The best cookbooks aren’t just collections of delicious recipes. They teach, entertain and inspire by telling stories of the people and places behind the dishes, and how cultures spread and converge.
These are ten (dog-eared and food-stained) books from the last 20 years that we find ourselves returning to over and over.
1. Meze: Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean Table, by Diane Kochilas (2003)
Kochilas has probably done more than any other Greek chef to bring Greece’s complex cuisines to U.S. audiences, and any of her cookbooks are worth picking up.
This one, however, best conveys the sense of bounty and celebration of Greece’s traditional style of mezze, or small plates. It’s a revelation for those that think a Greek mezze plate is limited to a handful of dips and stuffed grape leaves.
Try: Beef Braised with Onions, Honey and Bay Leaf$44.37 Amazon
2. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (2008)
3. High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica B. Harris (2011)
With only 22 recipes, this isn’t a cookbook in the traditional sense, yet it will inspire you to cook like few books can. As the title suggests, the book traces African-American cuisine from the beginnings of slavery in America to present day. It’s a compelling history with far more depth than the subject is usually afforded. High on the Hog also weaves in Harris’s own personal stories and discoveries.
It’s an essential tome in the American food-lit canon.
Try: Yassa au Poulet$8.48 Amazon
4. Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, by Nigel Slater (2011)
Slater has been one of the U.K.’s premier food writers since the late ’80s. And his work helped inspire enthusiasm for movements such as comfort food, farmer’s markets, small-scale gardening and vegetable-forward cooking.
Tender isn’t a vegetarian book, but it’s organized alphabetically by vegetable and offers indispensable tips for each in addition to recipes.
Try: A Sweet and Sticky Casserole of Duck with Turnips and Orange$40 Amazon
5. Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu (2014)
Bangkok native Punyaratabandhu did the impossible with this book by making notoriously complex Thai dishes accessible to U.S. chefs without compromising on flavor, depth or regional character.
Try: Sweet Dry Curry of Pork and Long Beans$17.69 Amazon
6. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks, by Toni Tipton Martin (2015)
This book is a dream for cookbook aficionados. The Jemima Code is an archive of African-American cookbooks, allowing one to trace two centuries of culinary history through art and recipes.
As you make your way through The Jemima Code, you may discover that fancified new versions of many of these dishes still aren’t as good as the original.
Try: Ground Nut Stew$35.59 Amazon
7. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (2015)
As a perpetual best-seller since its 2015 release, this book has probably had one of the largest impacts on home barbecue. It put American (specifically Texas) barbecue traditions on a pedestal. And it explores how barbecue tradition is important, technical and aspirational—yet without dogma. Franklin and Mackey freely admit that barbecue is an ongoing education, with too many variables to state anything as incontrovertible fact.
Try: Espresso Barbecue Sauce$15.12 Amazon
8. The Nordic Baking Book, by Magnus Nilsson (2018)
This gorgeous book (also photographed by Nilsson) brings to life the timeless baking traditions of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
Nilsson’s previous books, Fäviken (2012) and The Nordic Cookbook (2015), are masterworks, but can be daunting in their complexity and magnitude. This book is informative while still being tailored for home bakers.
Try: Griddled Sweet Norwegian Flatbreads (Tynnlefse)$31.52 Amazon
9. The Food of Sichuan, by Fuchsia Dunlop (2019)
Since the 2001 publication of Land of Plenty (called Sichuan Cookery in the U.K.), Dunlop has become the foremost English-language expert in Chinese, and specifically Sichuan, cooking.
All six of her books (including a 2008 memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper) are recommended. But this one is the best place to start cooking Sichuan food at home as it’s both tailored for experienced cooks and novices alike.
Try: Yibin “Kindling” Noodles (燃面)$22.99 Amazon
10. Vegetable Kingdom, by Bryant Terry (2020)
Vegan cookbooks usually fall into two camps: They either try to create vegan versions of meat-based dishes or prioritize health benefits over flavor.
Vegetable Kingdom defies these categories with simple, generous recipes that are always creative, but also tap into comfort food. It’s a must for vegetable lovers of any dietary persuasion. Don’t miss Terry’s other books, Afro-Vegan (2014) and Black Food (2021).
Try: Citrus and Garlic-Herb-Braised Fennel$17.39 Amazon
Last Updated: June 6, 2023