It’s been 13 months since the start of the pandemic; 13 months of cooking nearly all of our own meals. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to tire of it. What we really need to get that cooking spark back is an infusion of new recipes and inspiration. For me, a few fun new cookbooks are the answer: I read them avidly, marking intriguing recipes with post-it notes for later consumption. If a cookbook inspires a ton of must-make notations, I know it belongs on this list. Here are some new cookbooks I simply can’t wait to cook from this spring! And in the spirit of keeping small businesses alive we absolutely encourage you to purchase these books through your local bookseller.
“Á Table: Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way“ by Rebekah Peppler
Paris-based Rebekah Peppler sure understands what Americans want in their French food porn. From gorgeous farmers market abundance and oozing cheeses to lovely dinner party still lifes, this book captures the joie de vivre of entertaining in the French style. She breaks down the must-haves of the French pantry, then serves them up to you with dishes like Carrot Tarte Tatin, Easier Bouillabaisse with Quick Rouille, and Fig Clafoutis. Perfect for your next dinner party… even if only your immediate family is in attendance.
“Cook This Book” by Molly Baz
Cutesy recipe titles and instructions aside, Molly Baz’ bona fides are impressive, as she was a big player in the Bon Appetit test kitchen for a few years, starring in their videos and making every-day cooking attractive and accessible to a generation of social media followers. You’ll learn to riff on recipes, because she gives you the building blocks and understanding to do so. And THAT is what makes a great home cook: the intuition that frees you up and lets you fly. So roast chicken, the workhorse of the family dinner, becomes Pastrami Roast Chicken with Schmaltzy Onions and Dill with the addition of some well-placed spices and a few tweaks to the recipe. Her “Cae Sal” (Caesar Salad) recipe is legendary. This book will teach you to become a better cook.
“Food Between Friends” by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous
This charming mash-up of Southwestern and Southern cuisines will convince you that some celebrities can actually cook! Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his cooking bestie Julie Tanous (a professional chef) are a marriage made in a stockpot; they complement each other well, and the headnotes for each recipe are exceedingly entertaining. “A galette is basically a lazy, half-assed pie, and Julie and I love them for that,” espouses Tyler Ferguson, and he ain’t wrong. Their Asparagus and Leek Galette make a lovely lunch that comes together fairly quickly, and we absolutely loved the one-skillet Crispy-Skin Salmon with Artichoke Hearts and Spinach, which I served with the Chermoula-Roasted Broccoli with Tahini Dressing, an inspired pairing.
“Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch” by Jake Cohen
Jake Cohen, a Culinary Institute of America grad, is a well-known food writer, and a proud gay, Ashkenazi Jew (meaning his family came from Eastern Europe), while his husband Alex Shapiro is Sephardic (Jews from the Mediterranean and Middle East). He’s equally at home in a test kitchen or on TikTok. Jew-ish explores the merging of their Jewish food traditions, and we’re all the better for this culinary détente. Cohen puts new twists on Jewish staples, so you’ll find a savory Cacio e Pepe Rugelach, rather than the standard sweet variety with cinnamon and raisins. Tiramisu is made with matzo rather than ladyfingers; latkes are bright yellow from the addition of saffron; cream cheese is more than just a schmear with the addition of Charred Scallions, imparting a lovely smokiness to your lox and bagel sandwich. As a side note, we made the flourless Macaroon Brownies during Passover and they were a HUGE hit.
“Plat du Jour“ by Susan Herrmann Loomis
The plat du jour is the daily special at a French bistro, which might mean Boeuf Bourguignon, Cider-Braised Duck with Onions, Shallots, Leeks, and Carrots, or a decadent Croque Monsieur. These are the dishes that bring to mind a leisurely late lunch eaten outdoors at a Paris sidewalk café, a dinner bathed in candlelight somewhere in St. Germain, or a repast from a Zola novel. Susan Loomis, a noted cookbook author and cooking teacher, writes with the authority of an American expat in France. All you need to recreate the Paris in your mind is any recipe from this book, a glass of rosé, a crusty baguette, and some excellent butter. Et voilà! C’est tout.
“Rice: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Michael W. Twitty
The latest in a series of substantive single-subject Southern cookbooks from UNC Press (Nancie McDermott’s Fruit and Cynthia Graubert’s Chicken, and Virginia Willis’ Okra are other favorites), Rice is definitely in Michael Twitty’s sweet spot. Twitty is a culinary historian (he won the 2018 James Beard Award for Book of the Year for The Cooking Gene) as well as an author and educator, and his deep knowledge of and respect for the underpinnings of Southern cuisine are a serious plus here. From its African (Jollof Rice, Omo Tuo, Sweet Potato Leaf Stew) and island (Haitian Red Beans and Rice, Coconut Rice) origins to Southern classics like Shrimp Rice, Sausage Pilau, and Hoppin’ John, and Rice Pudding, rice is an endlessly versatile grain.
“Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day is a Good Day” by Rodney Scott with Lolis Eric Elie
Owner of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina, Scott knows whereof he speaks… and he’s sharing his BBQ secrets with all of us in this book, from building the pit to starting a fire. But you don’t have to be a pitmaster to recreate his succulent spareribs, smoked turkey breast or BBQ Bacon Burgers in your own home. You’ll also find recipes for Southern favorites and sides like Pimento Cheese, Hushpuppies, Rodney’s Reluctant Collard Greens, and Banana Pudding. Time to get cooking!
“Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food“ by Julia Turshen
I’m a little bit obsessed with Julia Turshen’s new book, because she cooks the way I want to eat — soulful, comforting food that nods at healthy food in a friendly way. And like me, Turshen is a big fan of lists, from the way she orders her chapters (11 Weeknight Go-Tos, 11 Favorite Breakfasts) to helpful lists of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free recipes so you don’t have to hunt them down or guess. Want to know how to use up extra buttermilk, or egg yolks/whites? There are lists for that, of course. She answers questions you didn’t even know you had. I immediately made a pot of Llubav’s Green Spaghetti, savoring the ease (all sauce ingredients into the blender with a cup of hot pasta cooking water!) and happy deliciousness of the recipe, a much healthier option to traditional pesto, with a tenth of the fat. Next up: Stewed Chicken with Sour Cream and Chive Dumplings, and Hasselback Carrots with Pimentón and Roasted Lemon. Can’t wait!
The second book from Reem Kassis (The Palestinian Table), these contemporary Middle Eastern recipes bring Arab cuisine into the present. The photography is exquisite, and you will want to dive right into dishes like the Lamb and Halloumi Pasta Bake, an update of a dish her grandmother used to make that reflects the wider availability of non-traditional foods in the Arab world — such as packaged pasta in varying shapes, or commercially made halloumi and mozzarella cheeses. Kassis also includes dishes inspired by classic Arab dishes (Kofta, Shawarma, Fatteh) and spins them through a more modern aesthetic, like the vegetarian Mushroom Shawarma with Parsley Tahini, or Halloumi-Stuffed Kofta Meatballs. Your mouth will water as you try to choose the dish with which to begin your culinary adventure.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the Tiegens (Chrissy and her ebullient mama, Pepper), and I follow their culinary antics on Chrissy’s website and social media. These beautiful, strong women and their unabashed love of all things yummy just makes me happy. So obviously I had to snap up Mama Pepper’s first cookbook, which focuses on Thai family cooking with some American updates. So, from her Chile-Lime Fried Cashews (great to snack on with a glass of sparkling rosé) and Crispy Chicken Wings to the Crispy Port Prik King and Pineapple Soft Serve with Spicy Candied Coconut, I am all in.
“To Asia with Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories from the Heart“ by Hetty McKinnon
Growing up with a Chinese mother who loved to cook, Australian chef Hetty McKinnon was inspired in ways she didn’t fully appreciate until she got older, and the memories of those childhood dishes inspired her to create her own versions of beloved dishes. There’s much to love in this book, filled with stories of childhood trips to Hong Kong, her family, and the how she builds her recipes with a blend of tradition, necessity, and love. As McKinnon suggests, these are recipes that are “rooted in the East, with hints of the West.” Nurture your heart and soul with vegetarian dishes like Wontons and Noodles in Ginger-Turmeric Broth, Asparagus/Mint/Feta Dumplings, and Springtime Rolls with Miso Kale Pesto. Delightful.
“Zoë Bakes Cakes” by Zoë François
Cake lovers, do not sleep on this memorable and highly instructive book from Zoë François, and if you don’t already, immediately follow her baking exploits on Instagram. Her obsession with all things cake may have started with the humble Twinkie, but after years of culinary training and working in myriad pastry kitchens, she’s elevated it to a high art. So, whether in for a penny (quick Banana Bread with Swirls of Nutella, or Blueberry Muffin Cake) or a pound (Blackberry Diva Cake, Dacquoise with Cream and Berries), each cake recipe is filled with expert baking advice backed by scrupulous research, development, and testing. You can bake these cakes with confidence, and the results are *chef’s kiss* every time.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.