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Best Cookbooks Of 2015: Kathy Gunst's Picks

Looking for a gift for the chef in your life? Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst sifted through piles of this year’s cookbooks and has come up with a list of her favorites. She shares the list with hosts Jeremy Hobson and Eric Westervelt, along with some recipes from her top three cookbook picks: Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully’s “ NOPI,” Claire Ptak’s “ The Violet Bakery Cookbook” and Madhur Jaffrey’s “ Vegetarian India.”

Find the list of her favorite cookbooks and these five recipes below:

See more recipes and cooking segments with Kathy Gunst

Kathy Gunst’s Top 3 Cookbooks of 2015

From Peruvian cooking to the cuisine of the Middle Eastern nation of Oman, this year’s cookbooks spanned the globe and every imaginable style and approach to cooking. Hundreds and hundreds of new cookbooks were published in 2015, making the task of choosing the year’s best cookbooks both challenging and labor-intensive. Some of our most famous chefs and food writers had new books this year, including Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, and Martha Stewart. But rather than focusing exclusively on culinary luminaries, I looked for books that weren’t quite so obvious, yet deserve our attention.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook” by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press)

This book makes me want to bake. There’s no simpler way to say it. The author grew up in California, worked as a pastry chef for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and then moved to London where she opened the Violet Bakery. Famous for her cakes, Ptak includes all kinds: carrot, chocolate sunken soufflé cake, lemon drizzle loaf, chocolate devil’s food cake, apple galette and more. The ginger cookies are among the best cookies I’ve ever baked – chewy, moist and perfectly balanced with spices like ginger, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. (They make the most amazing base for ice cream sandwiches.) And then there are the very English offerings: toasties, savory buns, scones, tarts, quiches and tea cakes.

Unlike most baking books, the savory recipes are as good as the sweet ones. The sour cream, chive and feta scones are mind-blowingly moist and satisfying. Try the mozzarella, rosemary and new potato tarts or the kale, leek and ricotta bread pudding.

I plan on baking my way through much of this. It’s not the prettiest book – though the photography is beautiful – but it’s a solid, understated book and all the recipes I tested were flawless. Every baker and wanna-be-baker in your life will love it.

Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking” by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf)

There are so many good cookbooks this year. Why a book on Indian vegetarian cooking? Selfishly I want to learn to be more comfortable with the idea of having vegetables as the main attraction on my dinner plate. There are a lot of new vegetarian and vegan books this year, but this one motivated me to open my spice drawer and start cooking.

Madhur Jaffrey is a remarkable woman: an award-winning actress, James Beard award-winning cookbook author, memoirist, children’s author and more. This books takes you into the world of Indian vegetarian home cooking and suddenly you find yourself forgetting about the idea of a “main course” (aka meat) and wanting instead to cook everything from this gorgeous book.

Jaffrey traveled through India visiting with home cooks, street vendors and cooks at roadside stands to collect these recipes.

The roasted cauliflower with Punjabi seasonings combines lemon juice, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, coriander and cumin with cauliflower florets roasted at high temperature. Serve it with her whole red lentils with cumin and shallots (simple with fiery, vibrant flavors that made my kitchen smell like a prized Indian restaurant) and the gorgeous lemon rice (with mustard and cumin seeds, chiles, ginger and lots of lemon zest). The collection of flatbreads and chapati are worth the price of the book alone.

NOPI: The Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press)

Ottolenghi has published several cookbooks over the past few years focused on home cooking with Middle Eastern flavors. Each of these books has been a huge, bestselling hit.

Here he teams up with the chef of the London restaurant Nopi, Ramael Scully, who was born in Malaysia and grew up in Australia.

This collection of recipes is far more complex than Ottolenghi’s previous books. And it offers a new flavor profile – Mediterranean meets Asia. While I truly hesitate to recommend restaurant books filled with chef-driven recipes, this collection is just too attractive to ignore. Most of the recipes involve several elements – a marinade or a sauce, or a topping or a complex garnish – but based on those I tried, it was well worth my time.

This is the book for the cook who is looking for some wowy-zowy dinner party dishes. This is not Tuesday night food. For instance I made the pistachio and pine nut crusted halibut with wild arugula and parsley vichyssoise. That’s a mouthful, I know. But let’s break it down: I made the vichyssoise, a simple soup made with arugula and parsley and potato. I blended it and placed it in my fridge for a day. Then I made the nut butter, which took just minutes. The night of my dinner I roasted the halibut, warmed the soup and put some of the nut butter on top of the fish before it went in the broiler. The result: amazing. My dinner guests swooned.

