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The Best Cookbooks of Spring 2020

Dive into recipes from Melissa Clark, Nancy Silverton, Dominique Ansel, and more

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When I first saw Lummi: Island Cooking, the new cookbook from Willows Inn chef Blaine Wetzel, I couldn’t help but pick it up. The book itself is wrapped in a rough but texturally pleasing yellow fabric, and the cover — a single deep-blue photograph affixed to the canvas — captivates. Inside, top-down photos of meticulously plated dishes fill entire pages and beg the question: What is that? And while I may never make the recipes for things like mushroom stews and marinated shellfish, they’re a window into a remote restaurant that I may never get to visit. Sure, I could find a few photos online, but a book that you hold in your hands carries weight — not just literally, but also in the way each page memorializes a recipe, dish, or moment in time.

The 15 titles here represent only a portion of the cookbooks on offer this spring, but they embody all of the qualities that make cookbooks worthy vehicles for imagination. There are debuts from chefs at the top of their game, and first-time restaurant cookbooks that may inspire you to host a clambake or make your own bubble tea. But there are plenty of cookbook veterans on this list, too, with contributions from Sami Tamimi (the non-Ottolenghi half of the duo behind Ottolenghi); pastry chef Dominique Ansel; and New York Times recipe maven Melissa Clark, whose recipes may dominate Google searches, but gain new dimension when they’re printed on a glossy page. — Monica Burton

The cover of the Phoenicia Diner Cookbook

The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook: Dishes and Dispatches from the Catskill Mountains

Mike Cioffi, Chris Bradley, Sara B. Franklin
Clarkson Potter, out now

In 2011, Mike Ciofi did what many office workers spend their days dreaming about: He bid farewell to city life in favor of renovating and reinvigorating a roadside diner in the woodsy New York hamlet of Phoenicia. Today, Ciofi’s Phoenicia Diner is a hit among locals and tourists, as well as the Instagram glitterati that flocks in droves to sample the restaurant’s elevated diner fare and pose in the green vinyl booths. Though it might be a while before the rest of us achieve our own version of the Phoenicia Diner, it’s at least become easier for us to pretend with The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook, a collection of comfort-food recipes that make up the Ulster County hot spot’s celebrated menu. Try to make the renowned buttermilk pancakes on lazy Sunday morning, or enjoy a cozy night in with the chicken and chive dumplings. For lighter meals, the cookbook also includes a variety of fancy salads and some delicious-sounding vegetable preparations.

We live in uncomfortable times, but we still have comfort food — and our upstate escapist fantasies — to help us cope. So serve up some Phoenicia Diner recipes on enamel camping cookware, then curl up under a Pendleton (or Pendleton knock-off) blanket. It’s almost as good as the real thing. — Madeleine Davies

Eat Something cover

Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook

Evan Bloom and Rachel Levin
Chronicle Books, out now

Chef Evan Bloom of San Francisco’s Wise Sons Deli and former Eater SF restaurant critic Rachel Levin teamed up to write an unconventional book about Jews and Jewish food. From the first chapter, “On Pastrami & Penises,” which jokingly weighs the morals of circumcision, it’s clear they succeeded. There are a trio of pastrami dishes (breakfast tacos, carbonara, a reuben) to celebrate “the cut,” before the authors move on to recipes for other life events, from J Dating in “The Young-Adulting Years” section to Shivah’s Silver Lining in “The Snowbird Years.”

This isn’t the first book to combine Jewish food and Jewish humor (the two are practically inseparable), but it has the added benefit of being actually funny. Eat Something sounds less like a commandment from bubbe and more like a comedian egging on readers to whip up a babka milkshake at 3 a.m. or serve chopped liver to unknowing goyim in-laws.

