If your life looked anything like ours during the pandemic, you were traveling less and cooking more—a lot more. As vaccinations increase, so are travel bookings. But alas, the world hasn’t fully reopened, and many of the world’s cuisines remain out of reach for now. Lucky for us, there’s a host of new recipe-packed books that will stoke our wanderlust and set our bellies a-rumblin’. Here are our picks for the best new cookbooks of spring and summer 2021.
Left to right: covers courtesy of Clarkson Potter and Phaidon
Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ
This new book from Rodney Scott—lover of whole hog barbecue, proprietor of two barbecue restaurants in South Carolina and Alabama—is half memoir, half barbecue bible. Written in collaboration with Lolis Eric Elie, a food historian and documentary filmmaker, the book offers a crash course in Scott’s work ethic, outlook on life (“I like spreading the joy and sharing the love”), and his path to becoming one of the country’s finest pitmasters. Scott—who was featured in Chef’s Table BBQ on Netflix—and Elie also offer nuts and bolts of barbecuing: how to use wood, the art of building a pit. And finally, there are the mouthwatering recipes: prime rib that took Scott 10 years to master, grilled fish topped with honey butter, and a satisfying stack of sides like smoked chicken salad and the collard greens Scott finally learned to love. The photography feels like we’re getting a window into Rodney Scott’s world, where “every day is a good day.”
Reverence is the central theme to Monk: reverence for craft, reverence for nature, reverence for tools, reverence for architecture, and reverence for how all of the above can harmonize to produce food unlike anywhere else in the world.
Named after chef Yoshihiro Imai’s eponymous 14-seat Kyoto restaurant, which opened in 2015 on the Philosopher’s Path, Monk comprises a series of delightful short essays and profiles before listing recipes for some of Imai’s most famous dishes, including several of his pizzas. Though Monk serves other dishes, its primary focus is wood-fired pizzas topped with local, seasonal ingredients like fresh nori (seaweed) and fiddlehead fern. Expect the humble pie to transform. You’ll never look at Domino’s the same way again.
Sobremesa: A Memoir of Food and Love in Thirteen Courses
Even though you may not know the definition of the word sobremesa offhand, you would most likely call yourself lucky to have experienced it: “time spent being present at the table, lingering over a meal in conversation well after the food is gone.” Growing up in an Argentinean family, writes Josephine Caminos Oria, owner of La Dorita dulce de leche company, sobremesa was “an unspoken obligation.” It feels natural, then, that the book reads almost like such a lingering—an extended conversation with a few family recipes for dishes like sopa pastina (pastina soup) and her mom’s mushroom sandwich thrown in, rather than a straightforward cookbook. But we’re better for it.
The Arabesque Table
Reem Kassis, a Palestinian writer and author of The Palestinian Table (2017), takes readers on a contemporary journey through the Arab world. Growing up in Jerusalem, Kassis was critical of the simple, classic food served at her family table. As an adult living abroad, she came to appreciate these basic dishes that held both memory and history. She also began to recognize what she calls the “fluid nature of cuisine”: the way that recipes and dishes evolve over time. This recognition inspired the title of her new book, The Arabesque Table, named for the intricate and everchanging patterns in Arab and Islamic art.
Kassis’s recipes take inspiration from the past, but they’re not static. Falafel gets a makeover with a split pea base; tiramisu gets a twist with Arabic cardamom coffee and crushed pistachios instead of cocoa powder. She found, too, that cherished recipes are forgiving: A morning when Kassis was out of bread and needed to quickly pull something together for her kids resulted in an unleavened flatbread that’s easier than pita to prepare.
Let’s Make Dumplings!
Mandu. Gyoza. Xiao long bao. Though they are from Korea, Japan, and China, respectively, all three foods have two things in common: They’re dumplings, and they get the celebratory treatment in this comic-book cookbook from cook Hugh Amano and illustrator Sarah Becan, which focuses on dumplings spanning Asia and follows a similar format of the duo’s 2019 hit, Let’s Make Ramen!
Before even getting to recipes, the book helpfully reviews a bit of dumpling history, then outlines what you’ll need (in your pantry and for equipment) and techniques to master (making wrappers; folding dumplings). It also covers the myriad ways of cooking dumplings and the merits of each.
Portuguese Home Cooking
For cook and writer Ana Patuleia Ortins, what was once a simple notebook of family recipes soon became packed with those of friends and peers. The result? This cookbook, which begins with family history, then travels into the pantry for a primer on ingredients and equipment to have on hand, before it travels to recipes.
For fans of Portuguese cooking, many of the dishes—like the sopa de feijão (bean soup) and bacalhau de consoada (Christmas Eve cod)—will ring familiar, while others (like the carne assada Açorean, or Azorean-style pot roast) will be welcome challenges. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even make your own Portuguese bread and sausages, thanks to Ortins’s thorough step-by-step instructions.
Bavel is a Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles devoted to cooking the borderless foods of the Arab world. In their new cookbook, chefs Genevieve Gergis and Ori Menashe—known, too, for their Italian restaurant, Bestia—celebrate those foods, inspired by their roots: Menashe’s childhood in Israel and his family in Georgia, Morocco, Persia, and more, and Gergis’s Egyptian ancestors.
But while these foods stem from tradition, they aren’t a “menu of re-creations.” Recipes, such as hummus with avocado tahini and pepita-chile oil, are infused with the chefs’ refined, Southern California sensibility. Naturally, the book opens with spices and spice mixes and, from there, segues into sauces and pickles, spreads (including four variations on hummus) and salads, breakfasts and breads, seafood and meats. There’s even a chapter on family recipes, which includes beef-stuffed hingali (dumplings) from Menashe’s father.
