Cookbooks are our friends. They’re like little tomes of delicious knowledge about how the burnt stuff in the bottom of your pan is actually part of the recipe, and what the heck you should do with lemongrass.
Basically, they pick up where our parents left off, at least when it comes to teaching us how to put food in our mouths. (TV took care of everything else.)
So in 2018, stock your shelf with a couple of choice cookbooks. Here are a few that will not just help keep you out of the Burger King drive-through, but get you a couple steps closer to self-actualization.
1. If You Want to Learn to Cook
Try The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School by Alison Cayne
If you watch enough Food Network, you’ll become convinced that you can cook. You just saw someone make a 5-star dish out of crawfish and Cheetos, so you can totally replicate that, right? Wrong. You may need some extra help figuring out the nuances of different techniques, beyond what TV can provide. Sacrilege, I know.
To master basic skills, I would recommend The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School. This amazing cookbook breaks down key lessons like “timing and temperature” and “composition” into case studies like “Grains & Beans” and “Sauces.” I learned a ton from this cookbook, although it’s worth buying for the “Knife Skills” and “One-Bowl Meals” sections alone.
2. If You’re Trying to Eat More Plants
Try Good Clean Food by Lily Kunin
“Bowls” is a major buzzword in food. Everyone wants to create a “whole bowl,” as in, a bowl full of antioxidant-rich plants that will make you glow as acne and sin literally fall off of your skin. That’s what turmeric does, basically. But a lot of those recipes, in practice, are not good. In fact, they’re just piles of ingredients, put together, in something that isn’t a recipe but a nice rainbow plating for Instagram. What I love about Good Clean Food is that it approaches the concept of building an uber-healthy bowl, and actually delivers with imaginative, cohesive recipes. This cookbook will make you look at rolled oats in a whole new light. It’ll have you rethinking how you steam broccoli. And you won’t hate your life one bit.
3. If You Want to Eat Seasonally
Try Bon Appetit’s The Food Lover’s Cleanse by Sara Dickerman
I used to think there was “dieting” and there was “good food.” The two things were mutually exclusive. It had never occurred to me that there was a natural, seasonal—delicious—way to eat that was actually healthy. Then I picked up The Food Lover’s Cleanse. Written by Sara Dickerman of Bon Appetit, it lays out a plan for celebrating fresh ingredients, indulging in delicious dishes and doing so in a way that treats your body right. This cookbook was instrumental in making me look past frozen entrees and sugary protein bars and start developing a healthier relationship with real food. Plus, the recipes feel fancy as heck, but are simple to make.
4. If You Want to Develop Your Palate
Try Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
I can’t explain how much I love this cookbook. It was the cookbook I didn’t know I wanted or needed, until my husband bought it for me as a surprise. Full of hand-drawn illustrations and Samin’s own charming tales, it armed me to understand how to truly taste food.
The author (a Chez Panisse alum and Michael Pollan’s culinary mentor) breaks down her theory about what makes food delicious: salt, fat, acid and heat. Then, she teaches you how to master all four. Hot tip: you’ve probably been under-salting your food until now! (People with high blood pressure, listen to your doctor, not me …)
5. If You Want to Eat Less Meat
Try The Love & Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio
Some cookbooks just have heart. I don’t know how to explain it. You can tell each recipe is filled with the author’s love for every person who has crossed through their kitchen. Love & Lemons feels like that.
Organized by ingredients, it opens your eyes to imaginative new ways to improvise in the kitchen. There are no hard and fast rules in this cookbook, only great ideas. I had made several recipes from it before it even crossed my mind that it was vegetarian. You won’t miss meat once you sink into these dishes. The Coconut Rice with Brussels Sprouts is killer.
6. If You’re Doing a Whole 30
Try Real Food, Real Simple by Taylor Riggs, R.D.N.
Ok, I’ve never done a Whole 30 but I have fliiirted with the paleo diet, and the Whole 30 is basically a super strict paleo regimen. I know how great you can feel on this plan, and how you can start to miss starchy white rice super bad by day four.
Taylor Riggs’ Real Food. Real Simple. is a lifesaver for anyone sick of Larabars halfway through a Whole 30. Filled with hearty stews, puddings and granola recipes, it will remind you that eating mostly fruits, veggies and high-quality meat should be satisfying and tasty. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing every meal was balanced by the author, who is an R.D.N. She even includes cheese in a few recipes, for those who are practicing their “food freedom.”
Becky Lang is a writer, creative director and occasional podcaster living in Minneapolis. She also likes to draw dogs and female protagonists.
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