Right now even the most ardent cooks feel weary of their kitchens, so as we waded through this spring’s hundred or so new cookbooks, we were searching for inspiration. Below you’ll find the books that proved themselves in our kitchens—and got us excited to make dinner again. These 11 books have no-nonsense weeknight stuff and the decadent stuff of future meals with friends. There are superlative baked goods, flavorful dumplings, and a crème caramel for one. This list is the best of the season; we're sure there's a book here that will help every cook find fresh ideas to cook their way through this spring.
Bavel by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis, and Lesley Suter
Often chef’s cookbooks, while gorgeous, prove tricky and fussy for the home cook. Not so with Bavel, the latest cookbook by pastry chef and chef duo Genevieve Gergis and Ori Menashe, alongside writer Lesley Suter. Bavel is based loosely around the chefs’ Middle Eastern Los Angeles restaurant by the same name—a place where our senior editor Maggie Hoffman says she “had one of the best meals of all time.” I say loosely because Bavel the cookbook gets much of its strength from the family recipes dotted throughout, the ones that sustain the chefs in their busy day-to-day life. It’s hard to improve upon a simple roast chicken, but the Turmeric Chicken With Toum, conceived for an easy dinner party, might just edge out your fallback recipe. Crisp, turmeric-stained skin, juicy, yogurt-marinated meat, and a smear of garlicky toum, its bite softened by orange blossom water: this chicken somehow has it all.
While the book skips across the Middle East and occasionally over to India—both Yemeni hawaij and garam masala make appearances as do the plump, meaty Georgian dumplings hingali—much of the food is Israeli, since Menashe spent most of his childhood there. There’s the hummus that the late Jonathan Gold called “magnificent”, and lots of crunchy little ferments for snacking or to accompany a meal. And though the simple things here might feel the most approachable, I couldn’t help but dream of the cheffier recipes for a distant summer dinner: scallop crudo spiked with burnt serrano chile, a layered, jewel-red Persian mulberry cake served with a swoosh of crème fraîche. This is a book to cook from now, and to dream about cooking from in the future, when there are friends to spoil after a year apart. —Lauren Joseph
Bavel is out April 6 and available for preorder now.
Rodney Scott's World of BBQ by Rodney Scott
Growing up in North Carolina’s Sandhills, we ate a lot of whole-hog barbecue, but we never made it at home. Roasting a pig was the specialized work of chefs, caterers, and a select few deacons at our church. That’s why I was so happy to read Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ—a book that brings the sacrament of whole-hog barbecue down to earth.
I imagined that it might take a full book for Rodney Scott to teach someone to barbecue the way he does in Charleston, but Scott manages to do it in the 30 pages before the recipes start. A year ago, asking the average home cook to build a barbecue pit in their backyard might’ve seemed like too large an ask. But in the past year, many of us have conquered sourdough, mastered pickling, and tried out lamination. And the clear, inviting way in which Scott communicates his techniques will have you pricing out concrete blocks at the hardware store. Writing with a lifetime of experience behind him, Scott manages to make Carolina barbecue feel accessible to the weekend warrior.
I have to make a confession: I made one of Rodney Scott’s recipes on a propane grill. And it was incredible. Now, I know how important hardwood smoke is to barbecue, and fully intend on cooking over coals this summer, but I just couldn’t make it happen in my Brooklyn backyard this winter. It was a Wednesday night, and I really wanted to try the Pork T-Bones recipe, along with the accompanying recipes for Rib Rub and Rodney’s Sauce. Now, if those pork chops were that good (extremely) with my suboptimal grill setup, I can only imagine how good they’re going to be when I make them properly this summer.
If you’re still nervous about committing to a new barbecue hobby, I’d invite you to start with the sauces and rib rub recipes. Not only do they feature heavily in the book’s other recipes, but Scott’s sauces and seasonings stand up on their own. Once you dip your toe into Rodney Scott’s world, you’re gonna want to dive all the way in. —Andrew Spena
Rodney Scott's World of BBQ is out now.
