It really is the most wonderful time of the year. This is almost entirely because of a) the food, but there's a less obvious, but equally as important b) the opportunity to dole out my favorite presents—cookbooks. What else could more fully embody 'a gift that keeps on giving'?
The 20 Best Cookbooks of 2018 to Gift Any Kind of Cook
Give someone a gift that really keeps on giving
Our little library at the Kitchen Stories headquarters is a regular source of inspiration for all the KS editors, and whether we’re checking flavor pairings to see what we missed or comparing notes on focaccia dough, cookbooks are an essential part of the way we cook, think, eat, and write about food.
So, in an effort to alleviate your last-minute gift getting this December, we’ve put together a list of the best cookbooks of 2018 (in no particular order), and let me tell you, it was a good haul! You’ll find something for cooks of any type, at any level—whether their thing is pickling, Venetian cuisine, food waste, ice cream, or typography and design. There really is something for everyone, after all if you’re reading this, you already know that anyone can cook—right?
Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound: A New Way to Cook by Sybil Kapoor
Who to gift? Who to gift? The technically-minded
It seems that we can’t get enough of technically-driven cookbooks at the moment. If you (or a friend) loved Samin Nosrat’s debut Salt, Fat, Acid Heat and are always running to Niki Segnit’s The Flavor Thesaurus for advice, then Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound: A New Way to Cook is your new reference book.
Prepare to be guided through a sensory approach to cooking by award-winning food writer Sybil Kapoor as she breaks down various culinary conundrums: How does the scent of a cocktail garnish seem to infuse the first sip? What makes food look appetizing? Why do we love crunchy foods? Why do some dishes taste best cooled to room temperature? You get the idea. The book is split into five sections—Taste, Flavor, Texture, Appearance, Temperature—and dives into the intricacies, offering up recipes to prove the cases in point. If there’s a more delicious way to learn, we have yet to find it.
Stand-out recipes: Basil Custard; Miso Caramel Cake; Slurpy Prawn Laksa; Gratin of Fennel and Chicory; Sichuan Pepper and Orange Dressed Squid; Charred Leek Salad with Thyme Oil; Mattar Paneer
Korean Home Cooking: Classic and Modern Recipes by Sohui Kim with Rachel Wharton
Who to gift? Someone who likes to cook their way through a cuisine
“I moved to the United States when I was 10, and my family quickly embraced American culinary habits. We still ate Korean food, but we got pizza delivered too (though my dad would put kimchi on it),” writes chef and cookbook author Sohui Kim in the introduction to Korean Home Cooking: Classic and Modern Recipes. The book is a great guide to the Korean kitchen, featuring key produce and larder ingredients, gallery style ‘How Tos’ with step by step images (two things you know we’re fans of at KS) for trickier techniques like how to correctly cut short ribs or how to deal with finicky recipes like dumplings.
Then there are the pictures of food that looks bursting with flavor and warm, insightful writing about Korean food culture. As well as acting as your primer, you’ll find riffs on classics using ingredients more readily available outside of Korea, like the grilled escarole salad, which show just how Kim carved out her niche at her New York restaurant, The Good Fork.
Stand-out recipes: Flanken-Cut Marinated Short Ribs; Garlic Chive Kimchi; Crispy Fried Seaweed Chips; Soju Cantaloupe; Congee; Gochujang Glazed Baby Back Ribs; Rice Cake and Dumpling Soup.
Five Seasons of Jam by Lillie O’Brien
Who to gift? The cook who loves the changing seasons.
Contrary to popular opinion, jamming is not the preserve of summer alone! Chef Lillie O’Brien, who runs jam shop and manufacturer London Borough of Jam, demystifies her trade for a home audience in her debut book Five Seasons of Jam. Yes, you read that right—five! The chapters take us through Lillie's yearly jam-making schedule, split into five sections: ‘Alive’ (mid to late spring), ‘Hot’ (summer), ‘Blush’ (early autumn), ‘Barb’ (late autumn), and ‘Frost’ (winter to early spring).
