Books | Summer at the stove

It’s time to up the cooking—and drinking—game with this season’s crop of cookbooks.

In My Kitchen
Photo by Mike Ramm

Turning on the oven might be a buzzkill when it’s sweltering outside, but when the farmers markets are full and the days are long, it’s time to up the cooking—and drinking—game with this season’s crop of cookbooks.

In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes
by Deborah Madison

Reading Deborah Madison’s recipe headnotes is like reading restaurant reviews. She so vividly describes how her dishes come together that though her instructions are sparse, there is still a definitive feel for how to create them. Her gentle, authoritative voice and penchant for doing things her way, like eschewing the “popular cheffy method” of shocking vegetables and instead insisting, “I don’t want to shock my beans. I want to coddle them,” is what makes this book more of a companion than homework.

Day Drinking
Photo by Mike Ramm
Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz
by Kat Odell

This book is sneaky. The introductory spread is the author, a blonde with beachy waves, in a bikini and sunnies on a unicorn float holding a cocktail with the text: “Hi, I’m Kat! Come day drink with me!” By page 42 she’s asking readers to make a star anise tincture for an elaborate Pimm’s Cup. Cocktail introductions contain historical references and briefs into Odell’s charmed life drinking across the country (she’s a contributing editor for Eater), and sidebars range from mathematical equations on how to batch cocktails to “WTF is sour beer?” More importantly, there’s actually a lot of thought that goes into how to get day-drunk.

Mighty Salads
Photo by Mike Ramm
Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad into Dinner
by Editors of Food52

Was Chipotle the start of our everything-in-a-bowl obsession? Maybe. But it’s certainly penetrated into other fast-casuals, like the now-nationwide Cava, and certainly into home cooking. The crowdsourced cooking website (with an e-shop and podcast), Food52’s Mighty Salads is a workhorse of bowl-based ensembles hearty enough to be main meals. Of course toasted farro and Caesar kale and smoked paprika make appearances, but there are also surprises, like corn bread as croutons and almost-raw collards—oh, and jimmying up an indoor smoker just for lentils.

Salt Fat Acid Heat
Photo by Mike Ramm
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
by Samin Nosrat

This is not a coffee table cookbook, though the illustrations are darling. This is not a what-should-I-make-for-dinner cookbook, though the recipes are of the straightforward, classic variety. What this is, actually, is the foundation of culinary school in almost 500 pages. Samin Nosrat, formerly of Chez Panisse, breaks down the components—salt, fat, acid and heat—of cooking, not just in how everything works together but starting from the molecular level. If summer school was your thing, this is your excuse to stay in the air conditioning and read.

Pantry to Plate
Photo by Mike Ramm
YumUniverse Pantry to Plate: Improvise Meals You Love—from What You Have!
by Heather Crosby

With feel-good, breezy prose, Heather Crosby convinces readers how easy it is to pull together vegetable-forward, gluten-free meals. Chapters (there’s one called “Amazeballs,” by the way) start with templates offering improvisational cooks a way to use whatever is in the pantry. Make pancakes with anything from garbanzo bean flour to sorghum flour, use psyllium husk or banana as a binder, flavor with cardamom or tea leaves and fold in cacao nibs or shredded raw root vegetables. Brownies gain sweetness from sucanat or rapadura, and as you can tell, there’s a whole host of esoteric alternatives to choose from. There are also a few formal recipes, like Chinese Five-Spice Lentil and Pecan Crunch for those who want more guidance under the crunchy banner. This book makes cooking seem like the fun adventure it’s destined to be.

(July 2017)