Black food is, quite simply, American food. Black cooks have contributed an immeasurable amount to the national cuisine over the centuries. There is no more delicious way to learn from Black cooks than to immerse ourselves in their traditions, both old and new. The most natural start, if you haven’t done so already, is to buy cookbooks from some of the best cooks and chefs in the country. Many of these works are groundbreaking; they all feature delicious recipes.
Two major players in the Harlem cooking scene, chefs JJ Johnson (FieldTrip) and Alexander Smalls (The Cecil; Minton’s) developed this James Beard Award-winning cookbook with Veronica Chambers. An exploration of the African, Asian and African-American flavors that blossomed into Harlem’s culinary renaissance, and an homage to the cultural melting pot of New York City, the book celebrates the rich, varied history of the Harlem food scene. You’ll find eclectic recipes like Feijoada with Black Beans & Spicy Lamb Sausage, Grilled Watermelon Salad with Lime Mango Dressing & Cornbread Croutons and yard dogs. (Fun fact: Chef Smalls received the Creative Spirit Award from the Black Alumni of Pratt by the late, inimitable Ms. Cicely Tyson.)
There’s a reason we devoted a whole post to fawning over Haile Thomas. Talk about motivated: At just 20 years old, Haile has founded a nonprofit, become a certified health coach, and bonded with Michelle Obama. She gets more done by lunch than many of us accomplish in a week. A graduate (at age 16, natch!) from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, her cookbook, Living Lively: 80 Plant-Based Recipes to Activate Your Power and Feed Your Potential, is as inspiring as she is.
A moment, please, to trumpet the talents of our super-charismatic Chefs’ Collective member, Gregory Gourdet. His forthcoming book with JJ Goode, Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, promises to be a stunner. The beloved Top Chef star wants to revolutionize healthy eating in a book devoted to cooking globally inspired dishes free from gluten, dairy, soy, legumes, and grains. Expect veggie-centric dishes as well as meaty stews, with a particular attention to Haiti, North and West Africa, and France.
Even among jaded culinary types, this new book—part cookbook, part memoir, part Start a Restaurant 101, and all parts marvelous—has folks atwitter. Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano didn’t know one another when Morisano bought a formerly segregated Greyhound bus terminal in Savannah. Bailey was busy cooking at Prune, the iconic New York City restaurant. But she’d grown up partly in Savannah and its food; it was meant to be. The tale of how the two found one another and tackled racism, menu planning, and building one of the most beautiful restaurants in America is just extraordinary. (Snag the book and see the magnetic duo chat on February 16th!)
Even if you haven’t yet heard of In Bibi’s Kitchen, you may be familiar with its authors, Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen, who are absolute darlings of the food world. Turshen’s cookbook Small Victories was nearly an instant hit when it launched. (What cookbook has nearly a uniform five-star review?!) And Hassan, a Somalia native, has been featured in The New York Times since she launched her traditional Somali cooking sauces. Nowadays the former model just graces Vanity Fair; ho-hum. The two teamed up to feature recipes and stories of grandmothers from the eight African countries that touch the Indian ocean. And is true of all their recipes, these work.
The late Miss Leah, as the New Orleanians who knew and loved her fondly called her, ran Dooky Chase’s Restaurant right into her late 90s. She was known as the Queen of Creole cuisine. Her restaurant hosted both Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Her fried chicken was legendary, as was her gumbo. Here are her reflections on work, life, and her recipes.
It’s not your usual soul food cookbook: Expect chickpea turmeric crackers and plaited dukkah bread in this unusual, wholesome tome of recipes. We’re longtime Jerrelle Guy fans, having fallen hard for her blog Chocolate for Basil some time ago. So it’s no surprise that we love her book.
With its immaculate historical research and knockout recipes, Toni Tipton-Martin’s celebrated Jubilee centers and illuminates the African-American cooking tradition. It takes on the incredible task of touching on two centuries’ worth of cooking, with spotlights on pecan pie and fried chicken, seafood gumbo and spoon bread. Her writing is smart and beautiful at once.
There are good bakers, and then there’s Jocelyn Delk Adams. Her recipes in this cookbook just sing. Whether it’s a buttery cake recipe or a zucchini cupcakes with a lemon buttercream, the five-star reviews of Grandbaby Cakes tell you everything you need to know.
It’s true: This Food Network star can cook. Expect recipes like cast iron biscuits, smoked salmon scramble, and mom’s chicken soup. Reviewers just love this book, which is focused on what Ayesha and her husband feed their kids. (Hello, parents; there are some kid-friendly options here!)
As is true of Tipton-Martin’s book, anything by Micheal W. Twitty is an excellent choice for those with an academic bent. The Cooking Gene by the renowned culinary historian tells his personal story through the recipes that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. Expect historical documents and Civil War battlefield tales alongside your recipes. “Illuminating” undersells this award-winning book.
The Top Chef favorite, TV personality and Nashville native is as interested in cracked shrimp with “comeback sauce,” Ghanaian peanut beef stew and roasted okra rounds as she is in traditional soul food favorites in this book. As one reviewer explains of its particular charm, “These recipes are easy to follow, simple ingredients that you can get anywhere and yet they aren’t plain.”
Among those who eschew meat, Bryant Terry is nothing short of a hero. In Vegetable Kingdom, the vegan, food justice activist, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and chef takes his cues from the African Diaspora while paying homage to his wife’s Asian heritage to feature flavors and ingredients from East and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South.
Arguably as American a cookbook as ever there was, The Taste of Country Cooking was groundbreaking. Reflecting the Black roots of much of this nation’s cuisine, it is some of the best cookery we have. (Fun fact: The late Edna Lewis was edited by Judith Jones, who also edited Julia Child!) Ms. Lewis is famous enough to have a foundation devoted to her legacy. Which is as it should be.