Rather than sticking to your average strawberry jam, the book teaches you how to tune into the seasons (something Lillie honed during her time at St John Restaurant) and jar up even the most fleeting moments of produce—like the cherry blossom flowers she picks and turns into a syrup. Magical! Full of beautiful colored pages, botanical photographs, and shots of glossy jams, the book opens up the eye to the world around us—if Lillie can forage wild fennel by the train tracks in East London, perhaps there’s hope for us other urbanites, too. In the meantime, I’ll be putting next year’s cherry blossom season in my calendar.
Stand-out recipes: Pink Grapefruit & Smoked Salt Marmalade; Quince and Rosewater Jam; Roasted Yellow Peach & Fennel Jam; Fig & Earl Grey Jam, Rhubarb; Pistachio and Orange Blossom Jam; Fig Leaf Syrup; Pickled Watermelon Rind.
How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, 20th Anniversary Edition, Nigella Lawson
Who to gift? Someone who wants to learn how to cook, anyone who doesn’t own a copy, or just about anyone you love.
It’s hard to believe How to Eat is twenty-year-old book but easy to see why it never goes out of print. See, Nigella was dressing green beans in a miso-vinegar-mustard dressing, scattering pomegranate seeds, and making harissa back in ’98—as well as spouting self-care before it was a ‘thing.’ The book launched her cookbook career and went on to become a fixture of the British kitchen, with Ruth Rogers prophetically calling it, “the staple cookbook for a whole generation.”
She was right, it is a fantastic cooking primer told from the perspective of a working home cook—you’ll learn how to cook with the seasons, master carbonara, enjoy cooking for one or master the art of rustling up food eight (with glorious menu titles like ‘Serious Saturday Lunch for 8 – No Hostages’), and mimic her educated shortcuts. But I suspect what made the book an instant classic is exactly what had me obsessing over her writing as a teenager—that her recipes spring straight from her life, full of tips and confessions, wit and anecdotes. More than anything this means that you come to know Nigella and to trust her, that you learn how to cook confidently as well as how to eat—without guilt, with enjoyment, always appreciatively.
Stand-out recipes: Cherried and Chick Pea’d Couscous; Coca-Cola Braised and Glazed Ham; Kafka-esque or Soft and Crispy Duck; Roast Cod with Upmarket Mushy Peas; Thick Miso Dressing for Beans; Linguine with Clams; Rhubarb, Muscat, and Mascarpone Trifle.
The German Cookbook by Alfons Schuhbeck
Who to gift? The national cuisine bibliophile.
When I was growing up, my mother's collection of German cookbooks tended to sport covers with dishes in 50 shades of brownish sauce, topped with curly parsley garnishes, and titles in forgettable fonts of yesteryear. But fast forward to 2018, and the misunderstood cuisine (so often regarded as too hearty, too porky, too beige) has been given a much-deserved makeover in the latest addition to Phaidon’s national cuisine series: The German Cookbook, written by Michelin-starred veteran chef Alfons Schubeck.
This anthology of regional German cooking is something to behold, canvas bound in a Caspar David Friedrich landscape, complete with gold lettering and beautiful photography inside, with hearty dishes set on wood or linen table cloths make you want to pick up the two-dimensional cutlery and dig right in. The book’s illustrated legend earmarks recipes with useful info from ‘less than 5 ingredients’, ‘less than 30 minutes,’ ‘contains nuts’, ‘dairy free’, ‘vegetarian’, to the type of meat or seafood. But we knew this was going to be practical, didn’t we?
Stand-out recipes: Bean, Pear and Bacon Stew (Birnen, Bohnen, Speck); Swabian-Style Ravioli (Maultaschen); Franconian Style Pot Roast; Chicken Cooked in Riesling; Roe Venison Ragout; Sunken Gooseberry Cake; Blackforest Cake.
You and I Eat the Same by MAD dispatches
Who to gift? The friend still in mourning over Lucky Peach or who loved Ugly Delicious on Netflix.
”Admittedly, You and I Eat the Same doesn’t contain a single recipe, but the first volume from the new book series MAD Dispatches is a great read for anyone interested in food and with a penchant for stories of culture and human connection. Published by the non-profit, MAD—founded by renowned Danish chef René Redzepi in 2011—the anthology was edited by Chris Ying, co-founder and editor in chief of the very sadly, now defunct Lucky Peach, and touches on a variety of topics from the history of Mennonites and their cheese in Mexico to how Fried Chicken is Common Ground.