To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon
We cannot publish a Hetty McKinnon recipe without it winding up as the most popular recipe of the week. Just make her miso-laced squash ramen or deliciously charred cabbage steaks and you’ll understand why that is. In To Asia, With Love, I found a nearly greedy amount of those sure hits. McKinnon, who grew up in Australia to Chinese parents and now calls Brooklyn home, calls the food third-culture cooking: “a cross-pollination of ideas and techniques that are grounded in my Chinese heritage, yet greatly influenced by growing up in the Western world.”
McKinnon has a special knack for food that’s excellent for families, but isn’t anywhere near dull. The Buttery Miso Vegemite Noodles, all glossy and salty, get a sharp tang from a pile of grated cheddar cheese and come together in a minute. Lots of recipes are accompanied by plenty of options for toppings or fillings, key for anyone trying to feed a slew of demanding palates: for example, her jook has three optional vegetable garnishes with varying levels of spice, crunch, and savoriness, and McKinnon lays out a rainbow of dumpling fillings, which include combos like asparagus, mint, and feta, and lentil and cauliflower curry. It’s the kind of food I aspire to cook at home year round, but sometimes lack the know-how and motivation for. Luckily, I doubt I’ll be far from To Asia, With Love for some time. —Lauren Joseph
To Asia, With Love is out April 6 and available for preorder now.
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
Here is what Yasmin Khan does better than almost anyone: dive deep into the cuisine of a specific region of the world to create a compendium of recipes, stories, interviews, and stunning photos that transport you (with all five senses engaged) to that place. I know that sounds like a tall order—and even a little bit cliche—but somehow Khan manages to pull it off again and again, with depth, generosity, and a palpable love of listening and learning.
Ripe Figs is Khan's third cookbook, and in my mind it's destined for the same much-lauded-and-awarded status as Saffron Tales and Zaitoun. Centered around the Mediterranean, the book zooms in on Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey specifically, highlighting lessons from the home cooks and food lovers she met while researching the area. In particular, she takes care to tell migrant and refugee stories, which bolster and enrich the vibrant culinary tradition of the region. I've loved everything I've made from the book so far, including some herb-studded and cheesy zucchini fritters and what she calls a "sunshine salad"—a Cypriot potato, avocado, and tomato medley with halloumi. Best of all, though, was the perde pilavi, a Turkish rice pilaf wrapped in a blanket of yogurt-based pastry dough. I can't wait until I can make this special occasion dish (often served at weddings) for friends, cutting everyone big, golden, nut-and-raisin-studded slices. —Kendra Vaculin
Ripe Figs is out May 4 and available for preorder now.
Cook Real Hawai'i by Sheldon Simeon
About 1.5 million people live in Hawaii, but the remote islands draw nearly 10 million visitors a year. “How does a place that has so long been defined by the outside world define itself? The answer is the reason why I set out to write this book,” chef Sheldon Simeon writes in Cook Real Hawai’i's introduction. In this cookbook Simeon delves into Hawaii's oft-misunderstood cuisine, giving readers a peek into local garage parties and family barbecues. Hibachi chicken barbecue, charred fish sinigang, kimchi dip, and an entire poke primer—these dishes showcase the islands’ mixed cultures, ingredients, and cooking styles. I’ve already got a couple of dishes on repeat: the deeply savory Fried Garlic Noodles, seasoned with soy sauce and dashi powder, and the creamy, coconutty Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes, sprinkled with bonito flakes or bits of skipjack tuna jerky. Both of these dishes offer what feels like a key to the essential flavors of Hawaii. —Tiffany Hopkins
Cook Real Hawai'i is out March 30 and available for preorder now.
