Greatest cookbooks and meals writing of 2020 | Greatest books of the 12 months
T.oo many cookbooks had it comfortable to sit on coffee tables and enjoy the quiet life. That year things changed and they really had to make a living. They became life guides and mood lifters, helping us travel when we couldn’t and showing our love for the people around us. Most importantly, they allowed us to escape.
Who would have thought so many of us would bake our jaws to a pandemic? Impressive looking pastries made by students of former St. John pastry chef Ravneet Gill lit up Instagram most days. in the The confectioner guide (Pavilion), Gill has taken up a hell of a complex area of the food and has written a guide with just the right amount of detail to help you navigate choux pastry, ganache, and creme anglaise with ease. The only surprising thing is how few photos there are, but if you need pictures they are available online.
Even the most enthusiastic baker will have experienced fatigue, and everyone needs straightforward recipes from time to time. Edd Kimber A can is baking (Kyle) fits the bill perfectly. It pulsates with excitement, great writing and beautiful photography, with classics cleverly adapted to a 9 x 13 inch can and lots of new ideas to empathize with.
Making the rounds … Palestinian flavors in Falastin. Photo: Jenny Zarins
That year I replaced my passport with cookbooks and all of Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s collection of Palestinian groceries. FalAstin (Ebury), was my favorite. I’ve seen the recipes shared online in the same breathless way that kids exchange notes in the back of a classroom. “Try the Musakhan Chicken!” “The eggplant pilaf!” Here Tamimi returns home after a 17-year hiatus to reunite with his family. While not filled with personal stories, it feels like an abandonment to a long lost love.
The book by Indonesian-Australian Lara Lee about Indonesian food, Coconut & Sambal (Bloomsbury), feels alive in my hands. The beautiful photos and Lee’s excited voice make it clear that she is thrilled to introduce you to the food and culture of her homeland. The recipes are a mix of the well-known – rendang, nasi goreng, martabak, satay – combined with family favorites and some lesser-known dishes researched on their travels through the Indonesian archipelago.
A book that felt groundbreaking and at the same time was long overdue In Bibi’s kitchen (Ten Speed), in which the Somali-born cook Hawa Hassan and the cookbook author Julia Turshen presented their recipes and stories together with African Bibis or grandmothers from countries on the Indian Ocean. Even though I have two parents born in East Africa, almost all of the recipes are new to me and leave me with the thrill of just discovering something that has been there the whole time.
The girl from Tel Aviv (Savyon) by Limi Robinson feels like a real family cookbook that a mother made for her family – but is available for all of us to read. It’s written so clearly that you can imagine jumping between the pages and into Limi’s kitchen to hear her talk about her childhood in Israel in the 1970s, life in London’s Stamford Hill, and real family recipes.
On Regent’s Canal in London is a gem of a cafe called Towpath (Chelsea Green), who recently published a book of the same name. In it you will find the coveted recipes of the cook Laura Jackson for simple dishes that are cozy and special. There are meatballs, Turkish eggs and confit garlic as well as the ghost, stories and photos of canal side life.
If 2020 has taught us anything, then no skills are too advanced for a lockdown kitchen. I usually order food in a restaurant that I can’t make at home, but I can Xi’an famous foods (Abrams), I feel empowered to expand my skills to make hand-pulled pasta. Unlike most restaurant cookbooks, it features truly cookable recipes and also captures a personal journey as it chronicles the Wang family’s migration from China to New York and from a bubble tea shop to a 15-branch restaurant chain.
We can always count on Yotam Ottolenghi to help us improve our skills in the kitchen, just as he does in the kitchen taste, Written with Ixta Belfrage, whose American-Mexican-Brazilian-Italian influences are visible throughout. We still have a lot to learn about how to make the most of our vegetables, and this book takes us on that journey. It’s broken down into three Ps: producing, processing and pairing, and there is an emphasis on 20 ingredients that make a big difference in the flavor department. It’s the culinary equivalent of a boat with Marco Polo.
And finally, a new Nigella book will always make me do heel clicks and Cook, eat, repeat (Chatto) is no exception. It is surprising that she has eaten fried chicken marinated with kefir and vegan dishes. What is not surprising, however, is Nigella’s beautiful handwriting. This isn’t an old TV book, it’s a delightful account of wonderful food and a joyful antidote to everything else.
• Meera Sodhas East: 120 vegetarian and vegan recipes from Bangalore to Beijing are published by Fig Tree. Browse the best books of 2020 in the Guardian Bookshop.