Tuesday 10: My Favorite Cookbooks


One of the questions I’m asked fairly often is where I find inspiration for my recipes. Mostly, I let my appetite and my imagination take the lead: reading Jane Eyre makes me hungry for lamb stews and The Historian makes me crave Turkish food. Daydreaming about Prague inspired Czech Meatballs, and a particularly large bunch of collard greens were the catalyst for a new greens recipe.

And then there’s my cookbook collection. Right now it’s made up of 82 volumes, and they’re mostly non-paleo. But that’s why they’re helpful: the limits of paleo force me to be creative, and by starting with a base recipe that’s forbidden and enticing, I can usually come up with something inventive and delicious that fits into the paleo framework.

Yesterday, Dave and I held an official kick-off meeting for Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat, so my primary job for the next few months will be developing and testing new recipes. Now seemed like a fine time to show you my favorite cookbooks… dig in!


10 Favorite (Non-Paleo) Cookbooks

1. The New Best Recipe
Cook’s Illustrated is my go-to for refining my technique in the kitchen, for researching foundation recipes, and to find fun ideas that can be adapted to the paleo framework. If I could only have one cookbook in my collection, it would probably be this one (or maybe The Best International Recipe). I’m also learning a lot from the new CI book The Science of Good Cooking, which covers 50 basic cooking concepts so my recipe descriptions are grounded in science.
[Get The New Best Recipe on Amazon.]

2. The Flavor Thesaurus

This isn’t a cookbook in the traditional sense in that it doesn’t include recipes with ingredient lists and specific instructions. Instead, it’s a series of mini-essays on how to pair various flavors. The writing is thoroughly charming, and the book is peppered throughout with good ideas for delicious things to eat. For example, the Coconut & Anchovy entry reads, “In Southeast Asian cooking, adding fish sauce to coconut milk is like giving your stew or curry a central nervous system. The two are also paired in one of Maylasia’s favorite dishes, nasi lemak — creamy coconut rice served with small dried anchovies, cucumber, peanuts, boiled eggs, and a spicy sauce. Like it’s paler-flavored cousin, kedgeree, it’s most  often eaten at breakfast time.” See? Charming, informative, inspiring.
[Get The Flavor Thesaurus on Amazon.]

3. Bought, Borrowed & Stolen

Dave got me this book as a gift last year, and I read it cover to cover. It serves up recipes from locations around the world, and each place is dear to author Allegra McEvedy because in addition to collecting a recipe or two there, she also acquired a knife. The book is beautiful to behold — each chapter tells the story of the knife and opens with a scrapbook of photos and souvenirs from her travels. The writing is light, conversational, and made me feel like McEvedy and I were chatting over the stove and a bottle of something with a kick.
[Get Bought, Borrowed & Stolen on Amazon.]

4. Best Salads Ever

I have a soft spot for this book for several reasons. (1) It was a gift from a blog reader (Hi, Morten!)… a complete surprise one Christmas and just such a lovely, thoughtful gesture. (2) I love the graphic design and photography in the book so much that when we met with Kathleen Shannon to talk about the design of Well Fed, this book was the first example I showed her of the personality I wanted in our book. And (3) the recipes are inventive, easy to make, and delicious — and the book includes menu suggestions for Asian, Arab, and Indian buffet menus, and y’all know how I’m a sucker for theme meals.
[Get Best Salads Ever on Amazon.]

5. Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book

I’ve never been super into baking, and you know I rarely eat treats, but every Christmas, I go all in: I bake cookies, and I eat them like it’s my job. My favorite is Russian Teacakes, but this book has many, many other tempting little morsels that make the house smell heavenly and make me nostalgic. Here’s a post I wrote about this book last year; be sure to read the comments, too.
[Get Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book on Amazon.]


6. Monday-to-Friday Cookbook
This is actually Dave’s cookbook — he’d gotten it just before we met 20 years ago, to work on his cooking skills — but I have since assumed ownership. It’s loaded with weeknight recipes that use simple ingredients and usually take only 30-60 minutes to make. There’s nothing exotic or unusual, but there are so many variations and such good practical advice, it’s almost as helpful as the CI Best Recipe. Also, it’s totally ’80s, so what’s not to love?!
[Get Monday-to-Friday Cookbook on Amazon.]

