Food & Cooking » The Best Cookbooks

The Best Cookbooks of 2022

recommended by Becky Krystal

Voraciously (from Washington Post Food)

Voraciously (from Washington Post Food)

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Do you enjoy cooking up a storm in the kitchen? If so, you'll love food writer Becky Krystal's selection of the five best cookbooks of 2022—including a guide to sourdough bread, a fun exploration of all things noodle, and a collection of Juneteenth celebration foods.

Interview by Benedict King

Voraciously (from Washington Post Food)

Voraciously (from Washington Post Food)

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Are there any general trends you’ve noticed among 2022 cookbooks?

I think some of the biggest trends are things we’ve been seeing a lot of over the past couple of years already, a lot more emphasis on vegetables. Vegan cooking, obviously, continues to be pretty big. We had a couple of one-pan, one-pot books come out, which gets at the idea that people don’t want to have to do a lot of dishes. Something near and dear to my heart that I saw quite a lot of this year was cookie books. I do our annual holiday cookie package for Voraciously in the Post, so it’s very exciting to see all of these books come out.

There are still a lot of bread books coming out—we’ll talk about one of them—as we’re still riding that 2020 wave, when a lot of people got into bread baking. And then we’re continuing to see more books from people of color and from people from underrepresented cultures, in terms of the cookbook industry and different cuisines, which is always exciting to see.

Let’s crack on with your 2022 cookbook recommendations. First up is the bread-baking book, Flour Power by Tara Jensen.

This worked perfectly for me because I was one of those people who picked up sourdough baking in 2020 when we were locked down. People were just finding something new to do, but this is not a flash in the pan for Tara. She’s a longtime bread-baker and baking instructor, and that really comes out in this book. She is an excellent teacher. She teaches lots of in-person workshops, and this book is really written like she is teaching you how to bake bread—specifically sourdough.

“We’re still riding that 2020 wave, when a lot of people got into bread baking”

This is the book I wish I had when I started trying to make sourdough, which did not go well at first. It’s a great book because you can come at it as a beginner and you can come at it if you’re more experienced. If you’re a beginner, you learn how to make your sourdough starter, feed it and care for it, and do some easy loaves. If you’re a more experienced baker she has different types of starters that you can play with, not just with regular white flour. She has a rye starter and she has this other one called ‘desem,’ which you start cultivating in dry flour, before bringing it to life. She teaches you to use a lot of different grains, especially whole grains. She has a lot of reference charts. As someone who writes and reads a lot of recipes, I think she does a very good job with those. She gives you that kit of information at the top, which isn’t always easy to find in bread recipes—a brief overview of the advanced prep, how long it’s going to take, and the loaf you’re going to get. Being able to quickly flip through the book and see that is really helpful.

There are also recipes for sourdough discard, for when you have extra stuff. You can make cookies, crackers, other things with it. I think anyone who’s into bread should check this one out.

Excellent. Let’s move on to Watermelon and Red Birds by Nicole Taylor. What’s this one about?

This is the first book that has been devoted to the Juneteenth holiday, which in the United States marks the time, several months after the Civil War, when enslaved people in Texas were informed that they were free following the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued a couple of years before. It was first officially celebrated in 1866. And since then, it’s really become an important holiday for Black Americans. A lot of food is consumed; it’s a time when people do lots of grills and cookouts.

This is just a really great book. The author talks about how she wants to celebrate Black joy, and that really comes across. The recipes are as you would expect for a holiday where you’re celebrating and entertaining and sharing with people. They’re festive, they’re colorful, and she also talks about wanting to move beyond soul food and Southern food, which is how a lot of food associated with Black culture is pigeonholed. Obviously it’s so much more than that. People make so many more things than that. She has really creative recipes. One thing that jumped out to me was what she calls an ‘afro egg cream’. In New York delis, an egg cream is a drink made of chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer water. Her interpretation includes hibiscus tea, which makes it bright red. On Juneteeth, a lot of people will drink what they call ‘red drink.’ It can vary, but it’s often some kind of red beverage.

She’s just a really smart recipe developer. You pick up things like adding grilled poblano peppers to your coleslaw. She has this lovely salad I can’t wait to make next summer which is melon—cantaloupe and honeydew—with feta and lime zest. And although she calls it a Juneteenth book, and it absolutely is, I wouldn’t want people to think it’s only for that. It’s just a great book for any kind of entertaining, where you can pick up fresh and interesting recipes. And it’s a really beautifully shot book, in terms of the photographs, too. I really enjoyed this one.

The next 2022 cookbook you’d like to recommend is Good Enough by Leanne Brown.

This is a book that feels very much of its time, but also timeless. She talks a lot about her struggles with trying to get food on the table due to depression and anxiety. Of course, a lot of these things for many people were exacerbated in the last two years by the pandemic. She talks about the connection between food and what’s going on internally, how sometimes it can help to be cooking—and sometimes it can make you spiral out even more. She’s very honest about all these things that she and other people go through.

