Recipes are so easy to find online, even people with extensive cookbook collections tend to go to Google first. But when I’m so burnt out that the very concept of cooking dinner is offensive, the only cure is logging off and opening a cookbook.
Cookbooks make picking a recipe as easy as possible. A curated shortlist is more manageable than the endless firehose of digital content, but the real secret sauce is emotional connection. Cookbook authors put personality front and centre not only because it makes their books unique — it’s also what readers connect to. Without that connection, nobody bothers to actually cook the recipes.
Even if you’re sick to death of cooking — frankly, who isn’t right now? — the right cookbook can make you fall in love all over again. Here are 10 of my absolute favourites for finding inspiration.
Mamushka might be the prettiest cookbook I own, but the exquisite writing makes it special. Olia Hercules’ pithy, playful voice is so much dang fun that step-by-step instructions I’ve read a million times still put a smile on my face. Oh, and the recipes are phenomenal.
I don’t cook from restaurant cookbooks often — unless it’s Kachka. The recipes are surprisingly laid-back, and they do not miss. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end your first read-through by ordering a pelmenitsa.
Every single recipe in Afro-Vegan makes me say “Ooh! That sounds good!” Then I turn the page and do it all over again. But, like all of Bryant Terry’s work, the recipes are only part of the story; this book is really about the agricultural and culinary history of its main ingredients and the people who have cultivated them for centuries. If you’re at all interested in food history — or looking for fresh vegan recipes — definitely check it out.
Reading a Matty Matheson cookbook feels like shooting the shit with the man himself; in this way, Home Style Cookery is an absolute delight. This book does exactly what the title says, and does it with style. Honestly, it makes me want to start a commune so I have more people to cook for.
If you can’t find a recipe you like in The Gourmet Cookbook, you might not like recipes — or food. I found my copy at a used bookstore in Maine, and sometimes I leaf through it just for the memories. (God, I miss bookstores.)
I love a single-subject cookbook, and The Bean Bible is one of the best. It never fails to show me the possibilities of my ever-growing treasure trove of dried legumes. Bean freaks, take note.
Onions, Onions, Onions: Delicious Recipes for the World’s Favourite Secret Ingredient, by Linda and Fred Griffith
Onions, Onions, Onions is another great example of how restriction inspires creativity. I know my way around an onion, but every time I flip through this book I find a completely new use for them that blows my mind. (And before you ask: Yes, there’s a garlic version too.)
Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, by Maida Heatter
Any self-respecting dessert lover needs at least one Maida Heatter book in their collection. Great Desserts is mine. This book is the definition of old-school, and the recipes go hard. I’ve made the Spanish orange cake so many times that my book opens to page 119 on its own now.
Any Vintage Community Cookbook
Community cookbooks are historical primary sources, and that’s cool as hell. These hugely popular recipe collections defined their communities’ food traditions for generations; it’s impossible to overstate their influence on cookbooks as we know them today. (Out of Vermont Kitchens was copyrighted in 1939, but this copy is from its 15th printing in 1947.)