As a book publisher, I was often asked for book recommendations. I’d talk passionately about whatever book I couldn’t put down, ones that editors and booksellers had recommended, or those I might have edited myself. Novels, history, memoir, photography books, you name it. But since I joined Bon Appétit and Epicurious, I’ve been immersed in cookbooks, and there are a few published this year I can’t stop cooking from and thinking about. Here are the ones I keep returning to.
Organized by season, California Soul by Tanya Holland takes a creative approach to recipes, marrying unexpected ingredients with established traditions. Take her Grilled Rack of California Lamb With Collard-Almond Pesto. We’ve seen an encrusted rack of lamb before, but I’d never had collard green pesto (and you better believe I ate the leftover sauce with pasta throughout the week). With this gorgeously photographed book, Holland, the chef and owner of the now closed Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, shows how intertwined the story of California food is with that of the migration of Black folk out of the South to the West. So you’ll find recipes like Sweet Tea and Molasses-Brined Spatchcock Chicken or a Blueberry, Cornmeal, and Candied Lemon Tea Cake with Olive Oil. Tea cakes are Southern, but the addition of olive oil “adds incomparable richness.” With candied lemons set atop the moist cakes, these were as pretty as they were delicious. Beyond the recipes, informative and interesting sidebars reveal the history of early Black culinary entrepreneurs and makers such as Bridget “Biddy” Mason and the surprising founders of Los Angeles’s famed Fatburger. I was lucky enough to fellowship with Holland at a cookbook festival, and her infectious passion for food is apparent both in person and on the page.
California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West
BA’s former senior food editor Andy Baraghani didn’t just fill his first cookbook, The Cook You Want to Be, with his favorite recipes. He and his cowriter—Alex Beggs, another BA alum—added tips that will ultimately teach the nonintuitive cook how to layer flavor and build up culinary instincts. Of course, the recipes are nothing short of fantastic. Andy loves vegetables and salads, and if you do, too, you’ll bookmark every single recipe in the chapters Mind Your Veg and Salad for Days. Recently, I couldn’t decide between the Super-Crunchy Celery Salad (I love celery, and this is a great way to use up what’s left in your fridge after making a winter soup) and the Spicy and Sour Grilled Cabbage With Chopped Peanut Vinaigrette, so I made both. He also knows his way around meat; if you’re feeling like some animal protein, he’s got you. Both the Chile and Citrusy Yogurt-Brined Roast Chicken and the Miso and Chile-Rubbed Grilled Short Ribs are vintage Baraghani.
The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress
With artwork and lush photography curated by the authors Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, Ghetto Gastro Presents Black Power Kitchen is easily one of the most extraordinarily beautiful cookbooks of the early decade. As a collection of mostly plant-based recipes, it is at turns creative, ambitious, and inspiring. The book is rooted in the authors’ local community, the Bronx, with nods to the Global South origins of many of its residents, and the recipes range from Overnight Coconut Oats With Date Syrup to Plantain With Roasted Mole Squash to the one I’ve bookmarked to make next, Purple Haze Pie, made with purple sweet potatoes. Not all the ingredients are easy to find, but the payoff of intentionally sourcing ingredients is exactly the point. As they write in their introduction, “You cannot compete with the waves of spice, sweet, crunch, or heat that come with time, attention and intention. Depth cannot be substituted!” But the book is more than a collection of recipes. With candid discussions of the intersection between food and Blackness, this book is—as Jessica Harris, PhD, author of several books including High on the Hog, writes in the introduction—“a treatise and a travelogue, a history of Black people and food, and a challenge that is both culinary and cultural.” You can feel award-winning food and culture writer Osayi Endolyn’s imprint on every page.
Ghetto Gastro Presents Black Power Kitchen
Food as a way of preserving memory, recipes as a way of connecting generations are the raisons d’être of Honey Cake & Latkes: Recipes from the Old World by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors. One survivor, Rachel Roth, distracted and comforted prisoners in her concentration camp by describing Shabbat dinners at her home, including what came to be known in her family as Rachel’s Fantastical Chicken Soup. Anneliese Nossum’s waffle recipe was passed down in her will. Some who had lost written records of the dishes that held a special place in their households kept traditions alive by later developing their own interpretations. Irene Buchman and Olga Jaeger’s blintzes were re-created by relying on memories that recalled the scent, texture, and aroma of the ones their mother prepared. You’ll want to cook this mix of well-known classics like matzo brei and lesser known dishes such as mamaglia, a Romanian staple akin to polenta. But just as much, you’ll want to savor the stunning photographs of the foods and, more importantly, the stories of the survivors.