Dinner. It’s an inescapable occurrence, 365 days of the year.
Many of us have our go-to moves when all else fails — template meals that are easy and easily adaptable. Tacos. Egg scrambles. Pasta. Soup. And then there are the nights when it’s more about desperate calls for take-out. (It's ok. You're among friends. We understand.)
Yes, dinner. If we don’t plan it properly, it sneaks up on us at 4pm — or, yikes, later! — and we are faced with the perennial question: “What are we eating?”
Because we all get tired of the same-old same-old, I thought I'd share five favorite cookbooks for those of us who could always use more ideas for dinner.
- The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell (Get it!)
Vegetables are definitely having their fair say these days, and thank goodness. The dynamic duo behind Beekman House, a self-described “lifestyle company” that revolves around their farm in New York, has produced a few cookbooks, but I particularly like this one because it's focused on veggies, heirloom and otherwise.
If you’ve got veggies in your fridge and you’re not sure what to do with them, these are the guys you should go to for dinner.
Seasonal in its organization, this book presents creative ways to use all sorts of vegetables, from standards like potatoes, corn, and tomatoes, to lesser-known (and perhaps misunderstood) ones like kohlrabi and rutabaga (the latter roasted with a brown sugar and Guinness stout glaze – so good!).
Slightly left-of-center approaches in their recipes bring things like cucumbers into a creamy buttermilk sorbet and radishes into a butter made with sorrel. There's also savory Vegetable Cheddar Breakfast Muffins, which come together in a flash with zucchini, peppers, and cheese.
The sweetest, homiest touch in this book, though, is the space after each recipe for your own notes; the design is reminiscent of an old-fashioned recipe card.
- Cooking Light Global Kitchen b y David Joachim (Get it!)
This is the book for those of us with ever-expanding palates, for the curious cooks, and for those who just get bored easily cooking the same fare.
Joachim and the editors of Cooking Light combed through the magazine’s storehouse of recipes to find the best of the best, plus added a good number of original recipes, and came up with this 150-recipe cookbook – the equivalent of a culinary world tour.
If you’re not sure about how to make pho, empanadas, or injera, Joachim breaks it down into easy steps. Those pressed for time at dinner will also appreciate the inclusion of "hands on time" and "total time" with each recipe. Those with different dietary needs will also like the suggestions for adapting classic dishes, like making a vegetarian version of Classic Pad Thai by swapping out the fish sauce for soy and omitting the dried shrimp.
The book is divided regionally, and I like that each section begins with a two-page spread about common ingredients, spices, herbs, and so forth — the flavor profile of the region. The overall presentation of the book is colorful and inviting – which makes a difference when you're trying to get motivated to make dinner.
For a quick dinner, I like the flavorful Chiang Mai Pork Patties with some Thai sticky rice. Like Middle Eastern flavors? Tabbouleh gets a protein boost with the addition of some chicken thighs. Got a lazy afternoon? Classics such as French Cassoulet will warm your house with its savory aroma.
- Food 52: A New Way To Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Get it!)
Approaching dinner in a systematized, game-planning manner is one way to tackle the demands of dinnertime these days. I like that the authors walk you through the grocery list for each week’s meals, and also include instructions for how you can prep the components of the meals ahead of time. The tone is encouraging and lively, and it's a breath of fresh air to have someone do the thinking for you!
The cookbook is geared toward the four seasons, so if you shop — and eat — with an eye toward that first, these ladies have your back.
Right now, I'm loving their recipe for blistered cherry tomatoes in this book. There are so many ways to work them into meals throughout the week: an add-in for plain Greek yogurt, mixed with pasta or other grain, or as a pizza topping.
As the weather changes, I’m also eyeing the ricotta gnocchi and the creamy butternut squash soup with sherry.
- Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast by Nigella Lawson (Get it!)
This one is an oldie but goodie. Lawson focuses on recipes that have been pared down to their essentials so you can make good meals in a flash.
If you have a decently stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer, you’ll be prepped and ready to make something Coq au Riesling (a speedier version of the classic Coq au Vin), or Sesame Peanut Noodles, which is better than the takeout option most nights of the week and makes for great leftovers for snacking on straight from the fridge.
Express won’t win awards for being super-duper innovative or introducing you to new ingredients, but that’s not the goal here. It's more about brevity. This said, Express is definitely comprehensive and global in its approach, so boredom won't be an issue. Lawson is a Londoner, after all, with a cosmopolitan palate.
I treat this book as inspiration when I am feeling stuck in a rut or when am exceedingly pressed for time. Her potato and mushroom gratin, for example, is a meal in and of itself. Who even needs the roasted chicken?
- Scratch by Maria Rodale (Get it!)
I like cookbooks with a strong voice and strong headnotes. Those that champion a hefty dose of veggies, too, automatically get my love. Rodale’s book delivers on all counts.
Maria Rodale is the granddaughter of J.I. Rodale, a pioneer in the organic and sustainable food movement and publisher of Prevention, Runner’s World, and countless other health and wellness publications and books. In this cookbook, Rodale brings you to her table. What she offers is homey, welcoming fare that you’ll want to return to again and again — and lots of pictures of her three daughters.
I’m digging her recipe for really green pesto pasta — blanching the basil keeps it from turning an unsavory shade of brown. We also share a love for Arnabit — a roasted cauliflower dish with tahini dressing that pairs well with Middle Eastern fare or simple grilled fish. When the weather changes, I’m headed straight for her savory spiced pumpkin soup, which incorporates coconut milk.
What are your favorite cookbooks for mealtime inspiration?