In his latest book, Michael Pollan, known for advocating eating well and reasonably, praises the act of cooking itself. Cooked (Penguin, $17) is not the first paean to cooking and its societal value, but Pollan’s description of transforming ingredients into meals makes the whole process feel sacred. Further, he describes the void in our frantic schedules when food becomes a chore to be outsourced to restaurants and frozen dinners. To solve this problem, Pollan argues, we should become familiar with the four ways of cooking food. Keyed to the elements, these are grilling (fire), boiling (water), baking (air) and fermentation (earth). Devoting a section to each mode, Pollan guides readers through its history and culture, with special attention to its culinary masters. Not a book of recipes (there is one recipe per element) Cooked is inspiration to get back into the kitchen. The satisfaction of turning the Earth’s bounty into something to be enjoyed and shared with loved ones is a uniquely human gift. What could be better?
Before you hit the farmers’ markets, tuck a copy of Eating on the Wild Side (Little, Brown, $16) in that canvas bag. Food activist Jo Robinson has crunched thousands of scientific studies and nutrition lab analyses for this perspective-shifting and practical guide to fresh foods. Through some four-hundred farming generations (!), humans have developed crops on the basis of taste, appearance, and disease-resistance, paying little mind to their nutritional content. More recently, industrial processing and transportation have required that foods be durable, whether nutritional or not; spinach, for instance, “superfood” though it is, has eight times fewer antioxidants than the dandelion leaves blighting our yards. As we can’t – and won’t – all forage in Rock Creek, Robinson offers practical ways of tapping into the “wild side” of our groceries and markets, recommending specific varieties of produce along with tips on storing and preparing them for maximum nutritional value . And if you garden, better yet! Robinson has invaluable information on selecting seeds.
“Soviet cooking” seems like an oxymoron, considering that during most of the USSR’s existence food was in short supply. Yet in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking (Crown, $26), award-winning food writer Anya Von Bremzen gives us a fascinating and often surprising look at the history of the USSR and her own family through the lens of food (or the lack thereof). She is a talented memoirist, and the book is much more than just a list of recipes and favorite dishes. Von Bremzen and her mother recreate classic pre-Revolution fare, prepare Stalin’s Deathday Dinner, and devise their own version of Salat Olivier (which Von Bremzen calls a “salady Soviet icon”). This touching memoir is a must-read regardless of your familiarity with Soviet cuisine (and yes, a recipe for borscht is included in the back).