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The best cookbooks of 2017

Yes, the internet is awash with recipes, but cookbooks are no less vital. Here is where readers find the mastery, the stories and the perspective required to be a truly better cook. Of the thousands published in 2017, we present these 10 extraordinary cookbooks. 

'In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes'

Cover of “In My Kitchen” by Deborah Madison
Photo Credit: Ten Speed Press

“I began cooking when vegetarian food was weird — sincere, but stodgy.” writes Deborah Madison in her  latest cookbook, “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” (Ten Speed Press, $32.50). “Now I am cooking at a time when vegetarian food is part of a great mash-up of taste, values and experiences.” Organized alphabetically by vegetable (and a few fruits), the recipes are simple and devoid of any showiness, but evince the author’s profound understanding of flavor and technique. Some examples: artichoke and scallion saute, yellow coconut rice with scallions and black sesame seeds, kale and walnut pesto with roasted winter squash. Madison’s direct, evocative style is matched by Erin Scott’s photographs.

Photo Credit: Erin Scott

Artichoke and scallion saute from “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” by Deborah Madison.

'Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Grand Central

In this stunningly original book, "Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life" (Grand Central, $35), Emily Kaiser Thelin reconstructs the life and career of one of America’s most influential cookbook authors. Introducing the cuisines of Northern Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest France are just some of Wolfert’s greatest contributions to American gastronomy. Wolfert, who was born in Brooklyn in 1938, is still alive, but “reconstruction” was necessary because she is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and while she remembers the flavors and scents of her travels, most of the stories elude her. Thelin also includes many of Wolfert’s most approachable recipes, among them Armenian cauliflower with raisins and pine nuts and Berber couscous for spring.

Photo Credit: Eric Wolfinger

 Armenian cauliflower with raisins and pine nuts froom “Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life” by Emily Kaiser Thelin

'Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

“Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious,” Samin Nosrat writes in “Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” (Simon & Schuster, $35), and “there are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt, which enhances flavor; fat, which amplifies flavor and makes appealing textures possible, acid, which brights and balances; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.” From these four strands, the former Chez Panisse weaves a wholly original —- and highly idiosyncratic —- book, half of which is instruction, half recipes. The two-page spread on pasta alle vongole, for example, is both “a lesson in layering acids” and an exacting recipe. The whimsical but hardworking  illustrations, by Wendy MacNaughton, are every bit as original.

Photo Credit: Wendy MacNaughton

Wendy MacNaughton's illustration accompanies the recipe for pasta ala vongole in “Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat.

 

'The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Abrams

When Cenk Sönmezsoy moved from San Francisco back to his native Turkey, he found it “impossible to find even a decent brownie in Istanbul,” and started first to bake, then to found a blog called Cafe Fernando. (“Fernando” was the name of a teddy bear that belonged to “The Golden Girls” character Rose Nylund. Sönmezsoy is devoted to that TV series.)  “The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker” (Abrams, $50), second book, is a doorstop but very light on its feet. Every page brings a smile, even a laugh. The recipes range from simple brownies to the Blanche fruit tart (an homage to Golden Girl Blanche Deveraux) to professional-level croissants. But the author, who claims his body is 60 percent ice cream, has such a winning manner, you’ll follow him through his most daunting recipes. Sönmezsoy’s color photographs are as gloriously witty as his writing.

Photo Credit: Cenk Sönmezsoy

The Blanche fruit tart (an homage to Golden Girl Blanche Deveraux) is featured in “The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker” by Cenk Sönmezsoy.

 

'Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Abrams

In 1993, Cuba’s communist government instituted economic reforms that legalized more than 100 independent businesses. “And so were born Cuba’s paladares," writes Anya von Bremzen, “small, homegrown eateries officially licensed to sell food to both locals and tourists.” Von Bremzen, an award-winning author, and photographer Megan Fawn Schlow spent months documenting this culinary efflorescence, “culled from fragments of fractured pre-revolutionary culinary traditions, a new influx of Western ideas and tastes, black market ingredients that unexpectedly arrive via back doors, and — ever and always — creative ways to circumvent shortages.” This timely book,  “Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba” (Abrams, $40), documents the history of the movement, profiles the key players and includes scores of recipes such as ajiaco (the national dish, a stew of  pork, beef, squash, corn, potatoes, yucca and more), roast chicken stuffed with black beans and rice, the famous medianoche, a pressed sandwich of ham, cheese, pork and pickle. Of course, you’ll also find the original, pre-blender daiquiri from El Floridita, the bar made famous by Ernest Hemingway that is still serving them up.

Photo Credit: Megan Fawn Schlow

Ajiaco, Cuba's national dish, a stew of  pork, beef, squash, corn, potatoes, yucca and more, from “Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba” by Anya von Bremzen and Megan Fawn Schlow.

