Do you periodically wander into your kitchen, stare moodily at a can of chickpeas and wonder, “Am I really expected to prepare another meal?”
If so, you’re not alone. The New York Times columnist Tejal Rao explored cooking fatigue in her November 10 article, “For Home Cooks, Burnout is a Reality this Holiday Season.” Eight days later, Quartz linked rising sales of prepared foods with Americans’ collective weariness toward the drudgery of mealtimes.
“In theory, I love to cook. But I am so, so sick of cooking,” Helen Rosner wrote on Nov. 25 in The New Yorker.
There are many pressing global issues, but mealtime fatigue is a persistent, everyday adversary. Fortunately, cookbooks are one of the best lines of defense. Whether you’re a seasoned chef bored by the monotony of home cooking, or a novice wildly intimidated by the idea of fixing multiple meals a day, there’s a cookbook that can inspire your process.
Here are 11 of our favorite options for every type of cook.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
Perfect for anyone who wants an encyclopedic reference to become a smarter, more strategic cook, Samin Nosrat’s best-seller demystifies the science of what tastes good and why. It’s the ultimate touchstone for new and experienced cooks. There are tips on how to balance flavors and textures, and a knockout yogurt-marinated roast chicken, all written in Nosrat’s charming, accessible style.
Instead of glossy photographs, this workhorse has illustrations and infographics. For instance, there’s a pesto pie chart to help you know how to swap in different greens or nuts to your next sauce, and a flowchart to decide what recipe to make on a given night.
Vietnamese Food Any Day
Preparing multiple meals day in and day out can exhaust even the most dedicated home cook. Few books are better for weekday warriors than Andrea Nguyen’s Vietnamese Food Any Day. The James Beard Award-winning author and teacher creates recipes with short yet mighty shopping lists to deliver meals like char siu chicken, umami garlic noodles and Viet Cajun seafood boil, all in 45 minutes or less.
Those with holiday leftovers or access to a great butcher should check out her smoked turkey pho, made with one turkey thigh instead of the traditional chicken.
Even farmers market devotees need inspiration sometimes. For vegetable-centric (though not necessarily vegetarian) cooks hungry for fresh ideas, there’s Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons. McFadden, the chef at Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon, advocates two additions to the four seasons: spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, autumn and winter. With creative ideas for everything from juicy corn and tomatoes, to thick-skinned, cool-weather onions and rutabagas, McFadden’s recipes make even the humblest vegetables shine.
Yasmin Khan’s celebration of Palestinian recipes and culinary traditions provides the sort of immersive experience that usually requires several weeks of travel. It offers clearly written, engaging recipes like zaatar-spiced roast salmon, eggplant chickpea salad, and seared halloumi with oranges, dates and pomegranates. The book also provides thoughtful reporting and photography from Khan’s experiences of cooking and eating among Palestinian communities. She divides the culinary approaches into three traditions: traditional Levantine cuisine of the Galilee, the bread and meat-based West Bank, and the spicy, seafood-centric fare of the Gaza Strip.
The North End Italian Cookbook
Want to learn how to make lasagna, minestrone and pork chops pizzaiola-style like the Italian-American grandmother you may have never had? Pick up a copy of Marguerite DiMino Buonopane’s best seller, now in its sixth edition. This isn’t a glossy travelogue disguised as a cookbook, where photos of rolling Tuscan hillsides or Sicilian beaches outshine the recipes. Instead, Buonopane’s friendly prose outlines everything from an excellent red sauce recipe to vinegar peppers and pizza dough. There’s also celebration-worthy osso bucco or seafood imbottito, and less pricey cousins like lobster fra diavolo, made with castaway parts sold at fish markets at a fraction of the cost of whole lobsters.
Dinner in an Instant
If you have an Instant Pot or other multi-purpose cooker, there’s no better companion than this 75-recipe collection by New York Times columnist Melissa Clark. Baby back ribs with tamarind glaze, shakshuka, butter shrimp and more are explained carefully in this exceedingly practical book, as are options for gluten-free, vegetarian and other diets. Clark also provides inventive uses for equipment like how to cook multiple components of a dish simultaneously via the steamer rack or to prepare custards and other delicate desserts by reimagining the device as a hot water bath.
The Jemima Code
Contextualize U.S. culinary traditions and conversations with Toni Tipton-Martin’s James Beard Award-winning work that surveys some 150 cookbooks by Black authors. From an 1866 “Domestic Cook Book,” to 20th- and 21st-century works by Edna Lewis and Jessica B. Harris, Tipton-Martin explores how Black cooks and food writers have shaped the U.S. culinary landscape with photography, annotated excerpts and recipes.
Around My French Table
Francophiles will delight in the elegant, accessible recipes in this book by Dorie Greenspan, a U.S. expat whose passion for Paris is irresistible. Even the simplest dishes are chic, like Hélène’s all-white salad, a combination of apples, celery, cabbage and mushrooms in a yogurt dressing. Heartier fare like roast chicken, boeuf daube and hachis parmentier, or Alsatian shepherd’s pie, are explained thoughtfully and contextualized in Greenspan’s engaging voice.
Don’t sleep on the showstopping stuffed pumpkin, for which Greenspan offers an array of variations, including a meatless option.
“I refuse to call this ‘mushroom bacon,’” Bryan Terry writes in the headnotes to a recipe for marinated trumpet mushrooms. “Let it be what it is: Delicious!” Anyone looking to expand their vegan repertoire will appreciate Terry’s enthusiastic approach to seasonal cooking, which features influences from across Asian and African diasporas.
The dishes and approaches are slightly aspirational (who doesn’t want to be the sort of person who goes to the farmers market each Saturday and make sunchoke cream with their young children on Sunday afternoons?). But they’re also versatile, spanning easy carrot coconut soup and special occasion-worthy barbecue tofu wrapped in collards.
“Can you chop vegetables?’ writes Priya Krishna in the introduction to this engaging collection of recipes. “You can make Indian food!” Many recipes are adapted from her Indian-American upbringing in Texas. Perfect for home cooks and busy weekdays, the book includes crowd-pleasing caramelized onion dal, and a saag paneer-esque dish made with supermarket spinach and feta. She breaks down the differences between popular South Asian spice blends and lentils, and also shares her mother’s handy flowchart for approaching Indian flavors. There’s also practical advice for cooking cook rice, white quinoa and potatoes either by stovetop or microwave.
In Bibi’s Kitchen
An antidote to the isolation of quarantine, this book features recipes by grandmothers who hail from eight African countries that touch the Indian Ocean and it explores how food connects us to other places and people. The grandmothers, or bibis, provide adept instruction for everyday soups, breads and special-occasion meals. They offer substitutions for ingredients that may be difficult for some home cooks to find. In short interviews throughout the book, they describe how food connects them to their families, friends and homelands. With moving testimonials and photography alongside easy-to-follow recipes, it’s the rare cookbook that’s equally at home on a kitchen counter or coffee table.
Published on December 16, 2020