The authors gladly admit the book won’t satisfy conservative tastes. Wise Sons serves updated takes on deli fare, like pastrami fries, pastrami and eggs, and a roasted mushroom reuben, and “The Kvetching Department” chapter reprints customer complaints about Wise Sons’ sins against real deli. Those readers can find rote recipes for matzo balls and kugel elsewhere. Eat Something is for readers, Jewish or not, who prefer matzoquiles to matzo brei and a bloody moishe (a michelada spiked with horseradish and brine) to a bloody mary. — Nicholas Mancall-Bitel

The book cover for Dinner in French

Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France

Melissa Clark
Clarkson Potter, out now

Melissa Clark is an important figure in my home eating life. Her cookbook Dinner lives on my kitchen counter, while her pressure-cooker bible Dinner in an Instant has helped me get over my anxiety around using the intimidating Instant Pot I received as a wedding present a few years ago. Her recipes in those books and over at the New York Times are energetic and reliable. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book since she announced it.

While I expected it to be a book of Clark’s favorite, tried-and-true French recipes, Dinner in French actually provides a guide to layering some French je ne sais quoi into the kinds of things you may well already love to eat. Instead of just mashing a microwaved sweet potato like I do a few times a week, Clark’s tempting me to make stretchy sweet potato pommes aligot with fried sage for a change. The translation flows in both directions. To a classic French omelet, Clark adds garlic and tahini and tops it with an herby yogurt sauce; she transforms ratatouille into a sheet-pan chicken dinner.

Dinner in French veers more into lifestyle territory than her reliable workhorse books. Shots of Clark living the good life in France — laughing at beautiful outdoor garden dining tables, shopping at the market, walking barefoot in a gorgeous farmhouse — are peppered throughout. Even if that’s not what I need from a Melissa Clark book, for all the work home cooks like me rely on her to do, she deserves a glam moment. — Hillary Dixler Canavan

The Boba Book cover

The Boba Book: Bubble Tea and Beyond

Andrew Chau and Bin Chen
Clarkson Potter, out now

What Blue Bottle did for coffee, Boba Guys did for boba. Since Andrew Chau and Bin Chen opened their first shop in San Francisco in 2013, the brand has grown to include 16 locations across the country. Along the way, the guys behind Boba Guys have redefined what it means to drink the popular Taiwanese tea with modern drinks that go beyond the traditional milk tea plus chewy tapioca balls to include items like strawberry matcha lattes and coffee-laced dirty horchatas.

The Boba Book includes step-by-step instructions for these specialties along with recommended toppings for each tea base. There’s also a separate chapter all about how to make toppings and add-ons from scratch, including grass jelly, mango pudding, and, of course, boba. While it’s likely many boba lovers have never even considered making their favorite drink at home, Chau and Chen’s simple directions prove all it takes is a little bit of dedication.

The Boba Book doesn’t offer a comprehensive history of boba; instead, it provides an impassioned argument for drinking boba now from Chau and Chin, who keep the tone friendly and conversational throughout. Colorful photos of drinks alongside pictures of Boba Guys’ fans, employees, friends, and family make the book feel like the brand’s yearbook. And even if there’s no interest in recreating the drinks at home, The Boba Book gives readers the best advice on getting the most enjoyment out of boba, including tips on how to achieve that perfect Instagram shot. — James Park

The book cover for Ana Ros: Sun and rain

Ana Roš: Sun and Rain

Ana Roš
Phaidon, March 25

Ana Roš is a chef on the rise. While not quite a household name in America, the Slovenia-based chef of Hiša Franko got the Chef’s Table treatment as well as plenty of attention from the World’s 50 Best List. She’s known for being an iconoclastic and self-taught chef.

As with so many fine dining restaurant books, this volume isn’t really meant to be cooked from at home. Roš seems to have gone into the process knowing that, so she avoids the standard headnote-recipe format. Instead, lyrical prose is frontloaded, taking up most of the book, with recipes for things like “deer black pudding with chestnuts and tangerines” or “duck liver, bergamot and riesling” stacked together with only the shortest of introductions at the end. Gorgeous, sweeping landscape photos of Slovenia coupled with gorgeous food photography, both by Suzan Gabrijan, provide a lush counterpoint to the text.