7. Natural Food Feasts

And if I’m being completely honest, this cookbook belongs to someone else, too! I borrowed it from a friend of a friend of a friend in college and somehow it never got back into her hands. Oops! I’m so sorry glad about that, because this book covers Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, and Middle Eastern food — all of which I love — with extensive directions and plenty of variations for every recipe. It’s an international “you know how you could do that” encyclopedia. Bonus points because each recipe is accompanied by dozens of how-to illustrations drawn by hand. Adorbs!
[Get Natural Food Feasts on Amazon.]

8. The Horizon Cookbook

Continuing the theme, this is also not, technically, my book. I stole borrowed it from my mom, and I doubt I’ll ever give it back. The subtitle is “A Treasury of 600 Recipes from Many Centuries and Many Lands,”  and its pages are filled with completely weird recipes that sound so odd, I can’t resist trying them… stuff like Persian Giant Meatball and Bigos.
[Get The Horizon Cookbook on Amazon.]

9. Middle Eastern Cooking

I’ve written about this cookbook before — about how my dad and I bonded over photcopying the entire book when I couldn’t find a copy of my own to buy. It’s my favorite Middle Eastern cookbook, and it provided the base recipe from which I devised Paleo Chicken Bastila.
[Get Middle Eastern Cooking on Amazon.]

10. Williams-Sonoma Gifts From The Kitchen

One Christmas, I made 10 recipes from this book as gifts for friends: homemade caramels, shortbread, pine nut brittle, and many other non-paleo confections. BUT this lovely little volume also provided my favorite spiced nuts recipe, and that one is a paleo keeper!
[Get Williams-Sonoma Gifts From The Kitchen on Amazon.]

Turn it up to 11: 
My Well Fed cookbook series

I joke a lot that I’m my favorite cook, but it’s only really half a joke because I cook for my husband and I almost exclusively from our Well Fed cookbooks. Taken together, there are almost 500 recipes—all free of grains, dairy, soy, legumes, and added sugar—and they’re also all the things I like to eat! Lots of spices and bold flavors and foods that create an emotional connection while they also feed our bodies.
[Get the Well Fed cookbooks on Amazon.]

Tasty Paleo Products

It's been a while since I shared recommendations for some of my favorite paleo products. (Remember this epic list?) I get samples from paleo-friendly companies all the...

Read More
Tuesday 10: Fave Paleo Products

Generally speaking, I like to make everything from scratch, and I don't eat treats very often. My food life is mostly built around protein, veggies,...

Read More


  • aseafish says:

    Aside from Well Fed, I love thumbing through cookbooks by Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. I own every book either has ever written. I still love Better Than Store Bought, a book I’ve had for decades, as well as Fancy Pantry, both natural, fun alternatives for processed foods.

  • Celia says:

    “The Flavor Bible,” “An Everlasting Meal” (Tamar Adler, mostly for the writing–definitely not paleo, but there are few actual recipes in there anyway), Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors” (great vegetable dishes), “The River Cottage Meat Book,” Sandor Katz’ “The Art of Fermentation,” Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” (vegetarian, but plenty of whole foods stuff with eggs and some dairy for those whole like that) and Claudia Roden’s “The Food of Spain” (which I don’t own, but check out from the library regularly for the photos, stories, and, yes, the food)

  • Cynthia says:

    Ooooooo the Cooky Book! I think that stayed on our kitchen table from Thanksgiving til New Years when I was growing up! My dad always made the Russian Tea Cakes. And like you I too only bake at Christmas time. My husband and I have spent entire weekends living off chocolate chip cookies 🙂

  • Mich says:

    I like cookbooks that tell me stories or have reflections along with the recipes, so: Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York; Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan with a Vengeance; and, from 1982, Rivka Levy-Mellul’s Moroccan Cooking (which is actually in Hebrew: הבישול המרוקני).

  • Jane Sales says:

    Peter Gordon – Salads
    Brigit Binns – The Low Carb Gourmet, if only for the fab lamb and pea dish.

  • Kim says:

    A flavor thesaurus? What a great idea! My shelf is crowded with most of the Cook’s Illustrated books-swoon!

    A great list. Thanks for the mind candy!

  • Ruth says:

    You are missing all the good southern Junior League books! Food for Thought and Table of Contents are THE BEST. I love yours the most though, of COURSE.

  • Ms Jane says:

    The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander 2nd edition. Every Australian’s cooking bible. Stephanie is a famous Melbourne chef who pioneered a kitchen garden scheme at schools in not so privileged areas encouraging kids to grow and cook their food. It’s an a-z of ingredients, quick recipes, and hints on growing, storing food etc.