June 7, 2023


Be Inspired By Food

Best cookbooks of 2020: 12 inspiring books that uplifted us in the kitchen

Great cookbooks do a lot of things. They inspire us. They make us think. In 2020, our favorite books were tasty and timely, providing us with satisfying meals and food for thought about underrepresented voices and cuisines, how to make do with what you have, and more. We think you’ll find these 12 cookbooks, each selected by a staffer, just as inspiring this year — and beyond.

“The Rise”

By Marcus Samuelsson with Osayi Endolyn (Voracious, 336 pages, $38)

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate time for Marcus Samuelsson’s “The Rise” to land.

The back cover declares in bold face that “Black Food Matters,” and instinctively we want to say, “Of course it does.” But this is 2020, and every relevant headline has taught us we can’t assume that the relevance of Black food — or, more notably, its creators — enjoys the wide appreciation it should.

Once you crack open “The Rise,” it’s apparent that it’s more than a cookbook. Samuelsson uses his status as a celebrity chef to shine a light on other Black food professionals, most of them from the generation coming up behind him, but also some who helped blaze the trail for him. The book does that in two ways. First, with profiles of more than two dozen people, mostly chefs and writers, written by Osayi Endolyn. And second, with Samuelsson recipes that he says were inspired by those people and others.

The mentions could come across as simple name checks — especially with the number of pages devoted to photos of Samuelsson displaying his clearly keen fashion sense with little other context — but Endolyn’s insightful essays give the project a genuine base.

And a line in Samuelsson’s introduction moved me: “Embracing a people’s food in your home is one aspect of recognizing the value of that culture.” He also says that learning about one another’s food is part of the recipe for society’s healing. I love learning through food.

The recipes evoke origins not just in Africa, but the Caribbean, Scandinavia and in the quarters of enslaved people in early America. I tried the roast chicken and the steak with onions in the book, and I saw the interesting wrinkles on universal flavors. Others involve things I’ve never considered cooking, but now want to. Millet salad with cow peas? Yes, please.

When I made the berbere spice brown butter, a recipe that is an element of several dishes in the book, I felt like I had welcomed a new culture into my home. I instantly recognized the earthy aroma in my kitchen when I made that simple infused butter. It took me back to restaurants where I had gone specifically to expand my comfort zone. And now I knew what it was. Berbere.

“One Tin Bakes”

By Edd Kimber (Kyle Books, 176 pages, $23)

I’ll be the first to admit that my collection of baking pans is a bit excessive. Round (two of each size), square, Bundt, tube, springform, round tart, square tart, to name more than a few. So, good on Edd Kimber for writing a cookbook in which every recipe is made in a single piece of equipment: The 9-by-13-inch pan.

That workhorse tin, as the British Kimber calls it, is a standard for such fare as brownies and blondies. Kimber has those here, but this collection of 70 approachable recipes includes a wide array of other tempting options, including gluten-free meringue cake, overnight French toast, slab pie and tiramisu.

The book, Kimber’s fourth, is slender compared to some of the frankly overstuffed compendiums you see these days, and for that, I am grateful. It means Kimber has clearly had time to focus more on each individual recipe — and that I stand a real chance of actually baking my way through the whole thing. I’m making progress, having road-tested a large-format Dutch baby; oversize slab scone; tahini babka buns; and a holiday-appropriate, no-bake, layered peppermint-chocolate bar. All of them have been delicious.

Equally important, the recipes themselves are pretty airtight. Kimber, the first winner of “The Great British Bake Off,” writes clearly, succinctly and descriptively. He also has a world full of bakers in mind when he offers ingredient amounts three ways, in both imperial and metric weights, as well as volume.

Almost every recipe has a simply composed, enticing photo, taken by Kimber. It’s just another nod that this is a book created for the readers who get to reap, and eat, the rewards of Kimber’s excellent work. — Becky Krystal

“The Flavor Equation”

By Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books, 352 pages, $35)

I might have actually paid attention to — or maybe even enjoyed — chemistry if this cookbook existed in 2010. As it is, finding something to wake up my overwhelmed mind has been a boon in lockdown.

In “The Flavor Equation,” biochemist-turned-food-blogger-turned-cookbook-author Nik Sharma dives deeper into how we perceive flavor and the science behind it. For those of us in cooking ruts, getting food on the table means a loop of comfort food and halfhearted experimentation. But that’s where this book comes in.

Sharma’s gift is explaining the science behind food by being inspiring and encouraging instead of dull or worse, condescending. That has been exceptionally comforting as months go on in semi-lockdown when cooking has become more of a chore than it used to be. Sharma’s gorgeous photography is a welcome visual break from endless screentime. With explanations about flavor principles and how they work in tandem above every recipe, this book is a learning experience without feeling like a textbook.

The recipes include unexpected twists that, once you taste them, immediately become clear.

Of course a vinegary chili-tahini sauce is the perfect match for kale and white beans! A garam masala-spiced hash was so good that we just hovered over the cast iron with forks instead of bothering with plates. And somehow, using chemistry, Sharma has concocted a baked sweet potato recipe that finally got me to enjoy a baked sweet potato.

With sections explaining concepts like brightness and bitterness, as well as ingredients that offer those sensations, this book is incredibly useful when you can’t get the exact ingredients you need, giving you blueprints on how to make substitutions that will work. A collard, chickpea and lentil soup called for tamarind for a sour tang to the soup, and after scanning the brightness section, I decided to throw in some pomegranate molasses instead — delicious. Those unfamiliar with some of the ingredients Sharma uses will get plenty of explanation within the book on what they are and the best ways to feature them, or even how to harness their vibe when you don’t have them.

This cookbook was a much-needed spark of inspiration, flavor and guidance in some terribly monotonous months in the kitchen, and I continue to reference it not just for recipes, but for advice on how to get any dish to taste the way I want it to. — Kari Sonde

“Mosquito Supper Club”

By Melissa M. Martin (Artisan, 368 pages, $35)

Some cookbooks take you to places you’ve never been. Others wrap you in familiar, comforting arms. How you perceive “Mosquito Supper Club” will depend on where you’re from. Either way, you’ll probably be swept along by this poignant, culinary tour of Louisiana’s vanishing coast.

The cookbook is a mash note to South Louisiana, where I grew up, and more specifically Cajun country, where I lived for a half-dozen years and where I met my Cajun husband.

On the cookbook’s cover, a single, near translucent shrimp held aloft by his antenna catches the sunlight. Behind it, in soft, soft focus is a Terrebonne Parish waterway that was probably its home. That shrimp, captured so beautifully by photographer Denny Culbert, teases to what’s to come when you flip open the book: Bright orangey-red boiled shrimp, golden shrimp boulettes and a deep-brown stew with pink crustaceans peeking through.

Martin is practical. She describes what should be in your “Cajun larder,” defining filé powder and cane vinegar for the uninitiated. Then, she dives right into the waters and marshes with chapters on shrimp, crab, oysters, fish and crawfish. She devotes a whole chapter to gumbo; and she pulls from the land, too, with poultry, meat and rice dishes, as well as beans and vegetables.

Martin is passionate, too. Like any guide worth her salt, she provides context, sketching a brief history of the Acadian diaspora, explaining how Cajuns’ hardscrabble way of life is once again threatened. This time by climate change and rising seas that are literally eating away their land. In the cookbook, which is subtitled “Cajun Recipes From a Disappearing Bayou,” she writes: “Terrebonne Parish is hanging on to the coastline for dear life.”

Her lyrical writing extends to her recipes, where she invites home cooks to “Taste the soup: Does it need salt, pepper or heat?” And to her descriptions of the food itself: “When you eat an oyster, it’s like jumping into the ocean, tasting the salt water on your lips, the seaweed, the algae . . .”

Many of the handed-down recipes, such as Velma Marie’s Oyster Soup, named after Martin’s grandmother, are big-pot dishes meant to be served family-style, the way she enjoyed them as a kid and served them at her place of business — at a long table crowded with people who love food and one another.

With the pandemic, Martin has had to rethink and adapt to social distancing, a concept that is an anathema to Cajuns’ way of living. After reading her cookbook, however, you imagine she sees it as just one more of life’s challenges and that she’ll make her way — and persevere. — Ann Maloney

“Modern Comfort Food”

By Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35)

It’s Ina Garten vs. 2020, and of course, Ina wins. She pushed up the publication of her 12th cookbook because — as she said on Instagram in May — “we all need it ASAP.”

Garten’s definition of comfort food is more than ice cream by the quart (my family graduated from pints around June); she describes it as nourishing, emotionally satisfying, familiar and delicious. As we enter what many public health experts warn will be the “dark winter” of the coronavirus pandemic, getting comfort in food continues to be a mental health strategy for many.

The book’s 85 recipes provide motivation to continue preparing our own food even after we’ve been cooking for nine months straight. This is a public service, as I’m pretty sure no one likes cooking this much.

Simple recipes prevent us from giving up and reaching for a takeout app. Her shrimp fra diavolo, for example, makes no hard turns from classic recipes except adding crunchy panko. It’s additionally comforting when she says it’s okay to substitute Rao’s pasta sauce for homemade (which I may have done anyway). Ina: She’s just like us, except with an empire and an estate in the Hamptons. Recipes for black-and-white cookies (my New York City childhood favorite treats), steak fajitas and smashed hamburgers radiate happy nostalgia. For those who think salad is the polar opposite of comfort food, Garten’s recipe for broccoli and kale salad is based on chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s version at his restaurants, a salad I ate every day as takeout from JG SkyHigh when I was reporting from Philadelphia on the presidential election and needed soothing. Garten’s version is extra creamy and extra comforting. She uses her Caesar dressing in place of Vongerichten’s grainy mustard dressing.

Garten’s interstitial essays — including meditations on loneliness and the importance of casual get-togethers for mental health — create a book that feels both of-the-moment and timeless. Because seeking comfort in food is built into human biology, and these days we need every tool we can get. — Mary Beth Albright

“My Korea”

By Hooni Kim with Aki Kamozawa (W.W. Norton & Co., 352 pages, $40)

Two years into medical school, Hooni Kim took time off to recover from the headaches and ulcers he developed there, spending his sabbatical going to, and graduating from, culinary school, after which he landed an internship at Daniel, one of the most revered restaurants in New York. A mere two weeks later, he was offered a full-time job at the French standard-bearer and ditched his plan to return to medical school. The decision led his mother to stop speaking to him for a year, but it put the budding chef on a path of self-discovery that continued at the exacting Japanese kitchen of Masa in New York and led him to open two successful Korean dining destinations, Danji and Hanjan. Recipes from both restaurants flavor “My Korea.”

Kim’s debut cookbook might require you to expand your pantry, but once you start cooking with say, Korean red chile flakes or dried anchovies, you’ll find yourself reaching for them repeatedly after discovering the pleasure of their company in the chef’s recipe for spicy braised chicken — the perfect foil to winter — or steamed egg custard with salted shrimp, at once elegant and soothing. Kim’s simple, four-ingredient dashi is now my preferred stock, his beef short ribs my favorite one-pot braise. The recipes are interspersed with helpful tips, like how to achieve a model scallion pancake (club soda helps, as does freezing the batter).

The photography is so vivid, a reader can practically hear the bibimbap sizzle in its hot stone bowl, taste the fire in Brussels sprouts dappled with gochugaru and feel the chill of Korean workers tending to snow-covered casks of kimchi on a frosty hillside. Curious how fermentation transforms cabbage over time? A series of pictures documents the march, from raw to 12 months. This is not a flawless cookbook — the 1/4 cup sugar listed for the spicy braised chicken is unaccounted for in the directions — but if the point of a collection of dishes is to send you into the market and kitchen to shop and cook, then relish the efforts, “My Korea” succeeds. — Tom Sietsema

“Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen”

By Durkhanai Ayubi, recipes by Farida Ayubi (Interlink Books, 256 pages, $36)

Family and food are the two constants in the tumultuous, complex and resilient story of Durkhanai Ayubi, the Afghan refugee behind this beautifully written and photographed book. The tempting recipes for grilled, spiced kebab; steamed mantu and piles of aromatic rice are what lured me in, but Ayubi’s intersecting accounts of Afghanistan’s torrid history and her own displaced family’s journey from their homeland to Adelaide, Australia, make this so much more than a cookbook.

In 1985, amid rising tensions in the region, Ayubi, then a young child, and her immediate family crossed the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where they joined a growing number of displaced Afghans. Eventually, they found refuge in Australia, opening the restaurant after which this book is named. No matter where they resided, they grasped for connection to their native land and culture through the food they shared.

“Food was transcendent,” Ayubi writes, “It held fast beyond the breakdowns and suffering that were part of the human make-up, and which had kept each generation bound to the last in a chain of interlinked expressions.”

The recipes come from Durkhanai’s mother, Farida Ayubi, and represent the rich flavors and ingredients that are foundational to Afghan cooking. A chapter dedicated to rice delves into the different grains and methods for infusing flavor in colorful mounds cooked with tomatoes, lamb or mung beans and topped with plump raisins, slivered pistachios, crispy fried carrot and candied orange peels. Sweet, nutty cookies; rosewater-scented milk fudge; and ginger and walnut ice cream are among the recipes marked for celebratory occasions, such as Eid. And recipes for kebab provide many enticing options, including spicy marinated lamb grilled over charcoal, turmeric and yogurt-braised chicken prepared in a hot wok, and fried beef patties seasoned with coriander, garlic and chiles.

The first recipe in the book has proved most useful for me: a chaar masalah blend of dry-roasted cardamom pods, cumin and coriander seeds, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon sticks that you grind into a fine powder. I don’t have a spice grinder, so it was quite the mortar-and-pestle workout, but the deep, earthy, aromatic blend used in the family’s restaurant kitchen at Parwana is now a staple in mine, too. It’s the base for a boldly flavored and silky potato curry in which spud spears are simmered in a spiced tomato and yogurt sauce. But the favorite recipe in my home is a hand-rolled, fried flatbread called bolani, which can be stuffed with a number of fillings and eaten right out of the pan, by tearing off pieces and dipping them into a tangy lime, cilantro and chile chutney. It’s everything I crave in a snack.

Parwana is Farsi for “butterfly,” which Durkhanai Ayubi says represents the metamorphosis of her family’s first Adelaide restaurant, “which began with no grand plans, other than to see if people liked the food.” They’ve got a new fan in me. — Matt Brooks

“Chicano Eats”

By Esteban Castillo (Harper Design, 224 pages, $35)

When Esteban Castillo started his blog, Chicano Eats, at the end of 2016, the United States was quickly becoming an unfriendly place for immigrants, particularly those, like many in Castillo’s family, who came from Mexico. Although Castillo was born here, his parents were not, and he spent much of his early childhood between two worlds: Southern California and Colima, Mexico. Reading his new book, named after his award-winning blog, it’s easy to see how this duality shaped him and his cooking, inspiring a pride in Chicano culture alongside an individuality open to new flavors.

Chicano Eats” is not an encyclopedic examination of Mexican food; rather, it’s a personality-driven primer. Easy-to-digest overviews of common chile types, Mexican dairy products, seasonings and tools provide a backbone for techniques and dishes. Most recipes can either be made in under an hour or in advance, in big batches, and reheated for breakfast, lunch, a snack or dinner.

Castillo pulls inspiration from across Mexico — birria from Jalisco, carnitas from Michoacán — though he sticks close to familial specialties from Colima near the Pacific Coast — including a rich pozole seco and his grandfather’s Tacos de Adobada — and his own, delightful creations, such as Mac and Queso Fundido, Carnitas Poutine and Chorizo-Spiced Delicata Squash Tortas.

The book’s colorful design and sunshine-bright photography are a whole lot of fun. As are desserts such as Duvalin Jello, with its characteristic strawberry pink, creamy vanilla and chocolate-hazelnut layers, and guava cheesecake bars marbled fuchsia like a Pacific sunset. Drink recipes include a tall mangonada, thick with fruit and spice; matcha horchata, pale green as a desert cactus; and Tejuino, a sweet and lightly fermented specialty of Colima with roots in pre-Columbian Mexico.

Part memento, part memoir, “Chicano Eats,” speaks to cooks of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels. Castillo grew up around many cooks but didn’t try his hand at it until young adulthood: Feeling siloed from family while in college, he called his mother to ask for her recipes so he could cook himself a taste of home. But like many family cooks, she had never written anything down. “All she’d say was ‘hechale un poquito de esto y del’ otro,’ or ‘add a little of this and a little of that,’ ” Castillo writes in his introduction. When he finally decided to try a recipe he had seen his mother cook countless times, he discovered that he had a sort of muscle memory for making the dish — even though he’d never made it himself. Like a superhero discovering his superpower, Castillo suited up and never looked back.

“I’ve come to understand that recipes have been part of an oral tradition in communities like mine,” he writes, “and I’m part of a generation that is writing them down for future generations.” — G. Daniela Galarza

“Beyond the North Wind”

By Darra Goldstein (Ten Speed Press, 320 pages, $37.50)

Beyond the North Wind” is not the kind of cookbook cranked out to satisfy some flavor-of-the-month trend. This is a masterwork, the culmination of author Darra Goldstein’s lifelong dedication to Russian food and culture. Goldstein is a scholar, but at heart, she’s a poet, with the ability to see beyond stereotypes to capture the essence and humanity of her subjects.

