Favorite Cookbooks: Louisa Shafia

Favorite Cookbooks: Louisa Shafia

I'm excited to share a new cookbook list today. This one is from the lovely and talented Louisa Shafia. Louisa and I share a publisher, and although she (primarily) lives in Brooklyn, she and I also share a common interest in natural ingredients, farmers' markets, and beautiful food. She wrote Lucid Food a few years back (which I know many of you have), and she has a new book on the horizon - The New Persian Kitchen. You'll love it. I'll likely share my favorite soup from it sometime in the coming weeks (and will be back later this week with a new recipe post), but in the meantime, Louisa has kindly agreed to share a bit about some of the cookbooks that have a special place in her kitchen.

LOUISA'S COOKING STYLE (in her own words):

My guiding principle in the kitchen is "food is medicine," and from there anything goes. I like to purchase whatever fresh produce catches my eye, and then make it into something tasty and beautiful with the help of olive oil, spices, whole grains, legumes, and once in a while some fish or meat.

I trace my cooking style back to the way I ate growing up. My mom was a devotee of Julia Child, and the legendary New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne. But when she got together with my dad, my mom had to temper her love of cream, butter, foie gras, and all things French with the eating habits of a cardiologist from Iran, whose idea of a great meal was grilled fish, rice and beans, salad, and a dessert of fresh fruit. This meant that our family rarely ate fried food, dairy products (except yogurt), white bread, red meat, or processed sugar, but we did have lots of beans, whole grains, fish, nuts, fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Within these parameters, my mom consistently made healthy food that was delicious and exciting, borrowing flavors from such diverse cuisines as Chinese, Thai, Persian, Mexican, Russian, and yes, even French. I try to do the same, whether I'm making homemade ramen, tempeh kebabs, farro risotto, or something as simple as a caramel-sweet yam baked in its jacket.

After spending the last two years researching Iranian food, my go-to seasonings are Persian ingredients like turmeric, dill, dried mint, and sumac. I've also been influenced by the Persian philosophy of eating, which is about balancing the diet between "hot" and "cold" foods. For example, beets, barley, yogurt, and oranges make the body feel cold, while mushrooms, chickpeas, and apples boost internal heat. As with Indian Ayurvedic cooking and traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that you can heal sickness by adjusting your intake of hot, cold, and neutral foods. In a classic Persian meal, there is harmony between the elements that make up a dish, so a hot food like lamb kebab is served with cooling accompaniments like yogurt and rice.

The idea of cooking for health still has a ways to go in this country before being embraced on a grand scale, but it's the throughline that inspires me to keep exploring food and creating new recipes.


Along with eating out in restaurants, cookbooks are one of my main sources of inspiration. Here are some of the cookbooks that I turn to most often, some of which are creased and oil-spattered with years of use, and some that are still crisp and new.

- The Frog Commissary Cookbook: I often consult this book when I need ideas for catering menus. It's full of interesting and unusual recipes for everything from hors d'oeuvres to dessert. The passion and excitement of the young chef authors pops off the pages with illustrations, cooking advice, and an incredible breadth of recipes that incorporate Thai, Indian, and French influences. Be sure to try the recipe for carrot cake!

- The Millennium Cookbook & The Artful Vegan, both from Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco: My first job cooking at a restaurant was at Millennium in San Francisco, and I love their approach toward vegetable cookery. The idea is that when it comes to eating vegetables, you can cook, season, and serve produce in as many colorful ways as you can think of. I often turn to these cookbooks for inspiration and techniques, and I still learn new things. The recipes are complex, but the books are full of exciting ideas for cooking with a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits.

- Jerusalem: Of the eight recipes that I've tried so far from this book, each one turned out perfectly, and to me that means a lot. These dishes have beautiful and exotic flavor combinations, such as barberries with dill, eggplant with pomegranate, and guava with plums. The book invites the reader into the colorful city of Jerusalem, with poetic essays about daily life along and vibrant photos of people and recipes.

- The Newlywed Cookbook: This book is full of modern takes on classic dishes, with a mix of recipes that run the gamut from healthy to downright decadent. What's more, the recipes are foolproof. I can thumb through and find a new recipe and prepare it for guests the same night, without having to "practice" it beforehand. Some of my favorite recipes include Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables, Seared Halibut with Coriander and Carrots, and Thousand-Layer Chocolate Chip Cookies.

