Cookbooks That Take You Places

I read cookbooks the way some people read travel guides. I spend hours imagining myself re-creating impeccable meals we enjoyed at fancy restaurants on our travels.

vegetablesI have not been successful replicating many of those culinary wonders: in London, I made repeated visits to Dishoom. Physically weighty, Dishoom: From Bombay with Love (Bloomsbury, $35) is a thrilling tour of the region by cousins Kavi and Shamil Thakrar with their chef Naved Nasir, via hand-drawn maps, archival photos and personal essays. The recipes almost vibrate with the scents of cardamom and cumin. I would like to brag about my rajma--savory kidney beans spiced with garam marsala (didn't happen)--yet the Dishoom granola recipe is foolproof.

Pickled vegetables were my favorite component of most meals we ate in Tokyo. Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Machiko Tateno (Tuttle, $16.99) has a clean layout and glossy photos that sing "You can do this." I longed for the bright zinging taste of vivid carrot chunks, startling daikon slices, sweet-and-sour green cucumber ribbons, but muttered "too many hard-to-get ingredients--kombu seaweed?" Later, while staring down another bowl of pandemic ramen, I took the plunge. Raiding the pantry and fridge, I was able to make fresh cucumber pickles, quick carrot, radish, napa cabbage pickles and kimchi.

And this brings me to Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen (Rodale, $26.99). The subtitle says it all. Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion's sage advice, lighthearted humor and you-can-do-this cheerleading charm had me at the endpapers with its 23-point manifesto. By my estimation, I have cooked more than 300 meals since March 10. I am broken. Brennan and Campion put me back together. The pantry list alone was worth the price. "One-Bowl Summer Spaghetti" was a big hit, and Japanese-Style "Meat and Potatoes" is requested weekly, earning its place as a keeper. --Lisa Von Drasek, curator, University of Minnesota Libraries