It’s often said that the best cookbooks are the ones you keep on your nightstand and read like novels.
Nonsense. On the contrary, the great ones draw you magnetically to your kitchen, to the grocery store for unplanned ingredient runs, to your neighbors’ doors bearing still-warm containers of leftovers because you’ve cooked entirely too much. A great cookbook is a call to action.
The past year gave us an unusual number of outstanding new titles, but these are the ones that wouldn’t let me rest until I tasted something from its pages. Gift them to the food lovers in your life or add them to your own collection. If you must, take them to bed and read them. Most of them do tell engrossing stories alongside the recipes. But my money is on you using them the way their authors intended: to get cooking.
A longtime fan of “kind of” vegetarian food myself, I fell for this book the minute I heard the title. Cal Peternell, a former head chef at Chez Panisse, gives us an inspiring plant-forward cookbook that shows how transformative modest amounts of those titular ingredients can be. His engaging storytelling and the book’s whimsical illustrations will also keep you flipping through the pages. Start in the pancetta chapter with wintery delights like greens braised with pancetta and garlic or white beans with pancetta and rosemary. It’s healthy! (Kind of.)
Diaz explores the Puerto Rican and Southern sides of her identity in her debut memoir/cookbook. Though she left Puerto Rico as a child, the recipes and flavors of the island help her “stay connected to a culture that is fundamental” to who she is, she writes. Growing up in Atlanta had just as big an impact on her culinary sensibilities, and the book’s dishes show how these cuisines intersect and complement each other. It goes deeper than crossover ingredients like garlic and plantains.
Some Instant Pot-themed cookbooks play it off like all the foodstuffs in the world should be tossed indiscriminately into this appliance. But author Chandra Ram knows that certain ingredients and cuisines are more compatible with the trendy pressure cooker than others. Indian food is a particularly good match for the Instant Pot’s strengths. A first-generation American who grew up with an Indian dad, Ram shares recipes for Indian classics you’d expect like chana masala and butter chicken. But her savvy curveball recipes like Assam duck risotto are what really set this book apart.
A culinary icon and the winner of multiple James Beard awards, Dorie Greenspan’snew releases are greeted with a special kind of zeal. Her latest volume gives us a glimpse into the lovable writer’s home kitchen. Just like the rest of us, when cooking for herself, Greenspan values flexible dishes that come together with minimal effort. She invites you to make substitutions and use your judgment as she coaches you through her personal repertoire of make-again meals. Filled with techniques, tips, and inspiration, this book will boost your confidence as you put delicious, foolproof dinners on the table.
In a follow-up to their restaurant-focused first book, Zahav, chef Michael Solomonov and partner Steven Cook serve up recipes from their favorite spots in Israel. You’ll find falafel, shawarma, and sabich in Israeli Soul. The book’s stories about the origins and inspirations for the dishes take you on a journey through markets and street vendors, bringing the place to life if you’ve never visited and arming you with a list of places to seek out if you go. My fellow chickpea fetishists will delight in the entire chapter dedicated to hummus and ways to top it.
Hot on the heels of Milk Street: The New Home Cooking, published just last year, I had my doubts about Christopher Kimball’sMilk Street: Tuesday Nights. But soon enough I was cooking compulsively from this new book’s pages, intrigued by twists and ideas I’d never seen before such as seasoning a mere two pounds of chicken thighs with a full quarter cup of sumac, adding a crazy ½ cup toasted pine nuts, and then piling the stew on top of toasted pita bread. But you know what? It works. It really works. Fast pasta dinners, clever variations on the omelet, and almost instant flatbreads all make this book a total keeper.
When talking about this book, Turshen says, half-jokingly, she wanted to title it, “It’s Me Again.” She knows her passion for yesterday’s food is hardly one shared by the leftover-loathing masses. In Now & Again she provides mix-and-match menus that will leave you with the kind of leftovers you really want to eat, in part because Turshen tells you just what you should do with them. Leftover salad goes into a grilled cheese. Last night’s taco filling becomes today’s breakfast hash. Bits of cold steak help fill a quesadilla. Her many examples of creative repurposing will make you more resourceful in your own kitchen.
Owners of his past smash hit cookbooks should be forgiven for laughing at the sight of the words “Ottolenghi” and “Simple” side by side. Though Ottolenghi’s recipes have always been thrilling to eat, two-column ingredients list and special-order spices have practically been part of his brand. Until now. The recipes in this book are color-coded thusly: “short on time,” “10 ingredients or less,” “make ahead,” “pantry,” “lazy” and “easier than you think.” Choosing wisely can help you overcome common barriers to Ottolenghi. Still, you’ll need to stock tahini, za’atar, and Urfa pepper, at a minimum, to get in the game. If you’ve been a fan from the beginning of the craze, you know it’s worth the shopping spree to get started.
Food blog readers have known Sonja and Alex Overhiser for years thanks to their website, A Couple Cooks. Now the pair has put 100 of their favorite recipes into their first cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. What started as one vegetarian meal a week for the Midwestern family has become a plant-based lifestyle, blog, and book. Today they eat vegetarian 80% of the time, and the book’s recipes are 100% vegetarian, with plenty for vegans to sink their teeth into, too. Recipes like the Irresistible Tomato and Almond Dip will keep you coming back to make more “pretty simple” dishes for your own family.
If there’s a list of the year’s great cookbooks that omits Sharma’s splashy volume, I haven’t seen it. There are good reasons the San Francisco Chronicle food columnist and blogger at A Brown Table has garnered so much acclaim. A gay immigrant from India living in Oakland, Sharma’s perspective feels essential, as the very multiculturalism that represents the best of food in America today is under siege. It’s his mashup of American classics with international influences and Sharma’s creativity that make this book an instant classic.
Pie-making challenges and intimidates even experienced home cooks. But Ludwinskireplaces the fear with fun in this cookbook that teaches pie-making as it tells the uplifting story of her woman-powered Detroit pie shop of the same name. An addition to an assortment of sweet and savory pie recipes, the book also offers cookies, breakfast pastries, and salads, too. Not included: the choreography for the dance moves you’ll find in Sister Pie’s viral dance videos on Instagram.
Essence of “California girl” is the adhesive that holds Gaby Dalkin’s formidable blog-social media-book juggernaut of a brand together. But even a die-hard East Coaster like me, who associates that archetype with flip-flops, lateness, and skin cancer, has found it impossible to avoid cooking from this beautiful, smart book. The recipes are designed, first and foremost, for their instagrammability, though ease and taste are clearly also requirements for Dalkin. Bold, bright flavors dominate and the food is unquestionably of the moment. “Lazy Girl” enchiladas and rainbow summer rolls are just two recipes you’ll plan to make again before the leftovers have vanished.