- Verdura: A collection of lush vegetarian Italian recipes, Verdura is full of evocative Italian ingredients like dried porcini mushrooms, radicchio, polenta, and ricotta. The recipes are simple and rustic, yet elegant. You can make a few recipes from this book, serve them with good bread and wine, and feel like you're eating a feast in a garden in Tuscany. Great recipes include Orange and Fennel Salad, Whole Grilled Tomatoes with Polenta, and Whole Grain Bread with Mascarpone and Strawberries.

- The Legendary Cuisine of Persia: A classic resource on Iranian cuisine written by the British food historian Margaret Shaida, this deeply researched book tells the story of Iran's founding, and explains the basis of the country's 3,000-year-old cooking traditions. Much more than simply a cookbook, it explains the ritual and spiritual roles of food in Iran, and gives readers a background on Iranian culture and hospitality.

- Canal House Cooks Every Day: A treasury of great flavor combinations and valuable cooking techniques. From pesto to pickles to pie, these two veteran cooks show you how to make superb, original versions of just about any dish that you might want to make--sort of a sophisticated, modern incarnation of The Joy of Cooking. The book has a striking aesthetic that includes poetry, illustrations, and images of nature as well as gorgeous recipe photos.


Many thanks for taking the time to share with us Louisa! xoxo -h

For those of you who are interested in keeping up with Louisa's life and work, you can find her at Lucid Food, or attend one of her classes, dinners, or events.

Lead photo by Linnea Covington, courtesy of The Gentle Kitchen..

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Thanks for spotlighting Louisa and thanks to Louisa for sharing her faves. I've wanted to pick up Jerusalem now for awhile so I love hearing 8 recipes turned out perfectly. And I have Newlyweds and Canal House. Love them both. Fabulous list for my wishlist :)

Averie @ Averie Cooks

I am loving cookbooks again these days, after relying solely on the internet for a long time ... and am remembering how much I love the look and feel of a written collections. _Super Natural_ was my first purchase in a long, long time ... and I'm eating yellow split pea salad with pesto right now, believe it or not. ;) Thanks for this list!


So nice to hear someone else treasures their copy of the Frog Commissary Cookbook! The Carrot Cake pages in my copy are "well-loved", it's the BEST carrot cake you'll ever have. Try the the Curried Red Lentil Salad, and the Mocha Buttercrunch Pie is ecstasy! The New Persian Kitchen is on MY list, now.


And thank you for introducin Louisa to us. I share her interest in cooking books and I also think that Louisa's books look very interesting.

Marta @ What should I eat for breakfast today

I must admit that cookbooks are my weakness. I'm a big fan of Yotan Ottolenghi's books, his cooking style suits me perfectly. One of my other favourites is Guy Mirabella's Hungry - Australia's answer to Ottolenghi!


This is so fascinating, especially the part about hot and cold foods for healing. I love the concept of food as medicine. Interesting list of books too, many of which I hadn't come across before. Jerusalem has been on my wish list for a while now. Thanks!


So much inspiration from this post! Want everything.


what an interesting idea of balancing hot and cold foods- I'm definitely going to think about this more!

Simply Life

I use to work with a woman who was Persian and she often brought delicious Persian dishes for us to try. I loved it all so much! Will have to check out this new cookbook and learn more about this wonderful cuisine. Thanks for sharing!


Ooooo I've been hearing about a few of theeeeesssssaaaaaa. All over it.

Bev @ Bev Cooks

Nice! Louisa introduced me to raw kale salads in Lucid Food. She was definitely ahead of her times. Can't wait to see her new cookbook. :)

janet @ the taste space

There is so much goodness in this interview, I think that it is my favourite in the series so far!

I wasn't familiar with Louisa, but now I'm looking forward to her new cookbook about Persian cooking. I think that she also put the spotlight on some lesser known gems, especially 'Verdura' and the 'Legendary Cuisine of Persia'. Bring on the spring vegetables! This post has inspired me to get cooking with a new flavor palette.


I also wanted to pick-up Jerusalem. I held out because of some mixed reviews. Thanks!!!


As Louisa describes it, healthy also means delicious! Intriguing thoughts on how she cooks, and love the photo of her in her compact urban kitchen. Approachable selection of cookbooks, and I'm looking forward to the publication of her new one!

diary of a tomato

I love Louisa. Lucid Food was one of the first books I picked up when I shifted my career and turned my lens towards food photography a few years back. I am very much looking forward to her new book!

Also, her list of cookbook recommendations couldn't have come at a better time. Was just thinking I need to refresh the stack in my kitchen and her list is just what the doctor ordered.