The Food of Oaxaca
Alejandro Ruiz, chef-owner of the celebrated Casa Oaxaca hotel and restaurant, grew up in Oaxaca, a region home to such a storied cuisine that UNESCO named it a place of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. As he writes in his intro, “Oaxaca enjoys some of the most exceptional biodiversity in Mexico,” of which corn is one of the most diverse. Born to a farming family, Ruiz lived in relative peace until his mother tragically died when he was 12.
The book is unusual in that it’s not organized in the traditional “appetizer, salad, main” order, but rather by grouping recipes that came from chapters in Alejandro’s life. He opens with Origins, where tortillas and squash-based sopa de guías are linked to the women who taught him to cook as a child. The Coast revolves around his years in Puerto Escondido. And Casa Oaxaca, named for his restaurant, weaves them all together. Photos by Nuria Lagarde round out this exceptional book.
Getaway: Food and Drink to Transport You
Flipping the pages of Renee Erickson’s new book is like journeying with your best travel buddy—someone who doesn’t rush, but rather observes, and who has a nose for finding the most easygoing and delicious places to eat. Erickson, the chef behind several beloved Seattle restaurants, organized the book around the places that have most shaped her life and cooking: Rome, Paris, Normandy, London, Baja, and Seattle.
A recipe for an apricot and bay bellini comes with a tale about visiting Harry’s Bar in Venice (the birthplace of the bellini); a recipe for potted shrimp is accompanied by a reminiscence of the seafood (and cows) of Normandy. And in case the dozens of recipes aren’t enough, the immersive travel photos from Jim Henkens—of Roman artichokes, French oysters, and Baja markets—are sure to transport you.
Australia: The Cookbook
What, exactly, is Australian food? A new cookbook seeks to define the cuisine of the nation, starting at the very beginning: with Australian First Peoples. As Ross Dobson, an Australian chef and cookbook author, lays out in the intro, there are three distinct periods of Australian cuisine, the first one dating back at least 50,000 years.
Aboriginal Australians “were creating and inventing dishes that boggle the mind,” such as kangaroo blood sausage and bread made from ground nuts and seeds. This history has often been papered over by the more common understanding of Australian food: the era shepherded in 150 years ago by white colonizers from England and Ireland and, bringing with them wheat-based breads, corned beef, and eventually curries.
More recent waves of immigration—from Italy, Vietnam, and Indonesia among many others—added even more diversity to the culinary landscape. Readers can unpack those many nuances as they cook their way through defining dishes, such as curried eggs, Thai kangaroo salad, and Lamingtons.
At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes
At age 21, food scholar Carolyn Phillips moved to Taipei to study abroad, with less than a year’s worth of Mandarin under her belt. She finds Mandarin an almost impossible mountain to climb and her classes intimidating, but food! Food cracks open the door to Taiwan—and to China, whose myriad cultures and dishes swim on the island.
Her memoir begins in 1976 and traces her journey to understanding the geography and history of China through each dish she eats—dishes like “extravagantly seasoned” Xi’an style hand-pulled noodles that she ties to a location on the Silk Road.
Chapters are arranged by year: In 1978, Carolyn travels with her food-loving future husband, J.H., who opens her eyes to even more of the food of Taiwan. In 1992, she’s in L.A. attempting to cook (and connect with) her in-laws; in 2017, she finally visits Chengdu, the birthplace of J.H. Each chapter is threaded with food, history, personal rumination, and cultural connections, culminating in a recipe.
Cook Real Hawai‘i
“How does a place that has so long been defined by the outside world define itself?” writes chef Sheldon Simeon in the introduction to his new book. That question was, in part, the impetus for Simeon to write the book, after two seasons of competing on Top Chef: He wanted to share the complex, nuanced, often unknown (by mainlanders) story of the food of Hawai‘i.
Simeon, who’s third-generation Filipino from the Big Island, opens with the story of his family and his two Maui restaurants (Tin Roof and Lineage). From there, he guides home cooks through heavy pupus (appetizers like Spam musubi and hurricane popcorn, a sugar and seaweed–dusted mix of popcorn and snack foods), rice and noodles, and even odds and ends like furikake and Hilo-style XO sauce. Through it all, Simeon treats readers to his food memories growing up and bites of Hawaiian food history.
When the news hit that Greece would open to vaccinated travelers in May, thousands rushed to book their tickets to the Greek isles. And while this cookbook is no substitute for a trip to the Mediterranean, its recipes, photos, and stories make it as much a perfectly practical cookbook as they do a coffee-table book that’s nice to flip through and dream.
Chef and author Marianna Leivaditaki was raised on Crete, where her father was a fisherman and her mother ran a seaside restaurant. In this 321-page book, Leivaditaki—now based in London—pays homage to the ingredients and flavors of her heritage with approachable recipes, like fried anchovies with potatoes, and kakavia, a silky fish soup with glugs of olive oil. Buy one copy for you and another for your friend heading straight to Heraklion.
Cheese, Wine, Bread: Discovering the Magic of Fermentation in England, Italy, and France
If you started some sourdough during the pandemic, this might be the book for you: In it, YouTube star and podcaster Katie Quinn turns her spotlight on the glory of fermentation. But Quinn doesn’t just write about it from arms’ length—no, in order to learn more, she apprentices at boulangeries in Paris, visits a goat farm in rural Somerset, and travels to northeast Italy to spend time with a family who has been making wine for generations. This makes it equal parts travelogue and cookbook, and the mix of watercolor illustrations and full-color photographs make it a book that is as useful as it is covetable.
This story originally included a mention of the cookbook Makan, which was withdrawn from publication after after allegations of plagiarism from Sharon Wee, the author of Growing Up in a Nyonya Kitchen, a cookbook memoir published by Marshall Cavendish in 2012.
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