Cookbook Review

People who know me seem to have a pretty foolproof formula for buying me a gift – they always get me a new cookbook. For my last birthday, I received five new ones – all from different people. By no means am I disappointed by this; I’ve built up quite the collection of cookbooks, so I have a reference for just about any culinary question I could have. I would like to share a few of my personal favorites from my collection. These books have helped me grow to be more comfortable and competent in the kitchen. I like each of them for different reasons; some have developed my cooking skills, some have really inventive recipes, and some are just really interesting reads. 

#1: Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi

Typically, I am not one to be swayed by “food celebrities”. I like learning from experts, but I’m not fond of blindly following one person’s every suggestion. However, when it comes to Padma Laksmi, I will take her word as law. Her cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet, might be my favorite cookbook of all time. I absolutely love her narrative prose and the way she weaves personal stories and her Indian heritage into recipes to share her culture. Her cosmopolitan life experiences inform a vast culinary knowledge that anyone can learn something from. Really, this book reads like a novel! Padma shares a wide range of recipes from indulgent and decadent to simplistic and nourishing. My favorite part of Padma’s teaching is how she is informative without being pretentious. She doesn’t gatekeep unfamiliar ingredients or techniques; she freely gives her knowledge to improve your kitchen skills and comfort levels experiencing new food cultures. 

Favorite featured recipes: 

  • Smashed potato masala
  • Chili honey butter
  • Sea Scallops with cucumber relish

#2: Fast, Fresh and Easy Food by Lorraine Pascal

The other exception to my no-food-celebrity rule is the lovely Lorraine Pascal. I first encountered her as a judge on one of my favorite baking shows, and she just seemed so knowledgeable about baking and pastry-making– something I have very limited skills with. A few years ago, I found one of her cookbooks and was surprised to find that it actually had nothing to do with baking; instead, it focused on dinner recipes created with efficiency in mind. In this book, you will find diverse, impressive recipes with minimal prep times that prove that quality food doesn’t have to be inaccessible just because you’re short on time. As a busy student, I really appreciate that her average recipe in this book only requires about 30 minutes of work and basic ingredients that are easy to find. The results, however, certainly aren’t of lesser quality than a fancier, more time-intensive recipe. 

Favorite featured recipes: 

  • Tandoori chicken wraps with raita
  • Mascarpone gnocchi with pesto
  • Creme anglaise
  • Lamb biryani

#3: 1,000 Mediterranean Recipes by Valentina Harris

This book is a remnant from when I was in my Mediterranean diet phase– and it certainly covered EVERY Mediterranean recipe you could care to learn! I still pull it out in the summer when I’m planning a meal for a crowd. These recipes just beg you to be served to your loved ones on a big outdoor table. This recipe collection draws heavily from all Mediterranean food cultures, from Portugal to Greece, to educate readers about cooking styles typical to each region. I love how each recipe offers three different substitutions to be personalized exactly to your liking. 

Favorite featured recipes: 

  • Patatas bravas
  • Gazpacho
  • Veggie ragu
  • Grilled Shrimp with citrus aioli

#4: New York Times No-Recipe Recipes

This cookbook really changed my entire understanding of the culinary world and my independence level as a cook. With this book as a guide, I  strengthened my intuition as a cook who doesn’t need to rely so heavily on a recipe. If the idea of a no-recipe recipe scares you, don’t let it! All you need to do is follow an outline and ingredient list that gives you space to personalize the recipe intuitively. To me, this just might be the ultimate college student cookbook. A lot of its recipes are simple throw-togethers for busy evenings that give you options within the no-recipe constraint. A fair warning: if you truly want to make the most of this cookbook, it advises you to keep a well-stocked pantry to grab from at a moment’s notice. 

Favorite featured recipes:

  • Savory french toast with tomatoes and basil
  • Crab rangoon burgers
  • Roasted salmon

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