Some of us are safe cooks. We like to stick close to home and don't vary much from tried-and-true recipes. Others like to wander far and wide, exploring and experimenting and discovering new flavors, textures, and combinations.
These cookbooks are for that adventurous cook on your list. The one who likes to peer into the mysterious pot bubbling away on the back of the stove, spoon in hand, ready to taste something totally new — and delicious.
Even if your loved one didn't manage a trip to China or a tour of Germany's bakeries this year, she can still armchair travel and recipe test and bring some of those exciting flavors to her table with these wonderful new titles.
- Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid, $35: Naomi Duguid has been traveling the world for decades, photographing and recording recipes and foodways, and turning her experiences into beautiful and resourceful cookbooks. Taste of Persia is her latest and it does not disappoint. Here you will find recipes from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan. The flavors are enticing: pomegranate, walnut, dill, mint, saffron, rose petals, fenugreek, nigella, sour plum, apricot, tamarind, pistachio. I guess it's possible to just page through this gorgeous book, admiring the photographs and reading the occasional story. But I doubt anyone will make it very far before hopping off the couch and heading straight into the kitchen, all fired up and inspired by one of the many delicious recipes found within.
- All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips, $40: It is said we can learn a lot about a nation by understanding what its people eat. If this is true, then All Under Heaven is your manual for China, for no less than 35 separate cuisines are explored in this (understandably) hefty volume. More than just recipes, each section contains information on history, ingredients, utensils, and technique. I can't think of a reason why any serious student of Chinese food and culture would not have this comprehensive and informative volume on their shelf. Authentic yet accessible, All Under Heaven is fascinating and not as intimidating as its heft and breadth would have you believe. The author's simple line drawings help to clarify techniques and ingredients and add charm to the whole experience.
- Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss, $35: Several classic German baked goods have made it into the U.S. baking lexicon. Think pfeffernusse, linzer torte, and of course the most famous of all, the pretzel. But there is so much more to explore from this land of streusel and kuchen. Luisa Weiss' beautiful, comprehensive book gives us everything we need to start on our journey. Dotted with photographs and aided with a pronunciation guide, Classic German Baking invites us to explore and appreciate one of the world's great baking traditions. With the cold months upon us, someone you know will be excited to roll up their sleeves and get their hands into some Schwartzwalder Kartoffelbrötchen!
- The Aleppo Cookbook by Marlene Matar, $40: Aleppo is a top news story these days, but it's also important to understand Aleppo as an ancient city on the Silk Route with a long and diverse culinary tradition. This book is an homage to the traditions and food of Aleppo and is enormously important, as it is a record of its culinary heritage. There are more than 200 recipes, including 20 kinds of kibbeh and dozens of mezze dishes. Along with the beautiful photographs, home cooks will be inspired by the vast selection of ingredients and will learn new ways to use familiar Middle Eastern ingredients and spices. While The Aleppo Cookbook is a tribute to one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities currently deep in crisis, it is ultimately an inspiration and a celebration of the enduring strength of a city that always has been, and will always be, at the crossroads of humanity.
- Land of Fish and Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, $35: In China, Jiangnan (or the Lower Yangtze region) is known for its sophisticated and refined cuisine. Also called "the land of fish and rice," the food is balanced, healthy, and sustainable. A noted and trustworthy author of many Chinese cookbooks, Fuchsia Dunlop spent a decade exploring Jiangnan, resulting in a book that is a beautiful and fascinating study of a place and a cuisine. Her recipes are thorough and easy to follow, and her glossaries of ingredients, techniques, and equipment make it possible for us to bring this lovely food into our home kitchens.
- The Red Rooster Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson, $38: This vibrant cookbook comes from the Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem, New York. Harlem is not a land far away, of course, but Marcus Samuelsson's culinary influences span the globe, and the innovative way he brings them together is very exciting. Here you will find the flavors and food ways of the Great Migration mixing with the flavors from the emigration of Jews, Italians, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Caribs, West Africans, as well as Samuelsson's own Ethiopian and Swedish roots. For example: Chicken-Fat Challah with Cracklings and Onions, La Marqueta Pork Tach Tach, Garlic 'n' Honey Sweet Potatoes. Vibrating with evocative stories, musical playlists, and stunning photographs, The Red Rooster Cookbook pays homage to Harlem, one of the most diverse, creative, and exciting places on the planet.