I really want to try the red quinoa and watercress salad, the baked blue cheesecake with pickled beets and honey, and the barley risotto with watercress, asparagus and pecorino.

The photography and design of the book is stunning. And to let you know that this is one fancy book, the edges of the pages are a brilliant gold.

More Of Kathy Gunst’s Favorite Cookbooks Of 2015

Get Healthy

Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel” by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press)

Heidi Swanson has built a reputation on healthy cooking and this cookbook/travel book might be her most beautiful, personal and stunning book. She travels from Morocco to Japan, from Italy to France, to India and then back home to San Francisco, gathering a collection of healthy recipes. It’s a spare book with stunning photos, like reading a talented food-obsessed writer’s personal journal. From San Francisco I can’t wait to try the edamame mint spread and the fennel stew. From Japan, inspiration takes root in the miso oat porridge, sake-glazed mushrooms and shiso gin and tonic. Pretty much every recipe from Italy calls out to me and from India I will be cooking her saag paneer and parathas (a whole wheat Indian flatbread).

Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press)

The second book from award-winning author Maria Speck will further inspire cooks to experiment with whole grains for breakfast (creamy bulgur with honey and tahini, or lemon pancakes with millet and amaranth, or red rice shakshuka with feta cheese) to salads, sides, soups, stews, pasta and desserts. These recipes offer such bold flavors that the idea of this being “health” food never enters your mind. You are fully satisfied and feel good about the whole experience.

Mexico, Mexico

There are three cookbooks on my list this year that focus on the regional cuisines of Mexico.

Tacopedia” by Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena (Phaidon) is a travel guide/encyclopedia of Mexico’s best tacos, the history of tacos, recipes, and one of the most fun cookbooks of the year. Illustrated like a comic book, once you open the book you’ll have trouble putting it down. It’s a book that “pays tribute to the rich world of the taco…a portrait of an entire culture that revolves around this unique dish.” The authors spent four years interviewing taco makers, cooks, diners, the corn masa makers and more. Perfect for someone traveling to Mexico this year or that friend who is always on a quest to perfect his or her taco.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations” by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman (Potter) comes from a chef who admits right up front: “I’m a white boy from suburban Massachusetts where Old El Paso taco nights were mother’s milk.” Stupak is the chef of two award-winning NYC Mexican restaurants and this book offers a collection of his best taco recipes, salsas, directions for making tortillas and some truly great condiments. You’re going to find familiar as well as unusual combinations for tacos: pastrami tacos with mustard seed salsa; potato and chorizo tacos; and duck carnitas tacos. Stretch your imagination, improve your tacos!

Mexico from the Inside Out” by Enrique Olvera (Phaidon) at first glance appears to be one of those gorgeous books that would be more comfortable on a coffee table than in a kitchen. But for the cook who wants to get serious about Mexican flavors, and is willing to dedicate some time to the endeavor, this is your book. (Honestly many of these recipe look like you may need to quit your day job to achieve!) The author is the chef of Pujol, Mexico’s top-ranked restaurant, and this is definitely in the realm of restaurant food.

What looks amazing? Vegetable soup with fried tortillas and a chile guajillo and pastilla adobo; fish ceviche tostada (with guacamole and tempura onion rings); and the chocolate taco (a cocoa tortilla with chocolate ganache, and candied cocoa nibs). You could always try making only part of a recipe (and eliminating a sauce or garnish or two) and simplify your life, but these are recipes to try on a snowy or rainy Sunday, when the idea of being in the kitchen for hours appeals.

Other New Favorites

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home” by Jessica Fechtor (Avery) – A really good, (very) moving story about health and food

Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking” by Kian Lam Kho (Potter) –  Regional Chinese food

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (Norton) – For the beginner and the science food geek

Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day” by Tara O’Brady (Ten Speed Press) – Creative home cooking from a food blogger

Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricassee” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle) –  A taste of the South

The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling Epicure) – Jewish cooking

Recipe: Sour Cream, Chive And Feta Scones

Reprinted with permission from THE VIOLET BAKERY COOKBOOK by Claire Ptak, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Savory scones are great alongside soups and salads or if you need to eat on the go. We all have days where we just haven’t got time to stop and eat lunch, so a savory bite that you can hold in your hand can be a welcome sight. The dough is crumbly and dry when you are shaping it, but as it bakes, the butter melts into the layers, making the scones flaky and rich.