Every piece ties back to the ways food, cooking, and eating—even in their differences of form and function—connect us. The stories teach you something without making you want to crawl under a rock for being ignorant or uneducated; they’re funny, intriguing, and thought-provoking. I picked up a copy for a friend who obsesses over people watching (and eavesdropping, not in a creepy way though, I promise) just about as much as I do, and highly recommend anyone with a friend like that—like me—do the same.”
— Devan Grimsrud, Food Editor
Stand-out stories: Stories to read immediately: Mennonite Cheese is Mexican Cheese; Coffee Saves Lives; There is No Such Thing as a Nonethnic Restaurant; Food is a Gateway.
The Mezze Cookbook: Sharing Plates from the Middle East by Salma Hage
Who is for? The cook who loves nothing more than a big spread.
I can’t resist starting by saying sharing is caring, but if you’ve ever sat down to a feast of mezze, you’ll know this to be true. In her introduction, author Salma Hage writes, “When I arrived in London from Lebanon in the 1960s the idea of everyone sitting around the table with solo plates of meat and a boiled potato or two, all seemed very strange to me. Though I have come to love English food in the years since, I have always craved the sociable food from my homeland: flatbreads to tear; topped with za’atar and grassy olive oil, fresh, vibrant tabbouleh with everyone diving in for a third, or fourth helping; and my very favorite—stuffed phyllo rolls, the perfect finger food to pick over whilst sharing stories with friends and family.”
The Mezze Cookbook is the follow up to Hage’s James Beard award-winning cookbook The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook and bestseller The Lebanese Kitchen before it. A home cook turned professional, Hage has over 50 years of cooking to draw from and something to teach us all, jazzing up even the most ordinary dish like fried potatoes with three fresh variations—with Lebanese 7-spice sauce, with preserved lemon and mint, or with fennel and green olives—proving there is always something new to learn.
A Table in Venice: Recipes from my Home by Skye McAlpine
“British-blogger turned cookbook author Skye McAlpine shines a light on the cuisine of her adopted home in A Table in Venice. While browsing through her recipes, shaped by the influences of Venetian friends and neighbors, I myself feel as if I were a guest in her famous rose-tinted kitchen. Alongside the 100 traditional recipes you’ll get to know fascinating corners of the colorful Venice through the impressive photos of hidden backyards, markets and winding alleyways.
Along the way, Skype charmingly explains that her pasta doesn't always have to be fresh or homemade and that, contrary to local tradition, her lunch menu doesn’t always consist of three courses. But the most important thing for her is— and that´s a must—is sharing whatever food it may be with friends and family. For anyone who wants to get lost on a little culinary trip to Venice, this is where to start.”
– Lisa-Kristin Erdt, Editorial Intern
The New Art of Cooking, a modern guide to preparing and styling delicious food by Frankie Unsworth
Who to gift? The artistic cook with an eye for beautiful plating
Don’t let the title of the book fool you into thinking it’s more style than substance. The New Art of Cooking is a full-circle guide to delighting all the senses with the ritual of a meal—after all, along with smell, sight is the first sense we tend to feast with, whether it’s the sight of food arriving at the table or a photo that stops you mid-scroll on Instagram.
Food stylist Frankie Unsworth draws from her years in the business to share how she expertly prepares food on the job, all of which are relevant skills for the home cook, like how to arrange a beautiful plate, how to keeps herb fresh, and how to style a table setting. Following these practical tips and tricks are recipes for simple, beautiful dishes that, naturally, sound just as lovely as they look.
Stand-out recipes: Burrata with Pistachio Dukkah and Cherries; Squash with Parmesan Custard, Shiitake Miso Udon Broth, Melon, Cucumber and San Daniele Salad, Porridge for all Seasons, with Toppings.
Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
Who to gift? The cook who loves Ottolenghi but craves a shortcut.
I don’t think anyone makes food quite as appealing Yotam Ottolenghi—all artful swooshes of yogurt, tumbles of herbs, and a spectrum of vegetables. Celebrated as much for letting vegetables take pride of place at the dinner table as he is critiqued for his ingredient lists (Why do I need parsley and cilantro? What are barberries? If this is you, read on)—I find so much inspiration in his recipes. I don’t mind ducking to the grocery store for my three kinds of herbs or looking for rose harissa in the corners of the internet because the recipes are always worth it.
So, when I first read about the upcoming book, I thought the choice of title was a tongue in cheek nod to all the haters. If it is, it’s been done tactfully, with each recipe adhering to a clever acrostic: S (short on time), I (ingredients: 10 or less), M (make ahead), P (pantry), L (lazy), and E (easier than you think). The practicality continues in the Simple‘meal suggestions’ appendix, outlining menu suggestions using the 140 recipes in the book, sorted by season and divided into things like ‘mid-week supper’ and ‘weekend brunch for friends,’ to ‘feasts’ whether ‘finter’ or ‘summer’. With food that references Middle Eastern, Italian, South-East Asian, and even Ashkenazi cuisines—this book is a beautiful testament to how we cook in 2018.
Stand-out recipes: Pea, Za’atar and Feta Fritters; Burrata with chargrilled grapes and Basil; Butterbean mash with Muhammara; Pappardelle with Rose Harissa, Black Olives and Capers; Brussel Sprouts with Burnt Butter and Black Garlic; Sweet and Salty Cheesecakes with Cherries.
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
Who to gift? The menu-planning entertainer.
Prolific cookbook author Diana Henry has something of a knack for scribing whimsical titles: her best-selling debut was called Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons and the title of her tenth book How to Eat a Peach, follows in its footsteps—and for added effect, the cover itself feels like the fuzzy outer of the blushed stone fruit. In her introduction, Diana recounts the revelatory people-watching many years ago on her first trip to Italy, as she spied on a neighboring restaurant table slicing up peaches and dropping them into cold Moscato as their form of dessert.
It might sound negligible, but think of how these tiny revelations excite the appetite. “This was not a complicated dish, but it was a lovely way to end a meal — seasonal, straightforward, caring, even a little magical — and it illustrated an approach to food and cooking that I’d already understood but hadn’t yet articulate. I’ve never forgotten this. More than a memory, those peaches became a symbol of what good food is about,” writes Diana. Inside are a series of menus inspired by the season and/or her travels—from ‘too hot to cook’ to ‘before the passegiata’, the menu names are as inspired as the title. Dishes are captured in the fading afternoon sun, which is exactly when I want to crack open this book on a Saturday and plan a leisurely Sunday in the kitchen.
Stand-out recipes: The titular menu ‘How to Eat a Peach’—Summer Sandal Cocktail; Crostini with Crushed Broad Beans, and ’Nduja, Melon and Goat’s curd with Red Wine & Lavender Dressing, Roast Sea Bass with Fennel and Anise Aioli, White Peaches in Chilled Moscato.
A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone, Fabián von Hauske, and Alison Roman
Who to gift? The cook spend more time in natural wine bars than in their own kitchen
New York City-based chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske enlisted 2017’s cookbook queen, Alison Roman of Dining In fame, to help translate their menus from their restaurants Contra and Wildair into A Very Serious Cookbook. Even if you, like me, have never set foot in either restaurant, you can comfortably imagine the atmosphere courtesy of comedian and gastronome Eric Wareheim’s introductory confession— “You never feel like an idiot when ordering a bottle of wine by asking for ‘that Spanish wine made with Italian grapes and I think it has a bunny on the label?”
The book is as irreverent as the title suggests—with stories about how each dish made it onto the menu or came into being at all, like the haute result of joke challenge to “do a dish with the flavors of a Hawaiian pizza.” The bold design with its illustrated cover, brushstroke font, and matte pages will appeal to those who definitely judge a book by its cover, which I’m willing to admit I do.
Stand-out recipes: Persimmon, Stracchiatella, Chichories; Sardine, Umemboshi, Sourdough; Strawberries, Charred Milk Ice Cream; Little Clam, Almond Milk, XO; Pork, Gooseberries, Succulents.
The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson
Who to gift? The serious history buff (or your friend who was really into hygge last year).
