All the Cookbooks You Should Be Reading Right Now
Some of our favorite cookbooks feature modern Chinese American dishes, healthy breakfasts, vegan twists on authentic Mexican cuisine, and wine pairings made easy.
Modern Chinese American dishes. Vegan twists on authentic Mexican cuisine. Food and wine pairings made simple. These are just a few of the topics of the cookbooks we’re reading—and using—in our kitchens right now.
You want Hawaiian fare beyond the clichés like kalua pig? We’ve got it, from two-time Top Chef veteran Sheldon Simeon, who grew up in Hilo. Want to try your hand at incorporating edible flowers into everyday meals? California author Cassie Winslow shows us how to do so in spades, from lavender crêpes to apricot-chamomile jam.
We’re learning from some of the best chefs in the West to level up our game in the kitchen, and that includes one who is already garnering major buzz in this year’s accolades. In Oakland, acclaimed pitmaster and 2022 James Beard Award-nominated chef Matt Horn somehow found time between opening two restaurants in the last few years to write his first cookbook. Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ, is “only one of a handful of African American-authored barbecue books published in the last 30 years,” writes James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller in the foreword.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to dive in. Nestle into your coziest reading chair and immerse yourself in their culinary ingenuity. To whet your palate, each of these chefs shared some of their recipes with us; but, trust us, you’ll want to get your hands on their entire cookbooks to truly grasp the magic behind their approach.
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Cook Real Hawai’i
When Sheldon Simeon was a kid growing up in Hilo, he’d help put together massive spreads of pupus for guests his dad had invited over at the last minute. Improvisation was key and delicious was a given.
Simeon, if you don’t know, is a two-time Top Chef veteran (and fan favorite), the chef behind Maui’s Tin Roof restaurant, and the author of Cook Real Hawai’i, a book that expands the popular definition of Hawaiian food beyond the clichés like kalua pig. (If you’re looking for amazing pork dishes, rest assured the book includes a killer recipe for Pork Belly Dinakdakdan, a tangy and rich chile-spiked dish that expresses Simeon’s Filipino-Hawaiian heritage). Learn more! —Hugh Garvey
Phoenix-based curandera Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz can often be found with plants in her pockets. Flip through the pages of her new book, Earth Medicines: Ancestral Wisdom, Healing Recipes, and Wellness Rituals from a Curandera, and you’ll find an array of thoughtful remedies collected and crafted over decades as an indigenous foods activist and natural foods chef in the Sonoran Desert—“one of the most edible and medicinal landscapes of North America,” as Ruiz writes. Her practice has garnered a following in the region and beyond, from author and television host Padma Lakshmi to celebrated publications such as Food & Wine.
The book is organized according to four elements—water, air, fire, and earth—and recipes range from “hydrating skin food,” such as cucumber salad, and nopales medicine water to facial mists, hair moisturizers, mouth rinses, and more. Through it all, Ruiz shares stories and insight from her time in the desert, “living on this land and later working with this land,” as she writes, which has allowed her to “come full circle” not only professionally but also “as a person reclaiming their Indigenous roots.” Learn more! —Kristin Scharkey
Like a lot of other folks, Cassie Winslow moved during the pandemic. She and her family packed up their life in Santa Cruz and headed to the Sacramento Valley to be closer to loved ones and have a bit more room. Unlike a lot of other folks, they spent the first few months planting more than 70 rose bushes around their new home.
