We all have favorite cookbooks — those go-to sources ripe with beautiful recipes and loads of good information. These are mine. These are the five cookbooks that I would wholeheartedly give to anyone who asked me for recommendations, the five cookbooks that I turn to weekly to inspire me to culinary greatness. They are my rut-breakers. My guiding lights.
I’m sure you’ll love them, too.
First is the cookbook that re-introduced me to traditional foods and traditional food preparation techniques. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. If you haven’t read it already, the 70-page introduction to this book will change your eating life. It’s positively full of traditional food wisdom and the nutritional research to back up its claims. And the cookbook section is more than just a collection of recipes, too. The sidebar of every page contains quotations from a number of relevant and interesting sources. There are many basic recipes for simple things like butter, sour cream, sauerkraut, and kombucha. And there are also other, more exciting recipes for tasty main course dishes, soups, and sides. I’ve found a few of the recipes to be hit and miss in terms of reliability, but they all have this going for them: they’re all 100% Real Food. The recipes for cultured dairy, lacto-fermented vegetables, pastured meats, wild-caught seafood, sourdough breads, probiotic beverages, salad dressings & condiments, and more are completely free of new-fangled, industrialized foods. There are absolutely no compromises in this book. If a recipe is in this book, you can trust it to be as nutrient-dense and healthy for you as possible. And, if you’re like me, you’ll experiment with the recipes and adjust them according to your tastes.
Next up is another book I have absolutely no reservations about — The Garden of Eating by Rachel Albert-Matesz and Don Matesz. This book is perfect for those going grain and dairy free or on the paleolithic/primal diets. Not only are all the recipes happily compliant on the gluten-free/casein-free diet, they’re also all 100% Real Food. There are no strange fake-food substitutes for grains, dairy, or sugar that are detrimental to your health. You won’t need to make any substitutions in these recipes to make them as nutrient-dense as possible. All the oils and fats are real, healthy fats, the meats pastured or wild caught, and the food combinations delicious. Plus, the book includes an introductory section on how to organize your kitchen and meal-making so that you can be as efficient as possible. (I thought I was pretty good before I read this, but I found so many ways to improve my system thanks to this cookbook that I now believe the book is worth its purchase price for this section of wisdom alone!) The author is a little less heavy on the salt and fat than I am, but no matter. I just adjust to taste and have perfect meals every time. I’ve never had a single recipe in this book fail me. Not one!
I absolutely adore More With Less for its frugality. It’s put out by a group of Mennonites, and includes a lot of from-scratch cooking basics that will take the mystery out of so many things that confound most modern, convenience-based cooks. Want to know how to make your own cream of ____ soup so that you don’t have to resort to those nasty canned versions? How about your own chocolate pudding so that you can do without buying those little boxes of industrialized waste? This is cookbook for you! All the recipes are immensely practical. Sadly, though, they’re not all 100% Real Food. The authors rely heavily on margarine, yellow seed-based vegetable oils, dry milk, and refined flours and sugar. But, thankfully since the recipes are all from-scratch, they’re easy to adapt. Simply substitute butter for the margarine, olive or coconut oils for the veggie oils, sprouted whole grain flours for the refined flours, and the like. The book is full of a lot of advice for stretching your food dollars, most of it quite good.
Don’t Panic: Dinner’s In The Freezer is the best freeze-ahead book I’ve ever seen, and perfect for the busy cook. The authors put forth an incredibly practical system for getting extra meals in the freezer — more simple and usable than any other system I’ve heard about. Plus, the recipes are fresh, yummy foods rather than the standard casserole-based foods found in most freezer cookbooks. Imagine Cilantro Chicken Enchiladas or Sesame Honey Pork Chops on the table in no time at all. This book is much more achievable than the once-a-month cooking methods, instead relying on cooking extra batches of food when you do cook and setting aside the occasional weekend with friends to cook up a lot of food at once. It also offers stellar advice on how to freeze various foods while keeping your containers & cookware in your cupboard where they belong. Although it errs in some places, most of the food is also 100% real. (And where it errs, it’s easily adaptable.)
And finally, Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation is the go-to book for all things fermented. You’ll feel incredibly self-sufficient after reading this book. Learn how to make your own traditionally-prepared miso, tempeh, sourdough, wine, pickles, sauerkraut, and more. If a food is old, traditional, and fermented, Katz tells you how to make it while spinning yarns and charming you like an old grandmother.