By LYNDSEY RUNYAN
CONFESSIONS OF AN ACTUAL LIBRARIAN
I love reading cookbooks. I grew up in a family who knew collectively how to cook about six things for dinner. Luckily, everything was fresh, for the most part. However, when I left my childhood home I had no idea how to cook anything for myself. My brother coached me a fair amount, and it has been quite the journey.
I now have a full chest freezer with a farm-fresh pork, lamb, all sorts of vegetables from last summer and a depleting supply of beef as well. And what’s even better, I am learning how to cook it all with seasonal and responsible recipes from some of the greatest cookbooks.
At the library, one of our most checked out book collections is cookbooks containing a diverse range of cuisines, foods and diets. Come by, check some out and learn to cook some truly delicious, amazing foods.
Here are my favorites.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Initially, I felt nervous about this cookbook. I figured it would only incorporate one part of the diversity that is Jerusalem. But what is different and special about this Middle-Eastern cookbook is that it comes from two chefs, one Jewish and one Palestinian. The authors make the focus of this wonderful cookbook the vibrant, diverse culture of their hometown, with recipes from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. My favorite part is the story about how different countries and shops fight for credit of the delicious dip hummus. Plus, prepare to drool over the exquisite food photographs. (Ten Speed; Press $35)
“The Art of Simple Food Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution,” by Alice Waters
I think one of the greatest things about Alice Waters (one of the pioneers of the organic, local food movement) is that she really likes to write about the basic components of cooking. She believes the quality of the parts that make up your meal are what make it delicious. Her recipes are super simple but focus on technique (that anyone can replicate), ingredients and kitchen tool quality. These simple recipes allow you to tweak and manipulate your meal depending on what is in season. I swear by her roasted chicken recipe. The second edition is coming out this year; look for it at the library. (Clarkson Potter; $35)
“The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamantaschen,” by Noah Bernamoff and Rae Bernamoff
I read this cookbook, was completely impressed by everything in it and, immediately upon visiting New York City this spring, went to the authors’ restaurant and devoured a smoked meat sandwich. I will tell you this book has all the Jewish deli food I nostalgically love in it — from pickles to pastrami, to cured fish and more. And I love the story of how a late 20-something law student distracted himself from school by smoking meat on his rooftop, eventually quitting and opening this tiny deli with his wife. If you visit Brooklyn, please go eat food at their deli, you will not be sorry, I promise. (Clarkson Potter; $27.50)
“Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat,” by Deborah Krasner
Living with a couple of vegetarian farmers (who raise meat animals) has really made me consider my ethics of sourcing good, local, sustainable meats. If you eat meat, you need to read this book. This Vermont-native author does a great job coaching you to buy local meat of quality, which is pretty damn easy living in Vermont. Plus, she has some of the most delicious recipes for all the weird parts of animals that you get when you buy a whole pig or a half a cow. My favorite recipe is definitely the maple bacon popcorn; although it’s one of those things you should eat about once a year. (Please, don’t ask me how many times I made it this long winter.) This is a great educational tool and a fabulous cookbook in one. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $40)
“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods,” by Sandor Katz
Everything you could possibly want to know about fermented foods is in this book. I made the most delicious sauerkraut, sour pickles, kombucha, sourdough bread and more from recipes in this book. I love how Katz includes fermented foods in his HIV self care. It’s an excellent cookbook that addresses the holistic nature of foods and their healing properties while keeping delicious integrity intact. (Chelsea Green Publishing; $25)
“Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes,” by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern
I know some of you are groaning with this pick. Unfortunately, there are some of us out in the world who are horribly allergic to certain foods. I happen to be stricken with three such allergies. When I first found out that I had to drastically change my diet, I had a pretty serious emotional reaction. I could never eat crusty French bread again? Or a burger on a bun? What do you mean?! Gluten-Free Girl’s cookbook and blog (of the same name) saved me in a lot of ways. I found out that gluten-free cooking can taste good and doesn’t have to be super hard. Plus, you get to read about the sweetness of this seemingly food-incompatible couple! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $29.95)
“On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” by Harold McGee
I gave my sweetie (a total foodie) a cookbook pick for this column and she really wanted me to include this book. I have to admit that I haven’t read it yet, but it’s described as a must-read kitchen classic for food lovers. It has been said that this book is like a bible for chefs and food lovers to give them a better idea of where foods come from, their scientific makeup and how cooking transforms them into something new and delicious. I will say that I have been shown lots of very up-close pictures of what yogurt, cottage cheese and other foods — gross and fascinating. This one is definitely on my to-read shelf. (Scribner; $40)
Happy reading, Rutland.