Do we really need another food reference book in today's Wikipedia-driven media era? Absolutely — at least if you're the sort who appreciates well-researched studies by folks who have spent years exploring a single subject (rather than minutes skimming the Internet).
And so we bring you the next entry in our Best Cookbooks of 2010 series: the Best 2010 Food Reference Books.
Choosing should have been easy in this category, as two books were standouts. Then Harold McGee had to go and publish another book. Though Keys To Good Cooking is a stellar home cook-friendly version of his must-have, On Food and Cooking, we're still partial to those “Green Chlorophylls” and “Red and Yellow Betains” chapter subtitles in the original.
Turn the page for more about this year's two winners, Salted and The Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods, that both come with a bonus — recipes to go along with those encyclopedia-like entries.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods by Gil Marks
There are a handful of books that render you speechless, if for nothing more than the years of research and more than 600 pages of entries on halke (the Yiddish name for dumplings in some Slavic areas of Europe) and masconod (pasta rolled and filled with Parmesan cheese, essentially the Jewish version of cannelloni). That the entire Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods was written by one person is even more impressive. Such is the case with the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by rabbi Gil Marks, a book that includes recipes for raisin wine after talking about the traditional drink. A must-have for anyone (Jewish or otherwise) who's interested in food history or just pretty damn excited about rugelach.
Salted by Mark Bitterman
Flipping through Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral With Recipes, we are reminded that the world is made up of so much more than fleur de sel. This is the sort of reference book that will become not only your go-to sodium guide, but one that will keep you fully engaged thanks to author Mark Bitterman's beautifully sarcastic wit. (He describes kosher salt as “a battery-operated puppy with no hair, trying to comfort you with its soulless antics.”). After a trip around the world and a handy reference guide — with photos, because yes, we really do want to know what Kala Namak salt looks like — Bitterman takes you back to the kitchen with recipes to whip up preserved lemons and such.
Just imagine the fun you'll have when you invite over friends who have banned sodium for their New Year's resolutions. You can fire up your grill to cook salmon on a salt stone — and then remind them, just before dinner is served (as Bitterman does in the book), that those who eschew man-made salts (i.e. iodized and kosher) in favor of genuine salt-of-the-earth actually tend to consume less sodium. Dig in.