The 16 Best Cookbooks of 2021

top 2021 cookbooks

When we downsized two years ago and moved to a new home, I knew it was time to jettison some cookbooks to get my collection down to a “manageable” size. So, I bit the bullet and did it, donating over 200 (!) cookbooks to charitable auctions and local libraries and bookstores. But full confession here, they seem to have proliferated and I’m back to where I started. My office bookshelves are full to bursting, and piles of cookbooks litter the floor. It’s not optimal. The main issue? I’ve got a problem. Every shiny new cookbook looks so appealing, and when a favorite cookbook author drops a new book (looking at you, Dorie Greenspan and Yotam Ottolenghi, among myriad others), how can I not add that to my collection? Is floorspace really that important? I mostly sit at my computer anyway. 

Yet with cookbooks, as with all things, not all that is shiny and new is necessarily worth your hard-earned dough. But every year, there are gems, and my job is to sift through all the new cookbooks that come across my desk (some purchased, some sent by publishing houses) and choose the ones that I simply can’t do without. This was a banner year for cookbooks, as evidenced by the fact that I devoted a column to spring cookbooks earlier this year, a first. Let’s face it, we all needed a lift this spring, and home cooking was a necessity that after months of pandemic family meals had become a chore. We’re still cooking at home, but with a renewed spirit after a few months that have provided a semblance of normalcy, and a welcome return to eating in restaurants with family and friends. Here are the 16 new cookbooks that I will turn to as gifts for beloved friends, or to inspire me in my own kitchen. I have included my three absolute favorites from the spring list (*) to keep them on your radar as best of the year. And if you click on any of the book titles, it will take you to the Indie Bookstore Finder rather than the online book behemoth. Hit reset and put in your own zip code to display independent bookstores near you that may carry the book but be sure to call first if they don’t have an active e-commerce presence. No one wants you to be disappointed!

Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty, and Simple by Dorie Greenspan

baking with dorie

First off, I’m a huge Dorie Greenspan fan. Her previous books, including “Everyday Dorie,” “Baking Chez Moi,” and “Dorie’s Cookies,” are all gems — and she’s got five James Beard Awards to prove it. And, as usual, Dorie does not disappoint. Her recipes are always perfection; there is nary a dud to be found. You can make them with confidence knowing that as long as you follow the directions, you are assured of success. And what recipes they are! The Miso-Maple Cake and Cheese-Swirl Babka Buns call out to be made immediately, as do the Mokonuts’ Rye-Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies. My only complaint: I have to wait for spring to make the Rhubarb-Bottom, Strawberry-Top Tart when rhubarb is once again in season.

Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora by Bryant Terry

black food

Cookbook author and food activist Bryant Terry has pulled together a love letter to Black creativity and community using food as the focal point. You’ll find glorious recipes, of course, but also moving essays and artwork. Terry has reached out worldwide to leaders in Black culture who explore the Black experience through their connection to food. The graphics and layout of the book are visually arresting, and the teachable moments are many. But don’t ignore stunning recipes like Fresh Roberson’s Coconut-Curry Harvest Soup, Adrian Lipscombe’s Collards with Pot Likker, Cornbread Dumplings, and Green Tomato Chowchow, or Cheryl Day’s flaky Peach Hand Pies. A special book.

Cookies: The New Classics by Jesse Szewczyk

cookies cookbook

Another cookie book? Yes, please, and this one is worth its weight in dark chocolate. So creative. So exciting. So FUN. And the photos… fuhgeddaboutit. Actually kind of awe-inspiring, if I’m honest. Separated into evocative taste categories (Chocolaty, Boozy, Fruity, Nutty, Tart, Spiced, Smoky, and Savory) so that you can zero in on your potential favorites quickly, Jesse Szewczyk’s recipes are “modern spins on classics.” Snicky snack on his Salt-and-Vinegar Potato Chip Cookies or the Chewy Toasted Sesame Cookies, both packed with umami. I made the savory Cacio e Pepe Slice and Bakes for an event last week and they were gone in a flash. Matcha Amaretti Cookies are next on my list, along with Pretzels and Stout Cookie Bars. Innovative and scrumptious is a damn good combination.

