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The best cookbooks of 2023, from our resident chef Kathy Gunst

Kathy Gunst rounded up her favorite cookbooks from 2023. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Kathy Gunst rounded up her favorite cookbooks from 2023. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

I say the same thing every December: there were so many really good new cookbooks published this year. And 2023 is no exception. The stacks of books in my office have almost covered the windows, and I need every bit of early winter light I can get. I’ve chosen three (though it was harder than ever to narrow it down) new favorites to highlight and listed many others that I find equally compelling.

A cookbook is an investment in the future — the future of your family meals and friend gatherings. A good cookbook wakes you up, adds new ideas, flavors and techniques to your kitchen, and gets you excited to get into the kitchen and cook again. This list of cookbooks — ranging from Vietnamese, Chinese, Latin, Italian, Israeli, Persian, Iranian, English, and American — should offer more than enough ideas to get you started.

3 favorite cookbooks

Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea

By Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press)

The cover of “Ever-Green Vietnamese.” (Courtesy of Ten Speed Press)

In the summer of 2019, Andrea Nguyen felt “cruddy after years of eating everything that I wanted.” She saw doctors and specialists and came to a conclusion: “I think I need to slow down, rest up, and change my diet.” She focused on vegetables and consuming way less meat and fish. Nguyen, an award-winning Vietnamese food expert, began experimenting with favorite Vietnamese dishes and flavors, and “Ever-Green Vietnamese” is the result.

I tried two dishes from the book, and both were winners: Shaking Salmon combines sauteed pieces of fresh salmon with a sauce made of ginger, garlic, fish sauce and soy sauce served over salad greens, fresh mint, dill and basil, cherry tomatoes and topped with roasted salmon skin bits. The dish had vibrant flavors, texture, and color. On a dark December afternoon, it brought a brightness to my kitchen I was desperately seeking.

Next, I tried the Spicy Mushroom and Cabbage Slaw, combining thinly sliced green cabbage, sauteed mushrooms, raw strips of carrots tossed with a dressing made from chiles, fish sauce, peanuts, and rice vinegar. The slaw is topped with fresh mint and cilantro leaves and finished off with sauteed fried shallots. It was a deeply satisfying main course or side dish. The book is filled with soups, banh mi, and rice dishes. Most of the recipes are straightforward and clear. I can’t wait to dive into the chapter on rice paper rolls, particularly the one with shrimp and mango.

Shaking Salmon from ‘Ever-Green Vietnamese’

Shaking Salmon from “Ever-Green Vietnamese.” (Aubrie Pick)

Reprinted with permission from “Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea” by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2023. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Veg-Table: Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big-Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals

By Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books)

The cover of “Veg-Table.” (Courtesy of Chronicle Books)

This is award-winning writer and photographer Nik Sharma’s third book, dedicated to the growing, cooking and understanding of vegetables. The cleverly titled “Veg-Table” is focused on vegetable groups like onions, shallots and leeks; beets, chard and spinach; and carrots, celery, fennel and parsnips, and everything in between.

Sharma grew up in Mumbai and brings his East Asian background and his training as a molecular biologist to this new book. There are clear explanations as to why certain techniques are used, but book is also filled with new flavors and recipes that borrow from several cultures.

In his recipe for Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes, Sharma transforms the classic Chinese dish by substituting sweet potatoes for chicken with lots of chiles and peanuts; you’ll find you won’t miss the meat a bit. The Celery Herb Salad with Lime Vinaigrette is an ideal winter dish, full of bright colors, flavors and texture.

The Cook’s Notes offer tips, background on ingredients and scientific explanations as to why a recipe works and what to do to avoid failure. Sharma’s photography is bright and stunning. I’m looking forward to trying Grilled Zucchini with Pumpkin seed Chutney, Indian Lamb and Lentil Stew, and the Peanut Muhammara Egg Sandwich among others.

Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes from “Veg-Table.” (Nik Sharma)

Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes from ‘Veg-Table’

Reprinted with permission from “Veg-Table: Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals” by Nik Sharma. © 2023. Published by Chronicle Books. 

Love Is A Pink Cake: Irresistible Bakes for Morning, Noon and Night from the Founder of Violet Bakery

By Claire Ptak (Norton) 

The cover of “Love is a Pink Cake.” (Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company)

This isn’t the splashiest, fanciest baking book out there. But it is thoroughly appealing in every way. The photography is simple, yet draws you in. The recipes called to me to turn on the oven and get out my apron. I baked the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, and it was so moist and full of rich, dark chocolate flavor that I knew it would become a regular part of my dessert repertoire. And a bonus: no gluten. Ground hazelnuts, dark chocolate, eggs and butter with flaky sea salt make the cake. The Rye, Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies are also a winner. Looking ahead to find time for the Blue Cheese Buns, Lemon Meringue Pie Bars, and Tahini Halva Brownies.

As Claire Ptak, a California native who opened the Violet Bakery in London in 2005, writes in the introduction: “We bake for love. Whether it’s for ourselves, to show love for a child, friend or partner or to celebrate a rite of passage, there is no denying the incredible effect cakes can have.” The title, by the way, comes from the collection of prints called “Love is a Pink Cake” by Andy Warhol.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake from “Love is a Pink Cake.” (Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company)

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake from ‘Love is a Pink Cake’

Excerpted from “Love Is a Pink Cake: Irresistible Bakes for Morning, Noon, and Night” by Claire Ptak. Copyright © 2023 by Claire Ptak. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Additional recommendations

To improve your skills

Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook: A Cookbook

By Sohla El-Waylly (Knopf)

I wouldn’t call this a cookbook for beginners, but I would call it a thick volume filled with great ideas, a comforting voice and great inspiration. Sohla El-Waylly has a sharp sense of language and flavor, as seen in dishes like Charred Lemon Risotto, Broiler Lamb Kofta with All the Fixins, and Cardamom Pistachio Cake, to name a few. She takes you through techniques and insider tips that will make a better cook of anyone, no matter your skill level.

More vegetables, please

Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds

By Hetty Lui McKinnon (Knopf)

This is a thick volume of inspiration. I’ve tried the Charred Broccoli Reuben Salad and the Carrot Peanut Satay Ramen and can’t wait to work my way through the rest of this beautiful book. Hetty Lui McKinnon’s writing about grief and the power of food is powerful.

Click here for a conversation between Hetty Lui McKinnon and host Scott Tong.

Latin American flavors

Latinísimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America

By Sandra A. Gutierrez (Knopf)

This thick volume is a tour de force. Sandra A. Gutierrez has put together a nearly encyclopedic collection of recipes from all the Latin American nations. Rather than divide the book up by country, the chapters focus on indigenous ingredients like corn, beans, squash, chiles, avocados, achiote and more. I can’t wait to try Coliflor Envuelta en Huevo (battered cauliflower with tomato sauce) from Guatemala, Pollo en Coco (golden coconut chicken) from Honduras and Nicaraugua, and Alfajores con Bano de Chocolte (dulce de leche and chocolate sandwich cookies) from Argentina.

I want to entertain more this year

Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others

By Amy Thielen (Norton)

Amy Thielen’s relaxed, easy style makes you want to pick up the phone and invite a group of friends over this weekend. The menus are appealing: In the section ‘Pent-Up Winter Grilling’ you’ll find recipes for Deviled Egg Dip, Bundy Pan Chicken with Bagna-Cauda Butter, Fun-House Baked Potatoes, and more.  There’s menus for Saturday night, Holidays, and casual buffets.

Pasta, anyone?

Italy by Ingredients: Artisanal Foods, Modern Recipes

By Viola Buitoni (Rizzoli)

This book is stunning. It’s divided up by type of ingredient — condiments, cereals, dairy, meat, fish — and offers a collection of truly original recipes. I found myself forming a grocery list as I leafed through these pages, ready to cook just about anything and everything on these pages.

Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen

By Leah Koenig  (Norton)

Recipes and stories from Rome’s Jewish quarter.

Light up the barbeque

“Ed Mitchell’s Barbeque”

By Ed and Ryan Mitchell, Pitmasters (Ecco)

This is the real deal. Recipes and stories from pitmasters Ed and Ryan Mitchell include Rib Tips with Ed’s Barbeque Sauce, Ed’s Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce, Barbeque Spatchcocked Chicken, and Hellwig Raleigh Country Club Tomato Pie.