Makes 12 scones

400g (2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for the garnish

180g (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-cm (1/2-inch) cubes

1 egg

200g (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sour cream

30g (1/2 cup) fresh chives, chopped

200g (7 ounces) feta cheese, broken into pieces

1 egg or egg yolk beaten with a little water or milk, for the egg wash

Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F (180°C/355°F convection). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and black pepper. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or the back of a fork (or use a stand mixer) until you have a crumbly mixture. Add the egg, sour cream, and chives. Mix the ingredients together quickly, then add the feta pieces and mix again until just combined, then pat into a cube and place on a lightly floured surface.

Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then flatten it to about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick with a rolling pin. Fold it in half as if you were closing a book so that you have a rectangle. Then fold it in half again so that you have a small square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rest for 10 minutes. When it’s chilled, roll the dough into a square about 5cm (2 inches) thick. Use a sharp knife to cut the square into three long pieces. Cut each log into two and then each square into triangles. Freeze or bake right away.

Place the chilled scones on the lined baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden. These are best eaten on the same day they are made. You can also make the scones, freeze them individually, and then bake as and when you need them. They will keep well for a month in the freezer.

Recipe: Chewy Ginger Snaps

Reprinted with permission from THE VIOLET BAKERY COOKBOOK by Claire Ptak, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

We make these at Christmas at Violet and pack them in sweet little cellophane bags then tie them up with string. After the holidays, if any are left over, they make a pretty awesome base for cheesecake, too. Crisp and spicy, they really hold their own against a creamy cheese or served alongside ice cream or sorbet. When using ground cloves, I am cautious with quantities because they can easily overpower a dish, although I would hate to ignore them altogether. Extra cardamom is lovely, less cinnamon would work too. A pinch of sweet paprika adds interest, and I sometimes add ground coriander seeds. Consider what you will be serving the cookies with, and experiment.

Makes 12 cookies

210g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)

a pinch of paprika (optional)

1 teaspoon baking soda

125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

100g (1/2 cup) dark brown sugar

100g (1/3 cup) molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water

sugar, for dredging

Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F (160°C/320°F convection). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Measure all the dry ingredients (except for the brown sugar) into a bowl and whisk well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and molasses until light and fluffy. Add the boiling water, then the dry ingredients, and mix until combined.

Using an ice cream scoop or two dessert spoons, scoop up individual portions and shape into balls. Roll in sugar, then place on the lined baking sheet and flatten them slightly, using the underside of a glass or a measuring cup.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops crack a little but the cookies are still soft. They will become crisper as they cool. These keep well for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Recipe: Whole Red Lentils With Cumin And Shallots (Sabut Masoor)

Excerpted from VEGETARIAN INDIA by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

A lovely, nutritious dish, full of fiber and protein. I love it with Tomato Rice, a yogurt relish, and a leafy vegetable. You could also serve it with Indian flatbread, pickles, relishes, and a potato dish.

Indian grocers sell this dal as whole masoor or sabut masoor. The red lentil is whole, not split, and still has its brownish skin.

Serves 4

1 cup whole red lentils (sabut masoor)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive or peanut oil

Generous pinch of ground asafetida

1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

2–3 dried hot red chilies

1 good-sized shallot, peeled and cut into fine slivers

Butter (optional)

Lime or lemon wedges (optional)

  1. Wash and drain the lentils. Place them in a medium saucepan, add 4 cups water, and bring to a boil. Skim off the froth from the surface and add the turmeric. Stir, cover partially, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Mix in the salt.
  2. Put the oil in a small frying pan and set over medium heat. When hot, add the asafetida. After a few seconds, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Add the red chilies and fry until they darken, then quickly stir in the shallots. Fry until the slivers turn a rich reddish color and become crisp.
  3. Tip the contents of the frying pan over the lentils and cover immediately to entrap the aromas. Stir before serving, adding about 2 pats of butter if you wish. Serve with the lime wedges on the side (if using).

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower With Punjabi Seasonings (Oven Ki Gobi)

Excerpted from VEGETARIAN INDIA by Madhur Jaffrey. Copyright © 2015 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I wanted to simplify a cauliflower dish that I love, where I fry the cauliflower until it is lightly browned and then sauté it with spices, such as ginger, coriander, and cumin. After many tries, here is the beautiful result. I marinate florets of cauliflower with all the seasonings and then just roast them in a hot oven.

Serve with a dish of chickpeas, or any other dal, a flatbread or rice, and a yogurt relish.

