Ah, January. A month of good intentions and cursed resolutions and, if you’re anything like most folks, countless hours spent poring over cookbooks for recipes that you pray will tend to your husband’s extra six-pack, your newly diagnosed food intolerances, your peewee picky eater’s fluctuating tendencies, and your tween turning vegan. We understand. It’s not easy to give up certain things and it’s even harder to find anything remotely resembling enticing recipes that accommodate such radical changes. So we did quite a lot of research on your behalf and uncovered cookbooks with satisfying and reliable recipes that cater to an array of different healthful approaches to food, whether the latest trends or just plain old common sense. Trust us when we say that whatever your current food fling, these are the cookbooks you want to flip through, cook from, swoon to, and accept accolades for in the weeks and months and years to come.—Renee Schettler Rossi
We’re not keen on cleanses. It just sorta seems disingenuous to quaff green juice and choke down raw ingredients for a certain number of days and then revert to one’s usual ways with a clean (forgive the pun) conscience. Still, we find Bon Appétit’s The Food Lover’s Cleanse: 140 Delicious, Nourishing Recipes That Will Tempt You Back Into Healthful Eating to be a godsend. Look past the word “cleanse” and you’ll find inspiration for everyday eating that’s anything but plain or old. The recipes make us think of hippy ’70s health food but with a contemporary emphasis on pure, local, and seasonal. There’s leftover steak salad with quinoa, arugula, shaved carrots, and whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. Chicken in a pot a la pot au feu. And not one but two recipes for roasted cauliflower. Make no mistake, this is a cookbook, not a nutrition manual. You’ll find little emphasis on science here (probably because research tends to indicate cleanses don’t do a darn thing for your health) and a lenient policy toward including ingredients that aren’t typically allowed in abstemious cleanses (we’re looking at you, honey and yogurt). Still, we love the book for the way it casually tosses together ingredients in ways we hadn’t considered and then makes it look quite lovely on the plate. Bonus: The recipes leave you feeling magnificently satisfied.
We gotta lotta respect for self-described “dessertavore” Vanessa Barajas. She dubbed her blog as well as her first cookbook Clean Eating with a Dirty Mind and her motto is “just because your food is healthy, doesn’t mean it has to taste that way!” She delivers on this promise with marvelously, ridiculously, knee-wobblingly enticing gluten-free and paleo-friendly grub. Witness Paleo Snickerdoodles. Death by chocolate cake. Cookie dough fudge. Let’s be honest. This isn’t necessarily healthy eating. But it’s certainly not bad eating, either. Not all of her indulgent creations are sweet, although her desserts are what first made our hearts go pitter pat.
“Seriously?!” That’s pretty much our response each time we linger over the pages of My Paleo Patisserie: An Artisan Approach to Grain-Free Baking which contain spectacularly stunning desserts the likes of which we’ve never before seen in conjunction with the word “paleo.” Chef and author Jenni Hulet elevates desserts to an art form, not just with her oh-mygosh-that’s-paleo?! recipes and can’t-stop-looking-at-these-desserts photography but her carefully and helpfully worded instructions and advice. We’re talking éclairs and croquembouche and cannoli and layer cakes and…mind you, the desserts in this book are not the sort of thing you make at 10:04 p.m. on a weeknight to satisfy a chocolate craving. These are the sort of recipes that also satisfy some intellectual aspect of your being, the part that needs not just to eat but to create, and are best reserved for weekends or days spent playing hooky from work.
