Internet recipes have their place, but the top cookbooks of 2019 prove that some collections work best on the printed page. That’s true not just of all-encompassing guidebooks like the newly revised “Joy of Cooking,” but also of titles that slice off a smaller section of culinary territory and explore it to the fullest. While the topics diverge widely, all the books featured here brim with distinct personality and expert advice.
Earlier this year, an online squabble revolved around whether recipes should tell a story or stick to directions. In book form, it’s clearer that the best can do both; all these selections are reliable resources for the kitchen as well as a pleasure for late-night browsing. Like the best books of any genre, they immerse readers in new worlds and new ideas. Here are our picks.
Flour Bakery dominates pastry
Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe in the Boston area, draws readers into “Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes” with recipes that offer something for every level of home baker. These run the gamut from customer-favorite cookies and brownies to homemade puff pastry and a two-day recipe for apple cider sticky buns. It would be easy to get intimidated by the more elaborate projects, but Chang has confidence that readers can eventually progress, should they choose, from the simpler sweets that start each section to the grander concepts at the end. Precise directions and troubleshooting comments help at all levels, and Chang’s warmth and enthusiasm are an added treat.
Many recipes are gluten-free, vegan, or built on whole grains. While plenty of Flour classics are included, the book also offers some desserts that would be impractical for a bakery to serve.
Vietnamese dishes for home cooks
Andrea Nguyen has already written a virtual reference library on Vietnamese cooking, with five previous cookbooks on the subject, from a James Beard Award-winning pho guide to the comprehensive “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors.” Her new release, “Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors,” stands on its own as an inviting overview on preparing accessible Vietnamese dishes in any kitchen.
Nguyen has distilled her expertise – and her own family’s experiences as refugees in the 1970s – to develop recipes where “there’s no Asian-market shopping required” and no specialty equipment involved. Her well-seasoned knowledge makes simple dishes shine, from chile garlic chicken wings to sizzling rice crepes. She takes readers through tasks as basic as cooking rice and selecting shrimp, but even aficionados can appreciate tweaks like making strong Vietnamese coffee without owning the traditional metal filter.
Just getting dinner on
The clear, practical advice of Molly Stevens has been the secret ingredient behind many a delicious dinner party. In her earlier books, “All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking” and “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art,” Stevens demystified those cooking techniques and shared sturdy, stellar recipes.
With her new collection, “All About Dinner: Simple Meals, Expert Advice,” the longtime cooking instructor turns to the basic meals she makes in her own home. The humble-sounding topic turns out to be extraordinary; even her directions for a simple green salad or sautéed fish fillets elevate those everyday dishes to the point where you’d be proud to serve them to company.
As Stevens explains, part of becoming a good cook is “about figuring out how cooking fits into your daily life and learning to approach it with joy and confidence.”
Middle Eastern food with a fresh twist
Adeena Sussman could cut through the dreariest winter day with recipes from “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen,” her colorful love letter to her Tel Aviv home. There, even bags of the seasoning za’atar represent to her “the sun and spice of this magical place.”
The book is personal but also instructive, walking a cook through the region’s diverse flavors and cultures. The pages are bursting with bright recipes and delectable photos, such as a triple-ginger persimmon loaf perfectly backed by a fruity orange plate. Tahini (the subject of one of Sussman’s earlier books) shines in everything from breakfast smoothies to dessert blondies, while a fabulous hummus achieves “the texture of buttercream frosting.”
Sussman does her best to showcase foods she’s experienced and the people behind the dishes without becoming entangled in political conflicts, also making it clear that “this is by no means a comprehensive guide to the foods of Israel, but rather a window into how I like to cook right now.”
Previously best known as co-author of celebrity Chrissy Teigen’s bestselling cookbooks, Sussman has created a book with a passion and appeal that are all her own.
Beyond soul food
Toni Tipton-Martin spotlighted “previously invisible” black cookbook authors in 2015 in her James Beard Award-winning book, “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks.” She broadens that mission in her eye-opening new cookbook, “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking.”
Drawing on historic recipes, she expands our understanding of African American food beyond the clichés of “poverty, survival, and soul food.” Backing her own professional-recipe development skills with decades of historical research, she showcases the full range of the contributions of African American cooks across social structures, “the enslaved and the free, the working class, the middle class, and the elite.”
Modern recipes are sometimes interspersed with historical versions of dishes, adding to our understanding of their evolution. Tempting recipes from jambalaya to devil’s-food cake provide a rich and welcome history lesson along with Tipton-Martin’s straightforward and assured cooking advice.