are “recipes” in the same way that E = mc² is a recipe for atomic fission.
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life By Ruth Reichl, Random House, 327 pages, $35
When its publisher decided to fold Gourmet magazine, editor-in-chef Ruth Reichel did not see it coming. Her world rocked, Reichel found shelter and solace in her kitchen. After decades as a high-powered restaurant critic and editor, she started cooking again, really cooking, instead of just throwing something quick together. She offers her reflections, and her recipes, of how she cooked her head straight again.
Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Eastern Europe By Olia Hercules, Weldon Owen, 240 pages, $35
This charming love letter to Ukrainian cooking comes from a cook who grew up in Kahkovka, closer to Turkey than Moscow. Her book offers a collection of family recipes that include beet soup and dumplings, of course, but also an intriguingly far-reaching array of dishes that expand the definitions of Ukrainian cuisine. Siberian, Moldovan, Armenian, Georgian and Uzbekistani flavors and approaches tell the story of her family’s diversity in delicious ways.
Nopi By Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully, Ten Speed Press, 335 pages, $40
Yotam Ottolenghi has risen to worldwide fame for his reinvigorated Middle Eastern vegetarian cuisine, expressed through his London restaurants, food shops and cookbooks like “Jerusalem” and “Plenty.” This volume offers a trip inside the menu at Nopi, his fine-dining restaurant that explores the union of Middle Eastern and Asian influences and techniques. Recipes can approach masters level in complexity, but weekend cooks have plenty they can tackle.