Cookbooks are a perfect holiday gift. They are useful, beautiful, thoughtful, and personal. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll reap the rewards when the recipients put them to use. The right book for every home cook is out there. Here are some of this year’s best.
“The World Central Kitchen Cookbook: Feeding Humanity, Feeding Hope,” by José Andrés and World Central Kitchen with Sam Chapple-Sokol
A perfect gift cookbook for anyone who feels the world’s struggles deeply. “I believe that by picking up this book, you have entered into a world that is bigger than you, than me, than all of us. This is a place that is full of empathy and hope, a place where we are building longer tables, not higher walls,” writes chef and author José Andrés, who founded nonprofit World Central Kitchen to feed communities around the world during natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Chapters are titled with WCK’s values: empathy, adaptation, community, joy, and so on. And recipes come from cooks and chefs in almost 20 countries. Recipients will appreciate the flavors of Haitian pork stew griot, Puerto Rican chef Manolo Martínez’s arroz con pollo (a scaled-back version of the one WCK served to thousands after Hurricane Maria), SoCal-style carrot and farro salad from chef Brooke Williamson, and Venezuelan banana bread, as well as the fact that all author proceeds from the book go back to WCK to support its work.
“Snacking Bakes: Simple Recipes for Cookies, Bars, Brownies, Cakes, and More,” by Yossy Arefi
Sometimes we want to labor over the perfect layer cake or carefully laminated dough. More often (or is it just me?) we want to cut to the chase and eat something sweet. This book is for instant gratification appreciators who are prone to cravings. Nothing takes terribly long to make, and recipes often only use one bowl. Bakers will be sharing coffee-glazed molasses bars, gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, mixed-berry tahini cake, everything bagel bread with scallions, and so much more before they know it.
“The French Chef Cookbook,” by Julia Child
Novelty is delightful, but so is a handsome reissue of a worn-to-pieces classic. For anyone who loves Julia Child, her titular WGBH cooking show, and/or her French recipes, this is the gift. Come for the boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and Reine de Saba cake, but don’t forget to appreciate the stylishly retro cover. If you like, package “The French Chef Cookbook” with the 50th anniversary edition of Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking”: a salute to two legendary women who made Americans into better and more interesting home cooks.
“Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook,” by Sohla El-Waylly
“El-Waylly might be Julia Child for a new generation,” wrote my colleague Sheryl Julian in a column about this book: The author has the right combination of personality, style, and above all skill. Each chapter of “Start Here” focuses on one technique, from braising to browning to how to work with butter, with specific lessons along the way (how to supreme an orange, how to cook rice) and a quiver of base pastry recipes. Whether these serve as eye-openers or welcome refreshers, the user will appreciate the results in hot and tingly smashed cucumber salad, honeynut and miso soup, chile-blistered egg over brothy beans with fish sauce and lime, braised eggplant with parm vibes, saffron cod in a packet, matcha lemon bars, and so many other temptations. They’ll cook from this all year and never grow bored.
“Pasta Every Day: Make It, Shape It, Sauce It, Eat It,” by Meryl Feinstein
The title says it all. Author Meryl Feinstein was part of the production team at pasta-famous New York restaurants Lilia and Misi, and founded the noodle-focused Pasta Social Club, offering classes and more. Her cookbook makes homemade fresh pasta accessible. There are instructions for all different kinds of dough, instructions for rolling and forming shapes, and recipes for all the fillings and sauces one might want. The hardest thing will be deciding what to make first. Strozzapreti or caramelle? Winter squash and brown butter or black pepper and pecorino filling? Parmesan broth or sausage, saffron, and fennel ragù? There is no wrong answer.
“Big Heart Little Stove: Bringing Home Meals & Moments from the Lost Kitchen,” by Erin French
This latest cookbook from Erin French is for anyone who wants to remember, or hasn’t yet experienced, a meal at the Lost Kitchen, her restaurant in Freedom, Maine. Reservations are hard to come by, but this book puts French’s impeccable aesthetic at the cook’s fingertips. Expect casually elegant menus of pecorino puffs, asparagus and tarragon soup, roasted potato salad with green beans and olives, scallops with chorizo and lime, garlicky steaks with caramelized onion butter, rose panna cotta, and more.
“Latinísimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America,” by Sandra A. Gutierrez
A tour de force by journalist, historian, writer, and Latin American food expert Sandra A. Gutierrez. The 300-plus recipes are by home cooks and for home cooks, and they illustrate the similarities and differences in cuisine among Latin America’s 21 countries. This starts with the very first offerings — spice mixes from Puerto Rico, Central America, Uruguay, and Chile — and continues through bori-bori (a Paraguayan corn dumpling soup), Venezuelan mini-arepas with avocado-cumin sauce, Mexican salsas, Cuban avocado salad, Argentine eggplant casserole, Peruvian rice with duck, and a Mayan beef stew from Guatemala. Informative essays kick off each ingredient-based chapter. A cookbook-shelf essential.
“Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen,” by Leah Koenig
Rome’s Jewish community is one of the oldest in Europe, and its history there includes more than 300 years of exile to the neighborhood known as the Jewish ghetto or, more recently, the Jewish quarter. Author Leah Koenig, whose cookbooks also include “The Jewish Cookbook” and “Modern Jewish Cooking,” has compiled an ode to the rich culture that grew out of this community, particularly famed for its fried artichokes. Yes, there’s a recipe here (two, in fact), along with five other artichoke-starring dishes, Jewish-style pasta amatriciana, braised chicken and chickpea stew, whole roasted fish with raisins and pine nuts, garlic and rosemary roasted lamb, ricotta cheesecake, and other dishes that bring together the flavors and history of the region.
“My Everyday Lagos: Nigerian Cooking at Home and in the Diaspora,” by Yewande Komolafe
An eye-catching book, a rich personal story, and a gift for creating infinitely cookable recipes come together here. New York Times writer Yewande Komolafe, who grew up in Lagos, showcased “10 Essential Nigerian Recipes” for that paper in 2019. This book picks it up from there, starting off with the starchy swallows used to scoop stew and bringing in the likes of skewered beef suya, banga stew with catfish, jollof rice, Mom’s Sunday Chicken, and citrus health tonic.
“Perfectly Good Food: A Totally Achievable Zero Waste Approach to Home Cooking,” by Margaret Li and Irene Li
The sisters who started food truck-turned restaurant-turned dumpling factory Mei Mei take on food waste and show it who’s boss. According to “Perfectly Good Food,” the average American household of four wastes about $30 of food each week. Here are strategies and flexible, customizable recipes to turn that around: kitchen scrap stock, noodle salads, cream-of-anything soup, eat-your-leftovers pot pie.
“Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds,” by Hetty Lui McKinnon
An homage to the father she lost as a teenager, “Tenderheart” is Hetty Lui McKinnon’s follow-up to the wonderful “To Asia, With Love.” McKinnon simply writes good recipes — and these are particularly good for anyone who loves vegetables or needs a little encouragement to eat more of them. Charred gai lan and farro with soy tahini, broccoli Reuben salad, carrot peanut satay ramen, cauliflower and kale pesto pasta salad with burrata, and eggplant katsu are just a few examples.
“Pomegranates & Artichokes: A Food Journey From Iran to Italy,” by Saghar Setareh
This was a strong year for Persian cookbooks, and a number might have made this list. I include “Pomegranates & Artichokes” because it is sufficiently lush for gifting: Look at that cover. Those rosy pink endpapers. And the title that combines two of the world’s most irresistible ingredients. It also comes to us from Northampton-based Interlink Books (support local, independent publishing). And I like cookbooks that take us on a journey; I know I’m not alone in that. “Pomegranates & Artichokes” traces author Saghar Setareh’s life from Iran to Italy, through the countries in between, serving as a simultaneous exploration of her own identity through cooking. Will you make an Iranian feast of jeweled rice, saffron roast chicken, and more? Stop for Turkish eggplants in tomato sauce? Or work backward from Naples with an impressive rice timbale? No passport required. (Other recommendations include “Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach to Classic Persian Cuisine,” by Nasim Alikhani, chef-owner of Sofreh restaurant in Brooklyn; and “Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life,” by Homa Dashtaki of yogurt company the White Moustache, one of my favorite cookbooks of the year and the perfect gift for literature-loving dairy queens.)
“Veg-table: Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big-Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals,” by Nik Sharma
Sharma’s books are always stacked with compelling, beautifully shot things to cook, and this is no exception. Focused around vegetables, it is science-y enough to please the cooking geeks, soulful enough to satisfy those who live through their gustatory senses. Each chapter is arranged around a vegetable group, so it’s easy to thumb through and find a dish that suits the ingredients on hand, be it shallot and spicy mushroom pasta, kimchi creamed corn, crispy salmon with green curry spinach, coconut-stuffed baby eggplants, or Indian lamb and lentil stew.
“Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others,” by Amy Thielen
Dinner parties should be about love, not stress, and in Amy Thielen’s hands they can be. (You may know her from previous books “The New Midwestern Table” and “Give a Girl a Knife,” a memoir.) She offers menus for gatherings casual and formal, small and large, with helpful tips and a welcome eye toward food costs. Whether the host is preparing wood-fired steaks with fava butter from the “Supper Club Night” menu, spiced meatballs with creamed gravy and mascarpone whipped potatoes for Christmas Eve, a potato tortilla and sausages with mustard-miso sauce for family brunch, or spicy cinnamon flan for an Argentine-style barbecue, the event will be a good time. And that’s what matters most.
“Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice: Cocktails From Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks,” by Toni Tipton-Martin
Toni Tipton-Martin explored centuries of African American cookbooks in previous works “The Jemima Code” and “Jubilee.” Now she is throwing a cocktail party. Impeccably researched and beautifully shot as its predecessors, “Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice” is both historical document and festive drinks manual. Raise a glass of strawberry wine, a blackberry-ginger bourbon smash, an absinthe frappé, or a zero-proof Cosmockpolitan and toast to that.