When we're looking for ideas on the perfect recipe to make for dinner tonight, or to comfort a loved one this weekend, or to impress guests at that gathering in a couple weeks, books always lead the way. Discovering new cookbooks always means discovering new techniques, new flavor combinations we'd have never thought to put together, and new discourses for considering food. It also means awakening new cooking inspiration within ourselves.
2019 saw no shortage of cookbooks to discover, whether they changed the way we grocery shopped or made us look at our dinner mainstays a little differently. With so much greatness, how could we conceive of which ones were best?
It was tough, but we managed—and now we're happy to share the Food52 team's favorite cookbooks of 2019. They're broken out into a few categories: general cooking; restaurant-focused or chef-authored; baking and desserts; and even a book on wine (that's dinner's best friend!). The criteria was simple: Did the book tell a compelling story? Did it make us look at food a little differently? And did the recipes in it make us want to immediately run to the kitchen and get out our knives?
1. Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables by Abra Berens
"If you've ever bought a vegetable, you should buy Ruffage. It's user-friendly as can be—the chapters are organized alphabetically by vegetable (from asparagus to turnips), broken down by technique (like braised or puréed), and bolstered with riffs (like roasted broccoli with melty cheese and chili oil, or wheat berries and blue cheese, or lemon-caper mayo and sunflower seeds). The author, Abra Berens, used to work as a farmer and I just love getting to see vegetables through her eyes: as something to celebrate but not fuss over." —Emma Laperruque, food writer and recipe developer
2. Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan
“Zaitoun is more than just a cookbook; it’s a political work, as well. There are many people in the world who don't believe that food and politics should mix, but that stance, for me, comes from a place of great privilege—especially when humans rights are at stake. The undercurrent of Yasmin Khan’s journalism is, as she writes in the book’s introduction, ‘a fundamental belief that humans, wherever we are in the world, have more to unite us than to divide us.’ Telling the stories of all the homes she visited in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and sharing vibrant, chewy recipes from those kitchens, Khan has written a book that helps to define the food of a culture that is often not relayed with as much nuance and justice." —Eric Kim, senior editor
3. Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna
By now, you've probably heard about this book (and its famous saag feta)—heck, you might even have it on your shelves. But for those who may have missed it, I'm going to drive the point home: Pick up Indian-ish! The cleverness and beauty of this book are in its originality—it's a seamless hybrid between traditional family recipes and the adaptations these recipe necessarily undergo after that family immigrates to a new place.
Think: sheet-pan aloo gobhi, caramelized onion dal, and chaat masala–almond butter toast that's as comfortable in a lunchbox as a PB&J. With funny family stories and personality-packed illustrations from Maria Qamar (aka Desi pop artist, Hatecopy) interspersed throughout, Indian-ish ushers in a very modern, very welcome genre of cookbook.
4. Where Cooking Begins by Carla Lalli Music
It's true we love Carla Lalli Music—Bon Appétit's food editor at large—because of her back-to-back cooking; because of her hilarious weekly email newsletter, filled with need-to-eat-them-now recipes; or, now, because of her highly cookable book. Where Cooking Begins—Lalli Music's debut—breaks down all the need-to-know cooking techniques, and offers a collection of incredibly delicious, modern recipes that harness each cooking method.
What's more, Lalli Music thinks about the ways people are cooking now—not necessarily buying every ingredient a recipe calls for, nor following it to a T, and instead riffing on it with on-hand (or favorite) ingredients. In every recipe, she gives readers ways to "spin it," swapping out pistachios or almonds for pepitas; pecorino or Grana Padano or even nutritional yeast for Parm; scallion greens or basil for cilantro.
5. Vietnamese Cooking Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen
"Andrea Nguyen’s numerous cookbooks and enduring blog are real-time reflections of this decade’s wavering idea of and fascination with 'authenticity.' With feet in two worlds, Nguyen asks, what does it mean to be 'authentic'—to one’s self, home country, and adopted? How can self-representation be accurate, affirming, and accessible?