Let’s be very clear about one thing. No paleo recipe is ever going to taste just like your usual takeout. But Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk contains page after page crammed with close enough approximations that you’re going to want to make them again and again. So while no, these recipes don’t taste quite like your fave orange chicken or carnitas tacos, they taste damn close enough. And, thankfully, the author doesn’t prattle on endlessly about all things paleo. Instead he concisely and convincingly explains his reasoning and then gets straight to the recipes that span takeout classics Asian to American. We’re talking wings, fried rice, and more, lots more. Dogmatic paleo proponents may take issue with his occasionally iffy ingredient list, but if you’re the sort who’s willing to cheat just a little here and there, dozens of satisfying recipes await.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that healthy eating need not be laborious, tedious, boring, complicated, expensive, bland…shall we go on? Fresh Made Simple: A Naturally Delicious Way to Eat does just that. The book is comprised of crazy simple five-ingredient or less recipes illustrated in whimsical watercolors that echo the book’s simple and spare wording and premise. We flip through it when we’re hungry for something but aren’t certain what and it’s not failed us yet. Divvied up into chapters like Scrambled, Smooth, Smashed, Tossed, and Cheesy, the recipes are a lovely little reminder that perhaps what you’re craving isn’t a fussy meal but rather feta dribbled with honey or a simple goat cheese and mushroom quesadilla or maybe even a simple sip of cucumber water. Captions are Pulitzer prize-worthy gems like, “There is no shame in hiding your veggies in a smoothie.” and “Apple plus Manchego tastes really good in the backyard on a summer night with a glass of something cold.” Indeed. Our fingers are crossed for a sequel.
At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well is about clean eating, plain and simple. Actually, simple maybe, but definitely not plain—unless you’re talking good old plain cooking without any pesky lists of approved foods. We’re talking turmeric lemonade that’s just as refreshing sipped hot during winter as it is cool during summer. French lentil soup crammed full of Swiss chard and butternut squash that’s as satisfying as it is healthful. Pistachio Oatmeal Cookies made with maple syrup, coconut oil, and other virtuous things that we never knew could taste so sinful. Perhaps the best way to describe At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen is that everything actually tastes like home.
There are a lot of gluten-free cookbooks out there. Some of the most tempting ones make all your classic junk food without the gluten, and we love those, but they don’t put breakfast or dinner on the table each day. But Jeanne Sauvage, bless her, does just that with her Gluten-Free Wish List: Sweet and Savory Treats You’ve Missed the Most. We know of many gluten-free goers who swear by Sauvage’s recipes, especially the bagels and homemade pasta. But we can’t not mention her grissini, peach pie, old fashioned doughnuts, and, yes, even phyllo for baklava, noodles for ramen, and flour tortillas for tacos. Folks, this book is a keeper.
We confess. We haven’t tried any recipes found in Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle. We’ve been too distracted by the encyclopedic information found at the beginning of the book, which covers a dizzying amount of content in terms of what it truly means to eat paleo, which nutrients can help certain health conditions and in what foods you’ll find them, and frequently asked questions (among them, natch, do you really have to give up booze when you go paleo?!). There’s a reason this book is a New York Times bestseller, folks. Although from what we’ve seen, we daresay it doesn’t have a lot to do with the recipes.
Less a cookbook than a handbook on sustainable farm-to-table living, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook: Over 100 Delicious, Gluten-Free, Farm-to-Table Recipes, and a Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Healthy Food contains, quite literally, just about everything you need to know to live off the land like your great-grandparents. There’s information on making your own pantry provisions, yes, but also salient advice on crop rotation and managing your stash of firewood and how to defrost frozen meat and more, so much more. Oh, and there’s recipes, and we’ve yet to meet one we haven’t liked. Honestly, the paleo part seems sorta an afterthought in this how-to-live-off-the-land-minded manual, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For the simple reason that it can be incredibly easy to take food way too seriously, we want to share with you The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven to Change Your Life. No, it’s not entirely a spoof. The recipes work. The commonsensical approach to life works. Even the seemingly silly taco salutations work—well, they work insofar as they make us chuckle and appreciate tacos even more than we already did. And get this—the recipes are not only vegan but they’re delicious. Granted, they’re more authentically Austin than authentically Mexican and, as such, are prone to fillings like tater tots, beer-battered mushrooms, and the like. It’s quite possibly the only cleanse that leaves its adherents happier than when they started thanks in large part to the humorous approach to everything taken by the authors. If you buy one diet-minded book in your lifetime, let this be the one.