Click here for a conversation between Ryan Mitchell and host Scott Tong.

Make it spicy

The Book of Sichuan Chili Crisp: Spicy Recipes and Stories from Fly by Jing Kitchen

By Jing Gao (Ten Speed Press)

For the chili lover in your life, this is a terrific collection of recipes ranging from Stir-Fried Chinese Greens to Chilled Sesame Noodles to Kung Pao Shrimp.

Save Chinatown!

Made Here:Recipes and Reflections from New York City’s Asian Communities

By Send Chinatown Love

This gorgeous cookbook is filled with recipes, photos and in-depth stories from 43 of New York City’s Chinese restaurants. “Send Chinatown Love” is a volunteer-run organization providing financial and resource-based aid to NYC’s Asian businesses. ​​100% of net proceeds of this cookbook will go back to funding Send Chinatown Love’s community-building efforts.

Cooking to help humanity

The World Central Kitchen Cookbook: Feeding Humanity, Feeding Hope

By José Andrés & World Central Kitchen (Clarkson Potter)

Everyone knows chef José Andrés and his heroic efforts to jump in every time there’s war or disaster in the world (which happens pretty constantly these days). This new book documents the efforts of World Central Kitchen through stories and recipes.

Click here for a conversation between José Andrés and host Scott Tong.

Flavors from Israel

Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals From My Table to Yours

By Adeena Sussman (Avery Press)

This book offers stories and recipes from Sussman’s Tel Aviv kitchen including Challah Rolls, Kresch Family Cabbage Noodles, Grilled Halloumi, Fig & Toasted Hazelnut Salad,  and Halvah Berry Bread Pudding with Tahini Drizzle.

Drink up

Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice: Cocktails From Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

By Toni Tipton-Martin (Clarkson Potter)

Toni Tipton-Martin is a pro. When she digs into a subject she digs deep. Here she explores the story of African Americans and their role in American mixology. History, story-telling, recipes and dramatic photography make this book a winner.

The table of contents for the cocktail recipes is a sign of the creative recipes to come: Fermented, Brewed & Steeped, Batch, Built, Layered, Shaken, Stirred, and Zero-Proof. You’ll find familiar cocktails like Mai Tai and Gin Fizz, but also new ones like Angel’s Tip and Blackberry-Ginger Bourbon Smash that might just have you grabbing your shakers and stirrers and opening the bar.

Did someone say cookies?

The Cookie That Changed My Life and More Than 100 Other Classic Cakes, Cookies, Muffins, and Pies That Will Change Yours

By Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreno (Knopf)

What can you say about a book with a title that haunts and tugs at you saying, ‘You don’t believe me? Bake the cookies!’ Nancy Silverton’s latest collection of cookies, cakes and pies will have you turning up the oven and putting on your apron. The book includes recipes for Parmesan and Pecorino Scones, Chewy Ginger Cookies, Lemon Bundt Cake and more.

From across the sea

The Secret of Cooking: Recipes for an Easier Life in the Kitchen

By Bee Wilson (Norton)

Bee Wilson’s book is like being invited into a warm, cozy kitchen for a cup of tea. Her writing, her recipes and her warm style of talking about food makes you want to cook your way through much of the book. She understands that we all live busy, crazy lives and often it’s challenging to find time for cooking.

“I wanted to crack the code of how to fit cooking into the everyday mess and imperfection of all our lives,” she writes, “without it seeming like yet another undoable thing on the to-do list or yet another reason to berate ourselves for falling short.”

I love reading about food as much as I love cooking it

National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home

By Anya Von Bremzen (Penguin Press)

This is a great read. Anya Von Bremzen takes you around the globe, from Naples, Italy, and stories of pizza, pasta and pomodoro, to Oaxaca, Mexico, and tales of moles, maize and mezcal. You’ll visit Tokyo and learn about ramen and rice and Seville, Spain, the home of tapas.

The story of Chinese food

Invitation to a Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food

By Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton)

A fascinating look into the history of Chinese food.

Other favorites

Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Lifeby Homa Dashtaki (Norton)

Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach To Classic Persian Cuisine: A Cookbook by Nasim Alikhani with Theresa Gambacorta (Knopf)

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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