In the introduction to Vietnamese Food Any Day, Andrea tracks how things have changed drastically, excitingly, since the release of her first book. Vietnamese cuisine is no longer on the fringe; Sriracha, the Thai hot sauce, is now as much an American staple as it is a Vietnamese one. Andrea’s dishes (think: Vietnamese Empanadas, Viet-Cajun Seafood Boil, Shiitake and Tofu Frittata) are all authentically Vietnamese, American, Vietnamese-American, whichever—and none require a trip to the Asian market." —Coral Lee, associate editor
6. Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin
"Traditional history and media have confined 'the black experience to poverty, survival, and soul food,' writes historian and author of The Jemima Code, Toni Tipton-Martin. But no longer. The scholar and cookbook author painstakingly recovered and reviewed nearly 400 black cookbooks from the past two hundred years, in an attempt to trace and define her own culinary heritage free from caricature and stereotype. She places recipes found from her research alongside her own in Jubilee—Bertha Turner’s recipe for Cheese Straws (from 1910), sits alongside Toni’s Cotija-cheese-spiked guacamole in the 'Appetizers' chapter, for example. Cooking from the book feels like an act of (re)writing history." —Coral Lee
7. Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez with Javier Cabral
With a bright, cheerful color scheme and a punchy geometric design, this book's attractive exterior beckons the reader, and promises a good bit of what you'll find inside. Oaxaca tells the story of the beloved Los Angeles restaurant, Guelaguetza, of the family who's been running it since 1994, and of an entire region—indeed, one of Mexico's major culinary hubs.
In the book, authored by by Oaxacan chef Bricia Lopez (whose family owns Guelaguetza) and L.A.-based food writer, Javier Cabral, you'll find mainstays like mole negro and tlayudas, sure, but you'll also find quesadillas fritas, griddled and deep-fried so the tortilla puffs up like the flakiest croissant; costillas con verdolaga, or pork rib with purslane—one of the first dishes that Lopez asked her mother how to make—and a surprising but still familiar spaghetti in poblano salsa that's become the Lopez family's new Thanksgiving tradition.
With its smart, soulful recipes, Oaxaca dispels the notion that restaurant food—and Oaxacan food—is time consuming, or that it's wholly dependent on meat. With an emphasis on simple, family-style cooking; a heavy assist from vegetables, nuts, spices, and seeds (there's even a vegan aciento—an aromatic paste popular in Oaxacan cuisine that's traditionally made out of pork rinds); and easy-to-follow recipe guidelines plus charming stories, Oaxaca is a fresh take on a cuisine with deep roots.
8. Dishoom: The First Ever Cookbook from the Much-loved Indian Restaurant by Kavi Thakrar, Naved Nasir, and Shamil Thakrar
Part-travelogue, part–history lesson, part-ambassador to the eponymous U.K. restaurants, Dishoom is as stunning an object as it is informative a cookbook. The book, fittingly, begins with a fold-out map of the city that inspired the recipes inside, as the reader is taken on a winding tour of its best-loved crevices: through the historic Irani cafes where the multi-facted, multiethnic citizenry converges; through the cotton district, filled with hidden bakeries; through the sprawling British-built establishments that punctuate the city, having adopted a new identity and cultural significance in the last half-century. Beyond this, there's the food—over 100 recipes spanning breakfast to after-dinner cocktails.
Standout dishes include those you might recognize from the restaurant: gunpowder potatoes, jackfruit biryani, house black daal, okra fries, and spicy lamb chops. There's also an entire section on the complex house-made flatbreads that the establishments are known for. Filled with stunning photography by Haarala Hamilton and evocative stories, Dishoom is at once a love letter to Bombay and its cuisine, and an in-depth tutorial on bringing a slice of the city into your home.
9. Happiness is Baking: Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake by Maida Heatter
"Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you." So proclaimed Maida Heatter, the "Queen of Cakes" and undoubtedly America's most iconic baker. Her final cookbook, Happiness Is Baking, was released mere months before her passing, and couldn't be more aptly named; the book's filled with her most treasured dessert recipes, the ones that made her happiest: Chocolate Intrigue, East 62nd Street Lemon Cake, Budapest Coffee Cake, Palm Beach Brownies, and many (96, to be exact) more.
