If you are interested in recreating some of the food you have enjoyed during your travels — and authenticity is important to you — these cookbooks offer a good starting point.
With a half-dozen or more of these ethnic cookbooks, you will have recipes by the thousands to delight your palate.
This list started as one based on my personal foundation stones, books I had owned and nearly worn over the years. I expanded my list for an article for the Baltimore Sun, and the books below reflect input from top chefs, food-travel writers, cookbook store owners and a cookbook librarian.
Authorities who contributed to these rankings
• Thomas L. Wright, Johnson & Wales University, College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I.
• Perry Berman, Books for Cooks
• Joan and David Peterson, Authors of the Eat Smart Travel Guides
• Noted mid-Atlantic chefs James Sinopoli, Faith Kling and Frank Ostendorf
• Librarian Rick Spencer of the college’s George A. Piendak Library, which contains 5,000 cookbooks
• Francois Dionot, L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md.
The Big Seven
Our chefs eagerly picked Mastering the Art to lead off the canon. Craig Claiborne hailed it as a “masterpiece” when it was first published, and the praise continues nearly four decades later.
“Julia Child’s book is an especially fine choice,” said James Sinopoli, director of the Baltimore International College’s School of Culinary Arts. “It’s very easy to understand.”
Reader reviews at Amazon.com agree, with one reader calling this text “the cookbook of cookbooks.”
Mastering the Art of French Cooking can help the neophyte progress from simple store-bought baking mixes into a world of Chicken Tarragon With Mushroom Stuffing, Spinach Souffle and other elegant dishes from scratch.
Chicken recipes are particularly strong, including Boneless Chicken Breasts With Paprika, Onions and Cream, and Grilled Chicken With Mustard. And the recipes for garlic soup, leek and potato soup, omelets, vinaigrette salad dressing and many other dishes remain classic.
Julia Child and her fellow authors offer simple line drawings of equipment and step-by-step definitions of cutting, chopping, beating egg whites and making sauces and souffles. Their clear instructions mean that almost anyone can begin cooking French food, and anyone who can cook French food can cook from the world’s other magnificent cuisines.
Marcella Hazan, the top-selling international cookbook author, scores big with Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Essentials combines revised and updated versions of her out-of-print, 1970s classics, The Classic Italian Cookbook and The Second Classic Italian Cookbook.
Even the simple pastas provided by Hazan are a revelation to the palate. Home cooks can delight the family week in and week out with stalwarts such as Lasagna with Ricotta Pesto, Orecchiette with Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce, Spaghettini with White Clam Sauce and Fettuccine with Gorgonzola Sauce. Also nominated by Johnson & Wales’ Wright: The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
My own favorite would be my battered and splattered copy of Yan-kit’s book. Her Chicken Glazed With Hoisin Sauce can be served over and over (especially to barbecue fiends). To impress guests, a good choice would be with the Steamed Trout With Garlic and Black Beans. Other chefs in addition recommend The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes by Barbara Tropp and Chinese Cuisine by Susanna Foo.
4. Middle Eastern
The New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies: Najmieh Khalili Batmanglij
Rick Spencer of the School of Culinary Arts’ Piendak Library, as well as many delighted readers at Amazon.com, enthusiastically recommend The New Food of Life. The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos gets the nod from Joan Peterson of the “Eat Smart” travel guides, while Wright suggests The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert.
The most compact cookbook in the canon packs its 200 pages with so many winners that our cookbook committee loved it. Like Child and Hazan, Jaffrey takes an exotic, infinitely varied cuisine and teaches us how to re-create it step by step in the American kitchen. Recipes for Rogan Josh, Lemon Coriander Chicken, Pork Vindaloo and many more explode with color and flavor. The vegetable recipes, although described as accompaniments to meat, make scrumptious meals on their own. These recipes are easy, fun and tasty.
With 40 years of eating excursions south of the border, Diana Kennedy rules for Mexican cuisine. The Art of Mexican Cooking may be the most comprehensive. Our committee also loved The Essential Cuisines of Mexico and My Mexico.
7. Southeast Asian
Solomon’s lavish book explores 800 recipes from 16 countries — and our chefs loved its authenticity. Wright adds the Original Thai Cookbook by Jennifer Brennan, and True Thai by Victor Sodsook gets the nod from Francois Dionot of L’Academie de Cuisine.
Seven More Treasures
These additional books round out the canon.
8 and 9. A Taste of Africa: An African Cookbook: Tebereh Inquai. Also recommended: The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent by Jessica B. Harris