Goodbye, 2020, and good riddance.
No one will be sorry to see you go. But as terrible a year as it was for world health, American politics, and climate change crises, I will admit begrudgingly that there was one silver lining amid the misery: people were inspired (by necessity, yes, but still) to cook for themselves at home, turning to cookbooks and food websites for recipes and comfort. Luckily, it was a very good year for cookbooks, with a veritable bumper crop of offerings from some of the usual suspects (Ottolenghi, Ina Garten) as well as exciting newer voices, like cookie whiz Sarah Kieffer or “Brown in the South” chef Asha Gomez.
I don’t know about you, but after umpteen months spent in quarantine cooking 95% of all the meals my family consumed, I’m ready for some new ideas. Here are some of my favorite cookbooks of this crazy year.
In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean
by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen
Somali chef Hawa Hassan and consummate food writer Julia Turshen have gathered recipes from African bibis (grandmothers), and food, lovingly prepared, is their legacy. The book bursts with joy, sharing the stories and recipes of these remarkable women from Eritrea, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Comoros. This book will truly transport you.
Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India
by Maneet Chauhan
James Beard Award-winning chef Maneet Chauhan’s food is the toast of Nashville, where she owns several restaurants, and it’s easy to see why. This book, the culmination of a research trip via train across India, explores the country’s delightful, spice-laden street foods as well as its culture. From building blocks like ghee, spicy-sweet chutneys and Indian breads to the flavored Lassis (yogurt drinks) of Punjab’s milk bars, crispy fritters, and my personal favorite, Gajar ka Halwa (carrot pudding with saffron and pistachios), the writing, photos and recipes evoke a world of flavor of which you will want to partake.
Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore
by Darra Goldstein
Darra Goldstein is not only our pre-eminent authority on Russian cooking… she is also the Adsit Professor of Russian at Williams College, so she literally knows whereof she speaks. This is the everyday home cooking of Russia, from pickles to blini, with a modern sensibility. The classic peasant foods of Russia — hearty whole grains, fermented and cultured foods, rich and tangy dairy — are today’s oft-touted health foods. Millet Porridge with Pumpkin, Braised Cod with Horseradish, Cold Vegetable Soup with Kefir, and Buckwheat Honey Ice Cream would be equally at home at a Brooklyn bistro as a Russian dacha. A great book for staycation cooking.
The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained
by Nik Sharma
“Flavor comes first” is scientist and best-selling cookbook author Nik Sharma’s cri de coeur as he explores how our taste perceptions of saltiness, sweetness, savoriness, brightness, and richness can combine in the best recipes. Cooking and eating are entirely sensory experiences, and these 100 recipes are an exploration of flavor and the science of taste. A case in point: I made his Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Crème Fraîche last week, in which you both steam and roast the sweet potatoes, which created a unique texture, and then balanced the sweetness with a maple cream cut with lime juice and a bit of fish sauce, with plenty of black pepper, all topped off with a fresh and crunchy garnish of scallions, peanuts and chili flakes. It hit every tastebud on my tongue.
I Cook in Color: Bright Flavors from My Kitchen and Around the World
by Asha Gomez
Growing up in Kerala, India, chef Asha Gomez was surrounded by color: the aquamarine ocean waters, the saturated color of the produce and spices of open-air markets. “Trust your eyes,” she encourages us; there’s a reason we are attracted to vivid color. Eating a wide assortment of brightly colored foods is healthy, of course, but more than that, it satisfies the senses. As we know from her first book, “My Two Souths,” Gomez is a master of combining the flavors of her native India with those of her adopted Atlanta and the American South. Here, she takes a global view, and the book is a melting pot of all sorts of deliciousness, be it a rich Vidalia Onion Soup with Aged Gruyère, Duck Confit with Pan-Seared Georgia Peaches, or her a Sticky Pandan and Date-Toffee Pudding Cake. Warmth suffuses this book.
The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food
by Marcus Samuelsson
Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson highlights contemporary Black cooking and the myriad contributions of Black cooks to the American journey in this book that celebrates the diversity and heritage of the black community, from Africa to the Caribbean and beyond. This is cooking for everyday as well as special occasions, with dishes inspired by today’s Black chefs, such as the Tigernut Custard Tart with Cinnamon Poached Pears in praise of author Toni Tipton-Martin (The Jemima Code, Jubilee) or the Spiced Catfish with Pumpkin Leche de Tigre to celebrate Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan (Junebaby, Salare).
by Bryant Terry
Terry, a chef and food activist working to create a just and sustainable food system for all, has made vegan cooking approachable, and dare I say, sexy. This is not about meat substitutes, but rather centers on grains, legumes and vegetables to create dishes that speak to the soul and feature flavors and dishes inspired by the African Diaspora, like the Cornmeal-Fried Oyster Mushroom Po’Boy, or the Roasted Delicata Squash with Black-Eyed Peas and Mustard Greens. All that, and a curated playlist for each recipe to boot.
Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread
by Kelly Fields
There’s baking, and then there’s Southern baking, where cornmeal, sweet potatoes, ripe peaches, buttermilk, and bourbon attain their highest calling. James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Kelly Fields has baking in her genes, and her love for it shows in every recipe. You’ll find her famous cornbread (from the celebrated Willa Jean restaurant in New Orleans), seven varieties of biscuit, a Creole Cream Cheesecake, and a Coconut Cake for the ages, as well as a galaxy of craveable treats that will satisfy any Southerner — or food lover.
100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen
by Sarah Kieffer
The Vanilla Bean Baking Blog has been a go-to for most obsessive home bakers, and Sarah Kieffer’s pan-banging technique has revolutionized the way many of us bake our cookies. My daughter has already baked her way through much of this book, and as the happy recipient of her baking labors, I can tell you that the Raspberry Rye, Banana Poppyseed, and Rocky Road Cookies are all winners; the Espresso Caramel Blondies are some of the most incredible bars I have ever eaten; and the Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies are next level, as billed.
The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies
by Erin Jeanne McDowell
You’ll be wanting to purchase this book before Thanksgiving — primetime for pies — arrives. Erin McDowell covers it all, in easy-to-follow detail: extra-flaky pie crusts, blind baking, storage, when and what to freeze, and all the glorious fillings, both sweet and savory. You’ll also learn to mix and match doughs, fillings and glazes to customize your pies (Pumpkin Pie with Pumpkin-Spice Pie Dough and Dark Chocolate Drippy Glaze, anyone?) and make this book your own.
Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence
by Claire Saffitz
Claire Saffitz, a breakout star of the Bon Appetit test kitchen videos, is out with her first book. “There are no ‘just cooks’ out there, only bakers who haven’t yet been converted,” says Saffitz. This book will give you the tools you need to discover your inner dessert person. The Blood Orange and Olive Oil Upside-Down Cake is a beauty, and deceptively easy to make. The Kabocha-Turmeric Tea Cake will go on repeat in my house, as will the sumptuous Honey-Tahini Challah. And you don’t have to celebrate Purim to love the Earl Grey and Apricot Hamantaschen — you just need a pulse.
New Books from Old Favorites
Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France
by Melissa Clark
NYT Food columnist Melissa Clark spent childhood summers in France with her family eating their way across the country. Now, she revisits the cuisine, but with an eye toward the future as well as the past. In her hands, everything is relatively quick and easy, from the Tahini Omelet (sounds odd, tastes amazing) to the Pommes Aligot (your choice of the classic or a riff with sweet potatoes and sage, either way outrageously cheesy). Not everything is stick-to-your-ribs bistro fare, as evidenced by the Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken, or the Roasted Fennel and Carrots with Pomegranate Vinaigrette. French food is not as doctrinaire as it once was, and Clark reflects this new sensibility.
Modern Comfort Food
by Ina Garten
When Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, appeared in a pandemic video this spring with the world’s largest Cosmopolitan, I started getting very jazzed for her new book, because she gets us, you know? She understands that we are stressed, and she wants to help with plates laden with Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas, Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Ragu, and Lobster BLTs. Cooped up with the family for most of a year? It’s nothing that a bowl of her Creamy Tomato Bisque and a Cheddar & Chutney Grilled Cheese couldn’t cure. Food heals.
by Yotam Ottolenghi with Ixta Belfrage
Mediterranean food icon Yotam Ottolenghi is out with his newest sure-to-be bestseller, an homage to plant-based cooking for the flexitarians among us. This, his third vegetable-focused cookbook, is about process. He teaches us to coax the most flavor possible out of every ingredient, whether by browning, charring, infusing or aging. It’s about textures and pairing foods and flavors that work together harmoniously, creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A Lime and Coconut Potato Gratin might seem incongruous at first blush, but it was created as part of a Szechuan holiday feast, and the dish becomes a vegan treat enriched by the coconut cream, the richness tempered by the lime’s acidity. As usual, the photographs are stunning but attainable.
by Belinda Smith-Sullivan
Smith-Sullivan honed her brunch skills by cooking for friends and neighbors, and Let’s Brunch is the result of years of recipe testing. Her proud Southern heritage is evident in recipes such as Sweet Potato Buttermilk Biscuits, Blackened Catfish on Herb Grits with Pineapple Relish, Southern Succotash, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli. Save room for the Red Velvet-Pecan Waffles with Fried Chicken.
Read more about Belinda Smith-Sullivan and get recipes for Italian Baked Eggs and Sausage and a Grapefruit, Champagne, and Vodka Spritz—perfect for a holiday brunch!
Support local by purchasing these cookbooks at your neighborhood bookstore:
- Book Bin 1151 Church St Northbrook, IL
- Roscoe Books 2142 W Roscoe St, Chicago, IL
- The Book Market 2651 Navy Blvd, Glenview, IL
- Women and Children First 5233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL
- Bookend & Beginnings 1712 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL
- The Book Cellar 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL
- Volumes Bookcafe 1474 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL
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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.