Mother Grains by Roxana Jullapat
While there’s something in Mother Grains for the folks who’ve been ambitious about their sourdough since the early months of lockdown (or before), what delights me most about this cookbook from renowned Los Angeles baker (and Epi contributor) Roxana Jullapat is that it isn’t just for the hardcore. This book offers ways to deepen the flavor of many less-intensive baking projects, including waffles and pancakes, scones and cookies, cakes and muffins. It gives home bakers a taste of what’s been going on in many of the best bakeries lately, illustrating how diversifying your flour pantry and leaning on full-flavored grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat is a bit like switching from coloring with graphite pencil to painting with a rainbow palette. When the grains are great—like the nutty, creamy Sonora flour she has you use in her spectacular oatmeal cookies—baked goods can taste more cohesive and more intricate in flavor. Our colleagues at Bon Appétit called this book “the most exciting cookbook of the spring,” and the more we bake from it, the more we’re inclined to agree. —Maggie Hoffman
Mother Grains is out April 20 and available for preorder now.
Cook This Book by Molly Baz
Molly Baz wants you to follow the recipe exactly. And if you like it, she wants you to follow it again. Cook This Book is a syllabus for how to become a more technically-skilled cook—and according to the former BA editor, following a recipe precisely as it’s written is one the best ways to learn how to cook delicious, perfectly-seasoned food.
This is a cookbook designed for the novice: Baz lists ingredients by category for logical grocery shopping, and fills the recipe margins with answers to questions she anticipated her readers might ask. That way, One-Pot Chicken and Schmaltzy Rice with Lemony Yog (Yog being yogurt; Baz loves “abbrevs”) is not just a deeply comforting weeknight dinner, it’s also a lesson on how to properly cook rice and crisp chicken skin.
But the food in Cook This Book is not boring, nor is the tone didactic. Baz’s style of cooking is an appealing mix of unfussy-but-inspired diner fare and cheffy-casual dishes you’d find at any hot, merch-and-orange-wine-selling restaurants. These are recipes you can’t help but like. Who can say no to a pasta salad with mortadella, burrata, castelvetrano olives, and pistachios? I certainly can’t. —Wilder Davies
Cook This Book is out April 20 and is available for preorder now.
Super Natural Simple by Heidi Swanson
I’ll admit to reading this book extra critically. See, when California-based Heidi Swanson came out with her first book, Super Natural Cooking, I was in high school. It became the second book in my collection; after cooking through it I promptly wrote Swanson (snail mail!) asking her to hire me. (As what I do not know; I had no marketable skills. Thankfully, she did not.) And sometimes the thing that brings you into cooking doesn’t mature with you. But Super Natural Simple, which follows the same themes as that first book, is just impossible not to enjoy. Swanson’s food is gorgeous, colorful, and plant-based, much of it rooted in California cooking with frequent nods to her enduring love of Indian and Japanese cuisines.
There are dishes that look like spa food but pack more flavor (a hot pink dragon fruit and beet ‘party dip’, amped up with cayenne and citrus), tons of nourishing one-pot meals like the Roasted Chile Peanut Tofu, and lots of excellent, slightly earthy, not-too-sweet baked goods. Because Swanson’s Baked Oatmeal is a perennial Epi hit, I gave its spicier cousin, a Dirty Chai Baked Oatmeal, a go. Warming, complex, and just as good out of the freezer, it reminded me what I loved most about Swanson’s cooking: the fresh, complex flavors that aren’t fussy, the dishes that are sometimes pretty, sometimes (like my three shades of brown oatmeal) unassuming, but food that is always remarkably satisfying. —Lauren Joseph
Super Natural Simple is out now.
