Gift Ideas for the Bookish Cook

What is a bookish cook?

A cook who loves books, of course!

And how do you identify a bookish cook?

When you are in said cook’s home, you will note that not only is there a huge bookshelf in the kitchen absolutely stuffed with cookbooks, but that there are bookcases in nearly every room of the house which are equally well-laden. You may also note that many horizontal surfaces in the bookish cook’s home are littered with stacks of books–especially cookbooks.

Because, for the bookish cook, cookbooks are meant to be read as much as they are meant to be cooked from.

Where normal people have a small stack of novels beside their beds for late night reading, bookish cooks will have a pile of cookbooks, food writing anthologies, cook’s memoirs and the occasional piece of fiction related to cooks, cooking or where food takes a central role.

I bet that everyone reading this blog knows of at least one such person, or is themselves a bookish cook.

So, that is why I put together a little gift guide for the bookish cook. Because, there is nothing worse than trying to figure out what a bookworm wants for theGeneric Winter Holidays. Well, in the abstract, it isn’t hard to guess–they want books, of course, but WHICH ONES? That is the overriding question of course–when you are dealing with someone who has more books than socks, then it falls to you to either take stock of the overwhelming number of titles on the shelves, in as surreptitious manner as possible, or you need to get creative.

Of course, you could always just give them a gift card to their favorite book emporium–but that is the easy way out.

No–I think it is more fun to give the bookish cook a real live book, and see their eyes light up with joy upon unwrapping it. You can just tell that he or she wants to just open the book and dive in nose-first, but they know it is impolite to do so. This means that they have to contain their enthusiasm for a time, and it is fun to watch them squirm. (I say this as a bookworm who has had to squirm more than once or twice in my life to keep from delving deeply into a newly-gifted tome when it would be impolite to do so.)

The way around the conundrum is to seek out promising new titles that your cookbook loving friends and family will enjoy.

Which is where this list comes in–these are the most interesting new titles I have come across for cookbook collectors in the past few months. The list is eclectic, in large part because I have eclectic tastes, but there is enough diversity in the list that you are bound to find at least one title which will appeal to the culinary nerds in your life.

Books for Vegetarians

Veganomicon:The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is not just on this list because it has the coolest cookbook title ever, although the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired moniker did indeed catch my eye and intrigue me enough to glance at it and then actually purchase it. It is on this list because I frankly think it is the best vegan cookbook I have ever come across in my life which contains a higher percentage of recipes which sound not only appealing, but downright tasty to me. I am still a skeptic regarding vegan baking and the recipes here have not changed my opinion in that regard–I have yet to have more than one or two vegan baked goods which did not either taste like cardboard infused with sugar or rubber masquerading as a food item. But, many of the other recipes, especially for entrees and soups, sound quite flavorful. Eventually, I will try out some of these recipes and do a real review of this book, but until then–know that it is the only non-Chinese vegan cookbook I love enough to have to own.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman is a great vegetarian cookbook that is on my “I want to get it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet” list, because it is just as comprehensive as his How To Cook Everything which I have gifted to any number of lucky newbie cooks. It is also a great cookbook for non-vegetarians who are either trying to eat more vegetarian meals or who are transitioning to a vegetarian diet. Bittman’s writing is clear, approachable and his recipes are simple, but always turn out tasty results. I don’t think you can go wrong with this book.

Books On Chinese Cooking

The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco by restaurateur Cecilia Chiang is a book which I keep meaning to review, but haven’t gotten around to doing yet. The new job kind of got me into researching the cuisines of North Africa, the Middle East and Greece, so I kind of forgot about this book. Not because it is forgettable, mind you, but because I get distracted. This is a lovely Chinese cookbook with beautiful photographs which not only tells Chiang’s life story, but also gives good, solid recipes for favorites from her pioneering restaurant in California. Chiang is very good at explaining technique, and she also is very good at making every dish sound amazingly delicious, thus making you want to rush to the kitchen and make it right away. (Look for a real review of this book sometime in the New Year.)

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province by Fuchsia Dunlop has been reviewed here. Read the review, and check out these recipes made from it, and then run out and get the book for a friend who likes their Chinese foods full of spice and heat. And, while you are at it, get a copy for yourself, even if you don’t cook much Chinese food–the book is great reading, and you will learn a great deal of interesting stuff about Chinese culture.

Books On Foods of the Middle East

Here are two more books which will get their own, longer reviews along with posts of recipes made from them in the future. I ran across them while researching recipes to use at Salaam.

Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden is a delicious cookbook by a master storyteller, culinary historian and food anthropologist who has turned her thorough attention on the foods, folklore and cultures of the Middle East. A Jewish woman raised in Egypt, Roden has a great eye for detail, whether it involves describing the exact technique needed to accomplish a long, involved recipe, or whether she is evocatively describing the foodways of a vanishing subculture. I have read all of her cookbooks cover to cover, and am starting to cook from them–and they are all well worth it. This newest one gives a novice to the foods of the region a taste of three of the greatest food cultures of the Middle East, with plenty of recipes to entice even the most timid of cooks into the kitchen. Besides–it also has one of the prettiest book covers I have seen in a long time.

Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck is probably one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I own, with beautiful photography and luscious prose. My only criticism is that its large format makes it hard to use in the kitchen and it makes it hard to place on a bookshelf, but it has been happy living on our coffee table for a few months now. I consult it when I want more ideas for dinner specials at Salaam–and its sensual photographs never fail to inspire me.

General Cookbooks

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolutionby Alice Waters is the perfect book for a new cook who wants to learn the techniques of naking simple meals with fresh ingredients. I wrote a review of the book here a while back and while I said that I would never have bought the book for myself, I was glad to have read it, and would probably be buying copies for friends and family for the Winter Holiday season. I think that if there are folks on my list who would appreciate this book, there are folks on your lists who would probably like it and use it, too.

Crust: Bread to Get Your Teeth Into by Richard Bertinet looks like a great book for teaching the methods and techniques of baking the great hearth breads of Europe. And what makes it even better is that it comes with an instructional DVD–something that I think more cookbooks should come with–either a DVD or a CD-ROM, because so many culinary techniques are better shown than described, and while photographs and line drawings are of good help in some cases, in others, they fall short. It isn’t as if there isn’t technology available for DVDs in cookbooks–it is that the marketing departments haven’t caught on with the idea yet. But someday, soon, I suspect they will. I haven’t bought this book yet, but I suspect I probably will, if not for myself, then for one of the perfectionist, detail-oriented breadbakers in my life. (Y’all know who you are!)

That’s my list–somewhat short and sweet, but hopefully with enough ideas to help give you a head start on gift shopping for all of the bibliophiles and culinary nerds in your lives.


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  1. guilty as charged!

    (except I have only cook books and not much else)

    Comment by sam — December 7, 2007 #


    Comment by Charlotte — December 7, 2007 #

  3. Hi Barbara,

    Bookish cooks — I love it! Perfect term to describe several of my friends, and I’ve never heard it used before. Thanks for the gift book ideas for them!

    A book I’ve given them in the past (and I also own and love) is Together: Creating Family Traditions by Davis and Oakes. The authors include recipes, activities and loads of ideas to create family memories by doing these fun activities together — at the holidays as well as all year. Their web site also lists additional recipes and activities. A bonus is the beautiful words and photos sprinkled throughout this special book. It’s one I cherish — hope you like it.

    Happy Holidays!

    Comment by Linda — December 8, 2007 #

  4. I haven’t tested any of the desserts from Veganomicon yet, but I’ve run quite a few of those from Vegan With A Vengeance by my coworkers and there have been no suggestions that any of them tasty like rubber or cardboard. Isa really does know what she’s doing. I’m a huge fan of the lemon gem cupcakes, carrot-raisin muffins, and sweet potato pie.

    Comment by Alexis — December 8, 2007 #

  5. Thank you Barbara – more I need to add to the wish list. And I enjoy doing that 🙂

    Comment by Zarah Maria — December 9, 2007 #

  6. Yup. That’s me. I read them like novels. And I am now out of room in the kitchen and starting an auxiliary shelf in the back room for the less-used ones that I still can’t bring myself to get rid of. Such a habit…And did I mention the extra bag I brought back from India just to carry cookbooks and cooking supplies? Ooof.

    Comment by Diane — December 10, 2007 #

  7. If I may jump in with another vegetarian cookbook suggestion, I adore Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (and have given it as a gift more than once). It’s amazingly comprehensive, and while there are a few things I’ve made that weren’t worth the effort there haven’t been any real duds. It’s by far my most frequently-used cookbook.

    Comment by Andrea — December 10, 2007 #

  8. I love that book, too, Andrea–but in this post, I was focusing only on books that had come out in the past year, with the view that they would be ones that a real bookish cook may not have bought for her or himself yet.

    Maybe in the coming year I will write a post about my favorite vegetarian cookbooks–because I have quite a few of them…and World Vegetarian is at the top of the list!

    Comment by Barbara — December 10, 2007 #

  9. Hi Barbara!

    I’m glad I found your site. I stumbled upon it while searching for information on the flavor of malabar spinach, because I’m considering growing it in my garden this summer. I’m delighted by all the other gems I’ve found here and love your cookbook gift-giving list.

    Comment by Christina — December 10, 2007 #

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