'American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Sterling Epicure

“What you hold in your hands is not a cookbook,” writes Bartpm Seaver, sustainable seafood expert, former chef and perpetual fisherman. “It’s not an Audubon-type guide, it’s not an unbiased reference book, it’s not specifically a history book, yet it’s all of these things at once. It is the story of American seafood — the product, the people and places.” In "American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea" (Sterling Epicure, $50),  he profiles more than 100 species — from abalone and blue claw crabs to weakfish and wreckfish), as well as the people who catch and process them. The 528-page book is illustrated not only with lush color photographs (many of which Seaver shot himself) but with archival pictures and vintage advertisements.

Photo Credit: Mark Boughton

Blue claw crabs from “American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea” by Barton Seaver.

 

'Our Syria'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Running Press

One year ago, we were besieged by wrenching images of the bombardment of Aleppo, as well as Syrian refugees streaming through Europe. “Our Syria” by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi (Running Press) tells another side of that country’s story via a tapestry of dishes laced with garlic, sumac, za’atar and mint that undepin Syria’s vibrant cuisine. Azzam and Mousawi — Syrian and Lebanese, respectively, but now Londoners both — cinch together recipes for dishes such as kibbeh, burnt fingers (fried pasta with lentils) and qatayeh, or walnut-filled pancakes. Their recipe for a Syrian omelette, called ijja, was inspired by a lost Aleppo eatery called Malik Al Ijja — and interspersed with the recipes and elegant photos are food-rooted memories from Syria’s female refugees, lovingly rendered.

“Our Syria” by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi
Photo Credit: Liz and Max Haraala Hamilton

Burnt fingers, or fried pasta with lentils, featured in “Our Syria” by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi.

'Six Seasons'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Artisan

Anyone who has ever called vegetables boring has likely never tasted the kind of main-course dishes that fill “Six Seasons” ( Artisan, $35), chef Joshua McFadden’s imaginative, layered approach to preparing roots, greens and their brethren. McFadden is the Cordon Bleu-trained executive chef of Portland restaurant Ava Gene’s, but also spent two seasons farming in Maine to learn the ways and means of his preferred medium, vegetables. As the name suggests, his recipes are organized into six color-coded seasons (summer gets three — early, mid and late) and how to coax flavors from produce at the peak of its freshness. In spring, there are smashed fava beans, Pecorino cheese and mint on toast; months later, in the depths of winter, raw winter squash is shaved into a salad crowned with pecans, currants and warm brown butter. McFadden also includes pages of notes on the items that fill his larder, from anchovies to pickles, that bring these dishes to life —and they're as entertaining to read as his methodical recipes.

Photo Credit: Laura Dart and A.J. Meeker

Raw winter squash is shaved into a salad crowned with pecans, currants and warm brown butter in “Six Seasons” by Joshua McFadden.

 

'Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes'

Cover of
Photo Credit: Clarkson Potter

Alison Roman has logged years of professional experience cooking in restaurants and writing for magazines, but she claims her personal cooking style comes perilously close to lazy. (She prefers the term lo-fi.) In this charming book, “Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes” (Clarkson Potter, $30) she provides recipes that are “neither obnoxiously aspirational nor so obvious that you’d wonder why you bought this book.” After a succinct overview of her pantry, she launches into a collection of dishes arranged into such categories as knife and fork salads, savory breakfasts, and grains and things. Among the recipes are paprika-rubbed sheet-pan chicken with lemon; baked pasta with artichokes, greens and too much cheese; salted butter and chocolate chunk shortbread or why would I make another chocolate chip cookie ever again?

Photo Credit: Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Paprika-rubbed sheet-pan chicken with lemon from “Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes” by Alison Roman.

'Meehan’s Bartender Manual'

Cover of “Meehan’s Bartender Manual” by Jim Meehan
Photo Credit: Ten Speed Press

The cocktail book boom has shown little signs of abating. Even so, it’s rare for a drinks book to come along that combines elegance, utility and geekiness in equal measures. This “Meehan’s Bartender Manual”  (Ten Speed Press, $40) by Jim Meehan, the legendary mixologist behind the New York City bar PDT and one of the pioneers of the craft cocktail resurgence. Meehan moves from the history of cocktails, the distillation process and building bar menus to ephemera such as illustrated bar floor plans and making spirits with a rotary evaporator still. The guts of the book for most lay readers, though, will be the drop-dead gorgeous photos of 100 classic and modern drinks such as the Vesper and Pisco Sour; after notes on each drink’s origin and inner logic, Meehan’s recipes are succinct and to the point.

“Meehan’s Bartender Manual” by Jim Meehan (Ten Speed
Photo Credit: Doron Gild

The Vesper, from “Meehan’s Bartender Manual” by Jim Meehan.

 

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