ROL Staff

Best Cookbooks + Food Reads Of 2015

Our end-of-year list of favorite titles takes us to cacao plantations in Ecuador, a Michelin-starred chef's Indian feast, and much more.

December 21, 2015

Those of us who care about food feel a kind of free-floating anxiety these days: How concerned should we be about the effect disappearing biodiversity will have on the foods we adore—and the people who grow and make them? If you grapple with those questions, you’re ripe to read Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, published this past November. Simran Sethi, a journalist and teacher, goes in search of the secrets of the tastes that move her to tears—to cacao plantations in Ecuador to get to the root of chocolate; to Ethiopia for a coffee she finds nearly mystical; to her family’s native India to seek a sacred bread in a temple. It’s a quest that confers ample knowledge on readers along the way. An avid reader of agricultural history, Sethi presents technical, historical, and economic information with concision, amid delightful taste descriptions. (On bread: “It tasted like my childhood in North Carolina—toasted corn on the cob, morning grits, creamed corn—all there in this doughy mass edged with a crisp, hard crust.”) Should we all be worried? The evidence says yes. But Sethi’s wide-lens account will make you a more mindful, and even soulful, consumer.



Try classic Indian dishes with a contemporary twist from  Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna. His latest tome, Indian Harvest, takes your CSA share around the world with dishes like green beans in pomegranate-
coconut sauce and pumpkin biryani with pistachios. You’ll need a few specialty ingredients like asafoetida, which Khanna demystifies, but the recipes are simple and the flavors rich.


Do more vicarious globetrotting with Heidi Swanson’s Near & Far, influenced by the author’s travels to Morocco, France, India, Italy, and Japan. It’s part cookbook, part curl-up-on-the-couch material. Each recipe, from lettuce hearts with garlicky melted butter (Paris) to roasted tomato salad with harissa (Morocco), is paired with Swanson’s evocative photography. 


For dishes with no animal ingredients, there’s Vegan, a handy collection of recipes from Gena Hamshaw’s New Veganism column on It doesn’t matter if you substitute seitan for steak—when it tastes good, it tastes good, and the recipes hit the mark. Exhibit A: the chai-spiced bread pudding made with coconut oil, almond milk, and medjool dates. 


Not ready to take the full plunge? Recipes from The Part-Time Vegetarian include easy ways to incorporate meat or fish into otherwise vegetarian recipes, like lemon-caper linguine with bread crumbs, Parma ham optional, and sweet potato–red pepper curry with shrimp, if you please.