Yes, Chef: Here Are the Year’s Best Cookbooks

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I’ve noticed my taste in cookbooks change over the past few years, moving away from fancy, fussy fare, and straight toward flavor and technique. This year—good God, this year!—when we’re all cooking all the time, that feeling holds fast. Our cookbooks need to help us make it through. If I am going to experiment, I want it to be worth the effort. As we head into the long winter, these six new books will help you make fantastic food. And when you’re ready to mix it up, there are suggestions for making yourself a nice drink, and even getting the kids involved. I’ll also begin by sharing my enthusiasm for what might be the most fun food on the planet.

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  • Photograph: Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House 

    Take a Trip

    Chaat: Recipes From the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India

    by Maneet Chauhan with Jody Eddy (Clarkson Potter)

    If you’re going to try your hand at a new kind of cuisine during a pandemic, it had better be chock full o’ pleasure. In all my cooking and eating as a food and travel writer, the Indian snack food known as chaat—Hindi for “to lick”—steals the show. I’ve been known to base whole road trips around getting my hands on some.

    My favorite is bhel puri, a blast of fine-chopped fresh ingredients like herbs, onion, potato, chilis, and mango with a sprinkle of spice and a drizzling of a chutney or two. It’s also got puffed rice and sev—tiny, crisp garnish made with seasoned chickpea flour. Stirred together, it’s like popcorn’s wildest cousin. There are countless versions of chaat, most of them sold as street and railway food in India, and Nashville chef and Chopped judge Maneet Chauhan is our enthusiastic guide.

  • Photograph: Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House 

    Back to Basics

    How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals

    by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter)

    I wasn’t planning on cooking a bunch of recipes from a new book called How to Cook, but I took it to bed one night and immediately started to dog-ear pages. Part of this came from a love of technique and nailing the basics, but most of it had to do with it being by one of my favorite chefs. Smart, funny, irreverent, and blessed with a well-trained palate, Cooking 101 with Acheson might include [sounds of flipping to a random page] fennel and white bean salad or Cuban grilled cheese.

    A short opening section is followed by “25 Building Blocks”—stuff like sautéed mushrooms, rice, roasted veggies, and simple sauces, each one showing how to do it well, and what to do with it. The last two-thirds of the book is full of recipes that put your new skills and staples to work like pork and chickpea stew, sweet-potato hash, and smoky white bean and ham soup. Acheson’s new book, beautifully photographed by Andrew Thomas Lee, will sharpen your skills and get you cooking well.

  • Photograph: Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House 

    Bottoms Up

    Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason

    by Julia Bainbridge (Ten Speed Press)

    I love a good bar book. Well-written recipes and beautiful photos go a long way toward heightening the anticipation of an excellent drink. Yet nonalcoholic drinks don’t often get the thought and creativity of their boozy brethren. Plus they’re often given a horrible name: mocktails. Ew! Writer, editor, and podcaster Julia Bainbridge looks to elevate them by simply calling them “good drinks.” In 2018 she road-tripped around the United States, stopping at her favorite bars and cafés to learn how to make some of the best-sounding drinks imaginable, often putting her own spin on them.

    Try Minnesota bartender Jon Palmer’s Golden Hour, a wine-like mix of verjus, honey syrup, and orange flower water. Or, try a Persian doogh, a drink with cucumber-rose yogurt, lime juice, and soda water, over crushed ice, garnished with dried rose petals. Drinks are rated by commitment level: one dot being something you could knock out fairly easily and four dots as a ”weekend project.”

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