Despite my resolve not to buy more cookbooks, new titles somehow get published every year that I simply must have, even with my bursting bookshelves and limited time to cook from them.
And if you appreciate cookbooks that surpass their function as recipe collections, you too will not want to miss my two picks for the best cookbooks of 2012; Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin Americaby Maricel Presilla, and Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi.
La Gran Cucina Latina the “Bible” of Latin American Food
It is no exaggeration to call Cuban-born Maricel Presilla’s masterpiece the “bible” of the under-appreciated cuisine of Latin American. Her experience as a James Beard award winning chef and her doctorate in medieval history gives her a unique voice to interpret for the home cook the authentic recipes of individual regions and at the same time reveal their common roots in medieval Spain and African influences.
With all the changes happening in Latin America, Presilla speculates this may be the last opportunity to record the traditions and ancient practices of a dwindling generation of Latin cooks. She traveled the continent and compiled over 500 recipes from leading chefs and home cooks.
It’s got all the recipes you’d expect like Peruvian cebiche, Brazillian pao de queijo, and Argentinian chimichurri, and many with ingredients you probably never heard of. The chapters are brilliantly organized by categories instead of by country or region – like the typical “salads”, “poultry”, “meat”, and “fish and seafood” and some very unique chapters like “table condiments”, “tropical roots and starchy vegetables”, “cebiches”, “empanadas”, and “tamale”.
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America has quickly become one of my favorite books in my collection.
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi
I was so thrilled when I first heard about Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook. I usually can’t resist any cookbook on Israeli or Middle Eastern food – but after drooling over his previous book, Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, I knew his take on Israeli food would be unique.
What’s especially interesting about Jerusalem is that it’s co-authored by an Arab and a Jew. Both were born in Jerusalem, Sam Tamimi on the Arab side and Ottolenghi on the Jewish side (they are now business partners in London). This is partly an autobiographical book as they both share favorites from their childhood in addition to new interpretations. This is not a comprehensive look at Jerusalem’s unique food traditions (which they do declare in their introduction as “a self-indulgent, nostalgic trip into our pasts”), but through its gorgeous photos and mouthwatering recipes you at least get a glimpse into part of its food culture.
Jerusalem continues Ottolenghi’s fresh take on vegetables with recipes like roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar, Swiss chard fritters, and roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad. And of course there is your basic hummus recipe included. And the meat, poultry, and fish recipes have some amazing flavor combination I can’t wait to try, like lamb-stuffed quince with pomegranate and cilantro, roasted chicken with clementines and arak, and fish and caper kebabs with burnt eggplant and lemon pickle.
Some honorable mentions
Did you really think I could only buy two cookbooks this year?
Meringue by Linda Jackson and Jennifer Gardner
“Egg whites, sugar, a pinch of cream of tartar or a dash of vinegar-and air.” No – I don’t bake with much sugar anymore, but I couldn’t resist this collection of meringue based desserts. They are great for grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free diets and though I will not be reaching for this book on a weekly basis it offers enough inspiration for special occasions. I’ve already marked the vanilla swiss meringue buttercream frosting and the fresh strawberry Italian meringue buttercream for a kids birthday and if I can pull it off would love to make a classic berry pavlova or the clementine meringue cake with rosemary for a Passover seder dessert. It’s also a beautiful book and would make a lovely gift.
I bought Fishbein’s first cookbooks when I got married but stopped once I began with my “real food” journey since I’m not a fan of many of the ingredients she uses (cornflake crumbs, margarine, soymilk, canola oil, non-dairy whipped topping, etc…). But I appreciate her tips for holiday and Shabbat cooking and was intrigued by what her “Cooking Coach” premise would have to offer.
It’s worth buying the book just for the kosher meat tutorial (with pictures and cooking tips). There are also many beginner type tips like essential kitchen equipment and knife tips. Some recipes I’m looking forward to trying are the Nori-Wrapped Salmon and Miso-Glazed Eggplant. And even those recipes that include ingredients I don’t use are easy enough to substitute like the Sweet Spaghetti Squash Kugel (margarine and cornflake crumbs).
Cookbooks that looked intriguing to me this year (if you have them let me know what you think):
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Tim Ferris
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz (I’ll definitely be getting this at some point)
Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater
Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan
Do you have any favorite cookbooks for this year? Please share your recommendations;