I know I’ve just claimed The Nordic Baking Book to be ideal for recovering hygge addicts (for my cynicism, blame my Danish friend who just won’t stand for her nation’s biggest export), but don’t think I’m under-selling what is really is a very accomplished cookbook. The companion to Phaidon’s The Nordic Cookbook, the book is also written by Magnus Nilsson, of Fäviken fame, and is full of traditional recipes from Nilsson’s travels through Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—and even includes his own family recipes.
Alongside photos of the recipes themselves and instructive illustrations, you’ll find serene landscapes from across the Nordic countries that he snapped during his research trip. Peppered with conversational chapter introductions and recipe notes, the book is an informative, warmly written insight into Nordic culture and Nilsson himself, told with signature Northern dryness.
The stand-out recipes: Finnish rye malt pudding, Soda and Cultured Milk bread, Thick Oven-Baked Salt-Pork Pancake, Soft Potato Pancakes from Dalarna, Lemon Moon Cake, Saffron Buns, Icelandic Air Cookies.
La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers
Who to gift? The cook that hates winter and loves ice cream.
We could all do with a dose of sunshine to lift the impending winter fog—and the La Grotta Ices cookbook is just that. I have to admit that I’ve never had the pleasure of slurping one of their ice creams, sold off the back of a white Piaggia Ape that roams around London from April to November (in the winter months, she packs off to sell abroad, the dream)—but I feel I have devoured hundreds, courtesy of their Instagram account. Not much is needed to prompt drooling when your name is Buffalo Milk, Almond and Amalfi Lemon or Green Gooseberry Fool (was that the villain from The Pink Panther?).
La Grotta specializes in these kinds of quirky, botanically driven, not-too-sweet ice creams—say watermelon ice cream paired with a scoop of cucumber and sour cream. So, my advice for this winter is the following: seat yourself by the heater, shine your yellowest-hued lamp for some ersatz photosynthesis, and flick through the gloriously bright pages (the color scheme is something between Pop Art and Martin Parr’s Real Food). Oh, and plan your seasonal ice-cream making for 2019.
The stand-out flavors: Wild Fig and Watermelon; Roast Chestnut Gremolata; Sea Salt, Rosemary, and Pine Nut; Tomato and White Peach, Ricotta and Canditi; Barbados Custard.
Honey & Co: At Home by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Who to gift? Anyone nosy who wants to know how chefs cook at home.
“In their third book, chef couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, show us the dishes that fill their tables at home, rather than their London dining room Honey & Co., where their array of baked goods and mezze-style Middle Eastern food have given them a cult following. Having both grown up in Israel, the book also gives lovely insight into the origins of the recipes—true to their roots there is an entire chapter dedicated to all the ways of effectively burning an eggplant. My highlight was the Green Shakshuka, inspired by the old ladies sitting on the pavements of Jerusalem who sell every herb under the sun. At the end of the day they take whatever leaves and eggs not sold that day and turn it into this humble but altogether delicious meal.
There are midweek recipes for the days when barely a waking hour is spent at home but you don’t want to compromise on your dinner. Then there are recipes suitable for cobbling together a last-minute menu for a gathering—the kind you remember only when your phone pings! Still, it’s not all food for hectic people; there’s a whole chapter dedicated to the lazy weekends when the only events that give your day any structure are gastronomical ones. The best kind.”
— Florence Lampart, Community Management Intern
Recipes to cook: Potato and feta fritters, Coconut and Lime Pancakes with Mango, Fig and Feta Pide, Shishbarak (Palestinian dumplings), Frozen Tahini Parfait and Chocolate Sandwich Cake.
Waste Not, Recipes and Tips for Full-Use Cooking from America’s Best Chefs by James Beard Foundation
Who to gift: The waste-conscious cook or, better yet, the wasteful.
Waste not, want not is my grandfather’s favorite motto and true to form, in his house, a bendy carrot or wilted salad would never reach the bin. In 2018, as we find ourselves faced with one of world’s more pressing issues, he has never been more right—roughly one third of the food produced globally goes to waste—and that’s while scores of people across the world go hungry. It’s time to radically rethink how we eat, cook, and shop: “Change can be delicious, it can be fun, and it can become habit. And small habits, adopted by many, can tip a culture from indifference and neglect toward a saner, more just future in which we can all share,” writes Tom Colicchio in the introduction.
