Spring is slowly creeping in — as evidenced by the cherry blossoms and lingering evening light. And with that comes more color at the farmers markets: asparagus and artichokes beckon, and the anticipation for berries, peas and ramps is in full swing. Thankfully, five writers and chefs have just released cookbooks that delve into the harvest with highly visual, inspired, and delicious books.
I had a conversation with a friend recently about some of the recipes in these books, about how simple they are. Do we really need a recipe for roasted beets? Don’t people know how to roast a beet? Not so fast. In our Bay Area food bubble, many of us roast beets frequently but there are many, too, that buy them pre-roasted and packaged at Trader Joe’s and call it a day. No judgement—we’re all eating beets and that’s a good thing, but what each of these books aims to do is get you excited about a particular ingredient and confident enough to take it on for yourself.
In James Peterson’s Vegetables, for example, there’s a recipe for Avocado on Toast. I’d adored the book up until this point but found myself stopping here: Really? Do we all need a recipe for this? Is this even a recipe? But with more consideration, I decided this was much more of an invitation for a major avocado craving, and it worked. I can’t stop thinking about avocados after seeing the step-by-step photos of slicing a creamy, ripe avocado perfectly and smearing it on top of your favorite bread. Yes, please. And this, I think, is the success of all of these books. They each garner a big, fat "yes, please" and an excitement about basic ingredients from the garden and the market.
The Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook
This cookbook is filled with beautifully photographed recipes geared at quicker meals at home. Each chapter is organized around a specific vegetable (summer squash or hearty greens, for example) and begins with information on Why to Grow These Vegetables, When to Harvest Them, How to Keep Them, and Preserving the Harvest. The information is succinct enough to get gardeners going without seeming daunting or heavy-handed, something I’ve seen similar books struggle with. They usually cover each vegetable in 1-2 pages, so you don't feel inundated with too much gardening and cooking information -- the result of which is often feeling too overwhelmed to tackle either. This is not the case with Sunset’s new book, and I’ll use it as a frequent reference, especially this spring and summer as I get out into the garden more.
Recipes to Try: Smoky Eggplant Raita, Minty Tabbouleh with Preserved Lemon, Rhubarb Cardamom Galette
Buy the Book: The Sunset Edible Gardens Cookbook
Ripe by Cheryl Sternman Rule with Photography by Paulette Phlipot
We’ve got vegetable books organized by ingredient or by season, but never have we seen one organized by color. Until now. If you read Cheryl’s blog (a recent IACP winner), 5 Second Rule, you’re familiar with her smart, witty voice, and I was delighted to discover how much of that voice shines through here in each and every recipe — I could read the headnote to a random asparagus recipe in this book and guess that Cheryl had written it. Of the book, Cheryl says it best: “What you’ll find in these pages is sensory, pretty, practical, and fun.” I concur wholeheartedly. Paulette Phlipot’s photos are stunning, and the Three Simple Uses is a unique inclusion. For each produce item, Cheryl gives three quick ingredient combinations to get you going without a hard-and-fast recipe, perfect for afternoons when you’ve just come back from the farmers market and can’t be bothered with a more detailed recipe. Not only do I love the ease of this, but I love the way it encourages home cooks to use their intuition more in the kitchen, to trust the process. I can see many vegetable love affairs born from these pages. Thank you for that, Cheryl and Paulette.
Recipes to Try: Polenta-Stuffed Chard with Bubbly Parmesan, Chocolate-Flecked Banana Buttermilk Pancakes, Apricot Frangipane Galette.
Buy the Book: Ripe
The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy
This book could be construed as a stretch to include in this line-up, but I think it very much captures the spirit of preserving the garden’s bounty. While the other books here tend to encourage picking a tomato from the yard, coming indoors and using it right away in a salad, Chicago chef Paul Virant has fantastic ideas for how to preserve that tomato to enjoy it later, in the dead of winter. In fact, his Introduction is titled, “Capturing the Year in a Jar.” If you’re new to preserving, there’s a wonderfully informative beginning chapter on the Principles of Safe Preserving. The organization of the book is downright likeable, with the first half, In the Jar, focusing on recipes for jams, pickles, fermenting and curing while the second half, At the Table, moves on to more substantial recipes that utilize those base ingredients. How about Braised Chicken Legs in Pear Pasta with Swiss Chard and Pickled Stems? Or Pound Cake with Dehydrated Strawberry Jam and Sweetened Crème Fraiche? With clear instructions and a full seasonal spectrum of inspiration, this has already made its way to the top of my stack of spring cookbooks.
Recipe to Try: Kumquat Marmalade, Lemon-Pickled Turnips, Pear and Vanilla Aigre-Doux.
Buy the Book: The Preservation Kitchen
Vegetables by James Peterson
James Peterson’s book is a substantially revised version of the original, with 50 new recipes, 30 new vegetables, and a new section on herbs. The section on Preparing and Cooking Vegetables is awesome: it’s highly visual and walks you through simple tasks that many of us may not know: all the different ways to slice garlic, or how to peel and seed a tomato. He moves on to cover methods of cooking, from Broiling to Roasting with a few sample recipes scattered throughout. But the heart of the book really lies in the Vegetable section, where James Peterson highlights, vegetable by vegetable, delicious recipes and photos on preparing them. If you’re even remotely interested in herbs, this section is spectacular, with photos of each herb, information on preparation and storage, and enticing recipes.
Recipes to Try Now: Creamed Sorrel, Twice-Baked Garlic and Tomato Souffles, Orange, Endive and Walnut Salad
Buy the Book: Vegetables
Grow Cook Eat by Willi Galloway
Willi Galloway is a Portland-based writer and radio commentator, focusing on kitchen gardening and seasonal cooking. This book, perhaps more than any others I’ve discussed here today, gives way more information on gardening, from Prepping the Soil to When to Plant to Step-by-Step illustrations on Building a Hoop House. Yes, if you’re a beginning gardener (as I am), this book will get you pretty excited. After the first 40 pages or so of gardening discussion, Willi moves into the heart of the book: the ingredient profiles and recipes. Again, we have a book that’s organized by the actual herb or vegetable with introductory material and a few recipes. But what makes this book different, again, is its focus on successfully growing the ingredient: there are paragraphs on Planting, Growing, Harvesting and Storing before we even make it to the cooking discussion. Then the following recipe tends to be a simple—yet delicious—sounding one. A recipe that will reward you for the bounty you’ve brought into the kitchen but won’t exhaust you with an additional grocery list or hours in the kitchen. An accessible and inspired compendium.
Recipes to Try: Spicy Cabbage Slaw, Oven-Roasted Beets with Winter Citrus Vinaigrette, Bucatini with Fresh English Peas and Garlic Scape Pesto
Buy the Book: Cook Eat Grow