I have a recipe-sharing group on Facebook (Share your recipes (vegetarian and vegan friendly)), and a friend recently posted a Wall comment recommending the Moosewood series of cookbooks. At one point in time I had the entire Moosewood series, and I highly recommend them. But I've been downsizing over the last year, and in an attempt to free up some space on my bookshelves I got rid of all but one shelf of my cookbooks.
I used to be a cookbook junkie. (I used to be a book junkie, period.) I read cookbooks as though they were novels - just for fun - and I used to have about 75 of them. I've cut that number by two-thirds. I mean, I rarely USE cookbooks. I rarely use recipes. Most of what I cook I make up as I go along, based on past experience. But here are the 10 favorite cookbooks that I still own:
- Unplugged Kitchen by Viana La Place. I am in love with the way this woman - an Italian-American - describes food. Her book is full of descriptions from her childhood, and is also an "unplugged" manifesto; she encourages readers to eschew modern kitchen appliances like food processors in favour of time-honoured tools such as the food mill. (I own a food processor. I don't own a food mill. But I can appreciate her approach all the same.) Favorite recipe: Damiana's Purslane Salad. (La Place's description of purslane piqued my interest, and I was delighted to discover that it grew as a plentiful weed in my father's vegetable patch. I ate a lot of purslane that summer.)
- The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Brian Ruppenthal. A vegetarian classic, this cookbook is also an invaluable vegetarian resource, with tables of calorie counts and nutrients for all the recipes and most of the common vegetarian foods, guidance on how to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet, and tips for special populations (children, pregnant women). A must-have for any new vegetarian. Also by this author: Laurel's Kitchen Caring: Recipes for Everyday Home Caregiving, a cookbook of comfort food to feed loved ones who are challenged by illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.
- The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison with Edward Espe Brown. By the celebrated first chef of the famous San Francisco vegetarian restaurant, Greens, this book is a classic of fine vegetarian cuisine. I was encouraged to try making homemade pasta after first reading this book years ago. Highlight: Lots (LOTS) of recipes for salads, soups and homemade pastas.
- Raw: The Uncook Book by Juliano. I was raw (eating only raw food) for over eight months several years ago, and Raw was a wonderful inspiration for me (although, as with most raw "cooking," the recipes are quite time-consuming). Highlight: The photos! This book is absolutely gorgeous, and it makes you want to go raw if only for the visual pleasure of the experience.
- The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking by Elisabeth Luard. This book isn't vegetarian, but because it's about peasant food there are plenty of vegetarian (i.e. inexpensive!) dishes. I like simple things. Peasant food fits the bill. And the descriptions of peasant food from the different regions are fascinating. (Plus there's a whole chapter on potato dishes. Need I say more?) Favorite recipe: Colcannon (an Irish potato/kale dish).
- Tassajara Cooking by Edward Espe Brown. Tassajara is the location of the Zen Mountain Center, a Zen Buddhist practice centre founded in 1967. This cookbook is not just about recipes, but a "zen and the art of cooking" treatise. A joy to read. Favorite recipe: Carrot Salad: carrot, salt, lemon. (Did I mention I like simple things?)
- James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard. Again - not vegetarian, but very, VERY useful. Beard, the one-time dean of American cooking, describes in great detail the reasons behind any and every cooking technique you could ever want to use in Western cooking.
- The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Another fantastic cooking resource; I rarely use it, but keep it around in case I'm ever inspired to make classic favorites like homemade lemonade or apple crisp. Favorite recipe: Lemonade.
- Wholesome Harvest: Cooking with the New Four Food Groups - Grains, Beans, Fruits and Vegetables by Carol Gelles. Want a bunch of hearty, basic vegetarian recipes that are inherently nutritious? This is the cookbook to have. I got rid of Diet for a Small Planet years ago in favour of keeping this book, which is much more useful. Favorite recipe: Lentil Apple Soup.
- Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. Written in the spirit of the Mennonite More with Less books by Doris Janzen Longacre, this book is an extravagant feast of recipes (again - not vegetarian) from around the world. The combinations of foods and spices from different countries are what I love about this book. Favorite feature: Descriptions of day-to-day life in third world countries. Very humbling and inspiring.
On top of the above cookbooks, I also have three books I'd love to own, but don't:
- Happy Days with the Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver. Actually, I would probably take any of Oliver's books. But this is the one I know. I first saw this book in a client's home, and I used to take it down off the bookshelf in her kitchen every time I dusted - just for the pleasure of flipping through the pages. I've never seen one of Oliver's shows, but I love his enthusiasm for good, fresh food. Favorite recipe: Fresh mint crushed with sugar in a mortar and pestle, which makes an unbelievably beautiful green garnish for ice cream.
- Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe, by Mollie Katzen. Katzen was a member of the original Mooswood collective, and the author of several other vegetarian cookbooks. Breakfast recipes to serve all day. Favorite recipe: Hash browns with diced beets. Don't knock it until you've tried it!
- In Tuscany by Frances Mayes. Not strictly a cookbook - travel writer Mayes is well-known for her Under the Tuscan Sun memoir - this is a coffee-table visual extravaganza of the Tuscany region with, yes, recipes interspersed throughout the book. Favorite page: The description of "bacci," or Italian kisses. (As in real kisses. Not food.)