October: It’s the time of year when cookbooks rain down faster than the leaves falling from the trees. With so many terrific books to choose from, how do you decide?
Whether they teach or inspire, here are five new books that promise to show you new techniques, look at ingredients in a fresh way, or encourage you to level-up your everyday meals. Nothing scary at all!
LEAF: Lettuce, Greens, Herbs, Weeds — Over 120 Recipes that Celebrate Varied, Versatile Leaves
By Catherine Phipps
Having never really considered the scope of leaves used in cooking, Leaf was a revelation to me. The charming introduction notes that the author’s obsession with greens began in childhood with the fairy tale about Rapunzel, whose pregnant mother was so desperate to find greens that she traded her daughter to the witch for her leafy craving.
Savory, bitter, metallic, succulent, salty, pungent, spicy, and mellow are all worthy descriptions used by Phipps, clearly eager and enthusiastic to share her love of all things leafy. This is truly a complete book on the topic, with guidance for proper storage and drying, and recipes for every course and purpose, including flavored salts and butters, preserves, and drinks. The braised chicken with coriander, chili, and orange hits many notes with the brightness of cilantro, heat from jalapeños, and sweet citrus, making a wonderful fall dinner.
The book, a celebration of “edible and aromatic leaves,” will change the way you look at the humble leaf.
Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking
By Lior Lev Sercarz with Genevieve Ko
Sercarz is the chef-owner and force behind La Boîte, the New York City spice mecca. He has collaborated with such leading chefs as Eric Ripert and Philly’s own Michael Solomonov to make unique spice blends for their restaurants. Now he’s teaching us how to blend spices at home, to transform your daily cooking with them. There’s also an indispensable chapter on understanding spices.
Starting with a master recipe and a main spice blend, Sercarz then offers five variations, sometimes tweaking the blend. Take the oven-roasted meatballs: The starter recipe is for spicy garlic and oregano meatballs with blistered grape tomatoes flavored with an intoxicating mix of fennel seed, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and dried chilies. I chose to make the variation for feta-stuffed meatballs with green olives — so easy and delicious I made them twice in a week! The hint of cinnamon is sublime, and the feta becomes a creamy center when cooked. The meatballs, roasted in the oven, leave you free to multitask. Other variations include tahini-parsley with paprika, rose and ginger lamb meatballs with black olives, and crunchy parmesan meatballs.
Wagamama Feed Your Soul: Fresh + Simple Recipes from the Wagamama Kitchen
By Steven Mangelshot
With more than 70 recipes covering ramens, curries, noodle, and rice dishes, this new book by Wagamama’s executive chef delivers the chain’s signature Japanese-based recipes in an accessible, attainable way. Wagamama opened its first restaurant in London in 1992 and now has locations scattered around the globe. The philosophy behind the brand and this book is the "power of positive eating.” There’s an emphasis on balance of quality of food and mindful intention — taking the time to prepare, eat, and enjoy what fills your belly and your soul.
One beloved dish at Wagamama is the Chicken Katsu Curry, a flattened fried chicken breast topped with a curry sauce. I was thrilled with the crispy cutlet coupled with the coconut milk-based curry sauce. Served alongside fragrant jasmine rice and a green salad tossed with Wagamama’s gingery dressing, this is perfect comfort food. Most recipes are written for two, but can easily be modified.
365: A Year of Everyday Cooking and Baking
By Meike Peters
With a recipe for each day of the year, you’ll never run out of inspiration here. Running through the entire calendar year, beginning in January, 365 concentrates on seasonal availability. Peters won a James Beard Award for best cookbook in 2017 for Eat in My Kitchen, also the name of her blog, which began in 2013. Her recipes have a unique European and Maltese spin, filled with vibrant color and flavor. Simple roasted squash wedges are a seasonal staple; Peters’ additions of pistachios, feta and cumin oil add depth and dimension.
While 365 certainly answers the age-old question of what’s for dinner, it also answers the call for dessert. The Spanish almond tart with blood orange, a nod to the Galician torta de Santiago, is one of simple perfection. Relying on three main ingredients — almonds, eggs, and sugar — it contains no butter or flour, making it a healthy-ish option for afternoon tea or dessert. Cinnamon and blood orange zest and juice flavor the tart. With its crackly crisp crust (think macaron exterior) and slightly fudgy interior, this almond tart is a textual wonder, as well as a sensory one. The whole house smelled divine as it baked.
Living Bread: Tradition and Innovation in Artisan Bread Making
By Daniel Leader
During a trip to Paris in 1978, two-time IACP winner Leader was headed to an outdoor market that was inspired by Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Seeking out culinary destinations throughout the city, he found himself “bewitched” by the smell of bread baking. He followed the aroma and asked permission to come into the bakery to observe. The answer was “Entrez!” He watched and learned and now refers to those observations as his Backdoor School of Baking. Leader’s pursuit led him to open Bread Alone, his Woodstock, N.Y., bakery, in 1983.
His new book is a passionate tribute to the art of baking bread, providing technical and practical expertise from Leader and top bakers around the world. The skillfully written 60-plus recipes are accompanied by wonderful stories and Joerg Lehman’s gorgeous photography.
Truth is, I am not the most organized planner and until now have only made a handful of loaves. I decided to make the baguette de Richard Ruan, a French baker. The recipe uses a stand mixer and instant yeast, a benefit to my basic skills. I followed the directions to a T. I mixed and proofed and waited. There’s lots of resting and proofing time in bread baking, so I wrote a haiku:
Final proof baguettes
The oven is heating up
My fingers are crossed
I preheated the oven for an hour with a cast-iron skillet and baking stone in it. A cup of ice goes into the pan to replicate a professional steam oven. And it worked. I made three crispy crusted baguettes with perfect interiors, and I can’t wait to make more.