Rather than a guide to cooking like Roš, this is a testament to one chef’s life. There’s quite a bit of personal narrative, from Roš’s experiences with anorexia as an aspiring dancer to a meditation on killing deer inspired by her father’s hunting. And for fans of Chef’s Table, culinary trophy hunters, and/or lovers of travel photography, it’s worth a look. — HDC

Book cover for Lummi; Island Cooking

Lummi: Island Cooking

Blaine Wetzel
Prestel, April 7

The Willows Inn on Lummi Island is that specific kind of bucket-list restaurant that’s fetishized by fine dining lovers: isolated (the island sits two and a half hours and one ferry ride north of Seattle) and pricey ($225 for the tasting menu, not including the stay at the inn, a near prerequisite for snagging a reservation). I should find it irritating.

But the Willows Inn is also inherently of a place I have great affection for — the Pacific Northwest — and that’s captured beautifully in chef Blaine Wetzel’s Lummi: Island Cooking, a restaurant capsule of a cookbook that doesn’t feature the restaurant’s name in the title. Instead, the book is a survey of the ingredients farmed, foraged, and fished from the Puget Sound, a stunning taxonomy of salmonberries and spotted prawns, wild beach pea tips and razor clams. Several recipes quietly flaunt the inn’s reverence for the local bounty. Each in a quartet of mushroom stews involves just three ingredients: two kinds of mushrooms and butter; a recipe for smoked mussels simply calls for mussels, white wine, and a smoker.

The book, though, is really all about the visuals. Photographer Charity Burggraaf captures each striking dish from above on a flat-color background, and the bright pops of color and organic forms evoke brilliant museum specimens. Lummi: Island Cooking shows off the ingredients of the Pacific Northwest — and how in the hands of Wetzel and his team, they become worthy of this exacting kind of archive. — Erin DeJesus

The My Korea book cover

My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes

Hooni Kim
WW Norton, April 7

Hooni Kim’s debut cookbook, My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes, is part cookbook, part autobiography. Before he opened Korean-American restaurants Danji and Hanjan in New York City, Kim worked at prestigious fine dining institutions like Daniel and Masa, and as a result, he interprets Korean cuisine with French and Japanese techniques.

Over 13 chapters, Kim breaks down the fundamentals of creating Korean flavors, from where to buy essential pantry items to how to recognize the different stages of kimchi fermentation. The recipes themselves cover a wide range, from classic banchan and soups to technique-driven entrees, such as bacon chorizo kimchi paella with French scrambled eggs, and a recipe for braised short ribs (galbi-jjim) that uses a classic French red wine braise method Kim mastered while working at Daniel.

The focus of the book is less about cooking easy, weeknight dinner recipes, and more about understanding and applying Korean cooking philosophy. Throughout, Kim talks about the importance of jung sung, a Korean word for care, which also translates into cooking with heart and devotion. The chef’s jung sung in making this book is apparent as Kim provides foundational knowledge to make readers aware of Korean culture, beyond just knowing how to cook Korean food. — JP

Cover of Everyone Can Bake

Everyone Can Bake: Simple Recipes to Master and Mix

Dominique Ansel
Simon & Schuster, April 14

I’ll get this out of the way from the get go: Dominique Ansel’s newest cookbook has nothing at all to do with the Cronut. In fact, rather than simply a book of recipes for the things you’ll find at the Dominique Ansel bakeries and dessert shops stationed around the world, it’s a manual for how to make just about any dessert the reader’s heart desires, whatever their skill level. With Everyone Can Bake, Ansel asserts that armed with the “building blocks of baking” he provides, baking is achievable for even the most intimidated novice.

