Near and Far (Ten Speed Press, $29.99) is the long-awaited second cookbook from the James Beard Award-winning food blogger Heidi Swanson. The book is framed around Swanson’s travels, beginning with a “Near” section of favorite recipes inspired by her home in San Francisco. It then moves on to cuisine drawn from Swanson’s explorations of India, Japan, France, Italy, and Morocco. This “Far” portion of the book is not a standard set of traditional ethnic dishes but rather Swanson’s own style of cooking filtered through the culture and savors she encounters in each place. What results is a collection of unique recipes that vary widely in flavor but share an elegant simplicity and exquisite attention to detail. Whether you are drawn to the clean flavors of a salad of spring carrots and beans or the more surprising nori granola, Swanson will win you over with her thoughtful approach in the kitchen and the evocative photographs of food and place.
Many cooks still have treasured recipes from Madhur Jaffrey’s first book, Invitation to Indian Cooking, from 1973, which is in the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame. Or, perhaps, from their battered copies of her square-format, paperback classic, World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking (1981), or any of her two dozen or so other cookbooks. Over the last few years, Ms. Jaffrey has travelled throughout India to uncover recipes for Vegetarian India: A Journey through the Best of Indian Home Cooking (Knopf, $35). She cooked side by side with local cooks at stoves and grills, whether in homes, shops, or roadside stands. She provides chapters on eggs and dairy, grains and pancakes, and of course, dals, chutneys, desserts, and drinks. Kodova Mushroom Curry With Coconut, Okra Fries with Chile, Turmeric, and Chickpea Flour, Stir-Fried Spinach, Andhra Style, and Goan Potatoes are a few of the 200-plus recipes, profusely illustrated with photos. Ms. Jaffrey always makes the recipes approachable—and mouth-watering.
Mark Bittman needs no introduction: he is simply one of the greatest food writers of our time, and the more he experiments and explores, the better it is for all of us. Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix (Pam Krauss, $35), based on the last few years of his New York Times Magazine “Eat” column, is, unsurprisingly, another masterpiece. This new work is a textbook on how to improvise in the kitchen; each page focuses on a single ingredient or base recipe, with categories of variations radiating from that center. These matrices serve as flexible guidelines rather than detailed cooking instructions, and they encourage home cooks to customize the given recipe based on what they have on hand and what they are in the mood for. So whether you are starting with chicken breasts or just have a craving for tomato soup, this book will guide you through the process of thinking about what to make—it is culinary creativity made accessible.