Dina Avila

LOVE Frog Commissary Cookbook. A staple in our kitchen... pistachio crusted fried brie bites?! ohhh yeahh! Am grabbing Lucid Food now! thanks!!


I'm thrilled to see this because I discovered Louisa a bit ago while searching for a Persian cookbook. The New Persian Kitchen is shipping to me soon, but this is a nice preview! I love Persian cuisine, but it can be difficult to find "vegetable focused" recipes--the perfect description. Even though I am a vegetarian, I often buy cookbooks that are not if I feel I will still get a lot out of them, and I feel this book will be a good example.


The Frog Commissary Cookbooks is one of my all time favorites and especially close to my heart because I am from Philadelphia. The carrot cake is absolutely divine! The book was one of the ones I too referenced most when I had my catering business Affairs to Remember Catering.

sandra axelrod

I'm so excited for her new book! I am Persian and just started learning my mom's recipes. It makes me sad that Persian food is not well represented in cookbooks and restaurants. I hope this is a sign that Persian food is becoming more popular because the flavors are unique but easy to love and the food is 'whole'. Good luck to her!


I cannot believe it! I have all her faves except the The Frog Commissary one. You Know I'll be looking for that! I do have Lucid foods and look foreward to her next one. Thank you to both of you!


I love cookbooks. I always feel like I'm on a treasure hunt when I get a new one. As long as I find a recipe that I'll make for years to come, I consider myself having found the chest of gold. And since everyone is commenting about Jerusalem, well that is a chest of gold. And now I can't wait to check out the Persian Kitchen!

Abbe@This is How I Cook

Awesome to see The Frog Commissary Cookbook on this list. I worked at both restaurants in the early 80s. At Commissary I made Carrot Cake for months -- about 45 Carrot Cakes every week. I worked there with Michael Recchiuiti, before he became a chocolatier extraordinaire. I also made Strawberry Heart Tarts, Chocolate Mousse Cake, and the legendary Coffee Walnut Chocolate Chip muffins. The muffins were very moist and tended to fall apart when removing from the tins. If they weren't intact they couldn't go out for sale and were put out for snacking in the bakery. Not that we tried to break them when taking out of tins ;)


Loved the comments re Louise and her fascinating journey with food & health, and our contemporary abundance & access to the best of many cultures in this regard: last year found an old book from the 80's, Book Two of "Persian Cuisine" by Ghanoonparvar and have been going hogwild with it. Loved the Ash-e's and the Kuku's, etc. Even got my first order of sumac. I substitute a lot, like my fermented homebrewed Kefir rather than the commercial yogurts, using a lot of venison rather then beef, etc. But love the many varied uses of veggies and seasonings. Will definitely be interested in her new Persian cookbook.

Norma P

Love the Jerusalem cookbook!

La Torontoise

So glad you featured Louisa! I've been following her since Lucid Food (LOVE!) and am so excited about the new cookbook. I haven't cooked anything from Jerusalem yet, but it's a beautiful book. I'll have to look up this Frog Commissary cookbook after everyone's comments.


A friend gave me a copy of Lucid Food for my birthday last year, and I read it cover to cover. Such a lovely book from a woman with such a wonderful cooking philosophy! Thanks for posting her list of favorites & alerting me to the new book coming out--can't wait!


I was so happy to see a shout out for "Verdura", which has been my desert island cookbook for years. It's a great resource for food with an Italian sensibility that isn't limited to pasta. My family particularly loves the bean salads in that book, which are strongly flavored with delicious bits of oil cured olives and other strong tastes. There are also some devastatingly delicious soups in there.


love the Lucid Food book and lovely to see what Louisa turns to for inspiration.. and i really think it's time i picked up one of the Canal House cookbooks. thanks for sharing!


SO, I went to Barnes and Noble on my lunch hour to get a copy of Super Natural Every Day. The website said it was in stock. I looked all through the cookbook section but could not find it. When a sales person came to help he said, “Oh that is over on the staff favorite shelf”. Sure enough, there were 5-copies with the hand written card underneath from the staff person who LOVES your book so much she cannot recommend it enough. I thought you might like to know that.

Downtown Minneapolis store.

Bridget McArthur

I have the newlywed cookbook. The recipes in it are amazing! I'm going to be buying the Verdura cookbook next.


I love that idea that food is medicine and what you eat matters to your overall health. Thank you for showcasing Louisa and her favorite cookbooks.


Thank you so much for the recommendations. I'm always hungry for new ways to cook, especially when they are healthy AND delicious. And I love to know more about the balance and harmony created through food in our bodies. There is so much more to explore. Keeps me excited.


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