The modest, accessible book is hard to beat for last-minute Christmas gifts. Some of the valuable on your gift list are obsessed with the kitchen – or curious about the kitchen – persuasion. With that in mind, here are the most interesting and inspiring cookbooks that appeared on my desk in 2019.
Anniversary: Recipes from two centuries of African American cuisine by Toni Tipton-Martin
As a settler-colonial nation founded by slave owners who congratulated themselves for their reverence for freedom, the United States has long had difficulty counting on the immense and fundamental contributions black chefs make to the nation’s diet. One problem is the narrowing of the African American culinary experience in the popular imagination.
In popular culture, black cooking is often reduced to soul food, a legacy of slavery “that is made by ingenious and hard-working field hands in the slave cabin, using lean ingredients taught by African techniques,” Toni Tipton-Martin writes in her fantastic new book. But there are many other equally alive branches of the culinary heritage that are covered too often. In the “plantation kitchen” or in kitchens that are occupied by people who have been trained in formal or informal culinary arts, there is a deep effort of “wasteful cooking” with unusual ingredients. Thomas Jefferson is credited with establishing the French cooking tradition as refined food for the US haute bourgeoisie – but he did so through the unannounced work of enslaved chef James Hemings. Then there was the Great Migration, the 20th century, which triggered a black population that had largely focused on the former slave states and introduced new influences, ingredients, and opportunities for innovation. Tipton-Martin’s ancestors emigrated west to Los Angeles, where she grew up and had “very bourgeois, Latin American and vegetarian feelings”.
The anniversary is Tipton-Martin’s eagerly awaited continuation of their 2015 milestone, the Jemima Code, a carefully researched annotated catalog that highlights nearly 300 mostly forgotten cookbooks by African-American authors. In her current book, Tipton-Martin relies on this scholarship and her own adventurous palate to bring everything home. Here’s a simple, irresistible recipe for cabbage and corn dumplings. a silky peanut soup that suits both the great farmer George Washington Carver and the Creole cuisine of the Caribbean; Beet Étouffée, a bold mix of modern California and traditional Louisiana styles; and much more.
Oaxaca: home cooking from the heart of Mexico, by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral
If you’re looking for a sign that a place has great food culture, take the street. Where sellers offer memorable food to workers on the sidewalk, chefs are likely to conjure up fantastic meals in private homes and fancy restaurants too. Oaxaca, a state on Mexico’s South Pacific coast, checks all of these boxes with a bonus: it is Mexico’s center of the smoky, seductive cactus liqueur called Mezcal. In Bricia Lopez, we found Norteños an ideal guide for eating the region, with its endless variations of ground corn and numerous moles, velvety sauces made from dried chilli peppers and various fruits, nuts and spices. …read more
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