Cravings All Together: Recipes to Love by Chrissy Tiegen with Adeena Sussman

cravings all together

Love her or hate her — I choose love and a bit of social media obsession — but you must admit that Chrissy Tiegen knows her way around flavor, and what we crave. Working with the talented Israeli cookbook author Adeena Sussman (“Sababa” should be purchased immediately if you don’t have it already), she shares more of her family’s comfort foods, and they will become your favorites as well. Crispy Chicken Caesar Wedge Salad? Yes, please. Tom Yum Whole Fish, a dish that reflects Tiegen’s Thai heritage, is a stunner, and you’ll want the Parmesan Whipped Mashed Potatoes on your holiday table, STAT. Come for the crave-able recipes, but stay for the hilarious recipe head notes, Chrissy unfiltered in all her messy and wonderful glory.

Getaway: Food and Drink to Transport You by Renee Erickson

getaway cookbook

James Beard Award-winning chef Renee Erickson has taken the Pacific Northwest by storm with her Seattle restaurants The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Whale Wins, Bateau, General Porpoise Donuts and Coffee, Bar Melusine, and Bateau. She is a culinary visionary who generously shares her travels and the recipes they inspire in this gorgeous book. You’ll find cocktails, bites, and easy entrées for carefree entertaining from sojourns to Rome, Paris, Normandy, London, Baja, and her beloved Seattle itself. For the host (or hostess) with the most (or mostess) on your list.

Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes by Abra Berens

grist cookbook

Inspired by the heirloom grain production at Granor Farms in Three Oaks, Michigan where she works (and was nominated as a James Beard Award Best Chef – Great Lakes), Abra Berens focuses her attention on the many culinary uses for and methods of preparing grain, and there is nothing boring about it. The right condiments play a big part in making these recipes special, from Tomato-Paprika Mayo and Za’atar-Chili Oil to Garlic Scape Relish and Sage Fried Brown Butter. As in her previous book, the James Beard Award-nominated “Ruffage,” she gives you the tools and techniques you need to riff on her recipes. Now that we know how nutritionally important grains and legumes are to our diets, don’t we owe it to ourselves to make them as delicious as possible?

Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch by Jake Cohen

jew-ish cookbook

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. The savory Everything Bagel Rugelach with smoked salmon and cream cheese are revelatory, and we made the flourless Macaroon Brownies during Passover and they were a HUGE hit. I am turning to this book again and again.

The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen by Joanne Lee Molinaro

the korean vegan cookbook

An instant NYT bestseller, this debut cookbook from blogger and home cook Joanne Lee Molinaro is extraordinary. Korean food is not known for being vegan friendly, as evidenced by all the grilled meats, preserved and pickled fish, and the like. But she reimagines the food of her mother country through a vegan lens, using plant-based Korean ingredients like gochujang, seaweed, and fermented soybean paste to punch up the umami and honor the intention behind each dish. The stunning photos and the heartfelt stories she shares of her childhood and family would be worth the price of admission alone, but the recipes are captivating. Korean BBQ Black Bean Burgers, Rice Cake Soup with Dumplings, Perilla Leaf Focaccia, and Spicy Crunchy Garlic Tofu are just a few of the dishes I long to try.

Let’s Make Dumplings: A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan

lets make dumplings cookbook

I am absolutely charmed by this cookbook, a comprehensive guide to making different kinds of dumplings, including Tibetan Beef Momos, Chinese Pork & Chive Potstickers, and Malaysian Coconut Jam Baozi — with plenty of gyoza, shumai, and various rangoons along the way. Chef and author Hugh Amano and illustrator Sarah Becan previously worked together on “Let’s Make Ramen!” and “The Adventures of Fat Rice,” and they’ve got the graphic cookbook thing down pat. This highly approachable format conveys so much, from mastering different folding techniques to the proper way to cook and eat dumplings. Your food-crazy teen will love it, but so will you.

Middle Eastern Sweets by Salma Hage

middle eastern sweets cookbook

For those of us who love the flavors of the Middle East — tahini, honey, almonds and pistachios, citrus, sesame seeds, filo pastry, orange blossom and rosewater, marzipan, and halvah come immediately to mind — Salma Hage’s newest cookbook is a godsend. So many beautiful recipes in this book it is hard to single out just a few, but the Pistachio & Yogurt Cake (she suggests serving it with the Cardamom Ice Cream, and I swoon) is absolutely fantastic, moistened with shredded carrot and Greek yogurt and flavored with a fair amount of ground pistachios. Ricotta and Halvah Turnovers aren’t far behind, and the gluten-free Persian Chickpea Shortbread (yes, chickpea flour!) won raves from even the most committed of gluten fiends.

