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The 10 best cookbooks of 2021

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While many of this year’s new cookbooks were written during the depths of the pandemic, they still manage to feel bright, fun and inspiring. In other words, they’re just what you need this winter, whether you’re trying to expand your culinary horizons, tackle a weekend-long baking project or develop new meal-planning strategies.

They’re notably diverse, including a deep dive into Native American cuisines, a modern look at regional Mexican favorites and a guide to Chinese-style baking. There are also thorough looks at specific ingredients, like the wonderful world of beans and grains as well as the art of fresh pasta.

And remember: Cookbooks always make great presents for the holiday season.

"Black Food" is celebration of voices from the African Diaspora in the form of recipes, essays and art

“Black Food” is celebration of voices from the African Diaspora in the form of recipes, essays and art

Courtesy 4 Color Books

‘Black Food’

Departing from acclaimed chef and cookbook author Bryant Terry’s focus on vegan or vegetarian food, “Black Food” is a compendium of recipes that showcase the diversity of cuisines within the African diaspora. But it is so much more than a traditional cookbook. Interspersed between recipes for cocoa-orange catfish and jerk chicken ramen are essays on activism, poetry and art by more than 100 prominent writers and chefs. Terry has even created a playlist to go alongside chapters in the book that feature titles like “Black Women, Food & Power,” and “Radical Self Care.” This book — Terry’s final cookbook — is full of practical cooking knowledge, and he hopes readers will gain a deeper insight into the culinary history and traditions of the African diaspora. — T.W.

“Black Food: Stories, Art & Recipes from Across the African Diaspora” edited and curated by Bryant Terry (4 Color Books; $40; 320 pages).

"Grist" by Abra Berens.

“Grist” by Abra Berens.

Chronicle Books

‘Grist’

Beans, lentils and whole grains star in “Grist,” a mostly vegetarian book from farmer-turned-chef Abra Berens, who also wrote “Ruffage.” Not only does Berens provide 140 recipes for cooking these nutritious, shelf-stable and often ignored ingredients, but she also lists multiple seasonal variations for each one. That means once you make her anchovy-marinated corona beans with beets and arugula this winter (see recipe below), you can easily throw together a mustard-marinated version with asparagus in the spring. The book will particularly appeal to those who like to plan out their meals for a week, with guides such as how to use a big pot of lentils over several days without getting bored. — J.B.

“Grist: A Practice Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes” by Abra Berens (Chronicle Books; $35; 448 pages).

The cover of "Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food" by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho.

The cover of “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food” by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho.

Ten Speed Press

‘Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown’

This is not just a cookbook for Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Mister Jiu’s but a beautiful ode to San Francisco’s Chinatown, full of history of rich imagery that make it stand far apart from other restaurant cookbooks. Of course, you’ll also find recipes for many of chef Brandon Jew’s classics, from the squid ink wontons to crispy-skinned roast duck. And they’re often challenging, as you might expect from a high-end restaurant. But you’ll also find some weeknight-friendly options, such as a vegetarian kung pao dish made with romanesco and steamed whole fish topped with sizzling green onions. — J.B.

“Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food” by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho (Ten Speed Press; $40; 304 pages).

The cover of "Mumbai Modern" (Countryman Press) by Amisha Dodhia Gurbani

The cover of “Mumbai Modern” (Countryman Press) by Amisha Dodhia Gurbani

Provided by Countryman Press

‘Mumbai Modern’

From the East Bay food blogger behind the Jam Lab, “Mumbai Modern” infuses Californian pride in farmers’ markets and seasonal produce into a mix of creative and traditional Indian recipes. The recipes are all vegetarian, with a focus on whole foods instead of trendy plant-based meats. Many reflect author Amisha Dodhia Gurbani’s devotion to her mom’s Gujarati cooking, such as a seemingly simple dal that manages to hit each of the cuisine’s sweet, spicy, salty, sour and bitter notes. Others feel more rooted in the Bay Area, like a colorful orange-beet salad topped with spiced paneer nuggets. — J.B.

“Mumbai Modern: Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by Indian Roots and California Cuisine” by Amisha Dodhia Gurbani (The Countryman Press; $35; 400 pages).

The cover of "Mooncakes and Milk Bread" (Harper Horizon) by Kristina Cho.

