As Autumn rears its head and we do that transitional oscillating dance between the last summer days and sweater weather, I have personally spent a bit of extra time saving Pinterest recipes. Once the temperature drops below what I would comfortably walk around my apartment in a tank top and my boyfriend’s boxers in, I’m going to need my kitchen to radiate some heat. If my kitchen is warm, my (nonexistent) living room is warm, and if my living room is warm, my flat mate’s dog is happy, and when dogs are happy, I am happy. If I can get a warm apartment, a happy dog, and dessert coming out of the oven, or something hot that I could potentially scoop up with flatbread bubbling on the stove, I can congratulate myself because I have made it into a tiny corner of my personal heaven.
Having said that…
My bookwormdom does not end at novels and poetry; my love of books and my love of food collide dramatically like in a So You Think You Can Dance love duet, and become the insatiable itch that is my curiosity for cookbooks. They’re particularly special when I find them second-hand, on the curb (I live in Brooklyn, don’t judge), or receive them as gifts. Anyway, I would be stingy and impossibly rude if I didn’t share some of the ones that have recently caught my eye. Since I care about you and want you to have a sweet smelling kitchen (or dream of one, if you’re the kind of cook that saves recipes “for later” and orders pad thai for dinner), here’s a mini treasure trove for those looking to start somewhere promising.
1. Eat Feel Fresh, Sahara Rose
If you’re all about the plants, potions, and health bowls but will under no circumstances sacrifice taste, this is for you. Sahara Rose returns to her Indian roots for recipe inspiration (AKA masala galore), but also goes around the world (Sweet Potato Pesto Pizza, Cauliflower and Lentil Tacos, Bento Box Sushi Bowl, Sweet Potato Chickpea Burger…) and includes recent vegan staples like smoothie bowls, chia puddings, and protein pancakes, all with flavor twists (hello, chai pancakes?) and health insight. Bonus: this book is written through the lens of Ayurveda (which the author is certified in), which means a good third of it is devoted to Ayurvedic insight that would help readers get the most out of Rose’s recipes. If there was ever a cookbook to keep the change-in-season sniffles at bay, this is it.
2. Cocina criolla, Carmen Aboy Valldejuli
I’m getting emotional…This feels ritualistic. I hereby give you the name of the bible of every Puerto Rican cook as of the 50’s. Use it wisely and never skimp out on portions if you have guests (¿Y si no da??). Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Cocina criolla is the book that Puerto Rican home cooks refer back to when in doubt, so you can bet that it contains the secrets behind a good, bona fide mofongo and a proper tres leches. It’s pretty dairy heavy, and definitely meat heavy, so make sure to do some research on substitutions if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or lactose-intolerant. Interestingly enough, though, coconut milk is just as much of a staple, so I guess abuela really did have all the answers.
3. Mi cocina Armando Scannone
Mi cocina could be described as the Venezuelan sister of Cocina Criolla in the sense that it is the go-to reference for home cooks (in this case, in Venezuela) as well as that half-blood-prince-esque fountain of wisdom that parents pass down to their kids when they move out and don’t know how to boil water. I couldn’t leave it out despite the similarities between these two tomes, because Scanonne’s little red book has the secret to arepas, cachapas, and tequeños, and I’m not going to deprive you of that because I’m not dead inside. I came across it when my best friend and former roommate from Caracas stored it in our communal kitchen, and I have since become so obsessed with marquesas, that I cannot bring myself to make a chocolate pie any other way.
4. Afro-Vegan, Bryant Terry
I am so excited about this one that I had to rewrite this sentence three times because it was ridden with typos every time. Autumn is the bridge into winter, and the three things that make that coldness worth enjoying are cuddles (where is that aforementioned dog…), a working kettle, and HEAT—spices, for those of you missing out on the magic of condiments and the right amount of herbs. Renowned chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry gives us a collection of “African, Caribbean, and Southern flavors” sans animal products, adding serious flavor to the more commonly marketed American vegan kitchen, and giving visibility to the use of plant-based ingredients in Afro-diasporic cooking (which has always been a thing, for the record). In Afro-Vegan, Bryant Terry gives us homemade sauces, spice blends, salads of all shapes and sizes, curry, grilled everything, breakfast, a dessert chapter (I’m looking straight at you, Cocoa-spice Cake with Crystallized Ginger and Coconut-Chocolate Ganache”) and cocktails (!). This is without a doubt my next Julie & Julia project.
5. The New Way to Cake, Benjamina Ebuehi
Rather like Marie Antoinette and Tan France, cake is something I am willing to die for. It is my weakness in the realm of sweets, second only to any pastry with guava filling, and my favorite way to put on weight. What makes having cake an even more sublime experience? Having it fresh out of the oven on a cold month, for breakfast. Benjamina Ebuehi’s The New Way to Cake incorporates flavors that will keep you on your toes every second of your baking journey: Masala Chai Carrot Cake, Plum and Black Pepper Cake, Hazelnut Tahini Caramel Cake, and Apple Cake With Sage Caramel are only some of the personality-packed recipes in this, The Great British Bake-Off contestant’s, latest book. Personally, any dessert with “chai” in its title is a friend of mine, so based just on that single carrot cake recipe, I’m going to have to go down that sweet spiral.
There’s something alchemical about cooking—a kind of alchemy that can be quite reminiscent of how seasons change one into the next with patience and wisdom. In this season of witchcraft, magic, and mystery, I hope you’ll join me in making some cauldrons bubble.