95, 96, 97, 98, 99… Believe it or not, that’s the number of cookbooks in my house. 99. They run the gamut from cajun to seafood to Indian to general. Some are VERY specialized (like Gordon Grimsdale’s Book of Sauces), and some have every recipe your grandmother made (Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook originally published in 1948). Since I read cookbooks like novels (front to back, marking the pages with PostIts as I go), it seemed like a good idea to share my favorites with you – let’s call it Coleen’s Book Club. These books are the ones I refer back to time and time again, the ones that have stains in them, dog-eared pages and torn spines. To be sure, I have some favorite recipes in each one of them, but mostly use them as inspiration for my own creations. Check them out!
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The American Vegetarian Cookbook by Marilyn Diamond
This book is my go-to book for inspiration for fresh cooking. My first introduction to the Diamonds was when I read Fit for Life in the 1980s. Their philosophy was that one should have only ONE concentrated food at each meal, and this cookbook backs that up. It is a great reference book for cooking grains and vegetables. The recipes are simple, delicious and packed with flavor. Having said that – stay away from the blended salad on page 142. Disgusting!
My favorite salad dressing is in here (pg. 124), the basic “cream” soup recipe I use all the time (pg. 191), and Louise’s favorite hummus recipe (pg. 131). Here is that hummus recipe. As the Barefoot Contessa says, “How easy is THAT?”
Linda’s Delicious Hummus
2-3 T olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (3-4 T)
1 medium garlic clove
1/4 cup tahini
17 oz jar or 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained
Measure olive oil and lemon juice into blender or food processor. Add garlic and tahini and blend until smooth. Add beans and blend until mixture is creamy. (Note – I drop the garlic into a running food processor to turn it into little chunks before I add the other ingredients.)
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A Little German Cookbook by Gertrude Philipine Matthes
This is my go-to book for our Oktoberfests, or whenever Rick is in a wurst mood. It’s a teeny tiny little book (4×5 inches with only 60 pages including the table-of-contents and index), but has nearly every traditional recipe you need. Spaetzle, pork roast, cabbage dishes, sauerbraten, applecake. Yum! Hundreds of people have eaten the food out of this little book – I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth!
Here’s a twist on Sauerkraut (pg. 30) that you might find intriguing…
1 lb. can or jar of sauerkraut (use the refrigerated bag if you can find it)
1 small onion, diced
3 slices of bacon, chopped
2 tsp. oil
1 small apple, diced (peel still on)
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 peeled potato, grated
salt and pepper
water (about 1 cup)
Drain and rinse sauerkraut thoroughly. Fry the bacon and onion in oil until bacon is crisp. Add sauerkraut, apple, carrot and potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with water and boil for an hour. (Note – The recipe originally called for uncooked sauerkraut. However, we can only find cooked kraut here, so reduce the cooking time to 15 or 20 minutes or so.)
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International Meatless Cookbook by Jean Hewitt
This is a funny cookbook. It says it’s meatless, but includes chicken and fish recipes, as though their flesh wasn’t meat. Interestingly enough, I use the chicken recipes in here a LOT. The chicken section includes such standards as Brunswick Stew, Sancocho, Tagine, Marengo, Coq au Vin, Cacciatore, Paprikash, Normandy, Chicken and Dumplings, Mole, Scarpariello, Arroz con Pollo, Kiev, Parmigiana, Florentine, Provencal, Chausseur, Vindaloo, Chicken with Snow Peas, Sukiyaki, Scaloppini, Tandoori, Satay, and Teriyaki. It’s a GREAT chicken reference book!
It’s also a great book for soups and appetizers. This recipe (pg. 47) is, indeed, meatless. It’s my go-to hot summer day soup.
Chilled Cucumber Soup (Turkish)
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
16 oz. yogurt (use full fat if you can find it)
8 oz. sour cream
2 T snipped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts and dill sprigs for garnish, optional
Put the cucumber, garlic, yogurt, sour cream and dill in the container of a blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill. To serve, put a T of walnuts in each of four bowls and pour soup over. Garnish will dill. (Note – I never use the walnuts. This soup is best served a day after it is made.)
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Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni
This is the book that changed everything in my kitchen. The more recipes I made out of here, the more I wanted to learn about Indian cooking. The more I wanted to learn, the more spices I bought, and the more versed I became with Indian ingredients. This book is a MUST if you are interested in learning how to cook Indian food. There are sections on cooking techniques used, chapters on spices, herbs and seasonings, and on planning and serving Indian foods. Then the recipes – oh my, the recipes. Some of my favorites are Fish in Velvet Yogurt Sauce (pg. 253), Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce (pg. 274), Cumin and Turmeric Rice (pg. 364) and the following recipe, Masala Dal (pg. 330).
