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The Cookbooks on Our Wish Lists

The Cookbooks on Our Wish Lists
Written by Erin Byers Murray

These are the cookbooks we’re wrapping for others this year:

Cookbooks

Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora
By Bryant Terry
4 Color Books

“Like Black people, this book contains multitudes,” writes Bryant Terry, summing up the introduction to Black Food. Originally from Memphis, Terry serves as the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the Africa Diaspora in San Francisco and has produced other award-winning books such as Vegetable Kingdom.

In these pages, he offers up a groundbreaking collection of works, one that centers numerous Black voices in the traditions of food, art, literature, poetry, and religion. This is not just a cookbook but a literary work of art, complete with recipes that honor the Black experience. From the thought-provoking essays and poetry that launch each chapter to the extensive and meaningful headnotes, the book is a collection of voices that shape an essential story about food. Ruminations on the way Toni Morrison’s home once smelled or the movement of food across the world put into context a shared history and culture from a powerful set of writers, including Michael W. Twitty, Toni Tipton-Martin, Kia Damon, Erika Council, Adrian Miller, and many more. The visual art, too, puts power into the pages with sculpture, still life, and abstract pieces, plus, yes, pictures of eat-off-the-page dishes. “Now it’s more important than ever for Black food creatives to remember that we define the times in which we live with our voices and our craft,” writes Thérèse Nelson—by buying and reading this work, you support their efforts.

Recipe we’re making: Sweet Potato Grits by Kia Damon, because what an ingenious pairing, especially served alongside fried catfish.

Cookbooks for Building Techniques

Cookbooks

Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions from around the World
By Sandor Ellix Katz
Chelsea Green Publishing

A self-proclaimed fermentation revivalist, Sandor Katz has traveled the world teaching, speaking, and sharing his knowledge about one of the oldest forms of food preservation. In his fifth book, he works to connect the dots of the many and varied techniques and cultural traditions he’s come across along the way. Organized by “substrate” (or the underlying item being fermented), the book moves from alcoholic fermentations (mezcal, wine, and vinegars) to vegetables (kraut from China to Mexico appears) to grains, tubers, and beans and seeds (tofu and farinata). Katz’s storytelling is both practical—he focuses on the technique and details—and meaningful in that it shares little-reported histories and cultural tales that shape a broader story about the regions he’s visited. Pick this one up for the armchair traveler and those who like a deep dive into cooking techniques.

Recipe we’re making: Pickle Soup, which hails from Alaska and feels like all of our sour-food dreams in a bowl.

Cookbooks That Revive the Past

Cookbooks

New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian

By Freddie Bitsoie and James O. Fraioli

Abrams

Growing up as a Navajo in the Southwest, Freddie Bitsoie soaked up the details, from the microclimates of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to traditions he gleaned from his grandmother, including the art of storytelling. He also cooked, teaching himself in secret until he could no longer hide the missing chicken he’d burned. These life experiences eventually led him to his current role as executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, where he uses food to build awareness of Indigenous traditions.

Having traveled extensively to learn about the many regional distinctions of Native American groups, Bitsoie is not trying to produce recipes from, he writes, “the nearly six hundred Native American communities in what is now the U.S.,” but rather chooses to adapt and honor their shared culinary traditions, presenting dishes that work in modern kitchens with ingredients that can now be easily tracked down across the country. Dishes like a rabbit stew with corn dumplings and mashed cranberry beans softened with coconut milk are bridges between the past and present—he alludes to centuries-old traditions that are still with us today. Throughout the book, he calls out various native tribes and communities to better detail the specific foodways of those groups. With an aim to educate and inspire, New Native Kitchen is both meaningful and packed with resources.

Recipe we’re making: Chocolate Bison Chili for the promise of a spicy, savory, and bittersweet stew.

Cookbooks that Transport You

Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets

By Pati Jinich

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Maryland-based, Mexican-born Pati Jinich is well-known for her ten-year-running PBS show Pati’s Mexican Table, during which she travels throughout Mexico and shares regional recipes. In her third book, Jinich goes deep into the micro-regions of her home country to deliver recipes that explore the heart of the place where they’re from—especially since most are pulled from home kitchens. A spring onion and tomato soup from Durango, for example, is loaded with butter, cheese, and cream, which are prevalent in the region. There are shrimp and scallop tostadas from Sonora, a region she calls out not only for its farmland but also for the reality that it harbors many opium producers.

Her look at Mexico is candid and educational—she digs into the history of the Lebanese community of Mexico, which has been rooted there since the 1800s and influenced the well-known tacos al pastor, as well as the Spanish who brought wheat to the country hundreds of years ago and then used the flour it produced to influence the native community, who relied on corn as a primary grain. Meanwhile, the recipes will motivate you to get into the kitchen—there’s a robust section of salsas, pickles, and guacamoles, as well as plenty of styles of tacos (Jinich points out that it should be used as a verb as often as it is a noun, since nearly everything can be “taco-ed”). Crisscrossing her native land, Jinich teaches and informs, while also coaching readers, be they novices to Mexican cooking or seasoned pros, how to coax out the country’s beloved flavors.

Recipe we’re making: Clams with Dirty Rice (Almejas con Arroz) for its aromatic, beer-inflected sauce.

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