Mumbai Modern: Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by Indian Roots and California Cuisine by Amisha Dodhia Gurbani 

mumbai modern cookbook

“Food is memory. Food is communication. Food is love.” Amisha Dodhia Gurbani grabbed my attention from the start because I feel exactly the same way. Maybe you already follow her on her Jam Lab blog and website, but if you don’t, she was brought up in Mumbai with visits to her grandparent’s home in Gujarat, where the food is mostly vegan. She moved to the U.S. as a computer engineer but transitioned to cooking and is known for her way with flavors, and her East-meets-West spins on modern recipes combining traditional Indian flavors with California panache. Thus, you’ll discover dishes like Chocolate Cardamom Pastry Cream, Halvah, and Pistachio Danish, Aloo Tikki Arancini with Saffron Aioli, or perhaps a Caramelized Onion, Fontina, and Samosa Tart. It’s all delectable.

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi 

ottolenghi cookbook

Are you a hoarder of condiments and pantry goods? Do you buy multiples of frozen veggies and bags of shrimp when they’re on sale? This is the book for you. Plus, Ottolenghi is a cookbook god whose every utterance and recipe turns to gold. This book has the bonus of being more approachable and versatile than some of his earlier work, and more appropriate for everyday cooking. Each recipe has tips on how to “make it your own” and save time in the process. You’ll salivate over the lush photos that will spur you on to create Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce, Sweet Potato Shakshuka with Sriracha Butter and Pickled Onions, One Pan Crispy Spaghetti and Chicken, and Herby Cabbage and Potato Gratin with Gruyére and Ricotta. Honestly, it all sounds so damn good.

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day is a Good Day by Rodney Scott with Lolis Eric Elie

rodney scott cookbook

Owner of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina, Rodney 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!

The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques, and Recipes by Julia Momosé with Emma Janzen 

the way of the cocktail cookbook

It is no exaggeration to say that this cocktail book is one of the most thoughtful — and beautiful — cocktail books on the market. Every detail has been conceived with care, from the exquisite photographic compositions to the graphics and font choices. The prose and the drink recipes are evocative of Julia Momosé’s upbringing in Japan, where she was inspired by the care and artistry of the Japanese cocktail bars. Momosé is a James Beard Award nominee for Best American Bartender for her work at Chicago’s Kumiko, which was also named to Time’s 2019 Greatest Places in the World list. She’s all about layered flavors and artisanal techniques, and she imparts her secrets to you, gentle reader. For the cocktail obsessive in your life. 

To Asia with Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories from the Heart by Hetty McKinnon

to asia with love cookbook

Growing up with a Chinese mother who loved to cook, Australian chef and cookbook author 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.

Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese Food to Cook at Home by Uyen Luu

vietnamese cookbook

I became obsessed with Vietnamese cooking during the pandemic. Something about the star-anise perfume of a steaming bowl of phò, or the sound of a crispy springroll wrapper echoing through your mouth as you crunch it. I am a fan of great fish sauce (Day Boat is my current fave), which adds just the right amount of fishy umami and funk to any dish, and who doesn’t love to slurp a noodle? Uyen Luu makes it all seem so easy. She splits the chapters by how we eat: Things to Eat with Rice, Heavenly Noodle Soups, Quick Midweek Meals, Proper Salads Vietnamese-Style, Sharing Vegetables, Feasting, and Sweet Things. If you have a few of the right ingredients — rice, rice and wheat noodles, the aforementioned fish sauce, honey, limes, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, shallots, garlic, and chili sauce are a good start — you can build a Vietnamese dish, which honors the combination of sweet, sour, hot, salty, and umami tastes in most dishes. Her Chicken Curry with Squash will be repeat in my house this winter, as will the Lemongrass Ribeye Steak Noodle Salad and Chicken Phò. Bring the sweet with the French-inspired Croissant Pudding with Coconut and Banana and no one will leave the table disappointed.

More From Better:

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.

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