The Old World Kitchen by Elisabeth Luard (Melville House, $35). I'm convinced this is the best cookbook that no one's ever heard of. This broad survey of European peasant cooking covers culinary territories both familiar (France, Italy) and foreign (Bulgaria, Romania). And don't worry: You're given permission to use beef for the Lapland reindeer stew.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, $35). Hazan brought real Italian cooking to America in 1973, demonstrating — long before "locavore" was a word — that decent ingredients treated simply yield wonderful food. This updated version may be the only Italian cookbook you'll ever need. Her tomato sauce with onion and butter will ruin you for all other marinara.

Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (Morrow, $29). Sahni is the Marcella Hazan of Indian cooking: equal parts authoritative and accessible. With this book (and a few specialty ingredients) in hand, even newbie cooks can produce Indian food that's often better than restaurant fare.

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden (Knopf, $35). This is still the definitive work on Middle Eastern cooking. Roden, born in Cairo to a Syrian Jewish family, has a marvelous palate and near-flawless recipe-writing technique. Back in 1972 when I first opened the book, her unfathomably exotic dishes — think hummus and tabbouleh — seemed nothing short of revolutionary.

French Cooking in Ten Minutes by Edouard de Pomiane (North Point, $12). This slim, witty 1930 volume includes some indispensable advice. The first thing to do when you enter a kitchen, suggests de Pomiane, is boil a pot of water. "What's it for? I don't know, but it's bound to be good for something." I can't tell you how many times that gem has saved my ass at a dinner party.

Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka (out of print). For years my microwave was little more than an expensive, space-eating coffee warmer. That was until this book taught me that any vegetable you would parboil or steam can be cooked better and faster in the microwave.

Mark Bittman, the longtime food writer for The New York Times and author of How to Cook Everything, has just published The VB6 Cookbook, a companion volume to last year's VB6, in which he made the case for eating vegan before 6 p.m.