In my opinion _the_ best Spanish cookbook in English is Penelope Casas's The Food and Wines of Spain (1982). Casas, married to a madrileño and a regular visitor to Spain, has been writing cookbooks for more than three decades. The Foods and Wines of Spain continues to be my favorite book by her, though she has other good ones. Great insights and cultural commentary accompany her recipes, which are pretty close to authentic if not spot on, but which also make good suggestions on sometimes necessary substitutions.
|All the books in the Culinaria series will|
make for nice additions to your kitchen
I also recommend you consider the various books by my fellow expat blogger Janet Mendel. On her blog she gives a nice overview of local ingredients and the kinds of cooking techniques and styles that people here use to prepare them. Given that she has been living in Spain for decades, the depth of her knowledge and appreciation for Spanish cuisine give her books an edge over the dozens of hack Tapas and Mediterranean cookbooks that are now flooding U.S. bookshelves. Perusing the online descriptions and profiles for each of her books, I would say that Cooking in Spain (1987, 2006) is your best bet for a standard recipe book. Cooking from the Heart of Spain (2006) and Traditional Spanish Cooking (2006) are better for those foodies who like to journey through the cultures and histories of their dishes and recipes. And Tapas—A Bite of Spain (2008), her latest book, caters to those of you wishing to tap into the recent culinary craze of tapas in the UK and U.S.
|Check out Mendel's own description of her books at her blog here.|
In general Mendel's recipes sound delicious, but be warned, they are often slightly different than traditional or conventional recipes. My litmus test for Americans who cook Spanish food is their paella recipe. (I can't help it, what with living in Valencia, the paella heartland.) Mendel's approach to this dish on her blog is actually quite ingenious. Recognizing the difficulty of reproducing authentic paella, she offers her readers "Paella a la Americana," a twist on the recipe chock-full of seafood goodies that Americans will enjoy and which simulates the idea of Spanish paella. I commend her efforts at exporting the paella principle abroad, though with my wife's proviso: this is not Spanish, and certainly not Valencian paella. (Penelope Casas, for example, is correct to observe that it is a common misconception in the US "that paella is loaded with ingredients." It is actually usually served in Valencia with fixed ensembles or combinations of a few select ingredients.) Since Mendel makes no pretense of her recipes being "traditional," I'm inclined to forgive these divergences from the "real thing." The most important thing is that the dishes taste good, right?
One feature that I like about Mendel's blog is that, since she is blogging her recipes throughout the year, she more or less follows the seasonal eating that Spaniards follow. In other words, she uses the ingredients as they become available and are in season. So the blog indirectly gives you some sense of when to look for figs or "higos" (answer: late summer) or cook traditional dishes with pomegranate, a.k.a. "granadas" (when they appear in Spanish markets in the fall).
For more cookbook or Spanish cuisine ideas, you can also check out these links: