EATING MY EMPIRE
Reviewing the best cookbooks of spring 2023 was like attending a different kind of culinary school. I cooked through dozens of cookbooks, working my way through recipes—both good and bad—and ended up with a fridge constantly overflowing with leftovers. (I even started a mailing list to share my bounty with the other people in my building, because there’s only so much food I can eat.) I found myself happily diving into techniques that were unfamiliar to me, like incorporating clarified butter into croissant dough or making Indonesian spice pastes, and cuisines I had only ever experienced in a restaurant but had never attempted to recreate in my own kitchen. Some of the books below encouraged me to cook out of my comfort zone, while others were simply fun to cook through. All 23 of these spring releases, however, left me feeling inspired—and, most important, well-fed.
I can’t be the only one who was devastated when Flora Coffee shuttered in 2021. As a young cook, I spent many of my precious days off trekking to New York’s Upper East Side for pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz’s baked goods. She made the most magnificent sticky buns, savory scones, cookies, and loaf cakes—pastries so good I still think about them.
Luckily for me, I can now recreate many of Pickowicz’s recipes at home. Easy, stress-free baking is all the rage these days, but I love that Pickowicz encourages her readers to think of baking “not as an overwhelming means to an end but as a meditative process to enjoy in and of itself.” Take your time making her brown butter, buckwheat, and chocolate chunk cookies (which require a 24-hour rest in the fridge to fully hydrate the dough, which is the secret to crispy edges) and the salty-sweet pecan and black cardamom sticky buns made with a no-knead honey brioche. You’ll be so pleased you did.
I’ve long been a fan of Hetty Lui McKinnon’s recipes, which prove that vegetarian cooking is anything but boring. I continue to turn to her last book, To Asia, With Love, often, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been cooking enthusiastically from her newest one.
The book is an ode to her late father, a fresh produce supplier who passed away when she was just 15. I found McKinnon’s writing on love, grief, food, and identity to be incredibly touching and relatable. My mother was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s when I was just 19, and reading the book, I understood exactly what she meant when she wrote about why food is meaningful to her. “Food has always been emotional for me,” she writes. “It is tied to my identity, my heritage, my family and my community. It represents the experiences of the generations before me, and it is a legacy for my children. In food, I find my home, and in this vegetable life I have found a way to stay connected to my dad.”
What I appreciate most about Tenderheart is how McKinnon highlights different ways to use Asian vegetables beyond how they’re typically prepared: stir-fried, poached, or stirred into a casserole. She incorporates choy sum into her galette with feta and chars gai lan for a savory salad dressed in soy tahini. The book is divided into chapters by vegetable, and I love that McKinnon devotes so much space to taro, a starchy tuber that happens to be one of my favorites. If you’re looking for creative ways to eat more vegetables, Tenderheart is a great place to begin.