In an era when many of us turn to our favorite foodie website or app, it is fair to ask if cookbooks have become obsolete?
Admittedly, I rely (probably too much) on the reviews and ratings of anonymous people with different palates and preferences to sway my meal planning. In a technology and blog-centric context, it is easy to think of a cookbook as an antiquated complication of recipes and photos in the style of an instructional manual. If you feel this way, I urge you to reconsider.
A well-crafted cookbook is not solely about recipes, it is also about philosophy, culture, bio-regionalism, taste and style. An anthology or, as Questlove offers, a mixtape, a good cookbook takes you on a journey into the creative lives and craft of its author. The following 2019 releases fit that bill and will inspire any cooking enthusiast.
The selections are slightly eclectic and reveal a bit about me, a first-generation, left-leaning, South Asian, partnered to a man from the South.
South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations by Sean Brock. Artisan Press, $40.
Sean Brock is redefining the meaning of Southern cuisine, and South is a monumental reflection of his efforts. With a CV far too extensive to capture here, Brock, a James Beard Award-winning chef is known for his commitment to reviving food pathways and traditions. Obsessively focused on the sourcing of ingredients and redefining the microregions of the South, each recipe is elevated by an extensive resource list of farmers, butchers, mills and makers who are preserving heirloom varieties and traditions. Within the first 10 minutes of reading, Brock challenged the way I think about the American South and its beloved cuisine.
Milk and Cardamom: Spectacular Cakes, Custards and More, Inspired by the Flavors of India by Hetal Vasavada. Page Street Publishing, $ 21.99.
Hetal Vasavada is a first-generation Indian-American who got her break in 2015 on season six of Master Chef. Since then, Vasavada has developed a steady blog and instagram following. Her ability to translate classic Indian desserts into modern and healthy(ish) American baking is the focus of her book. During the current moment’s viral obsession with South Asian spices, Milk & Cardamom is a beautiful collection of recipes to incorporate Indian flavor combinations and spices in any kitchen. Some of the gems in this book include “Ginger-Chai Chocolate Pot de Creme,” “Desi Sweet Potato Pie,” and “Orange and Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls.”
Mixtape Potluck Cookbook by Questlove. Harry N. Abrams, $29.99.
In his fourth book, legendary drummer and co-founder of hip-hop band The Roots, Questlove serves up an innovative cookbook that might help you figure out what to make, take and play at your next potluck. The concept for the book originates with an all-star guest list of attendees to one of Questlove’s “food salons.” Each of the 57 celebrities is asked to bring their favorite dish and recipe. Each recipe, some of which include Padma Lakshmi’s “Chickpea and Spinach Tapas” and Q-Tip’s “Mac and Cheese” is paired with a song chosen by Questlove to introduce the recipe and person cooking it. Explained in the margins of every recipe, each musical commentary offers a glimpse into Questlove’s musical and creative expanse. The culmination of this cookbook details Questlove’s ultimate mixtape potluck playlist and masterful tips for constructing your own dinner party playlist.