Waste Not was published by the James Beard Foundation to inspire cooks and make known that delicious recipes need not call for extravagant cuts or out of season fruits and veg, and that great dishes can be fashioned out of odds and ends and produce that might trick you into thinking its seen better days. The recipes that are both practical and intriguing: Make tahini out of the scraped seeds from a squash, whisk up an Asparagus End Aioli, and get a three-meal deal out of a single roasted chicken. With 70s-inspired photography, the book will immediately feel like it’s been with you for generation.
The stand-out recipes: Squash Seed Tahini, Green-top Harrissa, Creamy Radish Leaf Soup, Creamed Leek Tops, Broccoli Stem Vinaigrette, Kitchen Scrap Kimchi, Peach Pit Vodka, Pork Cheek Sugo with Fava Leaf Green Noodles.
The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimbell
Who to gift? The friend who keeps ‘killing’ their sourdough starter.
“Having spent all her childhood summers working in a sourdough bakery in France, back before the all the hype, third-generation baker Vanessa Kimbell has a deep love for the loaves. After finding out she was gluten intolerant (it happens, even to bakers) and suffering through four regrettably bread-free years, she discovered on a trip to France that the French sourdough was so much more digestible that commercial bread in the UK.
From then on she was determined to find out the science behind sourdough and read every research paper she could find about how the fermentation process has the ability to change flour and water into something digestible and far more nourishing. This book, named after the ‘Sourdough School’ she set up in the UK, is a collection of her findings. It’s your sourdough bible: from how to make your own starter to the differences between the ambient and extended leavening methods to all the ways to flavor your loaves, it’s all there.”
— Florence Lampart, Community Management Intern
Stand-out recipes: Russian Rye Bread, Beetroot, Black Pepper & Feta Batards, Wild Garlic Boules, Chocolate & Roast Hazelnut Bread.
Strudel, Noodles, & Dumplings by Anja Dunk
Who to gift? The nomadic cook.
Again, who said German food wasn’t cool? A glance at the cover of Anja Dunck’s Strudel, Noodles & Dumplingswill show you the renaissance is here. The book—about much more than the title suggests, is a rumination on ‘home’ and how the places we’ve lived end up on our plates—was written by a half-German author raised in Wales, Africa, and Asia. “Taste, after all,” writes Dunck, “is one of the most transportative senses. Feelings of belongings are also heightened when on foreign soil, and so is sense of identity, which in Mum’s case made itself apparent through the German food she produced—consequently, as a child I felt far more German than anything else.”
The recipes reference home-cooked German classics, with thoughtful twists on much loved ingredients like quark, juniper, buckwheat, caraway and are divided into chapters like ‘Everyday bakes’, ‘Quick Plates’, or ‘flour + water = magic’, along with a thorough briefing of key German flavors. It’s a beautiful book for anyone who’s lived a roaming life.
The stand-out recipes: Venison and Juniper Burgers, Buckwheat, Cherry and Pea Shoot Salad, Elderflower Milk Soup.
In My Blood by Bo Bech
Chef Bo Bech, called an enfant terrible in his time, takes us inside his Copenhagen restaurant Geist in this quirky self-published cookbook In my Blood. Before you make it to the recipes, you’ll pass by sweeping watercolors and get to know the chef intimately through his scrawled answers to the Proust questionnaire.
Though the recipes—all shot from an aerial perspective as if you’re looming over these plated works of art at Geist itself—might be on the aspirational end of the scale, the book itself is a fascinating insight into the artistic process of building a restaurant from the ground up, covering everything from the brick and mortar to the more intangible identity and soul. For approachable, but novel tipples, like the Cherry Popcorn Bourbon Shake, flick to the end, because it’s never a bad idea to start a good read with a great cocktail.
The stand-out recipes: Oxheart Tomatoes with Raspberries and Harissa, Pointed Cabbage with Sesame and Rosehip, Goose with Elderberries and Licorice, Fava Beans with Sorrel and Butter Whey.
Published on December 7, 2018