Spring and fall are cookbook seasons—I know, because those are the days I bring you lengthy previews of all the new books I love. But what about summer? While fewer new books debut in the hottest months (the shoulder season of cookbook publishing), there are always a handful that shouldn’t be missed. These six new cookbooks will be in my rotation long past September.
The World Eats Here: Amazing Food and the Inspiring People Who Make It at New York’s Queens Night Market by John Wang and Storm Garner
“What’s the point of living in a ‘foodie city' if few people can enjoy the food?” That question, posed in the beginning of The World Eats Here, is the one that spurred John Wang to start the Queens Night Market, an open-air food fest boasting a hundred or so different vendors, all with a $5 (or occasionally $6) price cap per plate.
The food in the book (and at the market, which in non-Covid-19 times runs from April to October) is bound by only that restriction. Wang tells me he doesn't think he is qualified to say what dishes are “authentic,” so he asks only that vendors present a beloved dish that comes with a close personal story attached. In the book, his wife Storm Garner, a writer and oral historian, interviews each vendor to tease out those stories and family recipes. The resulting pages are filled with rich-historied dishes like crispy, salty, cheese-filled Moldovan plăcintăs from pastry shop Wembie (based off the recipe baker Valentin Rasneanski learned from his high school math teacher), and laksa noodles by Amy Pryke (which are reminiscent of those her nanny used to make in Singapore).
Because the dishes were originally crafted to be eaten standing or at a picnic table, there are plenty of finger foods here: roti john, momos, kebabs. But don’t skip over the many noodles and the short but punchy roster of drinks.
If you're a New Yorker, one flip through this book will make you yearn for the Night Market's return. Unfortunately, it may be a long wait. Local regulations might allow for it, but Wang won’t open until he's certain it would be safe for guests and vendors alike—and profitable enough for vendors to make it worth their while. I'll be looking forward to its return. Until then, I'll be perfecting my pierogies and pakoras.
New World Sourdough: Artisan Techniques for Creative Homemade Fermented Breads, by Bryan Ford
The world of breadmaking—and breadmaking books—has been so wholly dominated by white writers that even a sourdough shot on Instagram can feel alienating. A few pages into baker Bryan Ford's first book, though, and I remember that this bread is for me, too. Every time I leave a bowl of Sri Lankan hopper batter to ferment on the countertop, I'm making sourdough. When I bite into a whisper-thin paper dosa, curled around itself to create a crisp, cloud-like roll, I'm loving sourdough. Of course, naturally-leavened bread isn't South Asian any more than it's French, and Ford, whose parents were both born and raised in Honduras, gives us recipes that span the sourdough spectrum: golden loaves of Puerto Rican pan de agua, Jamaican hard dough, and a New Orleans monkey bread.
There will be plenty of sourdough fanatics jumping for this book. But I'd argue that it's the cooks and bakers amongst us who've been boxed out by sourdough culture who will find it most revolutionary, most valuable.
Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream by Alvin Cailan with Alexandra Cuerdo and Susan Choung
Amboy explores Filipino cuisine as well as the experience of being multiracial: Amboy is Tagalog slang for a Filipino-American boy, and the book's stories and recipes weave together traditional Filipino dishes with chef Alvin Cailan's takes, influenced by his French culinary training and his Los Angeles upbringing. Classic family recipes like a glutinous lugaw to soothe every cold and ailment appear next to those Cailan has developed for his restaurants, like a tart, creamy beurre manié made with fresh calamansi juice. The recipes ping pong between ambitious and easy to execute, cozy-rich and fiery-hot.
All too often, BIPOC chefs get siloed in the confines of one cuisine. They are expected to stick to a traditional notion of their national dishes, as if mass emigration, mixed-race families, ingredient availability and local food culture play no role in shaping food traditions. Cailan's book proves that food culture is way more complex: he tells the story, for example, of his Filipino family making Mexican champurrado, which he paired with a favorite of American teenage boys: Cool Ranch Doritos.
