I am an absolute cookbook junky. At last count, I had 124 cookbooks. That was a while back, so there is no telling how many I’ve got crammed into every nook and cranny of my small home office at this point. Probably a dozen or so more.
I’m going to end up having to buy another bookshelf pretty soon. My wife thinks I’m nuts.
Below you’ll find a selection of some of my favorites, in no particular order:
South, by Sean Brock – Sean Brock is a Southern Cooking superhero and this is the best cookbook that I’ve found for exploring new recipes and learning about the hows, whys, and history of Southern Cuisine. His other cookbook, Heritage, is also good, but it isn’t as approachable for a home cook as South is.
The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook has served as a starting point for many recipes that I make. With 2,000 recipes in it, it is an excellent resource for basic recipes for almost anything. I would say that every recipe that they’ve produced is well thought out and approachable for cooks of every skill level. It is, in my mind, the perfect starting cookbook. If you never bought another cookbook, this one would be more than enough.
Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop can be credited with my love for Chinese Cuisine. This book covers the cuisine of Southern China. She has other excellent cookbooks that cover other regions of China, which are also excellent. The Land of Fish and Rice, which covers the Lower Yangtze Region, her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, which covers the Hunan Region of China, and her most recent, The Food of Sichuan, which of course covers Sichuan Province.
The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, by John D. Folse is truly an encyclopedia. It includes over 700 recipes of about anything that you can think of from Cajun and Creole Country. It also includes a substantial section on the history of the region and its cuisine. Knowing how certain cuisines came to be can help you better understand how to cook it if you are looking for authentic flavor.
Real Cajun, by Donald Link – You may be starting to notice a trend in my book list. I have a deep love for Southern cooking, especially including Cajun Food. I grew up on Southern Food. I think cooking it and eating it reminds me of some of the best parts of my childhood. I consider that nostalgia the sixth type of taste, along with sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. Donald Link’s Real Cajun cookbook elevates a lot of the Cajun Dishes that you might find in the Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine above. Down South is another excellent cookbook by Donald Link.
The Art of Mexican Cooking, by Diana Kennedy – Although I’m from Texas, I’m not a big fan of Tex-Mex cooking. I’m from West Texas in particular (specifically Pecos, Texas), which to me is an entirely different region and culture than the areas near and around the larger cities in Central and East Texas, such as San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, or Houston. Maybe that’s why I don’t care for Tex-Mex. Maybe Tex-Mex is not so much a West Texan cuisine, but more of a Central and East Texas cuisine.
Mexican Food is far superior to Tex-Mex and I think it should be included among the best cuisines in the world. Maybe that’s because where I grew up, Mexican people made up a very large part of the population. Probably a majority. For the most part, their food was really not all that different than you would find across the river in Chihuahua.
In my mind, Tex-Mex is a blurring of the lines between Southern Cooking and traditional Mexican Cooking. Think a batch of well-made enchiladas with a pile of slow-cooked greens with a smoky ham hock in it on the side. Most Tex-Mex restaurants seem to disagree with me though and appear to think Tex-Mex is just greasy enchiladas, red rice, and a puddle of refried beans topped with cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, and a red sauce that sorta vaguely resembles salsa.
Along with Southern Cooking, real Mexican Food is very nostalgic for me. In this book, along with another favorite book of hers, The Essential Cuisnes of Mexico, Ms. Kennedy has done an excellent job documenting real Mexican dishes the way they are traditionally cooked in various regions of Mexico.