My top 7 cookbooks of 2020 and 2021

I love food. Always. I seek new flavours, new ways of understanding a dish, a meal, of looking at an ingredient, or reaching taste highs, of simplifying a process. I am addicted to bursts of flavour, sour and spicy, aromatic and exotic. I just love food. I love talking about it, seeing beautiful recipe pictures, and learning new ways of doing things.

Sometimes, I know I have no time to cook insanely good food, I’m a full time working mum of 2 kids under 6. I write books in my spare time, I am on every social media front, I just don’t have time to spend on meal prep… but I do cook every day, every meal, for a family of four, and anything that can make my cooking experience shorter, more tasty, and interesting, wins big in my heart.

That said I like “unusual” ingredients: I will always have fish sauce in my pantry, I eat capers out of the jar, pho is my comfort food, I adore anchovy dressing, and I always put orange blossom water in my crepes. I crave Ethiopian food regularly. I can’t help adding fresh coriander or garlic to a lot of my dishes. My go to jars on the spice shelf are cumin, oregano and sichuan pepper. I’m not picky about where things come from, I like trying things from the globe, mix and matching them according to feeling rather than tradition. I’m definitely more of a savoury person than a sweet addict.

With that warning in lieu of an explanation this is my must have list of recent publications. Why 7 and not 10 must have? Because despite the loads of cookbooks I went through (did I say how much I love cookbooks????), those are the ones that stuck in my mind, those are the ones I added to my collections and have really captured my imagination.

The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story, With Intensely Good Flavors by Mandy Lee

This book packs a punch in emotions, Chinese flavours, and seriously delicious noodle dishes. This book retraces the depression of its author, and makes you forget the world with numbingly beautiful dishes that come from the heart. I just love it for all that it is, for the angry tone, the unapologetic list of authentic ingredients, and the rawness of it. This book is messy, modern, bold and spicy, weak hearted people might need to abstain, but adventurous ones should just leap gleefully in, because it is a ride to remember! And a really beautiful book to look at. I’ve followed the blog of the author for years and was looking forward to the release. It didn’t disappoint.

Grist by Abra Berens

I have been looking for a book to inspire me to cook more legumes for a long time. I know legumes are healthy and I want to make more for my family, but they are not exactly the most exciting ingredient. I have been disappointed by many books, but not this one. I finally found the bean book I was dreaming of, the holly grail of bean books . It goes through it all, it gives formulas that you can loosely follow with what you have at hand or your favourite ingredients to obtain a nice dish. It breaks each type lentil / chickpea / various beans into their own category to suggest many different ways to preparing them so that they are not boring or repetitive. It also had a long intro into many different world classic sauces and spice mixes, so as to always pack a punch of flavours and it has precise recipes too. A wonderful book to have if you want to know how to cook many different legumes in many interesting ways. This book really gets you excited about the humble ingredient and I am so glad to have found it.

From Dill to Dracula A Romanian Food & Folklore Cookbook by A.M. Ruggirello

From Dill to Dracula is a beautiful Romanian cookbook mixing historical lore with traditional and modernised cooking. I loved looking through this book and want to keep it on my coffee table. It is filled with nutritious recipes, full of winter veggies, cheese and thick cake slices. There is something incredibly homely about this book, grounding despite the deep folklore inscribed in the pages. How can I not love seeing real food intermixed with stories of vampires? My two interests crashing together into a beautiful book.

Fresh from Louisiana The Soul of Cajun and Creole Home Cooking by George Graham

Every page of that cookbook breathes love for life, food and family. I felt transported into the author’s world and it was lovely. I particularly liked that it was organised by season which proves how much Graham respects his region and produce. I have never eaten creole cooking, never got the opportunity, but I can say everything in here looks wonderful and vibrant – the photos are colourful, exotic and comfy. The recipes read like spicy delicious meaty treats, lots combining crayfish and shrimp with smoked meats for complex flavours.

The Modern Larder: From Anchovies to Yuzu, a Guide to Artful and Attainable Home Cooking by Michelle McKenzie

I have loved reading this cookbook. It is a truly amazing addition to the shelf of anyone who loves to explore culinary tastes and textures. I have always cooked multicultural meals and love borrowing from different places and this is what the book does. A lot of the pantry staples talked about are ones that I could never do without, like fish sauce, buckwheat, anchovies, coconut oil, Chinese black vinegar… and things which regularly come back into my kitchen like bee pollen, curry leaves, mirin, preserved lemons, black garlic, seaweed and a lot more. Obviously this isn’t everyone’s thing. The first third of the book in fact lists those pantry ingredients, spices and added flavours really, and tells you how to use it unconventionally for added punch in a typical dish. It gave me many ideas. Then there are the recipes with are truly inspired and not always that difficult… but again more for the adventurous palate: like the Eggplant fritters with date syrup, Easy pumpkin dumplings with black vinegar and parmesan, fluffy buckwheat pancakes and ume rice salad. The salads are unusual and attractive, playing with bitter, sour and sweet notes, often including charred veggies. I love the recipes which are fanned out with different options like the list of possible toasts, sweet and savoury, or meatballs or the fruit salads. There is also a very interesting drink and dressing section. I recognise a lot of Japanese influence. This is the type of book that builds skill and confidence in the kitchen rather than just give out steps to follow.

Flavors of the Sun. The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients by Christine Sahadi Whelan

This is a wonderful cookbook to learn to use the most essential spices of middle eastern cuisine. I loved the way it was divided by sour, savoury, hot, meaty and sweet. The recipes look so bright and tasty I want to try everything! Though I will admit I am big on tangy flavours, so the first section of the book truly sucked me in. There is the classic recipes but many are much more modern takes and perfect for family meals and people with little time and ingredients at hand. Lots of things are uncomplicated but pack a punch of flavours. The history of the book is also lovely, learning about the spice store in the family of the author explains a lot about her passion and knowledge. This is really a cookbook to use again and again.

Antoni: Let’s Do Dinner, by Antoni Porowski

I had sincerely not expected to like that one as much as I did. A very visually appealing cookbook divided into trendy sections of hearty salads, vegan meals, sandwiches, carb comas (all about pasta), fish dishes, chicken dishes, meat, comfort foods and snacks. There are no sweets – but that doesn’t bother me. The recipes are zingy with lots of colours, spices and twists. They are inspired by recipes from the world and they look delicious. I was nicely surprised to see some of my personal little known favourites, like the comforting Japanese ochazuke, here called salmon rice bowl with green tea broth, a mushroom mapo tofu with its so distinctive Sechuan pepper, vodka tomato sauce pasta, harisa with potatoes, chicken in fruity white wine…. those are are things I cook myself and love. There is a picture for every single dish, most are not fussy and make for a tasty result. I was afraid that this book would rely too much on the persona of Anthoni, which truthfully I do not know as I never watched the show he was in, but no, this is a great home cookbook to turn everyday meals into something exciting.

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