The book’s title is a reference to Hyperborea, a mythic place “beyond the north wind,” where the sun always shined and people lived in harmony with nature. Soviet-era researchers speculated that Hyperborea was actually located in northwestern Russia, a frigid environment above the Arctic Circle where, historically, locals were safe from foreign invaders. Goldstein adopts the Greek legend as shorthand for her research into Russian gastronomy in the far north, those traditions mostly untouched by outside influences, including the Russian Revolution and the gross improvisations demanded by Soviet scarcity.

Goldstein cuts through the cliches: Russians drunk on vodka (the spirit has a complicated history, she points out, its consumption often encouraged to raise revenue and weather the long, lonesome winters), crimson bowls of borscht (it’s actually Ukrainian) and plates of bland, potato-heavy dishes with little appeal to Western palates. In page after meticulously researched page, Goldstein explains how Russians have summoned a bounty of flavors from a brutal landscape that, at first glance, seems to offer little.

Fermentation. Foraging. Preservation. These skills became playthings for chefs across the globe once René Redzepi showed what pleasures his Noma kitchen could derive from plants, insects and animal parts that few would have considered “ingredients.” But these skills and techniques are at the heart of traditional Russian cooking, Goldstein tells us. You and I might look at a grove of birch trees and see nothing but a forest. Russians see sweet sap juice, inner-bark flour and a fungus used in traditional medicine.

The dishes in “Beyond the North Wind” may have been born of survival, but they have a quiet elegance. Pickled spring smelts that taste of cucumbers. Syrniki, farmer cheese pancakes, topped with fresh sour cream, its acid the perfect counterbalance to the sweetened batter. Marinated mushrooms that act as a kind of bar nuts for vodka. Russian hand pies, stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms, that remind me of the runzas of my Nebraska youth. Goldstein has done more than collect Russian recipes and lore; she has asked us to embrace the dignity, hospitality and ingenuity of people too often caricatured as the impoverished enemies of America. — Tim Carman

“In Bibi’s Kitchen”

By Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen (Ten Speed Press, 282 pages, $35)

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a copy of this book since it was announced, which is to say, a long time. Much to my shame, I knew (and still to an extent know) very little when it came to food from the African continent. Sure, I’ve cooked a few Moroccan, Tunisian and Ethiopian dishes, but Africa is an expansive continent with incredible cultural diversity, and I knew so little of it. Part of the problem, is of course, representation: Who gets to tell the stories we cook from?

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this cookbook as a long-overdue tome. I also hope that each of the cuisines in the countries mentioned (as well as others in Africa) in this book get to have their own cookbooks that tell their stories. But, for a start, this is a very good one.

The book pulls you in with a warm comfort of a grandmother’s hug. After all, it is the grandmothers — the bibis — who tell their stories here. Organized by the eight countries the book profiles (Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros) and accompanied by interviews with featured grandmothers — some live in the United States, while others are in their native countries — the book offers recipes that are not only delicious but eminently doable, pantry-friendly and economical for a home cook. That last part, while always a bonus, is particularly timely in 2020, when so many are looking for ways to stretch their pantries and create flavorful meals without breaking the bank.

That the dishes are thrifty on the wallet, though not on your palate, makes a lot of sense: The countries profiled in the book are generally poor, and the food, while humble and made with minimal equipment, draws upon rich spices, fresh herbs and bright notes such as lime to shine with flavor.

Take digaag qumbe (a Somali chicken stew with yogurt and coconut) — the minute I spied the recipe in the book, a quick scan of ingredients told me I had everything in my pantry. Pro tip: Double the recipe, because you may be fighting others for seconds or leftovers. Another dish, akoho misy sakamalao (chicken thighs with garlic, ginger and coconut oil from Madagascar) contained just those ingredients plus salt, and were as ridiculously delicious as they were easy to make. The sweet pea soup with coconut and ginger from Comoros comes together quickly and tastes like your favorite cozy sweater feels. And, sukuma wiki (Kenyan greens with tomatoes) serve as history marker and a reminder of the link between African and African American cooking — thrifty, flavorful and healthy.

