And then there were two. These two cookbooks couldn’t be more different if we tried to make this bracketology cookbook adventure into a movie thriller.
First up, Made in India, is a charmer—a patchwork of easy-to-make, thoughtful, intelligent recipes filled with personality; I wanted to cook out of it the moment I got it in my anxious hands.
Its author, Meera Sodha, has a fascinating family story: An Indian family journeys to Africa to find a better life—Kenya first, then later, Uganda. Their togetherness, and their lives, revolve around food: Family servants cooked up perfect expressions of the food they’d left behind—a precious and privileged set-up, perhaps, but something out of a Somerset Maugham story. Later, in 1972, Idi Amin tells all the foreigners to leave the country, giving them just a few months before systematic executions begin; so Sodha’s family leaves for England with nothing but one suitcase and £50. Leaving most of their money and possessions behind meant that Sodha’s mom had to start cooking—so when Meera was born, food had become an even more precious element of family culture. It’s those recipes that are here, in Made in India, along with many others she developed and collected. You can see why she’s a firm believer that the best Indian food is eaten at home, not in restaurants.
And the recipes are extraordinary. Curries, chutneys, chaat, and more—plus soups and desserts—are all here, structured clearly and in an ideal progression for the home cook. I cooked the Fish in a Cilantro, Coconut, and Mint Parcel the first night, and found that Sodha’s simple approach belied the complex and explosive nature of her food's flavors. Her dishes aren’t fussy—but they taste like they are. They’re perfect as they are, unadorned, much like her writing. Reading this book, I came away feeling like she and I need to hang the next time I’m in London.
Before Made in India, I thought it an impossibility for a first-time cookbook author to write in such a personal, attractive voice while simultaneously presenting a banquet of delicious recipes that work. It’s a superb book, divided into sensible chapters based around the way a family really eats and cooks, and I can see why it’s so popular with everyone who has the chance to spend some time with it. (Piglet exhibits A, B, and C.) When you get your hands on this book—which you should—don’t miss making her Lamb Raan alongside the Lamb Biryani—amazing food. And my kid loves the Mango, Lime, and Passion-Fruit Jello recipe. Bravo, Sodha.
On the other side of the court stands the book I disliked the moment I saw it. As in: Ugh, not another bread book from an amazing bakery filled with foods I have to wait forever to eat because, well, it’s bread and baking and I suck at it, so I’ll have to wait to visit and get the real thing. And all those books are daunting and intimidating anyway—everyone buys them only to not end up cooking out of them... except for the one guy who starts making bread every weekend and his family loves him for it and it becomes his yoga and I fucking hate that guy because: I’m not him.
This bread book is different.
It has a way of motivating every bread and baking novice, myself included—every aspirant, every wanna-be gluten king—to start tossing the flour right away. I have never related to a bread and baking book the way I connected with this one. It has a baguette recipe, yes, but also everything you need to make a bánh mì. Masa recipes for tamales and tacos? Yep, plus some amazing salsa and bean recipes to go with them. There are bialys, multigrain loaves, and technical dissertations on shaping risen doughs—they all exist side-by-side in a magical baking ecosystem. And my favorite section, on filled breads like nut rolls, pastellitos, kreplach, knishes, and even Albanian cheese triangles, rocked my world. It’s a collection that strikes a rare balance between inspiring a novice baker to get started, while still impressing those who are more experienced.
The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook has an amazing story, too: Hot Bread Kitchen is the bakery that employs immigrant and low-income minority women and teaches, coaches, and mentors them to succeed in the food world, either in management-track roles or by starting their own ventures. In exchange, these women (the vast majority of whom come from countries where girls grow up learning to cook) give their cultural expertise on baking. They pass on the tips that have been passed down to them over many generations. It’s thousands of years of cultural experience distilled into an amazing collection of bread recipes. Or no, meals. Or one better, even beyond that: This book is a collection of kitchen wisdom shot through a social justice prism.
Now all of that would be moot if the food sucked. It doesn’t. The baking is perfectly documented and endlessly approachable—even my nan-e barberi turned out beautifully. And I’ve always wanted to make it. My bialys were the hit of the party when I served them, and the kreplach I turned out made my grandmother proud.
To put it simply: These two books blew my mind. They’re both beautifully designed, and the recipes are flawless, both representative of the intersection of food and culture in two very distinct and important ways. One is a personal journey. The other, a global exercise in collective wisdom.
For the record, I wish I could pick two winners. But, for me, The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook wins by a nose. In a world that always separates us by our differences—our skin color, our sexuality, our spiritual belief system, and our culture—this book celebrates them, puts them on a plate, together, and allows us to eat our way to a better future. Or at the very least, a better kitchen.