Emily's 5 Essential Cookbooks

I live in a small apartment and thus have a one in, one out policy for cookbooks. Those that remain in my collection must be good reference materials or books that really inspire me to cook and create beyond specific recipes. As a denizen of farmers' markets, spice shops, and ethnic grocery stores, I also like learning as much as I can about all the vibrant ingredients I encounter on my shopping trips. Here are five cookbooks that continue to make the cut…

Emily's 5 Essential Cookbooks

1. Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters: I received this book as a gift when I moved to California 10 years ago, and it taught me so much about the array of fruits at my local farmers' markets – not only ways to prepare them, but also how to identify, choose, and store different varieties. A decade on, I remain deeply inspired by Waters's simple, elegant approach to seasonal cooking.

2. Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters: Like the title above, this is not just a cookbook but a beautiful encyclopedia. Arranged alphabetically, it celebrates each vegetable with essays, selection and storage advice, recipes, and Patricia Curtan's gorgeous linocuts. I return to Fruit and Vegetables again and again, both as bedside reading and as cooking guides.

3. Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison: Local Flavors was ahead of its time when it came out in 2002, and I adore Madison's enthusiasm for regional farmers' markets, her creative (mostly vegetarian) recipes, and stories from visiting with farmers around the country. The book is sensibly arranged by season, and I can always count on it to give me a spark of inspiration.

4. Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij: As a vegetarian, I am often adapting recipes or skipping over sections of cookbooks, so I love the fact that this volume is wide open to me. It contains a diverse mix of recipes, fascinating histories, and colorful travel and food photos from places along the ancient trade route, such as China, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, and Italy.

5. Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving ed. by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine: Although there are prettier and more inspiring food preservation books out there, including several that have been published in the last couple of years, this is the standard, go-to resource. I replaced Ball's older Blue Book with this one and it's never far from my side when I'm canning fruits and vegetables.

Related: What Was Your First Cookbook?

(Image: Emily Ho)