Cookbooks

The 13 Best Cookbooks of 2020...So Far

They’re feeding our brains, hearts, souls, and bellies, of course.

by:
August 31, 2020
Photo by Esteban Castillo

Can anyone cook and eat whatever they want? What are the systems or powers that keep those freedoms from certain communities? What does it mean, as a conscious consumer and compassionate citizen, to question said systems and start afresh? If food is more than fuel, in what ways is it political, transportative, intellectual, instrumental in heritage-making?

These cookbooks, all released this year, fittingly encapsulate the above questions, anxieties, and realizations that have been thrown into greater relief as of late. You’ll find: food to travel into and pine for, food that upsets cultural and biological boundaries, food capable of effecting social change—and when little else provides hope, just a simple, really perfect cookie recipe to ease the heart.


The 10 Best Cookbooks of 2020

1. Vegetable Kingdom

“I have approached recipe development as a collagist—curating, cutting, pasting, and remixing staple ingredients, cooking techniques, and traditional Black dishes popular throughout the world to make my own signature recipes,” chef, educator, and author Bryant Terry writes in the introduction to his fifth (!) plant-celebratory cookbook. Prepare to find not only delightfully lively recipes (like this one), but musical pairings for each and every dish. —Coral Lee, Associate Editor

2. Falastin

Falastin is a love letter to the foods and people of Palestine, with memories and recipes spun from Sami Tamimi’s years spent living and traveling there. The color-splashed photos and must-cook-now dishes we love in all of the Ottolenghi family cookbooks are there, but the profiles of local makers like a small farming community and a famed tahini producer set it apart.” —Kristen Miglore, Founding Editor & Creative Director of Genius

3. Everyone Can Bake

In this uncertain time, many of us have been revisiting what we know to be true, questioning how and why things are as they are, and brushing up on basics so we can build anew. In pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s latest book, recipes are presented not as complete desserts, but as individual building blocks to be mixed and matched by readers as they please. —CL

4. My Korea

"My Korea is the debut cookbook from Hooni Kim, the Michelin-starred chef behind Danji and Hanjan, both in New York City. It's an invaluable resource for anyone who loves Korean cooking. Kim exhaustively breaks down his essential pantry ingredients, like doenjang (fermented soybean paste) and gochujang (fermented red chile paste)—and then shares almost 100 (!) recipes. I've bookmarked most of them, but am especially excited about the omurice (omelet fried rice) and jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce)." —Emma Laperruque, Food Editor

5. Bitter Honey

With our usual stimuli stunted, many of us have leaned on food—its conception, creation, and consumption—for its transportive powers. Paging through Letitia Clark’s evocative Bitter Honey—with recipes like Music Paper Bread with Bottarga and Olive Oil—the boundary between my apartment and Clark’s sun-streaked Sardinia became less and less clear. —CL

more genius...for your ears

6. Koji Alchemy

Over the past decade, united by a common love for food tinkerings, Larder chef-owner Jeremy Umansky and engineer Rich Shih became digital pen pals, close collaborators, and now co-authors of this very in-depth, (surprisingly) very readable tome on the ancient Japanese mold koji. Their belief in koji’s potential for bettering our food future is infectious, sparking many—from first-time fermenters to those running restaurant R&D programs— to kojify at home, sharing projects and methods with #KojiBuildsCommunity. —CL

7. Dinner in French

"If you too are itching to travel to France (but, ahem, not getting there any time soon), Melissa Clark's latest book, Dinner in French, is the dreamiest stopgap. The recipes are inspired by a lifetime of trips, starting with her family's summer vacations when Clark was a child. It's full of aioli-doused, caper-sprinkled eggs. Of crispy-cheesy cocktail crackers. Of garlic-rubbed toasts topped with juicy tomatoes and sardines. And Clark's encouraging, enthusiastic voice, guiding you through it all." —EL

8. Jikoni

Which stories get told in food media? How are they told, and who can we trust to be reliable narrators? Restauranteur and cookbook author Ravinder Bhogal takes these questions, stuffs them with paneer and tops them with kimchi. Her just-released book features “proudly inauthentic recipes from an immigrant kitchen”—find recipes borne of her cross-cultural upbringing like Indian-style Khao Suey, Paneer-stuffed Padron Peppers, and Kimchi Parathas. —CL

9. The Boba Book

From Taiwanese-American boba-fans-turned-business-owners Andrew Chau and Bin Chen—perhaps you know them better as The Boba Guys, came this tome on all drinks QQ. In it you'll find recipes for not one, but three variations on milk tea with boba (one with booze), inspired fruit jams and syrups (Roasted Banana Jam, anyone?) along with bobarista-approved pouring tips (for a "Rothko-like" effect, pour each liquid layer slowly and onto the drink's ice cubes). Boba was never something I thought I could pull off at home—until now. —CL

10. Cool Beans

"Cool Beans is exactly that—the book that has proved irrefutably that beans are not only delicious, economical, and nourishing, but cool. With stunningly colorful and immersive photos and Joe Yonan’s clever and well-researched recipes, this is one of the most memorable cookbooks of the year." —KM

11. La Buvette

Co-authored by owner of Parisian wine shop La Buvette, Camille Fourmont, and writer Kate Leahy, La Buvette is full of stunning photos and beautiful-sounding (and -looking) dishes we're yearning to escape into. Find recipes for fontainebleau (an ethereal whipped cream cheese that's slightly sweetened and served with fruit), pantry-friendly Anchovy, Egg Yolk & Hazelnut Pasta, and Fourmont's "Famous" Giant Beans (a non-recipe recipe to make, and become famous in your house for, tonight). —CL

12. Drink What You Want

From cocktail expert and author John deBary, comes this guide (and blessing) to drink whatever you want (yes, really). Having developed and trained the bar teams for the entire Momofuku empire, deBary's 10 years plus of experience comes through not in overly fussy, umbrella-topped cocktails (those are fancy right?), but hugely educational exercises (tinker with two- or three-ingredient classic cocktails to learn what a balanced beverage looks and tastes like) and fun-to-read, smart recipes (of his Meal-Prepper Martini deBary writes: "I can’t imagine how boring you have to be in order for this to be a viable solution to life every single week."). —CL

13. Chicano Eats

Chicano Eats blogger Esteban Castillo’s book made me homesick and very, very hungry. In college, faced with a chile-relleno-shaped hole in his heart, Esteban realized he had to take matters into his own hands. After a cryptic call home to mom (“hechale un poquito de esto y del otro,” or “add a little of this and a little of that”), Castillo dove right into preparing the dishes of his Mexican-American childhood—and hasn’t looked back since. —CL

Don't see your favorite new cookbook on here? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

1 Comment

Kathy July 22, 2020
I love this list! My favorite cookbook yet this year has been The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone (2020). It's in a unique format that has helped me a lot.
Can't wait to try some of the books on your list!