At Home in the Kitchen by David Kinch and Devin Fuller
If you’d asked me to make a bet about whether David Kinch’s At Home in the Kitchen would be a great book for home cooks, I would have slid my chips all the way to the nope pile. Kinch is a king among chefs, the force behind one of America’s fine-iest fine dining restaurants (Manresa), and in my experience, chefs of this caliber struggle to understand the patience levels and parameters that most home cooks work with. Also, I remember Kinch’s previous cookbook, the gorgeous Manresa, where the most accessible recipe is one for salt that you make from ocean water. (It’s easy if you can grab a few gallons of clean water a few miles off the coast, but it does take several days.) All of this is to say that it’s a great surprise to see that in At Home, Kinch leans into simple home cooking as hard as he leans the other way at Manresa. Recipes often have no more than seven or eight ingredients. The chapter “All-Day Eggs + 2 a.m. Dinners” might as well be called Pandemic Dinners—it’s all fried fingerlings, puffy omelets, and crispy grilled cheese sandwiches. The next chapter, “Pasta + Rice,” provided me with a new favorite pantry pasta (sardines, capers, breadcrumbs, lemon). And in the seafood chapter—perhaps the most Californian in a very California-feeling book—a recipe for oven-roasted potatoes with cod spoke to my elemental cravings for well-browned spuds and just-cooked fish. So far, none of the recipes I’ve cooked from the book have floored me with their flavor. Instead they have been dependably pleasant, a joy to cook, and inspired enough that they earned a permanent spot in my weeknight repertoire. Which is exactly how recipes in a proper home-cooking book ought to be. —David Tamarkin
At Home in the Kitchen is out now.
My Shanghai by Betty Liu
My Shanghai will guide you toward faithfully reproducing many favorites made famous by the restaurants and street vendors of the world’s largest city—and served in Shanghainese restaurants throughout the world. You’ll find fluffy-crispy pan-fried sheng jian bao and tender lion’s head meatballs made from hand-minced pork belly here, as well as the twisted knots of scallion flower buns and hot, fresh crullers for dunking in soy milk. But author Betty Liu emphasizes that the book is really focused on dishes meant to be prepared in home kitchens: She writes that My Shanghai is “a written record of recipes that had previously been passed down orally. These recipes are my family’s tradition.” It’s a refreshing focus, when so many cookbooks (often written by white authors) zoom way too far out, attempting to tackle all of China at once, and glossing over what makes each region special.
The book is organized by season, to highlight how Jiangnan cuisine focuses on the freshest ingredients—and meals are adapted to what the body craves in cold and hot weather. “Seasonality is what makes this cuisine radiant,” Liu writes. And radiant is a great way to describe my favorite of the dishes I cooked from the book: a bright-green stir-fry of fragrant flowering garlic chives with slivers of pork belly. Delicately dressed in a mix of savory Shaoxing wine and ginger, it was juicy and fresh, the tiniest bit of hidden sugar highlighting the natural sweetness of the chives. Cooking through this tome is a joy, and I cannot wait to keep following its recipes as we emerge from winter into spring and beyond. —Maggie Hoffman
My Shanghai is out now.
Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson
The Nigella effect is undeniable. You read one sentence of the meandering essays or lengthy headnotes that take up as much space as the recipes in this book, and you cannot help but turn fan. “I have as little time for purists who disdain the lowly tastes of others as I do for the puritans who shudder at our bodily appetites,” she says in her intro, and by the time you reach the Lasagna of Love, or the Crème Caramel For One, you’ll believe it. This is sensual, decadent, joyful food—and my God, is there not a better time for it. If the sound of meal prep, sheet-pan dinners, or batch cooking screeches on your ears in season forty-five of this pandemic, this is the book to fall into. Luxuriate in a simple and rich Chicken with Garlic Cream Sauce, served with a gravy boat of extra cream (that’s equally good stirred into pasta or topped over otherwise chaste vegetables the next day). Finish it up with squidgy Black Forest Brownies, studded with kirsch-soaked cherries and hazelnuts. Whatever you do, don’t rush it. This is a book for a Sunday cook—or, even just a Sunday read, drink in hand, to inspire you for the eventual return of dinner parties. —Lauren Joseph
Cook, Eat, Repeat is out April 20 and available for preorder now.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious