Looking for ways to expand your spice knowledge and inspire your culinary adventures? Carol Peterman has purused countless books on the subject and has compiled this list of essential additions to your cooking library. New books will be added from time-to-time, so be sure to check back every now and then.
These first three herb and spice reference books are the ones I turn to most frequently. Though they may seem redundant, I find each one has a unique approach and often like to cross-reference between them. The Flavor Bible is much more expansive and focuses on culinary flavor combinations as a whole, not just herbs and spices. If you like to cook off the top of your head, and create your own dishes without recipes, this is a great reference book for identifying flavor pairings.
In this comprehensive reference book alphabetically arranged by spice, Tony Hill writes from his perspective as a spice merchant. His book is sprinkled with personal antidotes about his adventures traveling and sourcing spices. The information on each herb and spice is very thorough, often including historical, trade, and cultural aspects, in addition to flavor and usage. One of the great strengths of this book is how Hill writes each entry from his personal perspective and experience, sharing many examples of how an herb or spice can be worked into dishes by using instinct and experience rather than from a specific recipe. Additionally, a related recipe accompanies each entry, while an extensive collection of spice blend recipes are located at the back of the book.
Ian Hemphill grew up on an Australian herb farm and went on to build a career in the spice industry. His lifetime of knowledge is shared in this excellent reference book. A unique aspect of The Spice and Herb Bible is a section devoted to the different flavor groups that herbs and spices belong to (sweet, pungent, tangy, hot and amalgamating), as well as the basic principles of combining spices to create harmonious blends. Hemphill also gives a helpful overview of the key spices used in different cuisines around the world. The spices and herbs are arranged alphabetically with each entry covering origin and history, processing, buying and storage, most common uses, complementary foods, and a list of other spices that combine well. In addition recipes using specific herbs and spices, he includes a collection of spice blend recipes.
Flavor and aroma are the basis for organizing this book, rather than listing herbs and spices alphabetically. It's a helpful way to understand how herbs and spices create different flavor profiles, as well as the relationship herbs and spices have with each other. This organization requires the extra step of consulting the index if you want to look up a specific spice and don't know which flavor category it belongs to, but that's only a minor drawback. Each entry is comprised of an overview, along with sections on buying and storing, harvesting, culinary uses, tasting notes, food pairings, other spice parings, and outstanding photography often depicting the various forms of the herb or spice. The sections devoted to chopping, grinding, and toasting spices are also well illustrated with photography. An added benefit is that Norman includes a large collection of recipes at the end of the book, representative of cuisines from all around the world.
This is the ultimate culinary idea generator. The Flavor Bible lists hundreds of ingredients in alphabetical order. Plus, each ingredient features dozens of matching flavors based on interviews with highly regarded chefs and culinary experts across the US and Canada. If you like to create your own dishes, this book is a fantastic resource. Commentaries and tips from highly regarded chefs are included throughout the book, as well as examples of dishes from their menus to illustrate successful flavor pairings. This is a book of concepts and ideas, not recipes. Although there isn't a single recipe in the entire book, Page and Dornenburg have put the flavor pairing expertise of dozens of culinary professionals in our hands to inspire our own culinary masterpieces.
These books are filled with wonderful recipes and stories, plus many of them offer a great education in spices and flavor combinations within a specific type of cuisine. Cooking from these books has greatly expanded my spice collection as well as my comfort and understanding of how to use the interesting and exotic spices or ingredients I seem to always bring home from the market.
The Herbfarm is an award-winning restaurant in the Pacific Northwest often requiring a year-long wait for reservations. Jerry Traunfeld’s nine-course dinners are inspired by herbs grown at the restaurant, and with The Herbfarm Cookbook, Traunfeld shares his talent with cooks at home. This book offers a wonderful range of recipes that are all driven by the use of herbs. Dishes are elegant, yet straightforward, making them perfect for entertaining, but also lovely mid-week meals for the family. Each recipe features an introduction or story, and often has suggestions for herb substitutions. Beyond the recipes, this book is a goldmine of information on herbs including buying, storing, cooking with, and understanding the flavor profiles of different herbs. As an avid gardener, Traunfeld also shares a wealth of knowledge about growing herbs with individual attention devoted to each herb. Here are a few examples of recipes from the book: Seared Sea Scallops with Carrot-Marjoram Sauce, Mashed Potatoes with Toasted Coriander, Onion and Sage Tarts, Lavender Ginger Panna Cotta, and Rhubarb and Angelica Pie.
This second book by Jerry Traunfeld is based on the recipes he uses at home. They’re easy and fast enough to become regular fare for mid-week dinners, but still deliver the extraordinary flavor Traunfeld is known for thanks to his expert use of fresh herbs. In this book, he sprinkles profiles of individual herbs throughout the book highlighting key points about flavor, cooking with, growing, and storing. Traunfeld’s passion for fresh herbs is infectious, and you may find yourself digging up your lawn to build an herb garden before you even finish reading the book. Additionally, the beautiful photography makes the recipes irresistible. Here is a sampling: Cinnamon Basil Chicken, Roasted Oysters with Sorrel Sauce, Rosemary Gin Tonic, Bay-scented Chestnut Soup, Strawberry Rose Geranium Ice Cream, and Warm Maple Rosemary Banana Splits.
If you haven't cooked African food, this beautiful collection of stories, recipes, and stunning photography from Marcus Samuelsson's travels through Africa will spark a new cooking romance. His intent was to experience the vast diversity in food and culture that span the continent. And this book provides a wonderful introduction to the varied cuisines and cultures of Africa.
Cooking from this book will no doubt expand your spice collection as well as your knowledge and comfort in working with exotic spices or ingredients. Specific spice blends are what define regional cooking across Africa, and Samuelsson opens the book with a collection of his favorites such as Awase, Berbere, Chermoula, Boharat, Duqqa, and Za'atar, to name a few. In general, the recipes are straight forward, but a few require making a recipe with in a recipe. The flavors are interesting, exciting, and delicious, and once you become familiar with the flavors and spice combinations, you will most likely find them creeping into your daily cooking. This is one of the most beautiful and inspiring books in my entire collection. Here are some examples of recipes from the book: White Bean Sardine Salad, Pomegranate Rice, Cassava Avocado Mash, Stir-Fried Beef Stew, Cumin Braai Bread, Creamed Swiss Chard, Shrimp Peri Peri, Oysters with Green Tomato Water, Doro Wett (Chicken Stew), Banana Fritters, Sour Tamarind Almond Balls, and Ginger Beer.
Ana Sortun “found spice” as she puts it, on a trip to Turkey in 1997. She opened her restaurant, Oleana, in Boston to share her love of Mediterranean-Arabic cuisine and ideally inspire others to “find spice” for themselves. Her book is organized by spice usage rather than traditional recipe groupings of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. This is done to illustrate the types of spices that work well together and which spices complement specific foods. Sortun leads off with a chapter on cumin, cardamom, and coriander, giving each spice special focus by describing the flavor profile, food parings, and successful spice combinations. She then presents a collection of recipes that highlight these spices spanning from appetizers like Carrot Puree and Egyptian Spice Mix with Nuts and Olive oil to entrees such as Seared Salmon with Egyptian Garlic and Coriander Sauce. Sortun also features dessert and beverage recipes including Arabic Coffee Pot De Crème, Turkish Coffee, and Paopao Cocktail.
This book offers ten chapters on spice collections in addition to a chapter on edible flowers and a final chapter on nuts, yogurt and cheese. The organization of this book effectively illustrates the natural affinity certain spices have with each other. Sortun gives outstanding instructions for each recipe often providing education on ingredients and techniques, as well as suggestions on what to drink with certain dishes. The wealth of spice knowledge she shares in this book is in the context of application to other foods and spices, ultimately teaching us how to integrate spices into our everyday cooking. As a bonus, numerous helpful tips and facts are sprinkled throughout the book along with enjoyable stories about her restaurant, recipes and travels.
Christine Manfield is a highly acclaimed chef and restaurateur based in Sydney, Australia. This book is a testament to her obsession with spices, and if you share a similar passion, flipping through this book will make your heart race. Manfield's collection of recipes and spice blends spans the globe representing cuisine rooted in India, Malaysia, China, Japan, and Mexico to name a few. An in-depth collection of dry spice mix and wet spice paste recipes opens the book and most of these recipes are used in other recipes throughout the book. So making these dishes can get a little involved with recipes being created from other recipes.
"Spices reveal the sensuality of food, and when used properly, create an intensity, harmony and complexity in food that cannot be found with any other combination of ingredients. Learning about the specifics of spices and food is like learning a new language – the more you practice and understand, the better your skills become. It is the knowledge of how to use spices and aromatics to unlock the secrets of their rich flavors and aromas that I dwell on and share in this book." – Christine Manfield
Though the recipes are complex in many cases, it's a joy to cook from this book because each dish is an education in blending spices and building flavor. She also includes a very informative chapter on matching wine with spiced foods. The breathtaking photography throughout the book further emphasizes the passion that Manfield has for food and flavors. Here is an idea of what's featured: Green Mango Pickle; Fig and Cardamom Chutney; Grilled Octopus with Saffron Rouille and Roasted Pimento Salad; Turmeric Lemongrass Broth with Noodles and Vegetables; Tea Smoked Salmon with Pancetta, Baby Bok Choy, Soba Noodles and Star Anise Broth; Spiced Coconut Chicken Curry; Roasted Beef Ribs with Chili Cumin Dal; Onion Nigella Bread; Cardamom Brioche with Kumquat Marmalade; Mace and Sambuca Ice Creams with Liquorice; and Orange, Date and Cardamom Tart.
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are travelers who write cookbooks for a living…extraordinary cookbooks. They describe their work as "making books that engage with culture through food and photographs." It's their focus on engaging with culture and the ability to share their experiences that makes their work so unique and interesting. From their travels along the Silk Road and startlingly remote areas of China, we are introduced to a rural style of Chinese cuisine that's essentially comfort food that the locals cook at home. Beyond the Great Wall is a classic progression of recipes from condiments, salads, soups, vegetables, and meats to sweets. But it's every bit as much of a travel journal as it is a cookbook because the recipes are presented within the context of the country, people, language, and geography. Alford and Duguid tell of their travels through China over the last twenty years through the food they ate and recipes they collected. The cuisine is not spice-driven, but I love this book because it shares the experience of a faraway destination, and that's often what I enjoy about cooking with spices. It's the ability to create the aromas and flavors of distant lands, without leaving the kitchen. Most of the recipes involve fewer than six ingredients and the techniques are very straightforward not requiring any specialized equipment. Alford and Duguid end the book by sharing travel tips and advice, as well as some suggested itineraries, inviting us to create our own adventure. Here's an idea of the types of recipes they share: Yunnanese-style picked chiles with star anise and Sichuan pepper, Dai Carrot Salad seasoned with pickled chiles and fresh cilantro, Red Onion and Pomegranate Salad, a variety of vegetable and noodle soups with instructions on making hand-rolled rice noodles, Mongol Lamb Sausages and Lamb Patties, and Sesame Balls with Sweet Bean Paste.
Critic Ruth Reichel's description of Chef Floyd Cardoz's New York restaurant, Tabla, is also an excellent summary of his book, “American food seen through the kaleidoscope of Indian spices.” Cardoz applies the spices of his native country to his recipes, but focuses on Western cooking techniques and the Western style of building a menu around one entrée (rather than a large collection of dishes served together, as is typical with Indian food).
The recipes in One Spice, Two Spice are easy to prepare, and intended to be taken as individual components of a meal. A single recipe can be used as a refreshing accent to the recipes you regularly prepare instead of committing to an entire meal of new recipes. In fact, I bet you have some entrees in your repertoire that would pair nicely with the Roasted Fennel Salad with Pumpkin Orange Vinaigrette in the book. By applying Indian flavors to American style foods, it is easy to incorporate these dishes into everyday cooking, and add a little exotic flavor to an ordinary Tuesday night dinner. Cardoz does play with some classics, such as his Chicken Noodle Soup that incorporates turmeric, bay leaf, clove, ginger, cilantro, coriander, cumin, fresh green chilies, and chickpea-flour noodles cooked like spaetzle. In addition to the collection of recipes, Cardoz gives a nice overview of Indian spices and how they're used from a flavor standpoint in Indian cuisine. He introduces each recipe with a wonderful description and offers serving suggestions for good accompaniments. Here are a few more recipes he offers, Black Sea Bass in Mustard Curry, Roasted Chicken with Fenugreek, and Lamb Meatballs stuffed with Fresh Figs.
As an avid baker, I couldn't help diverging from spice-driven books and slipping in one of my favorite baking books. I have made more recipes in this book than any other book in my entire cookbook collection, thanks to my online baking group. Each week, we bake one recipe from the book and I share the results in my blog. Greenspan offers a very well rounded collection of recipes and gives excellent guidance and tips for success with each one. If you are not a baker, but want one baking book in your collection this is the one I would suggest. If you're a baker, you probably already know and love Dorie Greenspan's work and will find many delicious gems in Baking, including the recipe for the best cheesecake I have ever made or eaten. Really—it will wow you!
Shirley Corriher has a special talent for explaining the complicated science behind cooking. If you've ever wondered why a recipe calls for a specific cooking technique or for baking soda rather than baking powder, Corriher's book is for you. In fact, she dedicated the book to everyone who has ever wondered “Why?” CookWise is a cookbook filled with more than 250 recipes, each used to illustrate the food science concepts she presents. By understanding how and why ingredients and techniques affect the outcome of a recipe, it's easy to identify a flawed recipe before investing your time and money. With a clear grasp of the science of cooking it's easy to manipulate recipes to create exactly the type of dish you desire. Corriher writes with passion and enthusiasm that draws you right into the adventure of her explorations in solving culinary mysteries.
When I want to understand the muscle fiber structure of octopus, or learn about the history and definition of pumpernickel bread, or figure out how the qualities of corn syrup differ from that of honey, I turn to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. This is an impressively extensive reference book of ingredients, cooking techniques, food history, and food science. The information is grouped in chapters such as Milk and Dairy Products, Meat, and Edible Plants, with a nice chemistry primer covering atoms, molecules and energy at the end. A staggering amount of information is packed into each chapter ranging from interesting facts, history and detailed descriptions to excellent illustrations.
McGee dedicates 68 pages to eggs, covering such topics as how a hen makes an egg, why yolks sometimes turn green when cooked, the eight different proteins that make up an egg white along with their natural function and culinary properties (did you know ovalbumin is 54% of the total protein in albumen and it sets when heated to 180˚F?), plus, a silly cook's joke about cooking eggs on a spit from book printed in the 1400s, and fourteen pages on egg foams. Whew! If you have any tendencies toward research, you will be lost in the pages from the moment you open the cover.