Sometimes you can read a cookbook and feel it’s unrealistic. You’re not always going to be happy in the kitchen. I’m probably as guilty of this as much as anyone else; sometimes cooking is a real struggle. And she acknowledges that. She emphasizes that ‘good enough’ is not necessarily settling for less; it’s your best at any given moment, whether that’s putting cheese on crackers or cooking up a feast for people you love. One thing I like that she says is: cooking is an essential skill, but it amplifies the feelings we bring to it.

Interesting.

Each chapter starts with an essay and then she shares recipes. The recipes are all very approachable, they’re things that you can riff on. It’s stuff you would make every day at home: pasta, soups, salads, cookies. Some are what you would call comfort foods, some are brighter. So it gives you this whole spectrum of things you can make, depending on how you’re feeling. She also gives you permission to take it easy and eat chips and dip, or whatever you feel like at any given moment. It’s like a pep talk, but a realistic one: ‘Take care of yourself, it’s okay to feel like you’re struggling—but feed yourself and take care of yourself.’ It’s really refreshing, without overly glossing over things.

What about The Complete Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Kwoklyn Wan?

I was looking through this book yesterday, and my mouth was actually watering. Which does not always happen. I just love Chinese takeouts so much, and I think a lot of people do. We normally think of this as takeout food, right? It’s cheap, it’s fast, someone in a restaurant is making it. We don’t give it the respect it deserves. I mean, these are incredibly talented people and this book is based on a lot of recipes from the family’s restaurants. And it makes you appreciate what you might eat in a restaurant, but it also shows you how you can make these dishes at home. And it’s not that hard.

“‘Good enough’ is not necessarily settling for less; it’s your best at any given moment, whether that’s putting cheese on crackers or cooking up a feast for people you love”

Normally people wouldn’t make this food at home. But here recipes are concise, they’re clear. It uses ingredients that are appropriate for the cuisine. You’ll need to go to the Asian supermarket sometimes to get the ingredients. There are a lot of familiar dishes in here—like your wonton soup, sticky BBQ ribs, and sweet and sour pork, which was a recipe from the book we ran recently. And then there’s also just really fun things that you can tell that he worked on himself, fun mash-ups. like steamed hotdog buns, Nutella mochi, Chinese-style buffalo wings. So you get a lot of the things you expect. And then a few bonuses that feel new. It’s just a fun book.

People often complain about long recipe introductions, but here they’re brief, they’re funny, and they get right to the point. And I think it’s great.  I think it will help you appreciate the art of what people are doing in restaurants, as well as helping you to bring it home to your own kitchen.

Last on your list of 2022 cookbooks is That Noodle Life by Mike and Stephanie Le. I should note here that the word ‘noodle’ is being used in the American sense—that is, as a catch-all term for both pasta and Asian-style noodles. 

This is also a really fun, quirky book. I actually talked to them for an article on pasta shapes I wrote earlier this year. And these people are so into noodles—almost to the point where you think it’s gone a little bit too far, but they’re so smart about it. And they’re so passionate about it. That really comes through in this book.

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At the beginning of the book, they have a visual guide to noodles, and descriptions are in haiku form. It’s so funny. You could easily read over it and not realize it, or miss where they say it’s a haiku. And it’s like, wow, you’re writing poetry for noodles. The front of the book has lots of great tips on buying noodles, cooking noodles, and how you should drain and sauce them. That’s a good intro. They tackle a lot of classic dishes from both Italian and Asian traditions because noodles play prominent roles in many cuisines, but especially those two. So they have Cacio e Pepe, and they teach you how to make homemade pasta, then they have a ton of Asian dishes, you know—soup dishes or chow—fun stuff like that. The recipes also encourage lots of suggestions on how to riff on things, things that noodle dishes take especially well to—toppings or sauce, even the shapes of pasta that you use. They’re really creative.

There’s a recipe in here for ‘French Onion Mac and Cheese’: it’s macaroni and cheese but with caramelized onions—damn, how have I not had that before? There’s another for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Noodles,’ which are with green onion oil and chow mein. So you can tell they have a lot of fun with it. They have one pasta with kale that they call ‘Kaling Me Softly’… It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Sometimes pasta people put their work on a pedestal. It has to be very pure. You know, the classic dishes. But, while they pay a lot of homage to that, they just free you to have fun and get creative. They also set aside a couple of pages where they do deep dives on more specific topics—like all the different brands of instant noodles you might find when you go to the store, or how to build a noodle bowl. There are a lot of recipes that you can throw together on a weeknight, and there are ones you can do that take longer. If you like noodles, I think you’re gonna want to get this one for sure.

 

Interview by Benedict King

December 7, 2022

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Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal is a writer for The Washington Post's Voraciously, a destination aimed at novice and intermediate home cooks. She came to the Post in 2007, and previously spent five years working for the travel section.

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal is a writer for The Washington Post's Voraciously, a destination aimed at novice and intermediate home cooks. She came to the Post in 2007, and previously spent five years working for the travel section.