If you’re like us, and something tells me you are, you have as many cookbooks on your shelf as novels. Half of them have a permanent place in your kitchen, dog-eared, spotted with bits of flour and drops of olive oil. Others will never make it to the kitchen, and seem more at home on a coffee table or stacked on a nightstand, trophies of a life dedicated to eating well. The most valuable ones are the old ones, the personal ones, the family cookbooks handed down through the generations that connect us to great meals and family memories. If you’re lucky, there will be a mother’s or possibly a grandmother’s handwriting in the margins.
Here at Meatless Monday, piles of cookbooks adorn almost every nook in our office. Desks, book cabinets, conference rooms, wherever there’s a flat surface, there’s a stack of reading material. A new Michael Pollan book is read and discussed with the same excitement that movie buffs talk about a new Scorsese film.
If you’re looking to buy a last minute gift— there won’t be any handwriting in the margins—here are a few of the cookbooks we love.
“My favorite meatless cookbook this year is by Joe Yonan. Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook is a fun and practical book. I like it because it acknowledges the lone cook. Great to give as a gift for single folks, who often sacrifice their standards just because they’re eating alone. There are 80 recipes and insights to help people tackle the challenge of shopping, planning and cooking for one.”
“Anything by Mollie Katzen! The original Moosewood is a classic – delicious, tried and true recipes from a pioneer in the Farm to Table movement. Plus, it has many hearty, warm soups for winter—the first recipe I ever cooked was the Lentil Soup. Pretend Soup and all her kids’ cookbooks are a great way to introduce kids to the sheer fun of cooking. And The Heart of the Plate is my favorite cookbook of 2013. Delicious words and photos.”
“Molto Gusto“ is a book that really captures what Meatless Monday is about. Basically, this is how I eat. Mostly vegetables. A little meat. Friday night pizzas. And more than ever, I try to think about where my food comes from, how far it travels, how it’s raised, and the effect all that has on the environment. For a guy who made Beef Cheek Ravioli famous, these simple, Otto-centric recipes show a lighter side of Mario—smaller plates, more vegetables, big flavors.”
“If I could only have one vegetarian cookbook, it would be How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. With 2,000+ recipes, the “everything” in the title isn’t an exaggeration. I also have the mobile app version on my iPad and iPhone, which makes it super easy to search by ingredient after (or during!) a trip to the farmers market. The recipes are easy to follow and I love that he includes variations you can try for each.”
“Hands down, Joe Carcione’s The Greengrocer Cookbook. I grew up in the San Francisco area and this cookbook was a staple of my family’s kitchen. Our town, Half Moon Bay, was known for three things: surfing, sharks, and produce, and though we steered clear of the water for the most part, we absolutely took advantage of our community’s agricultural outputs. The Greengrocer Cookbook was our go-to guide for cooking the town’s bounty, with my personal favorite recipes being those made from real pumpkins, which was one of our town’s biggest crops. My dad gave me the family copy of the cookbook a few years ago (he bought his own to replace it), and it has pride of place on my cookbook shelf. Looking through it as an adult, I’ve found a greater appreciation for the effort Carcione put into the educational component of his work: describing how different vegetables are grown and introducing readers to produce they may have never seen before (mangos and snow peas, among others, were still new and “exotic” in 1975). He also took care to include information about “endangered” fruits and vegetables (figs, rhubarb and blood oranges fell in this category) in what I now see as an early attempt to warn us against the harm of monoculture. So, in just a small cookbook, Joe was able (in a very readable, accessible way) to show us what we were eating, teach us how to prepare it, and motivate us to both broaden our culinary horizons and feel a sense of responsibility towards our food system. In my opinion, meatless or not, a cookbook doesn’t get any better than that.”
“Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run is one for the runner on your list. As a vegan and ultra marathoner, Scott Jurek shows how long distance runners can fuel up on plants and still kick butt. Recipes included.”
“I first read Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch as a meat-eater, so I can attest that you don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy Kim Barnouin’s recipes, or her sassy delivery. Her recipes are ‘good for the earth and great for your bod.’ Sound familiar?”
“Sylvia’s Table is one of those cookbooks you’ll read like a novel. Liz Neumark’s passion for cooking, family, and for helping kids understand where their food comes from fills every page of this amazing personal book. Flip through just a few pages, learn about the amazing work going on up at Katchkie Farm in upstate N.Y., and in no time you’ll feel like you’re having a conversation with Liz and her friends (like Dan Barber, Michael Romano, Dana Cowin and Sara Moulton.)”
“Reading The French Market Cookbook is a quick trip to Paris every time I pick it up. I wasn’t familiar with Clotilde Dusoulier, or her chocolateandzucchini.com blog. But from the cover design to the recipes—organized by season—to the inviting photos, this is a tour of French vegetarian cooking we don’t often see. The basic philosophy is: center your meal with whatever is fresh is the marketplace. There are plenty of stories behind the recipes, and sprinkled throughout are flavorful terms like legumes oubliés, velouté and pistou. Plenty of opportunities to add to my high school French.”