The cover of “Mooncakes and Milk Bread” (Harper Horizon) by Kristina Cho.

Harper Horizon

‘Mooncakes and Milk Bread’

Billed as the first English-language cookbook devoted to Chinese baking, “Mooncakes and Milk Bread” came at a perfect time given the Bay Area’s recent obsession with creative Asian pastries. East Bay food blogger Kristina Cho of Eat Cho Food straddles tradition, with recipes for classics like pork buns and springy steamed sponge cakes, as well as more contemporary creations, such as mooncakes stuffed with a pistachio-honey filling and loaves of bread swirled with black sesame and green matcha (see recipe below). Most importantly, the book is written with easy-to-follow instructions and step-by-step visual guides so you can feel confident folding dough into intricate shapes just like the professionals. — J.B.

“Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries” by Kristina Cho (Harper Horizon; $29.95; 304 pages).

Chef Freddie J. Bitsoie's cookbook New Native Kitchen

Chef Freddie J. Bitsoie’s cookbook New Native Kitchen

Provided by Abrams Books

‘New Native Kitchen’

Building on his groundbreaking work at Washington, D.C. restaurant Mitsitam Cafe, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, chef Freddie Bitsoie has partnered with James Beard Award-winning writer James O. Fraoli on this rich, modern collection of recipes showcasing the foods of the indigenous peoples of North America and the Pacific Islands. Many of the recipes are ideal for everyday cooking such as the three sisters salad featuring corn, squash and beans with shallot vinaigrette or the stewed chicken with golden tomatoes. Sometimes, Bitsoie offers short cuts such as using Trader Joe’s frozen bison patties for the bison burgers recipe in the book. And for harder-to-find ingredients like Amaranth seeds and Manoomin, there are suggestions for where to shop for them online and recommendations to seek out indigenous producers. A notable section is the “Puddings & Sweets” chapter, which counters a common misconception that dessert isn’t a part of indigenous cuisines. Expect chocolate and piñon nutcake, warm apple bread pudding and more. — T.W.

“New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian” by Freddie Bitsoie, and James O. Fraoli (Abrams Books; $40; 288 pages).

"Pasta" by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi is one of The Chronicle's top cookbooks of 2021.

“Pasta” by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi is one of The Chronicle’s top cookbooks of 2021.

Provided by Ten Speed Press

‘Pasta’

Missy Robbins is exactly who you want to write a pasta book. The chef behind one of New York’s most celebrated pasta destinations, Lilia, she writes about shapes and the regions of Italy they come from with humble authority. In ways, “Pasta” is like an encyclopedia, explaining 45 different pasta shapes and providing 95 recipes for what to do with them. Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is Robbins’ advice for marrying the pasta with its sauce — something home cooks can apply to any recipe and not just Robbins’ 24-yolk egg dough. That said, you’ll also want to cook many of these recipes, such as a pistachio-broccolli pesto over pillow ricotti gnocchi or a side of eggplant bathed in a staggering sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. — J.B.

“Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food, with Recipes” by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi (Ten Speed Press; $40; 416 pages).

‘That Sounds So Good’

"That Sounds So Good" by Carla Lalli Music.

“That Sounds So Good” by Carla Lalli Music.

Courtesy Clarkson Potter

Many of the best cookbooks are personal, and Carla Lalli Music’s “That Sounds So Good” feels especially so. It features an essay from her son about the family’s Friday night ritual of spaghetti and clams (plus the recipe), family photos and is named after the enthusiastic stamp of approval her father gives when they’re debating what to make for dinner. The former Bon Appetit editor’s second cookbook is also highly approachable. It’s organized by occasion rather than ingredient, with quick but still satisfying recipes for busy weekdays, like herbed rice topped with the magical trio of kimchi, shrimp and butter; or longer weekend projects like ragu. The “Burning Clean” chapter, designed for lighter eating after a weekend of indulging, is full of bright, vegetable-forward dishes that quickly make their way into your regular cooking rotation. Like Lalli Music’s first book, every recipe comes with a list of “spin it” suggestions. Out of basil for the herbed rice? Grab chives, cilantro or perilla leaves. — E.K.

“That Sounds So Good: 100 Real-Life Recipes for Every Day of the Week” by Carla Lalli Music (Clarkson Potter; $35; 288 pages).



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