The holiday season is upon us and you know what that means! It’s time to cook! But what should you cook? There are all those old family recipes to work with — but do you really want to revisit those worn-out golden oldies? Most of them are so loaded with bad fats and sugar that they could give Willy Wonka diabetes, provided he didn’t have a heart attack first.
Luckily, the season also brings with it a deluge of amazing, yet healthy, cookbooks allowing the adventurous chef to explore new foods without boring the pants off his or her party guests.
Inspiralized: Turn Vegetables into Healthy, Creative Satisfying Meals by Ali Maffucci, $19.99
If you’re a gadget-lovin’ health nut, odds are that you own, or want to own, a spiralizer — one of those hand-crank doodads that cuts veggies into long, noodle-like strips. While it’s fairly weird that cutting produce a certain way makes it more desirable, it does — for a while, at least. But if you’re going to continue to love spaghettified zucchini ad infinitum, you need to discover different ways of preparing it. Enter Inspiralized, a cookbook filled not just with ideal sauces from green-tinted faux-fettuccini, but also all kinds of clever ways to use spiralized veggies for everything from nori rolls to casseroles to waffles. It’s a simple, basic cookbook ideal for anyone who wants to sneak more veggies into their life.
Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman (duh), $35.00
This genius volume isn’t a recipe book as much as a kitchen empowerment tool. As is usually the case with this New York Times food writer’s works, Kitchen Matrix teaches the reader how to cook just about everything — but this time around, he wants you to do it your way. The sections are based on individual ingredients or classic recipes. For example, one section focuses on tomatoes, another on kebabs. Each section features a list of ways to prepare the foodstuff using very basic recipes or gives you a “recipe generator” which teaches you to assemble your own ingredients. For example, the kebabs section features a series of lists: main ingredient, fruits and vegetables, and flavorings. After that, it gives you combination guidelines. In other words, anyone equipped with this cookbook holds the key to improvising his or her own culinary masterpieces.
Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver, $34.99
“My philosophy in this book is to help you get it right on the food front, most of the time,” states Jamie “Naked Chef” Oliver in the introduction of his new book. Mission accomplished. This isn’t the healthiest cookbook in the list, but it’s close. The recipes are broken down into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. With most recipes, he’s done an impressive job of assembling a few, basic ingredients in culinary goodness. (The Blushing, Pickled Eggs are especially groovy. After all, who wouldn’t want to show up at that holiday mixer with a tray of purple hardboiled eggs?) Oliver rounds out the book with a series of essays on lifestyle and clean living, making this a fine gateway book for the foodie looking to give clean eating a try.
Fast Food, Good Food by Andrew Weil, MD, $30
You might think a cookbook written by this integrative medicine practitioner would rate an 11 on the hippie scale, but Dr. Weil’s book is surprisingly accessible. Based around his anti-inflammatory diet philosophy (which he explains in the back of the book), Fast Food, Good Food features a variety of recipes including a robust Drinks chapter — both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. (Andy, you naughty boy.) While recipes are listed as vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, the book does not include nutrition fact listings, probably keeping in line with the author’s holistic notions. This would have been nice, but it doesn’t deter from an otherwise useful volume.
Thug Kitchen Party Grub by Thug Kitchen, $25.99
Admittedly, the notion of “vegan party food” seems slightly oxymoronic to an outsider, but the creators of the popular Thug Kitchen blog have pulled it off in a book loaded with flavorful, filling recipes that’ll trick even the most dedicated meat-lovin’ bro into eating his veggies. Unlike many of the books in this roundup, Party Grub is light on the education. In fact, they downplay their animal product-free stance compared to most vegan cookbooks, making it more accessible to those not living a plant-based lifestyle. Unfortunately, some of that accessibility is lost given the gratuitous amount of f-bombs and sh-bombs the writers seemed compelled to spew across every page. But as long as your kids don’t make a habit of digging through your cookbook collection, that shouldn’t deter you from checking this one out.
The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt, $49.95
Many cookbooks do a fine job at answering culinary how’s and what’s. But how many books take that a step further and address the why? The Food Lab is a kitchen nerd’s magical fantasy. It doesn’t just teach the reader the basics of cooking, from grilling meat to assembling various soups and stews to creaming spinach. It takes the explanations a step further, explaining why foods should be prepared certain ways, what happens as you prepare them — and what happens when things go wrong. Any book that spends seven pages on boiled eggs alone is going to make you a better chef. If you’re a Marion Nestle or Harold McGee fan, this is a must-own.
FIXATE by Autumn Calabrese, $19.95
If you’re a 21 Day Fix-o-phile, you’ve probably reaped the benefits of using those magic colored containers to plan your diet and learn a thing or two about healthy eating. But if you’re a cook, sometimes figuring out if your masterpieces are Red, Purple, Blue, or all three can be a challenge. To help you toe the line and satisfy your culinary yen, Fix creator Autumn Calabrese created Fixate: 101 Personal Recipes to Use with the 21 Day Fix Portion-Control Program. Divided into meals, as well as a few other must-haves such as desserts, sides, and (lucky you) skinny cocktails, Fixate offers a diverse collection of recipes that fit nicely into your containers. It also offers plenty of vegan, vegetarian, Paleo-friendly, and gluten-free options.