Cookbook Review: Three for Your Shelves (They Also Make Great Gifts)

The last thing we need around our house? More books (see photo, above). So why am I writing about three that you should absolutely have on your own shelves, or at the very least buy for gifts and then borrow them back? Let me count the ways…

Fermenter: DIY Fermentation for Vegan Fare by Aaron Adams and Liz Crain. As regular readers know, for the last couple of years I've become enamored of fermented foods, both eating them and, now, making them. Growing up with a mother who had the misfortune of being a dietetics major and thus was terrified of killing her family with "bad" bacteria—as a child I learned the word "trichinosis" almost before I could walk—I never really had any experience with pickling foods.

Aaron Adams, owner of Fermenter restaurant in Southeast Portland, and Liz Crain, co-founder of the Portland Fermentation Festival and author of a pile of wonderful cookbooks, have written a guide to "funky, flavorful ferments and fantastic hippie food that incorporate them" based on his explorations for the menu at his restaurant. But more than that, it's an enthusiastic primer for beginners and more advanced fermentistas alike, with recipes ranging from simple pickles and krauts to more complicated undertakings like koji and tempeh—as his signature t-shirt shouts, "mold is gold"—and delving into the secrets to making your own vinegars and water kefir.

Adams preaches the gospel of "failing is learning" and is an unflinching cheerleader for trying your hand at new skills. Which I, for one, applaud!

Tacos A to Z: A Delicious Guide to Nontraditional Tacos by Ivy Manning. The inimitable Portland author of nearly a dozen cookbooks on everything from her groundbreaking farm-to-table cookbook to crackers and dips to soups to one on cooking for a vegetarian when you're an omnivore, has just published her latest tome on tacos.

Ho-hum, you say? Not on your life. As Ivy writes in the introduction, her notion was to take the idea of "wrapping savory morsels of food in tortillas and eating them out of hand," and look at them through a creative lens. She also cleverly organizes the recipes alphabetically—one taco per letter, with a compendium of sauces and condiments at the end, plus recipes for making your own tortillas.

Starting with "A," you'll find Avocado Fry Tacos with Srircha Mayo, and Jerk Salmon Tacos ("J," of course);  "V" is Vindaloo Pork Tacos based on a recipe from Ivy's friend Leena Ezekiel, founder of Thali Supper Club; and even a dessert taco in the form of exquisite Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Tacos ("C"). As with all of Ivy's recipes, you can rest assured these are as delicious as they sound and are bullet-proof in terms of simplicity, since she tests each one multiple times with her army of recipe testers.

Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea by Andrea Nguyen. I first came across author, freelance writer, editor, cooking teacher, and consultant Andrea Nguyen via her blog, Viet World Kitchen, and her YouTube channel. Her latest cookbook is full of vegetable-forward dishes as exemplified by the cuisine of Vietnam, laced with Nguyen's signature practicality and directness.

As with all of her recipes, she brings her teaching experience to bear, presenting them in an approachable, accessible manner that are do-able for novices and old hands alike, sprinkling cultural notes and family favorites throughout. You'll find favorite snacks, like Smoky Tofu-Nori Wontons and Steamed Veggie Bao alongside Vietnamese classics like Fast Vegetarian Pho and Banh Mi with Vegan Mayonnaise and Bologna. There are simple sides, like Nuoc Cham Cabbage Stir-Fry and Green Mango, Beet, and Herb Salad and wholesome hacks featuring Sweet Potato and Shrimp Fritters and Oven-Fried Crispy Shiitake Imperial Rolls.

If you've been curious about expanding your repertoire, you can't go wrong with Nguyen's books. This one is no exception.

Top photo: Our dear Cardigan Corgi, Walker (2007-2020).