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Some of the best cookbooks of 2023 offer an education as well as ideas for dinner. Whether going deep on techniques, weaving in the “whys,” or tapping into a magical way of thinking about cooking, they rest on a solid foundation of knowledge. Others tell the story of community, from a wood-fired pizza place in Montreal to the ancient roots of Roman Jewish cuisine. They transcend borders and showcase underappreciated ingredients, celebrate vegetables in all their glory, explore changes in appetite and make the great outdoors more delicious. Here are 10 of the year’s most inspiring cookbooks.
1. Tenderheart, by Hetty Lui McKinnon
Ever since I got my copy of Tenderheart, I’ve kept it close. Just outside the kitchen, within reach at all times. Anytime I have a vegetable in hand and need inspiration for a meal, I turn to it — and it never disappoints. A plethora of sweet potatoes? Roast sweet potato wedges with ají verde. A bounty of beautiful Hakurei turnips? Turnip tortilla is a delight for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sydney-raised, New York City-based author Hetty Lui McKinnon’s fifth cookbook is rare. Practical and whimsical, thoughtful and heartfelt, it’s a book about family as much as it is about vegetables and as soul-satisfying to read as it is to cook from. I’ve given copies to friends, saying, “I hope you love this as much as I do.” And knowing they will.
2. The Secret of Cooking, by Bee Wilson
To read Bee Wilson’s The Secret of Cooking is to immerse yourself in the everyday magic of the kitchen. After writing seven books about food through various lenses, this is the Cambridge-based author’s first cookbook, and it’s brimming with advice on how to make cooking more enjoyable. It made me think differently about tools — the spider a friend gave me many years ago, which I use almost daily to lift eggs out of a saucepan or skim blanched spinach from a pot; the box grater I was close to tossing — and even time itself. Wilson thinks of cooking as a dance, timing tasks with songs instead of a clock. Making a cassoulet could be an opera. Mixing the ingredients for a cake, a Stevie Wonder song. Prepping the vegetables and herbs for Wilson’s adaptable âsh is not a chore. It’s an episode of one of my favourite podcasts.
3. Salad Pizza Wine, by Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky
I first became a fan of the team at Montreal restaurant Elena in 2020, when they raised $50,000 for the city’s hospitality workers with a pair of self-published cookbooks. So, I was overjoyed when they released their first professionally published book this year, Salad Pizza Wine. The book has a choose-your-own-adventure style with more than 115 seasonal recipes that authors Janice Tiefenbach, Stephanie Mercier Voyer, Ryan Gray and Marley Sniatowsky hope readers will mix and match. Naturally leavened pizza is at the heart of all they do at Elena, and the book features sourdough and yeasted versions. The best part? You don’t need a pizza oven — their al taglio dough is a winner in a sheet pan. And the salads are pure joy.
4. Start Here, by Sohla El-Waylly
The best cookbooks stick with you long after you’ve closed them. Some offer windows into worlds you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Others, like Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here, teach. Of course, there are recipes, but the lessons go much further than any one dish. Armed with the whys and hows, readers can take newfound knowledge with them and apply it to the rest of their cooking. El-Waylly’s cookbook debut aims to do just that. An even split between savoury and pastry — “It’s all impressive. It’s all important.” — El-Waylly delves into 12 core techniques and 200 recipes spanning 578 pages. Her Temperature Management 101 chapter alone, in which she teaches all you need to know about managing heat and time by cooking eggs, is worth the price of admission. (You’ll never pry tiny shards of shell off holey, hard-boiled eggs again.)
5. Cook It Wild, by Chris Nuttall-Smith
Considering how much time Canadians spend in the great outdoors, you’d think we’d eat better while doing it. Chris Nuttall-Smith’s cookbook debut, Cook It Wild, is a much-needed guide to giving camp food a major upgrade. Leave the just-add-water pouches at the outdoor store and dig into meals that would be enviable pretty much anywhere, but especially around a campfire, away from the comforts of home. Nuttall-Smith hooked me with his picks for the best-travelling cheeses and reeled me in with dan dan noodles of backcountry dreams, made possible thanks to his method for oven-dehydrating pork at home before you hit the trails. Whether you’re backpacking, paddling, car, RV or cabin camping, Nuttall-Smith covers the basics of outdoor cooking and shares 80 prep-ahead recipes that are anything but.
6. Ever-Green Vietnamese, by Andrea Nguyen
Cookbooks rarely acknowledge a common occurrence in many people’s lives: a change in appetite. Andrea Nguyen’s midlife shift became a springboard, which is a big part of what makes her seventh book, Ever-Green Vietnamese, so refreshing. The James Beard Award-winning author and cooking teacher’s desire to eat more plants and less meat brought her back to her food roots in Vietnam. The book’s 125-plus vegetable-forward, low-meat recipes reflect Nguyen’s personal journey but are also very much of the moment. The number of people embracing a flexible, plant-centric way of eating is growing. In creative recipes such as char siu cauliflower tucked into bao, vegan fish sauce and plant-based peppery bologna (giò lụa chay) for bánh mì, Nguyen steers clear of commercially made substitutes and puts vegetables squarely in the spotlight.
7. Simply West African, by Pierre Thiam with Lisa Katayama
Sometimes, it takes just one great recipe for a book to earn a permanent place on your shelf (digital or physical). I have Simply West African to thank for introducing a single ingredient into my repertoire: fonio. I had read about the drought-resistant, nutritious and versatile West African grain before — primarily related to its promise as a future food — but had never tasted it. After reading Senegal-born, California-based chef Pierre Thiam’s fourth cookbook, I ordered a bag and am so happy I did. Thiam transcends borders in the book, with over 80 recipes from his home region. As the title suggests, uncomplicated dishes are the name of the game, with such satisfying, straight-forward meals as root vegetable mafé, his Aunt Marie’s sauce feuille (leafy beef stew) and, one of my favourites, West Africa-meets-Japan fonio porridge.
8. The Korean Cookbook, by Junghyun Park and Jungyoon Choi
I took a six-week Korean cooking class at culinary school, which gave me an idea of the foundations. But even that didn’t prepare me for The Korean Cookbook by chefs Junghyun “JP” Park and Jungyoon Choi. To say it’s in-depth is an understatement. The authors worked on the book for more than three years, featuring 350-plus recipes at the heart of Korean home cooking. Park and Choi’s expertise, shared love of hansik (Korean cuisine), and commitment to culinary research set The Korean Cookbook apart. The authors delve into the history of Korean cuisine, the fermented flavours and plants that underpin it, and look to the future with profiles of some of the master artisans pushing hansik forward. As with the country’s signature dish, kimchi, the book tells an ever-evolving story of the Korean way of eating.
9. Portico, by Leah Koenig
After casting her net wide for The Jewish Cookbook (2019), Brooklyn-based writer Leah Koenig zeroed in on the food culture of a single community for her seventh book, Portico. Named after Portico d’Ottavia (Octavia’s Porch), the ruins of which sit at the edge of the Ghetto neighbourhood, the book is an invitation to explore the foodways of Rome’s ancient Jewish community, dating back more than 2,000 years. A trip to Rome in 2009 spurred Koenig to dedicate her food writing career to sharing global Jewish stories. She sees Portico as a means of thanking the Roman Jewish community for the inspiration. A spirit of resilience permeates the book as Koenig explores a distinct cuisine shaped by centuries of persecution and firmly rooted in tradition.
10. In Mary’s Kitchen, by Mary Berg
Since she shot to food TV fame in 2016 as the winner of MasterChef Canada, Mary Berg has established herself as the country’s trusted friend in the kitchen. Now a daytime talk show host as well as a cooking show star, her third cookbook, In Mary’s Kitchen, anticipates the questions her audience might have. “Why is she chopping the garlic before adding it to the food processor?” “Why is she stirring occasionally instead of constantly?” As with El-Waylly’s Start Here, Berg wraps recipes in an education. She highlights the whys in each one: “tricky lessons that you don’t really know you’re getting.” All the while, Berg followed her 30/70 rule — 30 per cent effort, 70 per cent payoff — to make her recipes as stress-free as possible.
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