This holiday season, I reached back to the books I have reviewed since Milk Street's launch in 2016 to highlight those volumes that are most dog-eared and spice-stained in my kitchen.
“Season” is Nik Sharma’s personal take on how to adapt the flavor combinations found in Indian cooking (whatever that means, given its diversity) to everyday home cooking in the U.S. Lime-cucumber salad, cocoa-spiced bean and lentil soup, and roasted young carrots with sesame, chili and nori. This is not an “Indian” cookbook. It’s simple food transformed by someone with a very sophisticated palate.
There are the usual suspects—from chocolate cream pie and classic yellow layer cake—but Stella Parks also shows you how to make store-bought confections at home, from Fig Newtons to Twinkies. You also get puddings, homemade Pop-Tarts (the secret is dried apples), candy bars and ice creams. What seals the deal for me is the massive amount of testing (she claims over 100 tries per recipe) and more than a few fresh ideas, including using oat flour in oatmeal cookies, a cream cheese frosting with a vanilla custard base, malted milk powder in blondies, and make-ahead whipped cream.
Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottlolenghi
Buttercream, cheesecakes, financiers, fruitcakes, tartlets, pavlova, sponge cake, roulades, puddings, brownies and the like mix it up with tahini, halva, star anise, parsnips, coconut, rose water, pecans and figs, all displayed in bright colors. Treacle pudding gets a sage leaf topping; a sour cream cake partners with beets and ginger. Yotam Ottolenghi delivers an energetic element of surprise—in flavors, stripes and concept—to give us something old, something new.
This cookbook is like visiting Galilee and understanding every word on the street without an interpreter. Fried eggs with sumac and za’atar. Milk pudding. Lentil, garlic and pasta soup. Tomato, garlic and sumac salad. Rice-stuffed chicken. Reem Kassis makes you feel as if she lives around the corner and you really hope that she invites you for dinner. If you don’t get a call, however, you can just buy her book.
The Palestinian Table
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
Joshua McFadden divides the year into six, not four, parts: spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, fall and winter. Spaghetti with Swiss chard, pine nuts, raisins and chili. Roasted mushrooms, Israeli-spiced tomatoes, yogurt sauce and chickpeas. Roasted fennel with apples, raw artichoke salad. And simple crostadas, ragus and salsa verdes. These are all familiar notes but with an honest simplicity. This is a cookbook you are going to cook out of even if you think you don’t like vegetables.
Andrea Nguyen doesn’t revere the cooking of her early Saigon childhood, she plays with it. She never had salmon in Vietnam, but she cooks it here with a paste of lemon grass and curry. She adapts down-home panfried pork cutlets by adding fish sauce and serving them with a chili-garlic sauce. She adapts char siu to grilled boneless chicken thighs. And she tarts up beef stew with star anise and lemon grass. Nguyen represents the very best of our rapidly changing culinary scene—cooks who are deeply rooted in authenticity but happily improvise with new ingredients and traditions.