Consider the gift of words this season. And not just any words, but a curated collection of you-know-what for a food lover who is as partial to the typewritten page as he or she is to a head of garlic or handful of lentils.
The choices are plentiful for what has turned out to be a bonanza year for good books, which cover a breadth of topics, from science (and food), travel (and food), history (and food) and, well, you get the drift. Food can (and should be!) part of any discussion. And when recipes are included, we’re all the merrier and well fed.
If there’s a curmudgeon in your household whispering, “Can you squeeze another cookbook onto the shelf?” repeat after me: Of course you can. And so can those to whom you are giving books. Save the downsizing until next year.
For the traveler
“Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba,” by Anya von Bremzen (Abrams, 352 pages, $40). The small homegrown dining spots in Cuba, approved by the government in the early 1990s, are called paladares (which means “palates”). The very talented von Bremzen, author of the prizewinning “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking,” tells the story of these mini-restaurants and the people behind them. Megan Fawn Schlow provides stunning photography and recipes, from Pumpkin Rice to Salt-Roasted Shrimp or Ceviche With Mango and Black-Eyed Peas.
“Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey,” by Robyn Eckhardt and photos by David Hagerman (Rux Martin Book, 352 pages, $35). This wife-husband team has traveled the country of Turkey for more than two decades, which shows as they guide us through the various regions, offering recipes by locale, from Rice-Stuffed Mussels, Fresh Fava Beans With Yogurt and Mint, to Coiled Tahini Buns and Turmeric-Scented Lamb and Chickpea Stew.
For the scientist
“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking,” by Samin Nosrat (Simon & Schuster, 462 pages, $35). Think you know how to cook? Nosrat will surprise you with what you don’t know. Master these four elements of cooking (see the title) and you’ll be a pro in the kitchen. (She was featured in the documentary “Cooked,” where she taught author/food activist Michael Pollan.) The book, with delightful illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, includes 100 recipes, though she will tell you that you don’t need them, once you understand those basic elements. In what surely is an exception to most cookbooks, she asks that you read hers from cover to cover and then get to work in the kitchen, testing out these premises. From studying literature, to busing dishes at Chez Panisse, and later cooking there, to traveling around the world to learn more about food, she writes with great wit. We need more cooks like her.
For the home cook
“The Chef and the Slow Cooker,” by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $29.99). Expand your slow cooker repertoire. That’s the message from Acheson, who urges a return to the kitchen, with the help of old-school technology to prepare meals and accoutrements for the contemporary palate, with 100-plus recipes that reflect such dishes as Kimchi-Braised Chicken, Pancetta-Mushroom Beef Rolls, jams and jellies, even broth. “We do not create cherished memories of family and food over pizza pockets,” says Acheson, chef/owner of restaurants in Atlanta and Athens, Ga., and a James Beard award winner for Best Chef Southeast. His droll sense of humor is on display throughout the book as he shows what can be done while the slow cooker is at work (see him playing a cello, with an orange slow cooker at his side. Ditto in the bathtub, on a park bench and in a lawn chair). For more slow cooker recipes (400 in all) see “The Complete Slow Cooker,” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, 399 pages, $29.99), or “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker,” from Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, 272 pages, $26), with 110 recipes.
“Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites,” by Deb Perelman (Alfred A. Knopf, 330 pages, $35). With a family of four (including a 2-year-old), Perelman is busy, but far from too busy to cook, at least with the right recipes. That’s the focus of her new book, a celebration of meals together. The blogger who became a New York Times bestseller offers her bit of resistance “against the idea that cooking must be an obstacle to overcome or that the food we must want to eat cannot also be practical.” Hear, hear! Think Winter Slaw With Farro to Broccoli Melts (see recipe), Wild Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie, and Meatballs Marsala With Egg Noodles and Chives. Hungry yet?
For the fisherman
“American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea,” by Barton Seaver (Sterling Epicure, 520 pages, $50). The author of “For Cod and Country” and “Two If by Sea” — a former chef — turns his attention to this catalog of 500 species, from abalone to wreckfish, in this encyclopedia-by-way-of-coffee-table book. Lose yourself in the historical photos of catches and trawlers (Ernest Hemingway with a marlin) and ads (“Whale meat: This is meat — not fish, economical and excellent”). No recipes — there’s no room — but it offers that “read it like a novel” deliciousness as Seaver discusses what could have been dry material, but isn’t: the anatomy of a fish, our evolving tastes in fish varieties and historical views of fishing over the centuries. And more.
For the morning cook
“Joy the Baker Over Easy: Sweet & Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days,” by Joy Wilson (Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $27.50). Is there a lovelier — or more civilized — time of day to eat? Not with banana fritters and Earl Grey and Ricotta Waffles on the table. There’s good reason that Wilson’s blog, joythebaker.com, is so popular. I’m dreaming of Muffuletta Brunch Salad, Praline Bacon, and Chocolate Brioche Cinnamon Rolls. What’s on your brunch plate?
For the vegetable cook
“David Tanis Market Cooking,” by David Tanis (Artisan, 478 pages, $40). In praise of the not so lowly vegetable, Tanis, a former longtime chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and food columnist for the New York Times, makes the case, with 225 recipes, that the vegetable is the unsung hero of the kitchen.