This idea guides the book’s structure. It’s split into three sections of Ansel’s “go-to” recipes: bases (which includes cakes, cookies, brownies, meringue, and other batters and doughs); fillings (pastry cream, ganache, mousse, etc.); and finishings (buttercreams, glazes, and other toppings). A fourth section covers assembly and techniques, such as how to construct a tart or glaze a cake. Charts at the front of the book show how these four sections combine to make complete desserts. For example, almond cake + matcha mousse + white chocolate glaze + how to assemble a mousse cake = matcha passion fruit mousse cake; vanilla sablé tart shell + pastry cream = flan.

Although the book’s primary aim is to simplify baking for newcomers, the notion that creativity can arise from working within the boundaries of fundamental building blocks is a helpful lesson for any home baker. And whether they’re after just those fundamentals or the “showstoppers” that come later, they’re in good hands with Ansel’s Everyone Can Bake. — MB

Mosquito Supper Club cover

Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou

Melissa M. Martin
Artisan, April 14

At Mosquito Supper Club, a tiny, 24-diners-per-night New Orleans restaurant that’s more like a big dinner party, chef and owner Melissa Martin keeps a shelf of spiral-bound Cajun cookbooks with recipes assembled by women’s church groups. “The cookbooks are timeless poetry and ambassadors for Cajun food,” Martin writes, “a place for women to record a piece of themselves.” Martin’s first cookbook, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, belongs alongside them. It’s a well-written personal and regional history of a world literally disappearing before our eyes due to climate change: Every hour, the Gulf of Mexico swallows a football field’s worth of land in Louisiana.

But Mosquito Supper Club isn’t an elegy. It’s a celebration of contemporary New Orleans, a timeless glossary of Cajun cookery, and a careful, practical guide to gathering seasonal ingredients and preparing dishes from duck gumbo to classic pecan pie. Martin’s recipes are occasionally difficult and time-consuming — stuffed crawfish heads are a “group project” — but written with gentle encouragement (“Keep stirring!”) and an expert’s precision. And since Martin’s restaurant is essentially a home kitchen, her recipes are easily adapted to the home cook (though not all of us will have the same access to ingredients, like shrimp from her cousin’s boat in her small hometown of Chauvin, Louisiana). Still, Mosquito Supper Club is a cookbook you’re likely to use, and as a powerful reminder of what we’re losing to climate change, it’s a book we could all use, too. — Caleb Pershan

Trejos Tacos cover

Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes & Stories From L.A.

Danny Trejo
Clarkson Potter, April 21

Anyone not living in Los Angeles will likely still recognize Danny Trejo. Muscular and tattooed, with a mustache dipping down below the corners of his lips and dark hair tied back in a ponytail, he makes an impression in just about every role he’s played in his 300-plus film career, whether it’s as a boxer in Runaway Train, the gadget-loving estranged uncle in Spy Kids, or a machete-wielding vigilante for hire in Machete. But since 2016, Trejo has taken on a role outside of Hollywood: co-owner of a growing fleet of LA taquerias.

Trejo’s Tacos, the 75-year-old’s first cookbook, written with Hugh Garvey, is as much a tribute to his restaurant legacy as it is to Los Angeles, his lifelong home. The actor spent his childhood dreaming of opening a restaurant with his mother in their Echo Park kitchen. Years later, film producer Ash Shah would plant the seeds and vision for Trejo’s future taquerias, opened with a culinary team led by consulting chef Daniel Mattern. The cookbook is a reflection of what the actor calls “LA-Mexican food.” Readers will find all the Trejo’s Tacos greatest hits in the collection, including recipes for pepita pesto, mushroom asada burritos, and fried chicken tacos. The recipes are relatively simple and malleable — designed for home cooks who might want chicken tikka bowls one night and chicken tikka tacos the next. There’s even a recipe for nacho donuts.