Note: After reading this article in the New York Times, I weighed whether or not to include this book. I’m thrilled to see Filipino-American cuisine in the spotlight, and even more thrilled that this book’s author, two co-writers, and photographer are all people of color. That’s a rarity in publishing that I can’t overlook. And yet: I stand behind survivors of sexual assault, and condemn both a restaurant culture that allows these abuses, and those who protect the abusers. I’m hoping this note serves as a reminder that food media has a responsibility to stop lionizing chefs without research, and that you, our reader, should have all the available information when choosing who to champion.
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty by Sky McAlpine
An entertaining cookbook might seem like a bit of a cruel joke during quarantine–but Skye McAlpine's A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty does, actually, deliver on the two as much as it does on the twenty. McAlpine's entertaining relies on celebratory, family-style dishes, the kind that are pretty unfussy to prepare (a roast chicken for dinner, frittata for brunch, a pile of spaghetti for lunch), but that can be dressed up with a gorgeous platter and some peak-season produce.
This is a book to turn to for breezy takes on French and Italian classics. McAlpine, a lifestyle blogger who's known for her beautiful homes in Venice and London (and the seemingly-effortless dinner parties she hosts at each) certainly knows how to make a plate of just-sliced tomatoes, or a simple chocolate cake, look tantalizing. The approach isn't groundbreaking, but the book is beautifully photographed and the recipes work: a version of the aforementioned roast chicken and that dependable frittata are already in near-weekly rotation in my house. Sometimes, when you need a little inspiration for your backyard date night and you're missing the neighborhood trattoria, dependable is exactly the mark.
Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen by Esteban Castillo
Esteban Castillo's first book, Chicano Eats, follows the path to finding his own food style, a path that might feel familiar for anyone who adds a hyphen before American. "It was important to me to showcase Chicano cuisine, Mexican cuisine reimagined through a Mexican-American point of view and pantry," explains Castillo, who started his beloved blog by the same name when he couldn't find anything on the internet that represented his experience.
The recipes themselves are varied, and present a series of wins for the home cook, like instructions that offer substitutions, dishes for the make-ahead host, and plenty of recipes that are both easy to upsize for a crowd and hearty enough to serve as one-dish meals. The Roasted Sambal Shrimp Tacos I made were not by any means “traditional”, but that’s exactly the point. My cupboard always has a jar of fiery sambal oelek for coaxing into bowls of coconut rice and drizzling on seared vegetables. For the tacos, I mixed the sambal into a honey-lime-garlic marinade for shrimp; those shrimp were then roasted and tucked into warm corn tortillas alongside a spicy, crunchy daikon slaw. It was wildly delicious, and mostly hands-off–but the best part was finding a new trick for a favorite condiment.
Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine by Olia Hercules
So often, I look to food to better understand the culture of a place: dining rituals, ingredient availability, and even presentation can all be telling. But rarely, I’ll admit, does a book make me just as curious about a land’s history.
Olia Hercules’ Summer Kitchens—an homage to the outdoor kitchens that are common in Ukraine, and the food that comes out of them—does just that. Hercules, who grew up in Southern Ukraine but worked as a reporter in London before turning her full attention to cooking, provides insights into the history of Ukraine that illuminate the country’s history during WWII. She breaks down stereotypes about the people, climate, and food culture, and reminds us of the diversity within nations—and regions—that we often dismiss as monoliths.
All of this, of course, happens around the food. And oh, the food. Like any country that has been bound by scarcity, the vegetables are both celebrated and creatively prepared. End-of-season vegetables, like sweet-sour Gagauz peppers, are fermented and stored away, while excess pears are smoked in a wood-fired oven until they become “deep and dark, imbued with the scent of cherry wood.” (Those pears are later added to soups and stews for an earthy, sugary smokiness.) The plethora of ferments means there are plenty of recipes for the more patient amongst us–but don’t overlook the simple, daily staples like thin, spongy pancakes, salty little dumplings piled with blanched beans and crispy shallots, and any and every preparation of beets. These are recipes for right now–hopefully to be enjoyed in a summer garden, if not a summer kitchen.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious