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Food holds the power to comfort, teach, and inspire. This concept may be best illustrated with this year’s top cookbooks and biographies, which intertwine recipes with stories best told through perfectly-picked produce, thoughtful spices, and the nostalgic scent of rice porridge.
These book selections are part of the Best Books of the Year, curated by Amazon Book Editors who read thousands of titles throughout the year. The winning books are a sweet (and savory) reminder that the best cookbooks don’t just teach about food, but also use food to teach us about others as well as ourselves.
After, be sure to read 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make for more cooking inspo!
Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson cooks up an unforgettable feast of food, history, and culture in this celebration of Black cooks and the soul of American food. With a delicious blend of everyday food and special occasion cooking, “The Rise” includes recipes like Chilled Corn and Tomato Soup in honor of chef Mashama Bailey of Savannah’s The Grey and Spiced Catfish with Pumpkin Leche de Tigre to celebrate Edouardo Jordan of Seattle’s JuneBaby.
“While years in the making, ‘The Rise’ reads like a response to the racial awakening that has defined the tumultuous spring and summer of 2020,” according to a New York Times review. “The book also suggests a strategy for responding proactively to this moment: read, cook, reflect. Now repeat.”
You’ll find rich inspiration for childhood favorites—but with the flavor turned up!—with Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions, and incredibly crispy hash browns made in a waffle iron in Ina Garten’s, “Modern Comfort Food.”
Discover old-fashioned classics like Roasted Sausages, Peppers, and Onions that are streamlined for easy cleanup, plus mouthwatering desserts like Boston Cream Pie and perhaps the most delectable Black and White Cookies you’ll ever sink your teeth into. This cookbook features easy-to-follow instructions that help you every step of the way, plus plenty of side notes with cooking tips.
Scientist and food blogger Nik Sharma reveals how to make delicious dishes that hit all the right notes in “The Flavor Equation,” an accessible guide to elevating elemental ingredients. This book is the ideal gift for home cooks who want to go beyond recipes to learn about the science of food and flavor through a deep-dive of basic pantry items, such as salts, oils, sugars, vinegars, citrus, and peppers. In it, you’ll find recipes based on the anatomy of flavor—just think Tomato Aachari Polenta Tart for brightness or Hazelnut Flan for bitterness.
Elegance and taste are captured meticulously in Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry, Per Se,” which includes recipes for 70 adored dishes such as Celery Root Pastrami and Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an everything bagel. This cookbook is akin to an art of cooking master class: You’ll learn how to intensify the flavor and texture of produce with a dehydrator or make the crunchiest coating with a cornstarch-egg white paste and potato flakes. There are even solutions for limiting waste in the kitchen by fermenting vegetable trimmings for rich sauces.
According to a Publishers Weekly review, “every elegant page projects Keller’s high standard of ‘perfect culinary execution.'”
Considered a baking hero for a new generation, pastry chef Claire Saffitz puts a signature spin on savory and sweet recipes like Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie or Babkallah (a babka-Challah blend) in her new book, “Dessert Person.” It’s filled with practical to-do’s, including problems and solutions for each recipe (like what to do if your pie dough cracks!), foundational know-how, and step-by-step photography.
Amazon reviewers rave about how helpful this book is for learning the basics of baking, while applauding its seemingly effortless progression from easy recipes to more complex ones.
In the book “Pappyland,” author Wright Thompson explores the incredible story of Julian Van Winkle III, the caretaker of the most coveted cult of Kentucky Bourbon whiskey in the globe. Julian is the third-generation head of his family’s business, and now known somewhat as the Buddha of Bourbon. Just one bottle of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the whiskey Julian created to honor his grandfather, starts at $3,000 online.
This book tells the story of how Julian Van Winkle III preserved his family’s heritage in a new age. According to The New York Times, “Pappyland moves smoothly through the family lore with the subtle nuances of a well-aged bourbon; it has top notes of stoicism and melancholy and a lingering finish of pride, even when recounting the hard times.”
You’ll be warmly welcomed into the kitchens of grandmothers from eight eastern African countries in the cookbook “In Bibi’s Kitchen” by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen. Packed with 75 recipes and stories gathered from bibis (grandmothers) from South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea, this exploration of cuisine from countries that make up the backbone of the spice trade will bring flavor and touching stories into your home. In this book, food provides lessons about families, war, loss, refuge, migration, and sanctuary.
“The recipes are largely vegetarian, often vegan, and include lots of dried beans and peas; potatoes, onions, rice and cornmeal; leafy greens; and ginger, coconut and spices,” per a review from The New York Times. “But it is the interviews with each bibi, including their cooking tips, that make the book, written with Julia Turshen, truly alive.”
A remarkable deep-dive into plant-based cooking, “Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage teaches readers the three key elements of cooking: process, pairing, and produce. For instance, the authors explore how simple techniques like infusing and charring can transform the way you think about cooking processes. They also unlock the secrets to accessing new depths of flavor by pairing vegetables with fat, sweetness, acidity, or chile heat, and uncover the techniques for identifying produce that makes dishes unforgettable.
Perfect for relaxed cooks who want to make standout meals and low-effort (but equally high-impact) weeknight dinners, this book inspires with guaranteed hits like Stuffed Eggplant in Curry and Coconut Dal and Hasselback Beets with Lime Leaf Butter.
Alvin Cailan is the founder of the famous Eggslut restaurants and hosts the popular The Burger Show on First We Feast’s YouTube channel, but his road to success wasn’t a simple one. Growing up in an immigrant family in East Los Angeles, he had to overcome expectations and cultural traditions to discover his own road to becoming the most high-profile chef in America’s Filipino food movement. The revealing cookbook “Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream” tells his story through recipes like Dad’s Tortang Giniling, Lugaw (Rice Porridge), and Beef Nilaga.
James Beard is America’s best-known food personality, but he’s also perhaps the least understood. The new biography “The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard” by John Birdsall changes that: It illuminates how the emergence of personality in American food coincided with Beard’s deep-seated need for love and connection, and gives insight into the cook’s complex life.
“Birdsall gets to what’s often missing from the cheerful narrative of James Beard, shading in the face sketched on medals and vintage book covers—a man known chiefly as a gregarious entertainer, enormous in profile, appetite and knowledge,” per a review in The New York Times. “There was so much more to Beard—a gay, closeted man from Portland who struggled with anxiety and depression all his life, a failed opera singer mocked for his hulking, 300-pound body, a cook who chased pure, over-the-top pleasures in kitchens around the world and, early in his career, wrote about them using language that Birdsall calls ‘unabashedly queer.'”
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