Winslow’s husband is the green thumb of the pair, but she is the one who’s garnered a following for her ability to transform seemingly simple dishes and drinks into botanical showpieces on her stunning Instagram and blog @decotartelette, and in her first book, where she showed us how to add beautiful edible flowers to cocktails. Now she’s back with Floral Provisions: 45+ Sweet and Savory Recipes, a cookbook full of tips for leveling up everyday meals with a fragrant twist, from lavender crêpes to apricot-chamomile jam. While there are so many varieties of edible flowers, Winslow features those that are easy to source or grow at home. Learn more! —Kristin Scharkey
Matt Horn continues to evolve the flavor profile of West Coast barbecue. The Oakland pitmaster is chasing perfection, tracing the edges of his culinary foundation built on central Texas barbecue, but layering on ingredients and techniques that are familiar. “West Coast style is utilizing our seasonal bounty and incorporating creative sides to pair with our smoked meats that aren’t categorized as ‘traditional’ to barbecue,” Horn says. “Utilizing everything that is around us here on the West Coast, from ingredients to cultural influences, is the true essence of who we are.”
As Horn finds himself at the forefront of epicurean innovation in Oakland—acutely aware of the city’s “rich history as a destination of the Great Black Migration,” he says—the pitmaster reflects that barbecue has taught him to stay patient, and stay focused. He wants to honor those who came before him and continue to grow as he carries “the culture of barbecue” into the next generation. Learn more! —Kristin Scharkey
Malibu Farm Sunrise to Sunset
Malibu Farm is one of the most iconic coastal restaurants in Southern California, and the last kind of restaurant Helene Henderson imagined herself running. The Swedish-born private chef turned restaurant empire builder is a self-professed sea-averse, non-swimming lover of the land who’d long dreamed of running a spot in the country—not a café teetering on pilings above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
In her new book, Malibu Farm Sunrise to Sunset: Simple Recipes All Day, Henderson compiled the recipes that helped make her restaurant famous, from the vegan chopped salad to the chicken parm from the farm. Learn more! —Hugh Garvey
Mr. Jiu’s in Chinatown
Of all the chefs working in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Brandon Jew might be the most devoted student of the neighborhood’s foodways. Trained in high Italian cuisine, the protégé of legendary San Francisco chefs Judy Rogers of Zuni Café and Michael Tusk of Quince, Jew, a third-generation Chinese-American, pivoted hard from European traditions in 2016 when he opened his modern Chinese restaurant Mr. Jiu’s.
His new book, Mr. Jiu’s In Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food, written with Tienlon Ho, is Jew’s graduate dissertation: a codification of his version of modern Chinese American food, paying respect to the source material while making it his own. There’s a breakdown of the new Chinese pantry, recipes for classic sauces such as XO and basic chili oil, fermentation 101, charcuterie, and exquisite recipes, including rice noodle dim sum topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin, old-school sizzling rice soup, that cross-cultural hit orange chicken, and a master class in roast duck that takes 14 days start to finish. Learn more! —Hugh Garvey
Before he made a name for himself as a vegan author, food stylist, and photographer, Edgar Castrejón grew up in Oakland eating savory meat stews, seafood ceviche, and chicken dishes, immersed in the flavors and culinary traditions of his Mexican-American family. But in college he adopted a fully vegan diet for both philosophical and health reasons. As he writes in his excellent new cookbook, Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community: “That’s when I really set out to veganize the foods I grew up eating. However, I didn’t want to call foods out for being vegan. I just wanted to make tasty food that happens to be plant-based.” And so began a culinary journey to “create vegan versions of generations-old recipes, without sacrificing the authentic Mexican flavors that my family expected and held dear.” Learn more! —Hugh Garvey
Pairing food and wine can be intimidating. We get it. That’s why author Kate Leahy wrote Wine Style: Discover the Wines You Will Love Through 50 Simple Recipes, to find “a happy middle ground” between the wines and the food you like. Leahy’s new book offers 50 recipes organized by their ideal style, from bubbles to orange wines, to take the guesswork out of your dinner prep. There’s chilled smoked salmon spaghetti with capers and avocado, perfectly paired with sparkling rosé and Champagne. (Even better, the leftovers can be used the next morning. “There’s something luxurious about having smoked salmon in the refrigerator waiting to be draped over bagels or avocado slices—or both,” Leahy writes.) Learn more! —Kristin Scharkey