Sometimes, it’s just as fun to read cookbooks as it is to try the recipes. Here are some you’ll want to gift or find spots for on your own book shelf.
FOR SICHUAN FOOD LOVERS
Almost 20 years ago, Fuchsia Dunlop published “Land of Plenty,” introducing the Western world to Sichuanese cuisine. This fall, she released an updated version, “The Food of Sichuan.” As impressive as the first, Dunlop combines recipes from the chefs, home cooks, and street cart vendors of the Sichuan province with historical facts, cultural insight and personal stories. Dunlop has been immersed in the food, language, and country for years and her expertise shows. This is a must-have English-language encyclopedic guide to everything you want to eat from Sichuan.
A PASSION FOR PASTA
It may be easier to make pasta from scratch using Evan Funke’s new book than to get a reservation at his Venice restaurant, Felix Trattoria. In “American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta,” Funke and his co-author Katie Parla lay out the steps for from-scratch pasta in detailed recipes. With accompanying how-to photos that are as evocative as they are helpful, this book makes hand-rolled pasta (no machine needed!) seem within grasp. And even if you’re giving this to someone with no interest in attempting pasta dough, you’ll be sharing insight into a beautiful craft.
LIKE A TRIP ABROAD
In Israel, sababa roughly translates to “everything is awesome” and that’s how this book makes you feel. In “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen,” cookbook author Adeena Sussman welcomes you into her kitchen with her friendly prose. Saturated with light, the mouthwatering photos will transport you to Israel’s outdoor markets and help you imagine you’re sitting down to a spread of falafel with salad, pickles and pita. The recipes are all doable and range from quick super fresh salads (check out this slaw) to more ambitious dishes for entertaining (like this eggplant galette).
A TASTE OF L.A.
Anyone who has eaten at Josef Centeno’s restaurants knows how talented he is in the kitchen. His newest book, “Amá: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen,” written with former Los Angeles Times deputy food editor Betty Hallock, traces his culinary journey from San Antonio to Los Angeles. His unique twists on Tex-Mex cooking — with great formulas for everything from Borracho beans to margaritas — are reason enough to get this book. But it’s his family stories that really make this volume worth reading. Tracing four generations of Centeno’s Tejano family, this book reveals the evolution of Tex-Mex cuisine through one food-loving family.
Anyone who wants to attempt meatlessness in the new year will love Raquel Pelzel’s “Umami Bomb: 75 Vegetarian Recipes that Explode with Flavor.” Umami is the savory sixth taste that often comes from meat and makes food deeply satisfying and delicious. In this book, Pelzel showcases eight sources of umami, such as soy sauce and mushrooms. For each umami ingredient, she shares creative dishes that are easy enough for weeknights and tasty enough for omnivores.
BAKED CHEESE SEASON
When the weather starts turning cooler, our attention shifts to all things baked, bubbly and brimming with cheese. Thank heavens, then, for “Lasagna: A Baked Pasta Cookbook” by Anna Hezel and the editors of Taste, who’ve assembled your ultimate guide to what is arguably the greatest baked pasta dish there is. You’ll get recipes for the classics as well as new-fangled iterations made with corn and scallions and one using porchetta-spiced pork shoulder.
L.A.’S BELOVED MEXICAN RESTAURANT
If the bold, bright colors inside “Oaxaca: Home Cooking From the Heart of Mexico” by Bricia Lopez and the family behind LA’s Guelaguetza, with Javier Cabral don’t catch your attention immediately, their treasured recipes for dishes including garnachas istmeñas, tiny tortillas topped with shredded beef and cabbage slaw, and four classic moles, will. But it’s not like you don’t know this already: If you live in Los Angeles, you’ll know they’ve been a defacto emblem of the city since opening in the mid-90’s.
JAPANESE COOKING FROM A PRO
It’s been more than 30 years since Japanese cooking expert Sonoko Sakai’s first cookbook detailing the cooking of her heritage for American audiences. Her follow-up, “Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors,” is worth the wait. Her teachings demystify the art of making soba noodles, and she transforms often ordinary-looking onigiri into beautiful rice spheres wrapped in seaweed and dried flowers. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of simple dishes like chawanmushi and fresh pickles to try out first before diving into more ambitious projects.
EXPERIENCE THE CHALET LIFE
“Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories From Europe’s Grand Mountaintops” by Meredith Erickson excels at whisking its reader away to the chalets and cabins the Alps where rich, hearty meat and cheese dishes help sustain during the frigid temperatures. You can taste speck dumplings from the Italian side then learn the proper way to fondue over in Switzerland afterward. The ambitious but awe-inspiring Bonét Torinese, a towering chocolate and amaretti cake shaped to look like the Hotel La Torre in Sauze d’Oulx, is a top contender for the centerpiece of your holiday table.
FOR THE NEW COOK
If you’re looking for a book to get someone who’s just starting to learn to cook “Canal House: Cook Something — Recipes to Rely On” by Christopher Hirshheimer and Melissa Hamilton is it. The women who all but transformed the modern image of food photography and cooking in this country have amassed a collection of simple, approachable and timeless recipes for everything from simple breakfast frittatas to a more ambitious roast prime rib of beef. Nothing is ground-breaking, but that’s not the point. Their aim is to arm you with classic recipes that work, ensuring your success in the kitchen from the start.