Identifying a central theme among this year's cookbooks was easier than picking a ripe banana. The best and brightest recipe collections are ones that celebrate a specific way of cooking or a class of ingredients.

For us, vegetable-based cookbooks edged out the year's meat-minded tomes; we were drawn to the glorification of seasonal produce.

Gift givers will be glad to hear that, with a few exceptions, works of modest size and price tag are the norm.

The Middle East continues to pique our interest in ethnic cuisine. And some very fine food blogs yielded fine cookbooks.

Here are our picks, listed alphabetically within categories.

Bonnie S. Benwick and Jane Touszalin,

The Washington Post

Top Ten

'Canal House Cooks Every Day'

By Christopher Hershimer and Melissa Hamilton

(Andrews McMeel)

The meals these business partners (and food experts) made and shared at work evolved into a thick compilation of recipes you'll want to make - often. Rich Ragu Bolognese is an indulgent pleasure.

'Gran Cocina Latina'

By Maricel E. Presilla (W.W. Norton)

Impressive in scope and depth of research, this volume delineates Latin American cuisines with history, and by ingredients. The tradeoff of no photos vs. insightful essays and 500-plus recipes seems more than fair. Helpful "What to Drink" suggestions are included.

'Herbivoracious'

By Michael Natkin (Harvard Common Press)

If we had to choose one book to cook from in 2012, this would be it. The vegetarian blog of the same name has produced a recipe collection that draws on many cultures. The author's talent for tweaking flavor combinations elevates standard dishes and condiments. His shiitake tacos with asian pear slaw make a fine dinner in minutes.

'Jerusalem: A Cookbook'

By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press)

The Israeli city imprinted their food, the authors say, but their recipes reflect a broad range of Middle Eastern influence. The dishes are beautiful. This book's all the motivation you need to put barberries, sumac, pomegranate molasses and fenugreek seed in your pantry. Worth a look: Shrimp and scallops with tomato and feta.

'Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking'

By Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith)

If anyone can do for Southern food what Julia Child did for French, it's the estimable Dupree. Recipes for Southern mainstays come with a storehouse of tips: how to cook a country ham, how to kill a trout, how onions can save a marriage. We liked fig and pecan tapenade with goat cheese frozen fruit salad and white fruitcake.

'Preserving'

By Pat Crocker (William Morrow)

This is a big, beautiful bargain of a book that is almost a solo effort by the author - including the photography. Keep curried summer stone fruit in mind for after Memorial Day.

'Pure Vegan'

By Joseph Shuldiner (Chronicle)

The food is elegant, the photos are striking and the lifestyle proselytizing is absent. Shuldiner is a graphic designer and his book is intelligently organized with the cook in mind. Jicama salad is simple and flavorful.

'Roots'

By Diane Morgan (Chronicle)

Root vegetables are treated with respect, and photographed to stunning effect. The author spent more than two years researching, writing and developing recipes; her work is our reward. Try her salsify provencal.

'Slow Cooking'

By Antony Worrall Thompson

(Mitchell Beazley)

A chef's skill set is applied to the humble appliance, and some recipes push beyond the dump-and-wait routine. Most helpful: a chart that converts oven and stove-top cooking times. Check out spicy braised eggplant with prunes; pork, apple and lemon-thyme meatballs.

'The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook'

By Deb Perelman (Knopf)

Here's another fine example of blog-to-cookbook success. It's a fun, empowering read with recipes that beckon. Her linguine with cauliflower pesto is a quick and popular meal.