The best cookbooks of 2015
2015 brought a wave of rich, beautiful and obsessively detailed cookbooks, many with writing worth the attention of the literary non-fiction crowd. Here, Chris Nuttall-Smith outlines the best of the year's crop
My favourite cookbook of 2015
A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals From The Garden, by April Bloomfield
The New York (by way of London) chef's first vegetable-focused book carries Bloomfield's singularly elegant and unfussy approach into the produce aisles. There are morels on toast with Madeira-spiked cream and a month's worth of exquisitely tasty uses for corn, potatoes, rapini and Italian bitter greens (anchovies and small quantities of pork come repeatedly into play). There are also gorgeous pastas and salads and a creamy, mascarpone-enriched kale and polenta dish for the ages. Ecco, $43.50
If you're new (or don't like to fuss)
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, by Ruth Reichl
Six years after the shuttering of Gourmet, which she edited, Reichl remains one of the most beloved food writers in North America. My Kitchen Year is the personal and uplifting story of how Reichl overcame the shock and depression of her sudden unemployment, with help from some seriously comforting (and crazy-tasty) "treasured recipes." Gorgeous stuff. Appetite, $39.95.
The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruit, by Hugh Acheson
Acheson, the Ottawa-trained, Georgia-based Southern cooking star, opens with a question from his neighbour: "What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?" The answer is an excellent guide to some 60 fruits, herbs and vegetables – including many varieties that often turn up in Community Supported Agriculture boxes and farmers' markets – along with terrific recipes for using them. Clarkson Potter, $41.
Lucky Peach Presents: 101 Easy Asian Recipes, by Peter Meehan
A compendium of "Very good, 100 per cent inauthentic, actually easy" recipes from around Asia, including a burgerized take on Uyghur-style cumin lamb, a great miso-marinated fish, Hainanese chicken rice and an aptly named "mall chicken," which is fried and gloopy and incontestably delicious. Sort of like a Best of Bridge cookbook, but for the worldly stoner food-obsessive set. Clarkson Potter, $45.
Regionally specific, really spectacular
Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe, by Olia Hercules
Hercules, a London-based, Ukraine-raised chef, brings her training at Ottolenghi restaurant to bear on a family of cuisines that are too often viewed as stodgy. In her hands, they're all freshness and verve. Standouts include a sweet-and-sour duck soup lightened with the citrusy tang of sorrel leaves, superlative Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, and a brilliant handmade noodle dish enriched with braised goose and fermented green tomatoes. Also potentially very useful: a step-by-step primer on home-distilling black currant booze. Weldon Owen, $45.
Chicken in The Mango Tree: Food and Life in a Thai-Khmer Village, by Jeffrey Alford
Alford made his name with the bestselling Southeast Asian food bible Hot Sour Salty Sweet, co-written with his former wife, Naomi Duguid. Now living near the Cambodian border, his first solo work is as much an ethnography as a cookbook – an engrossing diary of a village's daily foraging, hunting (for small fish, grasshoppers and amphibians, largely), rice farming and eating, written with almost Kapuscinski-level grace. The recipes are tasty and simple, though you may not be making the red ant egg salad any time soon. Douglas & McIntyre, $26.95.
The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson
The star chef behind Sweden's Fäviken has written the most rigorously researched not to mention fascinating English-language Nordic cookbook ever produced. There are 700 recipes, for everything from pine-bark rye bread to simple pickled onions, to seal intestine with red cabbage and boiled potatoes. Many include variations and regional alternates: the crullers, for instance, that are fried in the lard and tallow mix called floltyr most places, except in Iceland, where they're done in sheep's tallow, of course. Phaidon, $59.95.
The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia, by Felicia Campbell
Omani cooking mixes Bedouin, Swahili, Indian and spice route flavours, often with the brooding, subtly sour perfume of dried black limes. Campbell, who first travelled to Oman on assignment for Saveur, captures the breadth and majesty of the sultanate's flavours and society in her beautifully evocative writing. Great recipes include the likes of biryani with saffron and rosewater, banana leaf-wrapped roast lamb, and chicken grilled on scorching river rocks. Andrews McMeel, $47.
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman
Stupak, a molecular pastry chef turned taco kingpin, brings to the tortilla and its many meat, cheese and vegetable-filled incarnations a level of rigour and cheffy inventiveness that's typically reserved for more high-end foods. Superb recipes for fava and blood sausage tacos, homemade masa and a killer tacos al pastor, are interspersed with fiercely intelligent essays on authenticity, sociopolitics, and the food world's consignment of "ethnic" foods to what Stupak calls "the cheap eats ghetto." If that's all too much, there are also instructions for cooking your next Super Bowl spread in a coal-filled pit. Clarkson Potter, $41.50.
Vegetables are so hot right now
Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, by Tal Ronnen
Ronnen's Melrose Avenue hot spot is an upscale Mediterranean kitchen, with decadent handmade pastas, oozy cheese-and-vegetable-topped flatbreads, and indulgent desserts to drive the willpower-challenged wild. The catch is that Ronnen is vegan: The sausages are meatless and the cheese is made from cashews. A fantastic book that provides more proof veganism is finally going glam. Artisan, $50.
Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey
There are 300 million vegetarians in India (give or take); Jaffrey, the Julia Child of the nation's cooking, hit up as many of them as possible for this excellent collection of big-flavoured, no-fuss foods. There are warming, sour-spicy rasam soups; gorgeous spins on okra, potatoes, squash and winter kale, and surprisingly easy flatbreads. The dal section alone would be worth the book's price – definitely make the Goan black-eyed peas with coconut. Knopf, $45.
Gjelina: Cooking From Venice, California, by Travis Lett
Lett, who runs a pair of celebrated restaurants in Venice Beach, calls his cooking "grain-and-vegetable centric," and "globally inspired," but that doesn't even begin to describe how deliciously fresh, bright and of-the-moment so much of it is. Southern European and North African ideas take starring roles: brilliant mint and pomegranate pesto; warm date cake with ginger gelato; sautéed green beans with smoked almonds, shallot confit and preserved lemon. The photography, by Toronto-based it-duo Nikole Herriott and Michael Graydon, is sublime. Chronicle, $48.
Do sweat the technique
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji López-Alt
López-Alt studied biology and architecture at M.I.T. while moonlighting as a chef; now a popular columnist at the website Serious Eats, he calls cooking "a scientific engineering problem in which the inputs are raw ingredients." This 958-page masterwork leaves no eggheaded home-kitchen quest unattempted. To wit: the story of a controlled double-blind pizza tasting to analyze how the mineral content of water changes the taste and texture of pizza crusts (short answer: it doesn't), and a 22-page disquisition on how to make the perfect burger. There are hundreds of surprising and possibly useful new science-based insights and recipes for such classics as chili, grilled steak and scrambled eggs. WW Norton, $58.
Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, by Dominique Crenn and Karen Leibowitz
Crenn grew up in Paris, summered in Brittany and now runs a two-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco. Her menus are written in poetry, with dishes bearing names like "le jardin," and "a walk in the forest." Underneath all that dreamy naturalism are fascinating ideas, like gels made from coconut ash, kumquats fermented in sake lees, and, over a plate of squab, a tissue-thin raspberry "veil." This one's the fancy food fanatic's coffee table treasure of 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $67.
Olympia Provisions: Cured Meats and Tales from an American Charcuterie, by Elias Cairo and Meredith Erickson
Cairo, who is one of North America's most respected charcutiers, brooks no compromises in his debut cookbook: ingredients are listed in grams and percentages (for scaleability), and its instructions are clear but stern, whether for basic duck confit, cheese-injected Käsekrainer sausages, rolled, spiced pig's face or fine pheasant-and prune-terrine. It's a brilliant introduction to DIY charcuterie. The writing and photography are first-rate; you'll want to read cover-to-cover. Ten Speed Press, $51.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying
The iconic recipes are all here, including Bowien's kung pao pastrami, the beer-brined Szechuan pickles, the pig-ear terrine with Szechuan salsa verde and the hand-pulled noodles that the chef, ever the flier of culinary freak flags, teases from pecorino romano-enriched dough. Published by Anthony Bourdain and co-written by Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying, the book also capitalizes on the current hunger for memoirs: Bowien's dramatic origin story is beautifully told and proves just as affecting as all that mind-searing spice. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $43.50.
The NoMad Cookbook, by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara
The recipes in this big, beautiful and ridiculously rococo new volume from the partners behind New York's NoMad restaurant are over-the-top but doable, and anyone with home chef pretensions will want to dive in. Just be prepared: One key instruction, for the restaurant's much-imitated truffled chicken, reads, "Expel 30 g of the brown butter sabayon into the pan and fold into the chicken." Others may call for parsnips roasted in marrow fat, just-made pistachio pound cake or "champagne mignonette snow." A deep indent in the back cover contains a superb, 200-page cocktails book. Ten Speed Press, $129.
Alt baking is so hot right now
Sweet Goodness: Unbelievably Delicious Gluten-Free Baking Recipes, by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming
The authors of the blockbuster Quinoa 365 turn their sights on gliadin and glutenin, those most PR-challenged of proteins. Old-fashioned cake doughnuts are made with sorghum and oat flours, tapioca starch and psyllium husks in place of the evil wheat, while cakes and pies are, perhaps not coincidentally, packed with quinoa. There's also a blackberry and honey clafoutis and plenty of breads. The best part is the authors' detailed discussion of different flours and starches, leavening agents, fats and sweeteners – enough information that you might not need to follow their recipes at all. Penguin, $32.
For culinary patriots
Seven Spoons: My Favourite Recipes for Any and Every Day, by Tara O'Brady
This crackling debut effort by the popular recipe blogger and Globe columnist is one of the first Canadian cookbooks to convincingly capture the openness and internationalism of how so many of us eat. The St. Catharines, Ont., cook has terrific recipes for everything from roasted grapes dolloped with sweetened labneh, to wholesome, family-ready smoothies and granola, to chutney-smothered pakoras and Spanish-style fried-egg salads. A thrill to cook from and to read. Appetite, $29.95.
True North: Canadians Cooking from Coast to Coast, by Derek Dammann and Chris Johns
A sprawling and beautifully produced coast-to-coast Canadian cookbook, True North celebrates chef-driven, time-consuming cooking ("all-day love affairs" the headnotes call it), and only-in-Canada ingredients. The recipes from Dammann, a Montreal-based chef, are superb, but that's only half of the point. This is 270 pages of culinary patriotism, and wow, it's catchy. The most ambitious cookbook-form update of pan-Canadian cuisine in half a century. HarperCollins, $40.