If there is one bright spot to this year’s lockdown, it has been that we’ve all spent more time at home, experimenting with breads, nailing Aunt Suzy’s biscuits, or sheet-pan dishes.
That makes the 2020 holiday season a great time to give and receive cookbooks.
Many of the cookbooks released this year mirror larger societal trends: There are plenty of books like Yotam Ottolenghi’s Flavor, which focus on plant-based diets, while cocktail books like Good Drinks show of stunning beverages that don’t require alcohol.
Other books, such as In Bibi’s Kitchen by chef Hawa Hassan and Chaat by Maneet Chauhan, are landing just as food media processes its social and racial justice awakening. Publishing houses are releasing more cookbooks by authors and chefs of color, from countries beyond the U.S. and Western Europe, which broadens the recipe canon and reflect society.
“A book of recipes is not just recipes, they say something larger about who we are,” says Francis Lam, the vice president of content at Clarkson Potter, a lifestyle publishing house. Because it takes about two years to produce a cookbook, “they become the embodiment and a contribution to the changes in culture.”
Adding these contributions to our shelves also helps consumers shape our understanding of taste and foodways while giving us a depth of storytelling, step-by-step instruction, and dishes to help us build up our home-cooking repertoire — and ambition.
Here are some of my favorite books that would make great gifts for a friend (or for yourself). You can find them online or at independent Philadelphia bookstores like Harriet’s and Shakespeare and Co.
Cooking and culture
The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. Marcus Samuelsson. This volume is a tribute to the African diaspora and our contributions to American foodways with essays written with James Beard Award-winning writer Osayi Endolyn. The recipes honor chefs, historians, farmers, or food purveyors who should be household names. Clarkson Potter, $35
Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India. Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy. The James Beard Award-winning chef takes readers on a journey through Indian foodways, starting with the iconic snacks, along with breads, chutneys, and drinks. Clarkson Potter, $32.59
In Bibi’s Kitchen. Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen. This cookbook is arguably one of the best of all the cookbooks published in 2020. Hassan explores how recipes from grandmothers in eight countries tie cultures together. Ten Speed, $35
Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen. Lara Lee. The author explores the hospitality of Indonesia through vibrant photography and recipes that pay tribute to spice, peppers, and community. She features recipes for meals and snacks and an entire chapter on sambal. Bloomsbury, $35
How to Dress An Egg: Surprising and Simple Ways to Cook Dinner. Ned Baldwin and Peter Kaminsky. The former chef of Prune in New York and the food writer wrote one of my favorite books of the year. The book is structured in building blocks, teaching readers, for example, to take a whole black bass and serve it grilled, filleted, or pan-fried with crispy skin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30
The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes. Nik Sharma. The food scientist and San Francisco Chronicle columnist follows up his best-selling debut cookbook Season with recipes that explore the science of taste, savory, and richness. Chronicle Books, $35
Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason. Julia Bainbridge. No one is required to explain why they aren’t drinking alcohol. Still, Bainbridge, a former editor, proves that cocktails, spritzes, ciders, and frescas are fabulous without booze. Penguin Random House, $22.99
Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Apéritifs, and Café Traditions of France. David Lebovitz. The best-selling author who has lived in Paris for more than 20 years takes a deep dive into French history through its cocktail culture. There are classic recipes, including Boulevardiers and 75s, plus details of infusions, liqueurs, and distillations. Ten Speed, $28
Drink What You Want. John deBary. The cocktail expert has organized this guidebook according to mood, which is so 2020. He includes flavor-balancing exercises in his advice for making great cocktails at home. Penguin Random House, $25
Dessert Person. Claire Saffitz. The former cast member of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen calls her debut cookbook “a defense of baking.” The pastry chef includes plenty of step-by-step guidance, along with classic recipes such as a chocolate buttermilk cake. She also adds twists to familiar baked goods, like the Blood-Orange and Olive-oil Upside-Down Cake and Speculoos Babka. Clarkson Potter, $38
Pie for Everyone: Recipes and Stories from Petee’s Pie. Petra Paredez. You can’t go wrong with a pastry chef who makes a winning argument that cheesecake is pie. While there are plenty of traditional pear and pumpkin pies, Paradez offers a glorious Spring Cordial pie with a lemon-elderflower filling and a variety of savory pies like Chile Verde Pork Pie. Abrams, $30
The Good Book of Southern Baking. Kelly Fields and Kate Heddings. The James Beard Award-winning pastry chef makes the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted anywhere in the world. She brings her recipes from her New Orleans bakery Willa Jean and has plans to “bury us in cornbread.” Penguin Random House, $35
100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen. Sarah Kieffer. There probably won’t be many cookie swaps this year. Fortunately, this book has all the cookies, brownies, and bars to keep you baking through the holidays and beyond. Chronicle, $27.50
Cool Beans. The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With The World’s Most Versatile Protein. Joe Yonan. The editor of the Washington Post Food section became a vegan in 2013 and has compiled 125 innovative plant-based recipes, with techniques for using beans in everything from stews to desserts. Penguin/Random House, $30
Greenfeast: Autumn Winter. Nigel Slater. This ode to hearty fall and winter meals is filled with glorious photography. It includes Slater’s essays, which are love letters to cooking, written with depth and joy. Ten Speed, $26
Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes. Bryant Terry. The James Beard Award-winning chef puts the beauty of plant-based cooking into the context of the African diaspora, with recipes for pikliz and hoppin’ john stuffed peppers. Cleverly, he offers an intersection of music and culture. Ten Speed, $30
Flavor. Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. The third book in the London chef’s vegetable trilogy offers guidance for home cooks to amplify the flavors of vegetarian and vegan dishes, and offers alternatives to animal fats. This is a stunning book for ambitious cooks. Clarkson Potter, $40
» READ MORE: These recipes are why a good time to become a vegan
Best of 2019
Jubilee. Recipes from 200 years of African-American Cooking. Toni-Tipton Martin. This history of cooking in the U.S. has won multiple awards, including the Book of the Year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). With its sweep of recipes including Sweet Potato Biscuits, bread pudding, and Okra Pilau, it is the perfect book for anyone interested in American cooking. Clarkson Potter, $35
Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors. Sonoko Sakai. This cookbook brings the cross-cultural experiences of the author who was born in New York but has lived in Mexico City and Los Angeles. She shows her passion for the Japanese kitchen through her techniques for fermenting, noodles, seafood, and vegetables. Roost Books, $40
Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa. Yohannis Gebreyesus. This cookbook was named best international cookbook by the James Beard Foundation and the IACP Julia Child First Book award. It takes readers on a visit to the country and offers recipes for classics dishes, including lamb stew and injera. Ten Speed, $35
The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs. The editors of American’s Test Kitchen have curated recipes that teach more than cupcakes, including savory baking such as muffins and pretzels. This book is a solid resource for kids who aren’t going to in-person school. The recipes are curated to empower kids with skills for chopping, measuring, scaling, and variations. Sourcebooks, ages 8-12, $20