Throughout, Trejo interjects with stories from his life in LA, like the time a security guard on the set of Heat recognized him from the time he used to rob customers at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank. “I used to rob restaurants,” he writes in his new cookbook. “Today I own eight of them.” — Brenna Houck

Falastin cover

Falastin: A Cookbook

Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
Ten Speed, July 14

Sami Tamimi and co-author Tara Wigley are probably best known for their proximity to Israeli chef and columnist Yotam Ottolenghi. Tamimi is Ottolenghi’s longtime business partner and co-author of Ottolenghi and Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Wigley has collaborated with Ottolenghi on recipe writing since 2011. With Falastin, the pair are stepping out on their own for the first time as part of a rising chorus of voices celebrating Palestinian cuisine.

Falastin is the culmination of Tamimi’s lifelong “obsession” with Palestinian food. The Palestinian chef pays tribute to his mother and the home in East Jerusalem that he left to live in Tel Aviv and London, returning after 17 years. For Wigley, who grew up in Ireland, the book is about falling in love with the region and, particularly, shatta sauce (she’s sometimes referred to by her friends as “shattara”). However, the book isn’t about tradition. Tamimi and Wigley approach Falastin’s 110 recipes as reinterpretations of old favorites — something they acknowledge is an extremely thorny approach everywhere, and particularly given the highly politicized history of Palestine. Food, after all, isn’t just about ingredients and method; it’s also about who’s making it and telling its story.

To do this, Wigley and Taminmi instead take readers into Palestine, exploring the regional nuances of everything from the distinctive battiri eggplants, suited to being preserved and filled with walnuts and peppers for makdous, or the green chiles, garlic, and dill seeds used to prepare Gazan stuffed sardines. Along the way, they pause to amplify the voices of Palestinians, such as Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestinian Seed Library. Keep plenty of olive oil, lemon, and za’atar on hand. It’s a colorful, thoughtful, and delicious journey. — BH

Bitter Honey cover

Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from Sardinia

Letitia Clark
Hardie Grant, April 28

At first glance, Bitter Honey seems like an outsider’s fantasy of Sardinia. British author Letitia Clark moved to the island with her Sardinian (now ex-) boyfriend, looking to escape Brexit and embrace a slower, more beautiful way of life. The book’s warm photography and indulgent descriptions of olive oil seem the stuff of an Under the Sardinian Sun romp. But then, it suddenly becomes real. In the introduction, she speaks of plastic Tupperware and paper plates and blaring TVs, and in stories throughout the book, she gives a more honest depiction of modern, everyday life in Sardinia.

Clark’s recipes are all about achievable fantasy, with some coming directly from her boyfriend’s family and some that are admitted riffs on Nigella Lawson recipes. But all include the island’s staple flavors and ingredients, like pork in anchovy sauce, fried sage leaves, saffron risotto, and culurgionis (essentially Sardinian ravioli) stuffed with potato, mint, cheese, and garlic. Clark describes Sardinian food as a “wilder” version of Italian cooking, something less refined and more visceral. The book is a great way to expand your regional palate, though you’ll have to source your own bottarga and pane carasau. — Jaya Saxena

The Vegetarian Silver Spoon cover

The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic & Contemporary Italian Recipes

Phaidon, April 29

The essential, 70-year-old Italian cookbook Il cucchiaio d’argento, known as The Silver Spoon in English, gets a plant-based update in The Vegetarian Silver Spoon, forthcoming from Phaidon. Boasting more than 200 vegetarian and vegan recipes, it’s a welcome addition to the library of Silver Spoon spinoffs in a time when diners are cutting back on meat consumption, whether for health, environmental, or animal welfare reasons. While some patrons of red-sauce Italian-American restaurants may exclusively associate the cuisine with weighty meatballs and rich, meaty sauces, as written in the book’s introduction, “the Italian diet has never centered on meat”; rather, home-style cooking “more often revolves around substantial vegetarian dishes like grains or stews.”

