The Best Southern Cookbooks of the Season | Listen

A wave of new cookbooks from Southern authors has hit shelves, bringing everything from Afro Cuisine and a turkey hunting journal to island breezes and a guide to sauces. As always, we’ve sifted through the piles of new releases to determine which ones are worth picking up. These are the nine cookbooks we’re most excited about this season.

9 New Southern Cookbooks Out This Spring

Roots, Heart, Soul: The Story, Celebration, and Recipes of Afro Cuisine in America

by Todd Richards with Amy Paige Condon | Harper Collins

Atlanta-based chef Todd Richards is a seeker. Through his Atlanta restaurants and his previous book, Soul, Richards lets his curiosity guide him toward knowledge, clarification of history, and ultimately connection. His second book, Roots, Hearts, Soul, is almost journal-like, following him as he seeks understanding of the African Diaspora through his own people’s journey—it’s an ambitious premise but one that he distills tidily by following his family’s path, from West Africa to the Caribbean to Latin America to Chicago. “By traversing the globe through my own DNA, I also illuminate the profound influences of Afro cuisine in the Americas,” he writes. The recipes are modern interpretations of dishes tied to the diaspora. Most are home-cook friendly and the selection ranges from grilled catfish and she-crab soup to country-fried rabbit and jerk chicken wings. But it’s the stories—reported snapshots of immigrant gathering spaces like Le Petit Senegal in New York; first-person accounts from Afro cuisine experts like Adrian Miller and chef Mashama Bailey—that tie Richards’ premise together. Dappled with history, this is a book that will further the culinary understanding of the African diaspora. 

Recipe to try: Yuca Fries

Saucy: 50 Recipes for Drizzly, Dunk-Able, Go-To Sauces to Elevate Everyday Meals

By Ashley Boyd | Chronicle Books

Just like a well-made sauce, this book is packed with flavor. Memphis-based recipe developer and blogger Ashley Boyd makes it easy to dress up dishes with her range of recipes. Whether you like creamy, herby, umami, or spicy, the list is sure to upgrade your nightly routine. I personally appreciate the handiness—it’s compact in size and scope, there are rarely more than a handful of ingredients needed, and the headnotes offer plenty of suggestions for what to pair each sauce with. She also smartly references each sauce’s place of origin. Consider this a handy new addition to your countertop collection.  

Recipe to try: Zesty Green Goddess Dressing

Islas: A Celebration of Tropical Cooking—125 Recipes from the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean Islands 

By Von Diaz | Chronicle BooksFor Von Diaz, the food cultures of the world’s islands have something to teach us all. “In a challenging and rapidly changing world, we should look to islanders and their ways of cooking as resources” for honoring history, tradition, and community, she says. The stories and recipes of her newest cookbook, Islas, help readers do precisely that. Islas is anchored in Diaz’s own experience as an islander—her family originates from Puerto Rico, and she returns there often from her home in the South—and brought to life by her talent as a documentarian as she highlights the history and creativity of tropical foodways and the people, especially women, who preserve them. The book is organized around six cooking techniques: marinating; pickling and fermentation; braising and stewing; frying; grilling, smoking, and roasting; and steaming and in-ground cooking. These methods have been passed down generation to generation and have persisted through colonialism, foreign tourism, and ecological change. Each technique is paired with a beautifully written meditation on a different location where they are practiced, from Curacao and Guam to Madagascar, Puerto Rico, and the Seychelles. With recipes for dishes like Seychellois eggplant chutney to Filipino barbeque and Curaçaoan keshi yena (a stuffed cheese dish), Islas is an invitation to home cooks of any skill level to taste real life on the island. —Emily D. Crews

Recipe to try: Kelaguen Uhan (citrus-marinated shrimp with coconut)

The Turkey Book: A Chef’s Journal of Hunting and Cooking America’s Bird

By Jesse Griffiths | St. John Press

Whether or not you hunt, this book is a great read. Chef Jesse Griffiths follows up his first two books, Afield and the James Beard Award-winning The Hog Book, with a self-published tome that’s full of eloquent writing, technical know-how, and yes, recipes, all related to wild turkey. Griffiths pulls you in with his missives, written from the brush and field, as he journals about his educational journey on hunting this specific species. He meets up with fellow hunters around the country, goes out with them, and writes not just about the gear needed and how his legs always fall asleep on a hunt but about how the health of the bird’s population might be an indicator of the health of our wildlands—at one point, he returned to one ranch year after year, just to watch the population grow until it was large enough to justify hunting. You don’t often find this level of seriousness (ok, obsession) in cookbooks—but I’ll argue this is much more than a cookbook. Griffiths weaves relevant images and recipes right into his stories, so a sotol cocktail lands in the place where he is making it for his comrades, while an avgolemono soup hits at the start of a turkey hunt in Oregon. What’s more, the project is self-published, funded from a Kickstarter campaign and sales of his previous book, meaning the love put into it—the photography and even texture of the book feels art-house worthy—makes this one a treasure. Gift it to a hunter or game lover in your life, then ask to borrow it and let your mind wander. 

Recipe to try: Wild Turkey Kiev

Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South 

By William Dissen | Countryman Press 

We’ve been anxious for the arrival of chef William Dissen’s first cookbook—and Thoughtful Cooking is worth the wait. In fact, the book is all about taking one’s time in the kitchen, allowing the ingredients, the seasons, and the people you’re feeding to dictate what goes onto the plate each day. In our Winter 2022 interview with Dissen, he says, “I think slowing down is important. Take it from someone who is always in fifth gear, the pedal to the floor. That’s what cooking has always been for me—it’s an opportunity to slow down.” Just imagine a slowly unwinding lunch where tomato sandwiches are slathered with garlic confit aioli or a platter brims with red wine-braised beef short ribs with blue cheese and green apple slaw. For Dissen, taking the time to build those recipes is one way to find joy in the kitchen, and in life. 

Recipe to try: Shiitake Mushroom Spoonbread 

Bourbon Land: A Spirited Love Letter to My Old Kentucky Whiskey, with 50 Recipes

By Edward Lee | Artisan Books

Way back in 2012, chef Edward Lee wrote an article that appeared in one of the first issues of The Local Palate, called “B is for Bourbon: A Personal Journey Into the Heart of the Bourbon Barrel.” Musings and recipes from that article surely guided Lee to pen his newest book, a tribute to all things bourbon that is as much brown-liquor know-how as it is a cookbook. It includes pages and pages of history, deep dives into the ingredients that go into bourbon and tools used to make it, a comprehensive guide to Kentucky distilleries, a look at the famous names behind the labels, and recipes. He offers up a few pages on how and why to cook with bourbon, setting readers up for dishes like corn, avocado, and peach salad with bourbon-sesame vinaigrette and pork meatballs in bourbon-gochujang coconut broth. In between, there are profiles of contemporaries with illustrations and maps. Oh, and of course, there are cocktail recipes, too. It’s a well-researched, passionate, and approachable book that should absolutely live on any bourbon lover’s top shelf. 

Recipe to try: Bone-in Pork Chop with Bourbon Marinade

Cured: Cooking with Ferments, Pickles, Preserves, and More 

By Steve McHugh with Paula Forbes | Ten Speed Press  

For a recent Cook the Book column, TLP Digital Editor Amber Chase dug deep into chef Steve McHugh’s new book, Cured, which is all about preserving and prolonging fresh foods in ways that allow you to enjoy that seasonal goodness all year long. The project was a massive one—McHugh worked with collaborator and editor Paula Forbes—as well as a personal one. As Chase writes, “McHugh draws from personal experience battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, grappling with a different concept of ‘cure,’ and says that his experience undergoing cancer treatment impressed upon him the idea that prolonging moments with friends, family, and food was an art to be sought after.” The title also nods to his San Antonio restaurant of the same name. Inside, there are recipes for pickling, fermenting, and building charcuterie, as well as suggested recipes for using those items in unique ways. Chase especially appreciated the Mix-and-Match Jam Cocktail, which puts to work any jams you might be looking to finish up. Read her report for more on this essential new book. 

Recipe to try: Grissini

In The Catbird Seat: A Nashville Chef’s Journey at the Convergence of Art and Cuisine

By Brian Baxter with Mike Wolf | Turner Publishing 

While this book is not quite out yet, now is the time to pre-order—only 500 copies will be published. That makes sense since The Catbird Seat restaurant in Nashville is known for its limited-seating, luxury-leaning chef’s counter, where each meal is completely one of a kind thanks to a rotating roster of chefs. Chef Brian Baxter landed at The Catbird Seat in 2020, making him the longest-standing chef at the helm (most stints are two years), but that extra time has given him the ability to craft this well-timed tribute to the restaurant that has launched long-standing careers—in fact, the restaurant is moving to a new location and two new chefs, Andy Doubrava and Tiffani Ortiz of the pop-up Slow Burn, are set to take over this summer, making this book a priceless addition. Keep in mind, these recipes aren’t necessarily made for novice home-cooks, but they do offer a glimpse into the layers of precision that have gone into TCS’s menus over the years. Inside, look for some of the restaurant’s iconic dishes, like hay-smoked mussels with sauce poulette and burnt banana bread, as well as watercolors by Baxter himself (the accomplished artist has also painted pieces for each of his seasonal menus). 

Recipe to try: Cantaloupe sherbet with sake and elderflower

Mississippi Mornings: Deep South Breakfasts, Brunches, and Musings 

By Robert St John | Different Drummer Press 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more suited writer for a breakfast cookbook than Robert St. John. As the chef tells us again and again in this book, he is a breakfast guy. And being a Mississipian, his breakfast leans Southern. In his 13th book, St. John sits us down at his boisterous, often-full table where cheddar chive biscuits cozy up to servings of cowboy hash brown skillet and hot honey and hot sauce are both on hand. Lest you think a Southern breakfast is all biscuits and grits, the writer of his foreword, Martha Hall Foose, points out that his catfish Plaquemine can be that interesting mid-morning surprise. St. John’s own mornings often start at The Midtowner, a cafe in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he owns several restaurants including the newly opened Loblolly Bakery with Foose and her bread-baking husband. If you can’t make the trip there, pick up this book—there’s a whole selection of sweet roll recipes that are known to appear on the bakery’s shelves. 

Recipe to try: Eggs Pontchartrain


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