Serves 4–5

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into florets about 1 inch wide and 2 inches long (about 1 lb of florets)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

  • Put all the cauliflower florets in a large bowl. Combine the lemon juice, turmeric, and ginger in a small bowl, then pour the mixture over the cauliflower. Add the salt, cayenne, ground spices, and fresh coriander and mix well, wearing plastic gloves if preferred. Set aside for 2 hours, tossing now and then.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°. Put the oil in a small frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds, let them sizzle for a few seconds, then pour the spiced oil over the cauliflower. Toss well.
  • Spread out the cauliflower in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the pieces and roast for another 10–15 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Recipe: Pistachio And Pine Nut-Crusted Halibut With Wild Arugula And Parsley Vichyssoise

Reprinted with permission from NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Serves 6

6 halibut fillets, skinless and boneless (1 lb 14 oz / 950 g)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

12 breakfast radishes, green leaves, and roots left on and sliced in half lengthwise (or 8 round red radishes)

coarse sea salt and black pepper

Wild arugula and parsley vichyssoise

3 1/2 oz / 100 g parsley stems and leaves

5 1/4 oz / 150 g wild arugula

1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp / 40 g unsalted butter

2 medium shallots, coarsely chopped (3 1/2 oz / 100 g)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium leek, green and white parts finely sliced (7 oz / 200 g)

2 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly

3/4-inch / 2-cm pieces (13 oz / 370 g)

4 1/2 cups / 1 liter chicken stock

1 oz / 25 g spinach leaves

Pistachio and pine nut crust

10 tbsp / 150 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/3-inch / 1-cm dice

2 oz / 60 g shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

2 oz / 60 g pine nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

1/4 tsp superfine sugar

2 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Place the butter for the nut crust in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook for 4 minutes, until the butter is nutty smelling and golden brown. Remove from the heat and strain the butter through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any black bits. Add the pistachios, pine nuts, sugar, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix well, then spread out in a small parchment-lined baking sheet, about 6 inches / 16 cm wide and 8 inches / 21 cm long. Chill in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours, until the butter has set firmly, then cut the mixture into six equal rectangles. Return the rectangles to the fridge until ready to use.
  2. To make the vichyssoise, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the parsley and arugula leaves. Blanch for 30 seconds, then refresh under cold water. Strain, squeeze out the excess water, set aside to dry, then coarsely chop.
  3. Place the oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for

4 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until soft but not colored. Add the garlic and leek and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until shiny and glossy. Pour over the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked but still retaining a bite. Add the blanched parsley and arugula and cook for a final minute, then remove from the heat and add the spinach, along with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Transfer to a blender, blitz well until completely smooth, and set aside until ready to use.

  • Preheat the broiler to 400°F / 200°C or to its highest setting. Spread the halibut fillets out on a large parchment-lined baking pan and brush them with the 2 tablespoons of oil. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in total and a good grind of black pepper and grill for 6 to 7 minutes, until the halibut is almost cooked. Remove the baking pan from under the broiler and lay a rectangle of nut butter on top of each fillet. Return to the broiler and cook for a final 2 to 3 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and squeeze over the lemon juice.
  • Warm the vichyssoise and spoon it into shallow wide bowls. Lay a halibut fillet on top, place the radish pieces alongside, and serve at once.
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    Claire Ptak's Sour Cream, Chive And Feta Scones. (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)
    Claire Ptak's Sour Cream, Chive And Feta Scones. (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)


    (Copyright © 2015 by Adam Hinton)
    (Copyright © 2015 by Adam Hinton)

    Pistachio And Pine Nut-Crusted Halibut With Wild Arugula And Parsley Vichyssoise. (Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Lovekin)
    Pistachio And Pine Nut-Crusted Halibut With Wild Arugula And Parsley Vichyssoise. (Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Lovekin)


    Madhur Jaffrey's Whole Red Lentils With Cumin And Shallots. (Copyright © by Jonathan Gregson, Ebury Press)
    Madhur Jaffrey's Whole Red Lentils With Cumin And Shallots. (Copyright © by Jonathan Gregson, Ebury Press)

    Madhur Jaffrey's Roasted Cauliflower With Punjabi Seasonings. (Copyright © by Jonathan Gregson, Ebury Press)
    Madhur Jaffrey's Roasted Cauliflower With Punjabi Seasonings. (Copyright © by Jonathan Gregson, Ebury Press)

    (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)
    (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)

    Claire Ptak's chewy ginger snaps. (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)
    Claire Ptak's chewy ginger snaps. (Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers)

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