Each year, a tower of cookbooks slowly rises in our office; at least one arrives each day, sometimes more. As the months pass, themes emerge. In 2018 — despite the odd proliferation of instant-pot and air-frying cookbooks (how long a shelf life do these have?) — more than a handful made us think, “Where have you been all of my life?” We’ve whittled these down to eight cookbooks that have the power to broaden your kitchen practice, or simply entertain.
With its minimalist cover and hot-pink page edges, “River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant,” by Ruth Rogers, Rose Gray, Sian Wyn Owen and Joseph Trivelli (Knopf, $40) is a beautiful object in and of itself, but also feels very necessary. The 120 recipes culled from the playbook of this legendary London restaurant — where chefs Rogers and Gray transformed Italian staples into no-nonsense masterpieces — travel from fig and cannellini bean salad to pork braised in milk, garlic and sage, buttressed by gorgeous photography.
Vegetables are pushing meat to the side of the plate, and it’s technicolor produce that has the starring role in “Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Heartier, Tastier Way With Vegetables,” by Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb (Artisan, $24.95). This slim but packed volume cinches together such constructions as scorched chive-bud salad with smoked tofu, chayote-and apple salad, and deconstructed egg salad with notes on, for instance, pickling stems and dressing Japanese eggplant multiple ways, depending on proclivity.
Michael Solonomov and Steven Cook won a James Beard Award for their first cookbook “Zahav,” and their follow-up, “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) goes deeper still, plumbing the diverse dishes that constitute eating in Israel — hummus and sabich, sure, but also Bulgarian kebabs, Georgian khachapuri and Persian-style meatballs with beet sauce. By the last recipes (for ice pops), you’ll feel as if you’ve been taken on a tour of the country.
One could thumb through
“Let’s Eat France,” by François-Régis Gaudry (Artisan, $50), for years, and still encounter new things — such as the differences between meringues, the golden rules of potage parmentier or French history told through Camembert labels. This ginormous book is constructed like an exuberant encyclopedia-slash-magazine where you come to recipes by way of infographics, mini-histories and recollections from famous writers.
The soulful “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanian Recipes Remixed for the Modern Kitchen,” by Zoe Adjonyoh (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99) makes you wonder why cocoyam pottage or the goat-based curry known as waakye stew are not more widely known, as delicious as they sound. By virtue of her accessible writing, Adjonyoh, a London chef who runs Ghanaian food popups and supper clubs, makes these dishes seem like the next hot culinary frontier (literally; you’ll need to stock the larder with a mélange of chilies to get started).
Chef Anito Lo reports she has been “dumped almost as many times as I’ve been in relationships.” That, blended with the off-kilter hours of a chef, have yielded the seminal “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One” (Knopf, $28.95). In Lo’s hands, solitary dining becomes almost sexy, from hand rolls of mackerel, cucumber and avocado to braised short rib with caramelized endive and cauliflower chat with onions. As Lo writes in her intro, “butter is a perfectly good substitute for love.” We’d agree.
Time is of the essence in “The Noma Guide to Fermentation,” by René Redzepi and David Zilber (Artisan, $40) — 449 pages of koji, scoby, and all things lactofermented from the world’s most celebrated kitchen. While many of these recipes — from lacto plums to hazelnut miso to celery vinegar — take patience, as the authors write, “The first time you taste celery vinegar, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.”
After tucking into “Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Rural Bakery,” by Brian Noyes and Nevin Martell (Potter, $25), even non-bakers may be slinging flour by the weekend, whether peach milkshake cake, bourbon sarsaparilla cake or wild raspberry buckle (“a cross between a coffee cake and a cobbler”). While your buckle is in the oven, Noyes’ first-person reflections will keep you engaged.