Heatter's signature conversational-yet-sensible voice and meticulously clear instructions guide us effortlessly through all manner of cakes, pies, tarts, and cookies; while the recipes themselves are for classic American desserts, and not the hibiscus- and tahini-swirled creations we know and love today, their steadfastness and reliability make them all keepers. This is a book you'll want to have on your shelves for good (next to, of course, her Book of Great Desserts).
10. The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert: A Baking Book by Chris Taylor and Paul M. Arguin
"Doctors by day, and
award-winning competition-destroying bakers by night, married couple Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin take everything you know about pie...and completely blow it up in The New Pie. Find recipes for pies topped by breakfast cereal, caramel popcorn, and candy lace; flavors inspired by cocktails, movies, and even other sweet treats; even traditional apple pie is not spared (apple slices are cooked sous-vide for optimal texture).
And the craziest thing about the book? The freakishly beautiful pies feel attainable, thanks to the duo’s clear writing and the book's beautiful photographs. I’ve bookmarked the Thai Iced Tea Pie with 'Ice Cubes' (marshmallow-looking frozen cubes of whipped cream!) to make this weekend." —Coral Lee
11. Simple Cake: All You Need to Keep Your Friends and Family in Cake by Odette Williams
"The unexpected death of her father brought Odette Williams from her new life in Brooklyn, to an old, childhood photograph in Australia. In it, her then recently-divorced dad presents Odette with a bunny cake. Odette has since made it her mission to share the small—but mighty—kindnesses of cake.
In Simple Cake, Williams shares recipes for ten cakes (like Chocolatey Chocolate, Milk and Honey, and Tangy Olive Oil) and fifteen toppings (Silky Marshmallow Icing, Toblerone Ganache, and Berry Crumble, to name a few), many of them mixable and matchable. This comes out to over a hundred and fifty different cakes for dining in, weeknights, and workweeks; back-to-school cakes, cakes for fundraising, sleepover cakes, cakes you can bake with kids, cakes you can bake for self-care." —Coral Lee
12. The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life by Samantha Seneviratne
"This book destroyed me. When I first got it, I read it cover to cover and found myself bawling in public. I've never held on so tightly to a cookbook as if it were a novel. Samantha Seneviratne's words are, as ever, weighty, considered, and full of grace. In the Joys of Baking, the premise is clear: Baking is a salve for the traumas of life.
With each delectable cake, cookie, pie, and other baked confection (and there are many: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls With Browned Butter Cream Cheese Glaze, Dark Chocolate Malt Celebration Cake, and nostalgic Danish Butter Cookies, to name a few), and through deeply personal essays, she threads together a narrative that tells the story of what happens when we find ourselves suddenly broken. As she writes in the introduction, 'No one needs a chocolaty cake or a delectable sweet to survive. That is, until that moment when a chocolate cake is exactly what you need to survive.'" —Eric Kim
13. Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier by Aldo Sohm with Christine Muhlke
What do you get when Aldo Sohm (wine director of Le Bernardin) teams up with Christine Muhlke (food consultant and editor at large of Bon Appétit) to write a guide to wine? An ultra-edifying, highly visual, downright exciting book. It teaches you everything you could possibly want to know about the subject: a rundown of each varietal, a playbook on how to taste it, buy it, enjoy it, and evolve your palate as you go along; and a no-fail system on pairing wine with food.
Throughout, visually led charts on varietals, chilling temperatures, pouring techniques, and tannin levels, to name a few; brightly colored interactive elements (like sidebars and drawn-out tips that show you how to navigate the book better); and delightfully quirky illustrations make the often serious (or, worst yet, sometimes snobbish) world of wine lighthearted and stress-free. A bold, youthful design concept and a writing tone that feels like you're talking to a friend further confirm that wine is fun, and decidedly not fussy. After all, as Sohm offers in the book's introduction: "What is wine really about? Enjoyment." We'll cheers to that.