Whether you have food lovers or book lovers on your gift list, a food book can make a perfect present.
Cooks always appreciate a new cookbook as a place to discover recipe ideas and novel flavor combinations. And even those who don’t like to cook often enjoy the sensory pleasure of reading about food.
Throughout the year, I write about the latest natural food books written by Maine residents. This year those books included “Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter” by David Buchanan, “Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen” co-authored by Kendall Scott, and Jean Ann Pollard’s reissued “The New Maine Cooking.”
But at this time of year, I weed through the huge stack of food books from national authors that I’ve purchased and have been sent to me throughout the year.
Those that use lots of processed food ingredients, such as white flour and margarine, or too many animal-based ingredients get tossed to one side. The ones that focus on whole, real foods gain added consideration.
Finally, after much deliberation, I whittle down the list to the handful I feel represent the best of the bunch and would appeal to a diversity of interests.
Here are my picks for this season’s most gift-worthy natural food reads.
SINGLE INGREDIENT CELEBRATIONS
• “Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook it at Home,” by Andrea Nguyen, $30
This full-color cookbook with ample photos begins with detailed instructions for creating a variety of homemade tofu, including block tofu, silken tofu, seasoned pressed tofu, tea-smoked pressed tofu and white fermented tofu.
Then the bulk of the book is filled with tofu-based recipes. These include fried tofu with chile peanut sauce, soft tofu and seafood hot pot, spicy-sweet fried tofu buns and essence of tofu ice cream.
• “Wild About Greens,” by Nava Atlas, $24.95
Leafy green vegetables have become one of the hottest health foods. Prolific cookbook author Nava Atlas provides 125 excellent ideas for how to prepare these nutrition powerhouses.
She starts with basic recipes for sautes, braises, sauces and stir fries. From there, she jumps into more complex entrees and finishes with salads, soups and smoothies. Recipes include bok choy salad with red cabbage and snow peas, Italian-style braised chard with tomatoes, Asian noodle soup with greens and shiitake mushrooms and red lentil dal with red beans and greens.
• “Bean by Bean,” by Crescent Dragonwagon, $15.95
James Beard-awarding winning cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon returns with an in-depth examination of the humble yet endlessly versatile bean. With more than 175 recipes, the book spans numerous culinary traditions and includes soups, chilis, spreads, savory pies, salads, casseroles and even desserts.
Recipes include Ethiopian lentil stew, chicken salad with green beans, yellow beans and creamy Thai basil dressing, Tanzanian black-eyed pea and coconut soup, and homegrown Texas chili.
WILD FOOD GUIDE
• “The Joy of Foraging,” by Gary Lincoff, $24.99
The world around us is filled with delicious foods growing for free. This excellent guide with full-color photos provides details on identifying, harvesting and using more than 80 wild foods easily located in suburban and urban locations.
Many of these common edibles get overlooked because they’re maligned as weeds, such as dandelion, curly dock, purslane, milkweed and Japanese knotweed, when they’re actually choice edibles.
The book concludes with a smattering of foraged food recipes.
INDUSTRIAL FOOD EXPOSE
• “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” by Timothy Pachirat, $30
For those with a strong stomach and an appetite for the reality of modern factory food, Timothy Pachirat’s undercover look at the daily workings of a massive slaughterhouse is a must-read.
Professor Pachirat, in an effort to examine how we hide the horrors of assembly line slaughter from the general public, gets a job at an Omaha meat packing plant. Here he weaves a tale of mind-numbing job duties, deliberately hidden violence and bureaucratic disregard for contaminated food. It’s “The Jungle” for the 21st century.
• “Vegetable Diet,” by William Alcott, $29.99
Advocates of vegetarian eating can be found thousands of years ago in ancient India and Greece, but one of the first to publicly espouse an animal-free diet in America was doctor and social reformer William Alcott (and relative of author Louisa May Alcott). Andrews McMeel Publishing has reissued his 1838 vegetarian treatise in a gorgeous cloth-bound, gold-edged edition.
The book offers first-hand accounts of the health benefits gained by eating a plant-based diet that echo current public health debates.
VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE COOKING
• “Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source,” by Terry Walters, $30
Organized by season, this cookbook is updated from the 2009 edition with new recipes, full-color photographs, gluten-free recipe tweaks and between meal snacks. Walters makes eating whole, seasonal, vegan food easy and delicious.
Her recipes include cucumber noodles with bok choy and peanut sauce, crispy roasted chickpeas, sweet potato and black bean burritos with cashew cheese, and chocolate lover’s tart.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: