Perhaps it’s Covid, or some supply-chain catch-up, but boy are there a ton of good cookbooks out there right now. So many in fact, that I’m doing two roundups this year instead of just one. Since it’s still summer, I found books for grilling, with plenty of options for carnivores and vegetarians. Others take a direct look at what it means to be an American in 2022, all while providing astounding recipes. One is full of creative and incredibly satisfying dishes that are surprisingly easy to make, perfect for hot summer nights. Finally, a book from two CDC employees uses science to create fabulous cookies. Grab your apron, put the cutting board on the counter, pour yourself something cool to drink, and get cooking.
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Courtesy of Knopf
My America: Recipes From a Young Black ChefBy Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein (Knopf)
Scouting for this story, I stopped in at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, and four staff members wanted to share this book so much, they bent over backward to make sure they found the last copy in the city-block-sized store. Sold out in the cookbook section, this copy was in with the best sellers. Kwame Onwuachi came out of the blocks strong with his 2019 literary memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef, and his first cookbook does not disappoint. He calls it a “celebration of the food of the African diaspora,” and it touches on dishes from places like Jamaica, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Louisiana, and New York. Having recently come back from a trip to Puerto Rico, I made his pollo asado and yellow rice, favorites of his from growing up in the Puerto Rican section of the Bronx. Like other recipes in the book, these are dishes built in layers, where flavor-packed “pantry” items you make, such as garlic-ginger purée, mojo sauce, and sofrito, are augmented with store-bought powerhouse ingredients like powdered bouillon, sazón, and adobo seasoning. The result is high-end devourable food you’ll make again. (Bonus: For more on the diaspora, check out chef and writer Stephen Satterfeld hosting the recent Netflix series High on the Hog.)
Courtesy of Ten Speed Press
Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and SoulBy Kevin Bludso with Noah Galuten (Ten Speed Press)
Most writers spend years struggling to find their voice. Kevin Bludso, pitmaster at Bludso’s Bar & Que in Los Angeles and a regular television personality, establishes his voice in the first paragraph: “I was born and raised in Compton, California, with a police officer father and a Black Panther-supporter mother. Every summer, to stay out of trouble, I went to Corsicana, Texas, to work at my granny’s illegal, bootleg BBQ stand.” He never lets you go after that. What’s equally impressive is how much you can learn as you read and cook your way through his book. Even for potato salad, he’s encouraging you to mix with your hands, taste frequently, and season as you go. “It should taste good every step of the way.” His brisket, which can take up to 14 hours (or more), gives you an escape hatch with a sidebar titled, “The ‘If You Get Drunk and Go to Bed’ Method.” I made his spicy creole cabbage, as well as a smoky, three-meat extravaganza with ham hock, andouille sausage, and bacon. It’s always a good sign when my wife Elisabeth gets into a meaty dish. Here, she wanted seconds.
Only last year did we get the first major cookbook from a black pitmaster (Rodney Scott). Let’s hope that Bludso’s is a sign that we’ll see more and more in the near future.
(Bonus: For a scholarly take on the history of Black BBQ in the United States and how their contributions were often sidelined, check out Arian Miller’s excellent Black Smoke.)
Courtesy of Clarkson Potter
I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward RecipesBy Ali Slagle (Clarkson Potter)
A reimagining of dinner recipes that take less than 45 minutes and use less than 10 ingredients might feel like the theme of some crummy cookbook you impulse-purchased on Amazon at a low moment. Instead, Ali Slagle’s recipes make you think of the smart simplicity of Sam Sifton and the creative gusto of Hugh Acheson. Slagle’s recipes feel inventive, new, and doable on a Tuesday. Huzzah! Polenta with lime butter gets a fresh boost with pepitas, cumin, lime, and kernels from ears of corn run through a box grater. Should we put an egg on top? Hell yes, we should! Next, try her chicken Caesar, where you make a vat of dressing and use some as a marinade to enhance the flavor of the boneless, skinless thighs, the favored chicken part of professionals everywhere. Out of gas? Make her mom’s chili, which isn’t fancy but, as she puts it, is “so good, people joke it’ll be celebrated on her gravestone.” There are about 150 recipes in this book and every one feels about 150 times more clever than what I would have come up with after a long day. This is a cookbook that you hang on to and get covered in sauce stains—in other words, the best kind.