8 Great Seasonal Cooking Resources
By Jessie Chien & Sarah A. Maine
Seasonal cooking is what inspires us all here on RecipeRelay. But no matter if you are an amateur in the kitchen or a Top Chef, we all need somewhere to turn for inspiration. We too need occasional guidance on how to use Spring’s first pea shoots, Summer’s sweet red peppers, Fall’s golden beets and Winter’s everlasting supplies of potatoes and apples. Below is a list of our favorite seasonal cooking resources that we like to flip through all year round. And although the recipes are seasonal, these cookbooks don’t have a shelf-life. They will last you, season upon season, year after year.
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- Lucid Food, by Luisa Shafia. Luisa Shafia, a longtime natural foods chef, has created a beautiful cookbook and corresponding blog that profile natural cooking with fresh ingredients. A highlight from the book is a section with terms and descriptions that are often exchanged (though not often clarified) within the sustainable food industry: CAFO, Biodiversity, Carbon footprint, Fair trade, Wild Foraged, to name a few. Her approach to recipes is holistic and health-forward, but isn’t all tofu and tempeh. Examples of Summer recipes include Lemonade with Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena, and Indonesian Corn Fritters. On the opposite end, Winter recipes include Buckwheat and Orange Zest Gingersnaps, and Creamy Red Kuri Squash soup. Not your typical health nut guru, if you ask us, which is precisely why we dig Shafia’s cookbook. Additionally, coming from a restaurant and catering background, Shafia offers plenty of entertaining tips scattered throughout.
- A Platter of Figs, by David Tanis. David Tanis’ book is beautiful. Everything from the font to the paper to the way the pictures are centered…and above all else, the beauty lies in the pure simplicity of the recipes. As for the eloquent title, Tanis explains in his intro “Do you really need a recipe for a platter of figs? No. Is that the point? Yes. Does it have to be more complicated than that? Not really.” What else would you expect from a longtime chef at Chez Panisse? But don’t be fooled, Tanis splices his simple recipes for dishes like Roasted Apples or Goat Cheese with Honey with the occasional surprise, like a Pig’s Ear Salad, a Succotash with Jalapeno Butter, and Five-spiced Duck. His recipes are clearly meant to provide guidance on to how to eat happily, seasonally, and on a long wooden table with your closest friends.
- Simply Organic, by Jesse Ziff Cool. Jesse Ziff Cool opens her book with a personal introduction on how she’s come to appreciate good food. As one reads, it is obvious that her appreciation has become her passion, and it shows throughout the variety of recipes in her book. The cookbook is full of useful information: conversion tables, how to create an organic pantry, a guide to the Dirty Dozen and better alternatives, and what she calls “Pioneer Profiles” – pages featuring the background and spirit of the industry’s leading small-scale organic producers. What’s more, this cookbook separates each season into two or more parts. Summer is divided into “early summer”, “mid summer”, and “Indian summer”. Like us, she is aware that the strawberries do not last all summer, and the beginning of winter can look completely different than the end of winter. This is the book to have open on you kitchen counter all year-round.
- Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. Suzanne Goin is a powerhouse – not only as a pioneering top woman chef, but also for inspiring and the LA slow food movement. Her cookbook, Sunday Supper at Lucques, is subtitled “Seasonal recipes from market to table”, and does not deviate from that byline. Pictures and recipes scream of California Farmer’s Markets. Divided by season and then by menu, her recipes are reflective of LA cuisine in its mixture of fresh produce and international influence. The recipes range from a simple Cornbread to the more sophisticated Grilled Quail with Pancetta, Ricotta Pudding and Sicilian Breadcrumbs. At the beginning of each seasonal chapter, Goin writes about what you may encounter at the market at that time of year.
- Canal House Cookbooks. The Canal House cookbook is actually a seasonal publication that is released three times a year. The introduction from the most recent volume 6 reads: “Welcome to Canal House—our studio, workshop, dining room, office, kitchen, and atelier devoted to good ideas and good work relating to the world of food.” (Can you understand why we at RecipeRelay like this cookbook?) With inspiring kitchen stories, clever titles, and sensible recipes that are not only seasonal but current, the Canal House Cookbooks are great if you’re looking for new ideas to inject into your permanent shelf of cookbooks.
- Eating Local, by Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher. I know, a cookbook created by a culinary supply store – seems like a gimmick, and maybe it is, but after attending a panel discussion which included one of the farmers highlighted in this cookbook I was open to checking it out. When I flipped through the book the pages fell open to the profile of Golden Earthworm Organic Farm, the farm that supplies my CSA. What can I say, they got me. Luckily, the recipes do not disappoint. Organized alphabetically by main ingredient, the straightforward recipes are designed to showcase the star ingredients (accompanied by luscious photographs), with farm profiles interspersed throughout. If you are a CSA subscriber, this book will provide tasty inspiration for the array of greens and sometimes alien looking veggies that show up in your weekly share.
- On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. Harold McGee has written what many refer to as the bible of cooking. On Food and Cooking, originally published in 1984, is a guidebook for basic techniques and ingredients. Though it’s not even close to a seasonal cookbook along the lines of the other books on this list, it’s one that shouldn’t be buried in the stacks. When I need to investigate the history and qualities of the nightshade family, I turn to McGee. When I need to know how to make the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey, or the best method to cook vegetables, or why my attempt at a soufflé failed, I turn to McGee. To successfully cook the produce that you’ve found at the market, it’s never hurts to keep learning a bit of the history, preparations, flavor and family profiles, maximum ripeness, and random facts about the basket of produce sitting in front of you.
- Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Elix Katz. As we have talked about on RecipeRelay in the past, true seasonal eating incorporates the ability to preserve some food from the bounty of the growing season to be eaten out of season. Canning has been experiencing a rebirth in popularity, and alongside it, gurgling and bubbling with delicious promise, is fermentation – the practice of using live active cultures to preserve food. A marriage of history and how-to, Sandor Katz’s bible of fermentation began as an underground sensation before taking its rightful place in the mainstream cookbook lexicon. It makes perfect sense since many favored foods are fermented at some point in their lifespan: bread, beer, chocolate (need I say more?). You can read this book purely for the pleasure of learning about fermentation – its health benefits and its many guises – but I guarantee you won’t be able to resist trying your hand at a little sauerkraut or honey wine. I should warn you that once you have eaten real sauerkraut made by your own hand, the stuff in the jars and bags at the grocery store loses all its appeal. Go forth and ferment!