Lockdown Cookbooks

Full disclosure: I cannot cook without a recipe. Here’s what’s been getting me through the past few months — and into peak summer. You can find my favorite new spring cookbooks here.

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis This 1976 book was decades ahead of its time. Or rather, it speaks to a time when what you ate was what you grew, found, or had preserved. Lewis grew up in a farming community founded by her grandfather, an emancipated slave. Her hyperseasonal menus and elegant prose have been a steadying inspiration these past months, as I’ve made dandelion wine from my lawn — following her instructions to pick them before noon, when they close up, butter-roasted spring chicken on a bed of watercress, and piled up rhubarb to make a beautiful pie. Her farming insights have also made me a closer observer, such as this old rhyme, which she shares as a guide to when to gather woodland honey to slather on biscuits:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.

Feast by Anissa Helou Though we’ve been friends for over a decade, I’m still awestruck by the work that Middle Eastern food scholar Anissa Helou accomplishes — in and out of the kitchen. This seminal book explores the recipes of Muslim cultures, ranging from India to Indonesia, Morocco to Syria and beyond. Sweet, stewy, flaky, and skewered, to cook though this book is to venture far into the world.

Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden I’ve sung his praises here before, thanks to vegetable-driven recipes that are simple but deep. His crisper-drawer celery salad with dates, almonds and Parmesan, quick pasta with kale sauce, and spoon-on-everything caper-raisin vinaigrette are year-round go-tos. Now that I’ve subscribed to a CSA, I’m looking forward to trying recipes I’ve flipped past. Radishes, I’m coming for you first.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak Always a favorite for those butterscotch blondies with caramel shards (her devil’s food cake is served for every birthday), I’ve gone deeper into her alt-grain repertoire, making rye chocolate brownies, summer spelt almond cake, and chocolate oat agave cookies.

Whole Food Cooking Every Day by Amy Chaplin Vegan and gluten-free, me? Far from it. But Chaplin’s lovely combinations have me sipping iced Earl Grey with homemade oat milk, baking a hearty “bread” of cracked rice, pumpkin seeds and nori, and filling jars with addictively crunchy buckwheat-hazelnut granola. These recipes are not inexpensive to make, but the health halo is a nice change of pace.

Italian Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers The goddesses of rustic Italian are the ones I turn to for pasta, risotto, and lots of things to do with cavolo nero. Their first in their Easy series, I love the super-streamlined ideas — grated zucchini with nutmeg, leek and prosciutto risotto, strawberry-lemon granita  — and can’t wait till it’s time to turn to their recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms, which are best enjoyed with a Bellini if at all possible.

Foraged Flavor by Tama Matuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux Is it just me, or has the urge to find free food in strange places and leave no scrap uncooked taken over? I’ve turned to this book for ideas on what to do with wild mustard greens (a weed upstate), citrus peels, Japanese knotweed (invasive and delicious!), and more.

Made in India by Meera Sodha I loved Sodha’s bright and easy family recipes long before I realized they’re so pantry-friendly. Butternut squash curry is a favorite served with fluffy naan, and when I’ve got extra cilantro and a jalapeño, I make and freeze her coriander chutney for when the urge for her chicken simmered in said chutney strikes (which is often). Can’t wait for her new book, East, in October.

Tartine Bread + Tartine Book No. 3 by Chad Robertson After two years of baking the country rye from Tartine Bread, I’m experimenting with new ideas for my ragtag neighborhood bread delivery. The buckwheat-crème fraîche loaf from the more experimental/grainy No. 3 was a sleeper hit, and the baguettes from the OG bible earn extremely high marks, even if my shaping is still a C-.