Cooking from “In Bibi’s Kitchen” will make you a better cook — especially when it comes to teasing out flavor from simple, inexpensive ingredients. But it doesn’t need to stop there: Reading the book will not only transport you to places you’ve probably never visited, but also give you a sliver of perspective of someone else’s life and culture, their proudest accomplishments, what matters the most to them. In a year when we’ve been so disconnected from one another, getting to know the women in these pages — seeing their humanity and realizing how alike we all are — feels like a raft, which has, to an extent, saved me. — Olga Massov

“Vegetable Kingdom”

By Bryant Terry (Ten Speed Press, 250 pages, $30)

If you dare to think vegan food is boring, you clearly haven’t had butternut squash and sesame seed hand pies, or dirty cauliflower, or a roasted sweet potato and asparagus po’ boy. In other words, you aren’t familiar — or familiar enough — with Bryant Terry’s work. The California chef, activist and cookbook author has been proving for years just how exciting plant-based cooking can be, and in his latest book, he takes his elevation of vegetables to new levels of inventiveness.

Terry also wants to make sure vegan cooking isn’t whitewashed. As chef-in-residence at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, he speaks eloquently about the plant-based roots of traditional African and African diasporic cooking, fighting the stereotype that it’s all heavy and meaty and cheesy. He devotes this book to his family, writing in his introduction that “Vegetable Kingdom” “reflects the essence of how my wife, Jidan, and I root and raise our children.” He wants his daughters to know gardening and farm-fresh ingredients (he organizes the book into such categories as seeds, bulbs, stems, flowers, fruits and leaves), and the book features an Afro-Asian perspective born of his marriage.

I can’t think of the last time I marked this many dishes to try, the very first time I flipped through a book: 14 sticky notes marked pages in my copy before I realized it would have been more efficient to mark the ones I didn’t need to rush to make. So far, my favorites have included the aforementioned cauliflower, in which tempeh and two kinds of mushrooms add texture and umami to his twist on dirty rice; roasted parsnips with onion-mustard sauce, inspired by the Senegalese dish poulet yassa; and a simple, bright salad of shaved carrots and kohlrabi in a broken-lime vinaigrette inspired by banh mi pickles and showered in roasted peanuts.

These 175-plus recipes are precise: I’m not normally one to measure out, say, 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic. But I resist my temptation to eyeball and round up or down, and I have been rewarded with perfectly seasoned, balanced, powerfully flavored food. A bonus: I played Terry’s suggested soundtrack while cooking (“Flat of the Blade” from Massive Attack went with that dirty cauliflower), and the slicing, dicing and measuring became positively meditative.

“Most people build altars, visit gravesites, and reminisce with photos to engage with loved ones who have passed,” Terry writes. “For me, recipe creation is a praxis where I honor and bring to life the teachings, traditional knowledge, and hospitality of my blood and spiritual ancestors by making food.”

Cook from his book, and you can almost feel them in the kitchen, chopping right alongside you. — Joe Yonan


By Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage with Tara Wigley (Ten Speed Press, 320 pages, $35)

Yotam Ottolenghi has always been known for powerful flavors, so naming his latest cookbook “Flavor,” might seem too … obvious? Redundant? Unimaginative?

Once you start looking through the chef, author and restaurateur’s latest book, written with Ottolenghi test kitchen colleague Ixta Belfrage, it makes total sense. More than just sharing flavorful recipes, this volume explains as much about the why as the how. Frequent contributor Tara Wigley pitches in, too, offering introductions to the three main sections of the book that each focus on a different way to generate flavor: process (how an ingredient is treated, such as charring, browning and aging), pairings (combining ingredients to complement or contrast each other) and produce (leaning on inherent flavor of good ingredients).

“Flavor” includes a pantry of favorite ingredients, some new, some familiar from prior books. Here and elsewhere we see Belfrage’s influence, whose family background (Mexico, Brazil) and global experience bursts through the pages. While he’s always sought inspiration from around the world, Ottolenghi has been most known for his Middle Eastern flavors. Now we get the verve of Mexico, Thailand and India.

But how do the dishes taste? Predictably, fantastic. We’ve tried an allium-heavy New Orleans-inspired dirty rice, cacio e pepe with za’atar, and cardamom tofu with lime greens, all to rave reviews. The last Ottolenghi book, “Simple,” focused on recipes with 10 ingredients or less, a departure from his tendency for long ingredient lists and multiple sub-recipes. “Flavor” includes a mix of both types, some short and streamlined and others better suited to weekend cooking.

Even if you don’t make all the recipes, you’ll find yourself picking up helpful tips to start crafting your own custom flavors, whether it’s frying sliced garlic into chips for a garnish or incorporating some miso into your next vegetable mash. In other words: The taste of victory. — Becky Krystal

What are your favorite cookbooks of 2020? Please share in the comments below.


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