Stock the shelves with these top picks this season
2021's newest cookbooks are now in, and there’s a wide variety with everything from lessons on French living to a tribute to the multicultural cuisines of Hawaii. Some contain dishes that are simple, some more complex, but all are worthy of a good sit down and peruse. Cookbooks have evolved into much more than just recipe collections, and the stories contained within these precious pages are reason enough to pick these gems up.
1. My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a City on the Water by Betty Liu
Author Betty Liu takes readers through a journey to Shanghai with 100 recipes, based on tradition, but thoroughly modernized. With stunning photography, this is a complete gastronomic tour through this city’s abundant cuisine, and the people, their stories and traditions. Liu divides the book in seasons, demystifying Chinese cuisine for home cooks with noodle and dumpling dishes, salted duck, wontons, pork belly and fried rice. Techniques, pantry staples and kitchen equipment are discussed, before she dives into the Jiangnan region, where her family has deep roots on both sides. Recommended dishes? Scallion ginger clams, pan-fried pork bao and sweet and sour lotus root.
2. The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World by Reem Kassis
Reem Kassis’s cultural knowledge of Arabic cuisine draws me back to this book to linger over each dishes’ description and I often refer to the ingredient list and ponder the history of spice, olive oil and something as simple and equally complicated as rice. Did you know that chilies are native to South and Central America but made their way to the Middle East along the Silk Road? Take your time with this treasure and you’ll learn the history of the region told from a culinary perspective. Kassis takes inspiration from tradition, organizing these 130 recipes by primary ingredient, narrating a cooking journey as she interprets this vibrant cuisine. Recommended dishes? Tahini cheesecake and caramelized butternut squash raggeh with za’atar.
3. A Rising Tide: A Cookbook of Recipes & Stories from Canada’s Atlantic Coast by D.L. Acken & Emily Lycopolus
I long to travel to eastern Canada and explore the seaside towns, drink in the landscape, and take a culinary walk through the unique region. This cookbook and the stories Lycopolus and Acken tell—through stunning photography and spirited prose—is the next best thing. Sure, these women are west coasters, but they threw themselves into research for this book, spending months among chefs, fishermen, producers, foragers and restaurateurs to dig deep into the region’s history. The book is divided into each eastern province, and is peppered with historical tidbits and notes on foraging, fishing and hunting. Recommended dishes? Salt cod croquettes, island beef short ribs and rhubarb buttermilk cake. You can also take a cooking class with Emily Lycopolus through In My Kitchen.
4. Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch by Jake Cohen
If you’re not following Jake Cohen on Instagram, you’re missing out on the joys the platform can bring; he’s a skilled cook that is equally skilled at entertaining. Cohen’s charming take on Jewish food is delicious, modern and fresh. He reinvents traditional dishes drawing inspiration from his husband’s Persian roots, elevating classics such as latkes, dyed bright yellow with saffron, or adding pumpkin and spice to his babka. This collection of recipes is just what you need to entertain guests. Don’t skip over the quick things Cohen makes, and dive into the sections on breakfast, snacks, veggies, carbs, mains, desserts and drinks. Recommended dishes? Russian nachos, crispy chicken thighs with tzimmes, and black and white chocolate chip cookies.
5. Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria by Anas Atassi
It’s no coincidence many of my cookbook recommendations are based on stories and recipes coming out of the Levant, as I’ve been increasingly adding item such as sumac, rose water, Aleppo peppers and Nigella seeds to my pantry and am drawn daily to these flavours. With migration in this area playing a key role in how cultures blend and share food, dishes thought traditional to one country are elevated with ingredients and methods home cooks and chefs have learned through traveling.
Anas Atassi was born in Syria and craved the Syrian food his mother and grandmothers served in their kitchens and learned how to recreate these dishes with modern twists. In Sumac—aptly named as this ingredient is a staple in Syrian cuisine—Atassi shares stories and recipes of weekend breakfasts in his mother’s garden, mezze cooked for family gatherings, along with street food, main dishes with grain, meat and fish, desserts and beverages. The photographs by Rania Kataf have me yearning for simpler times for these people who’ve been through such misery and cruelness. Recommended dishes? Makloube, an eggplant and beef pilaf, Mom’s famous beet salad, sfeeha—mini flatbreads with ground beef, and oh so many more.
6. Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
To call this simply a cookbook would be a disservice as this vibrant journey through the islands that bridge the Mediterranean and the Middle East is much more than just a collection of recipes. Author Yasmin Khan traveled through Cyprus, Greece and Turkey to trace the ingredients that have spread through the region from the time of Ottoman rule to the influence of recent refugee communities. Sitting down at the kitchen table of home cooks and visiting the region's restaurants and cafes, Ripe Figs celebrates the cuisine with a collection of recipes, and stunning food photography. Recommended recipes? Turkish bride soup, Greek meatballs, mushroom moussaka and citrus cake.
7. Ciudad de Mexico: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Mexico City by Edson Diaz Fuentes
As quality Mexican ingredients become more readily available, home chefs searching for recipes that are both authentic—and accessible—can refer to this reliable collection from Fuentes’ Ciudad de Mexico. Chapters are divided into time of day and include favourites such as huevos motuleños, tacos de pescado estilo Baja, and oxtail mole de olla, accompanied by an array of interesting cocktails such as the margaritas de Jamaica and Mezcal sours. You’ll come to rely on the sections of marinades, rubs and salsas, and can refer to Edson's handy substitution guide when you can’t find a particular ingredient. Explore Mexico City’s flavours, aromas and textures with recipes and the accompanying photos in this stunning book.
8. Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes to Repeat by Molly Baz
Molly Baz is super entertaining, while she breaks down the essentials clearly in these uncomplicated recipes packed full of flavour. There are QR codes scattered through Cook This Book that lead you to videos for further instruction. Baz is inspiring a new generation of home cooks through modern media, while pulling in more seasoned cooks with her takes on staples. A prime example is her roast chicken, kicked up with seasoning of schmaltzy onions and dill. Focusing on cooking fundamentals, this cookbook will teach you the basics and encourage you to expand your technical skills and feel comfortable improvising if you must. Recommended recipes? Minty lamb meatballs with crispy cabbage and Tahini sauce, past salad with morty-d, mozz and pistachios and the Nicoise sando with smashed egg and black olive mayo.
9. Zoe Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Make your Favourite Layers, Bundts, Loaves and More by Zoe Francois
You really can judge a book by its cover—and title—with this epic resource for all things cakes. Zoe Francois is the expert baker behind the series Zoë Bakes and she teaches us how to celebrate large with this epic collection of everything from baked Alaska to apple cake with honey-bourbon glaze. Spend some time in the preview section reading up on all her tips and tricks. She’s the queen of taking complex creations and breaking them down so that even beginners can follow along. After you read all about meringue and its different styles, you’ll be ready to dive into her baked Alaska. As Julia Child said, “Every woman should own a blowtorch”, and Francois suggests you have several. Recommend recipes? That baked Alaska, the coconut–candy bar cake and chocolate devil’s food cake.
10. The Double Happiness Cookbook: Feel-Good Recipes and Food Stories by Trevor Lui
Trevor Lui grew up as a first generation Canadian in his father’s family restaurant, serving the requisite Canadian-Chinese dishes such as sweet and sour chicken balls and chicken chow mein, however Lui specializes in street food. This collection of Asian-inspired recipes begins with stories of his childhood, a suggested playlist for music enthusiasts, and then pantry essentials such as kimchi, gochujang paste and adobo chipotles. This book is a whole lot of fun and full of easy weeknight flavour bombs such as sesame ginger chicken, Chinese meatloaf and carbonara ramen. There are some cool drinks that add to the playfulness of the book. Recommended mixing? Crazy rich Asians and the ooh long island iced tea.
11. Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastian and Beyond by Jose Pizarro
Fortunately for lovers of Spanish tapas and pinxtos, this Basque county cookbook has a broad selection of the best dishes from northern Spain. In San Sebastian, you’ll find stunning scenery and architecture, along with some of the world’s top restaurants. Author Jose Pizarro acts as your guide, creating the region’s meals at home. These approachable recipes are ones you will want to cook for family and friends, and serve alongside a good bottle of Spanish wine or sherry. Recommended recipes? Pinxto of crab and prawns, aubergine, honey and blue cheese omelette, and squid in ink.
12. À Table: Recipes For Cooking and Eating The French Way by Rebekah Peppler
Author Rebekah Peppler takes a fresh approach to French cooking in this guide to living the French lifestyle. À Table contains plenty of French classics including cassoulet, crème brulee, beef Daube and pommes Anna, as well as dishes that have made their way into many French cooking repertoires, such as lamb Tagine, banh mi and shakshuka. Divided into snacks, apertifs, mains, sides, desserts and digestive, this beautifully photographed cookbook will guide you to the slower pace the French take in both the kitchen and life in general. Recommended recipes? Amaro old fashioned, carrot tarte tatin, gougeres and chocolate pudding.
13. Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher Kimbal
I’m an avid listener of the Milk Street podcast, full of interviews with chefs, culinary historians and wine specialists, along with recipes and cooking tips that keep your kitchen skills advancing. In Kimbal’s newest cookbook, he focuses on Mediterranean cuisine, which weaves a broad stroke through Italy, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel and Lebanon, with dishes that feature fresh fish, ripe veggies and more than just a splash of olive oil. Recipes are efficiently organized; some are focused on how much time a recipe might take and others are into themes such as supper soups and salad supers. The title, Tuesday Nights, is a reference to easy weeknight meals that are built from pantry staples. Recommended recipes? Charred eggplant pita sandwiches, Italian seafood stew, and fresh fennel and Brussels sprouts tabbouleh.
14. Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon
Chef Simeon has created a stunningly beautiful cookbook full of photos, stories and recipes that showcase his native Hawaiian cuisine and the cultures that have influenced menus there today. The immigration of the Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Filipino people brought techniques and ingredients that have resulted in the diversity of dishes represented in the book. A two-time Top Chef finalist, Simeon understands the building blocks that make these feasts a success and his passion shines through in recipes that range from a classic Hawaiian sweet potatoes with coconut cream and dry aku, to a Chinese-style house cake noodle with oyster sauce. This book has so many recipes I want to cook up, but I guarantee the pocho steamed clams with Portuguese sausage will have you convinced to read—and cook—on. The dish is a perfect example of fusion; clams, not traditionally found in Hawaii are now raised in the islands, sustainably—by aquafarmers—and combined with Portuguese sausage, Thai basil and Japanese sake.