Masala Dal (Spice and Herb laced split peas)
1 1/2 cups yellow split peas (toor dal)
1/3 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. Kosher salt
for the Tadka:
1/2 cup light vegetable oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 T finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
- Sort and wash the peas. Put the peas in a bowl, add enough hot water to cover by 1″ and let soak for an hour. Drain.
- Put the peas, turmeric and 4 1/2 cups water in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to keep the peas from lumping. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, or until the peas are thoroughly cooked and tender when pressed between your fingers. Stir now and then to ensure that they don’t stick to the pan. Turn off the heat and beat the peas with a wooden spoon or whisk until finely pureed. There should be about 5 cups of puree. If not, add water until you reach 5 cups. (You can refrigerate the puree for up to 4 days if you want, or freeze. Defrost thoroughly before proceeding)
- When ready to serve, simmer the puree over low heat until piping hot. Check the consistency and add water if it is too thick. Set aside and make the tadka.
- Heat oil over medium high heat in a frying pan. When it is very hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until they turn dark brown (about 10 seconds). Add onions and fry until they turn dark brown (about 20 minutes), stirring constantly to prevent burning. Stir in red pepper and pour tadka over split pea puree. (It will sputter – don’t get your face too close) Garnish with coriander and serve in small bowls.
(Note – I pour the tadka over the puree when it is still in the pot and mix it in. This isn’t authentic, but I prefer it over having the oil sit on top of the puree.)
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Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath
This is a great book. Period. End of story. Seriously, this book contains some of my favorite recipes EVER. Garlicky smothered bell peppers (pg. 98), Garbanzo Beans in Tangy Tomato Sauce (pg. 160), Lemon-Sesame Rice Crowned with Vegetables (pg. 136), Palak Paneer (pg. 166), and the recipe that got my husband to eat cabbage, Gujarat-Style Baked Cabbage (pg. 115). Some of the recipes are complicated, but everything I have made out of this book is wonderful! The pages are coated with stains and scribbled remarks like “Great!” and “Yum!”
This dish should come out with a crispy texture like a potato pancake or hash browns. You can serve it with ANYTHING. If you have a clay baking dish, use it – you get better crispy edges.
Gujarat-Style Baked Cabbage
2 cups firmly packed finely shredded green cabbage
1 medium onion, halved and finely sliced
1/4 cup grated coconut, fresh or thawed (you can use unsweetened dried – just rehydrate in a little hot water)
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 or 2 fresh hot green chiles, chopped (serranos are a good choice)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
3 T mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
- Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F.
- Combine the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to mix well. Add the oil and water and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into an ungreased 8x8x2″ baking dish (a 9″ round works fine). Press lightly to spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the top with as much or as little sesame as you desire. Bake until the top is browned, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
- To reheat, place the baking dish in a cold oven and turn the heat on to 350F. Bake until heated though, about 12 minutes.
(Note – You can easily double this dish and bake it in a 13×9″ rectangular baking dish. Don’t double the salt, though. Just increase it a little bit.)
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Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen by – you guessed it – Rick Bayless
This book was written by one of my favorite chefs. Rick Bayless, owner of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago (where I plan to celebrate my 50th birthday) is a master of Mexican cooking. He was working on his Doctorate in Anthropological Linguistics in Mexico when he wrote his first cookbook about regional Mexican cooking. In nearly every recipe, Rick offers variations and improvisations, showing that Mexican cooking is flexible – truly an art, not a science.
This recipe is one of 14 different sauces (salsas) and seasoning pastes that he writes about. It is quick, easy and one of my absolute favorites. Presented here is the version with canned chipotles in adobo, because it’s the easiest. The version in the book also shows how to use dried chipotles (both black-red and tan).
Essential Quick-Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce
3-4 chipotles in adobo
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (3 medium-large round or 9 to 12 plum)
1 T rich lard or olive or vegetable oil
salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp.
- Remove the canned chipotles from their adobo.
- In a heavy, ungreased skillet or on a griddle over medium-high heat, roast the unpeeled garlic until blackened and soft in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, peel and coarsely chop.
- Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4″ from a very hot broiler. When they blister, blacken and soften on one side (about 6 minutes), flip them over and roast on the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes. (Note – you can skip this step and use a 28-oz. can of Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, either whole or diced. Just make sure they’re the fire roasted ones.)
- Scrape the tomatoes and their juices into a food processor and add the chiles and garlic. Pulse until nearly a puree – it should have more texture than canned tomato sauce.
- Heat the lard or oil in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, add it all at once and stir for about 5 minutes as it sears and concentrates to an earthy, red, thickish sauce – about the consistency of a medium-thick spaghetti sauce. Season with salt.
- This freezes well. You may need to simmer when you defrost it to thicken it up again.
(Note – This is quite spicy with 4 chipotles. The first time you make it, use 3 chiles and go from there.)
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There you have it – six of my favorite cookbooks. I’m curious to know what yours are – please write and let me know. Who knows? They might become one of my new favorites, too!
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