Across eight chapters — which are organized by dish, moving from lighter to heavier flavors — classic recipes like pizza bianca mingle with more regional specialties like Genovese minestrone, as well as less traditional fare like vegetable fried rice, demarcated with an icon of “CT” for “contemporary tastes” (other icons distinguish dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, “30 minutes or less,” and “5 ingredients or fewer”). In this book, the writing is clear, the photos inviting, and above all, the sheer breadth of tasty-sounding dishes encyclopedic enough that any level of cook can find something to make. For fans of Italian cuisine, it’s impossible to flip through the pages without salivating, vegetarian or not. — Jenny G. Zhang

Chi Spacca cover

Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking

Nancy Silverton
Knopf, April 30

For home cooks, restaurant cookbooks usually serve as half archive, half inspiration, but Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton writes ambitious recipes a home cook looking to grow (or flex) actually wants to try. The Chi Spacca cookbook, written by Silverton, Ryan DeNicola, and Carolynn Carreño, will fuel fantasies of massive slabs of meat seasoned with fennel pollen on the grill, served with salads of thinly shaved vegetables and a butterscotch budino for dessert.

Chi Spacca is the newest of Silverton’s three California-Italian restaurants clustered together in what locals call the Mozzaplex, and it’s decidedly meat focused (Chi Spacca means “he or she who cleaves” and is another word for butcher in Italian). One of the restaurant’s most famous dishes is a beef pie with a marrow bone sticking out of the middle, like the tentpole of a carnivorous circus. That recipe is in the book. So is one for the restaurant’s distinctive focaccia di Recco, a round, flaky, cheese-filled focaccia, which, according to a step-by-step photo tutorial, involves stretching the dough from the counter all the way down to the floor before folding it over into a copper pan. There’s a recipe for homemade ’nduja, a section of thorough grilling advice, and more precisely composed salads than 10 trips to the farmers market could possibly support.

What’s really wonderful about the book, however, is the way it mixes serious ambition with practical advice and tons of context. Silverton explains the inspiration and authorship of every dish, and in those headnotes reveals the extent to which Chi Spacca, for all its Tuscan butchery pedigree, is a deeply Californian restaurant. Reference points range from Park’s BBQ in Koreatown to trapped-in-amber steakhouse Dal Rae to the traditions of Santa Maria barbecue. And the recipes always consider the cook. My favorite headnote, for a persimmon salad, says, “The recipe for candied pecans makes twice what you need for this salad. My thought is that if you’re going to go to the effort to make them, there should be some for the cook to snack on.” Entirely correct. — Meghan McCarron

Eventide cover

Eventide: Recipes for Clambakes, Oysters, Lobster Rolls, and More From a Modern Maine Seafood Shack

Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley, and Sam Hiersteiner
Ten Speed, June 2

Eventide Oyster Co., named one of the best restaurants in New England by restaurant critic Bill Addison, embodies everything a Maine seafood shack should be — a casual place to sit down to slurp shellfish and eat fried seafood with friends and family. Since opening in Portland, Maine, in 2012, and despite accolades and expansion, it’s managed to retain that convivial feel. Now co-owners Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, and Mike Wiley, along with writer Sam Hiersteiner, have created a breezy cookbook for easy entertaining and coastal-inspired cooking.

With 120 recipes, accompanied by visual how-tos and guides on how to properly prepare seafood and shellfish, Eventide offers enough insight to make any home cook feel comfortable assembling an amazing raw bar or hosting a full New England clambake. The book even gets into less-traditional ways to use seafood as the basis for celebratory meals, with recipes for oysters with kimchi rice, halibut tail bo ssam, and the restaurant’s famed brown butter lobster rolls. And although seafood dominates, the authors of Eventide include alternatives to satisfy anyone, like the restaurant’s burger, a smoked tofu sandwich, potato chips and puffed snacks, plus a blueberry lattice pie for dessert. Whether or not you live by the coast, Eventide is the perfect spring cookbook to help you prepare to turn your kitchen into a New England oyster bar this summer. — Esra Erol

Update: March 31 2:00 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect a change in publication date for Falastin: A Cookbook.

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