So, October happened. All the usual suspects were there. New Sufjan Stevens record? Check. Fresh Sofia Coppola movie? Already logged it on Letterboxd. Overdosing on Halloween candy? Seems like we’ll never learn. But as we recover from our sugary stupor, wipe the snow off our car windows—[Dad voice] I don’t see how there can be global warming if it’s already snowing—and spin Taylor’s version of 1989 again, we must look back on one of the most powerful cookbook months of 2023. For many, this October’s offerings will determine what they’re eating and drinking at home during the coming months (aka Big Hibernation Hours). I know it will for me.
The culinary companion to my finishing [checks notes] the next nine seasons of Criminal Minds is going to be veggie sandwiches with spicy peanut sauce, a Greek-inspired pasta with cinnamon and feta, and pozole verde from The Lula Cafe Cookbook, which is a stunning volume from the chef-owner of one of Chicago’s most beloved restaurants. When I end up skipping my friends’ parties and band gigs because it’s too cold out, I’ll probably be home drinking my way through the rum cocktails of the 1910s, thanks to Amanda Schuster’s Signature Cocktails. BTW, sorry, Mom, we’re not coming home for Thanksgiving this year—we’re too obsessed with the Kung Pao sweet potatoes from Veg-table to slow down for that “classic” marshmallow shit.
Dang, the greatest month (don’t @ me) really brought it this year. Here are some of our favorite cookbooks that dropped in October.
The Lula Cafe Cookbook
Chefs and food enthusiasts far and wide love Jason Hammel’s Lula Cafe, a thoughtful, seasonal, farm-forward restaurant that’s been a Chicago staple for more than two decades. His new cookbook takes readers from the genesis of Lula in the 1990s through some of the restaurant’s most enduring dishes, including the spaghetti with salsa rossa and pancetta; the umami-packed, peanut butter-laced Tineka sandwich; and Hammel’s famous sweet and sour cabbage soup (which might be the best soup you’ll ever make). Whether you’re a devoted follower or an admirer from afar, this book really captures the essence of the popular neighborhood hangout so that you can recreate the vibe at home. And speaking as someone who eats at Lula Cafe regularly (and now cooks its food in my kitchen), that’s something you should want to do.
It’s become super trendy to write approachable, vibrant cookbooks teaching people the “essentials” of cooking. Indeed, it seems like every online food personality now has to throw their hat into the ring with a cute volume called something like Cooking for Everyone or Begin Cooking Now or Welcome to My Kitchen. But Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here is the Platonic ideal of that type of book. Part of what makes this one so good is that it’s very explicit about wanting to offer a culinary school alternative for home cooks, and it really succeeds at making every aspect of the process feel very fun. Even the font and design are maximally appealing. If you want to start baking bread, master your egg game, make braising a second nature, or become a caramelization beast, your road to success lies within. (Or, if you just want a bunch of killer soup, veg, pasta, and protein recipes from an online chef you love, those are here as well.) Come holiday season, definitely keep this one in mind—it’s a perfect gift for a partner, friend, parent, or just yourself.
The Korean Cookbook
Phaidon’s all-encompassing cookbooks are necessary tools for anybody wanting to go super deep into a region or country’s offerings. The Korean Cookbook by Junghyun Park & Jungyoon Choi contains all the greatest staples of Korean cuisine, from kimchi and banchan to jjigae and tteok. Everyone from Maangchi lifers to people who have never cooked Korean food before will find a great entry point and plenty to love and explore.
If Instagram had a feature that could transport me to a restaurant immediately after seeing photos of its food, I would be a regular at chef Josh Niland’s Saint Peter and Fish Butchery in Australia. Following the James Beard-winning The Whole Fish and Take One Fish comes another book about—you guessed it—fish. Fish Butchery deals especially with fishing, butchering techniques, and recipes, with an underlying current (get it, because of water?) of attention to sustainability. Its photography makes me want to quit my job, become a fish butcher, and eat fish charcuterie and fish hot dogs all day.
No Jack and Cokes here, LOL! (No, really, I checked.) Still, Amanda Schuster’s Signature Cocktails is a must for anybody interested in cocktail history (or anyone who just loves sipping cold Negronis with the boys). The level of research here is astonishing, but it’s all presented in a super accessible and enjoyable way. This book takes readers through some of the most iconic moments, places, and figures in the mixed drink cosmos, and really gives you a sense of why certain drinks are important, as well as what they’ve inspired. Keen to discover a famous post-Prohibition cocktail from Chicago? Or a classic vodka drink that came out of Kenya in the 80s? A powerful new gin drink from a famous Seattle bar? It’s all here.
Every once in a while, a book is such an ambitious deep dive into a single idea that I’m moved to think, Holy hell, if I read this book cover to cover, I’ll pretty much become an expert on this topic. Well, I’ll probably never be a Nik Sharma-level vegetable professor, but after reading Veg-table, I am definitely inspired to lecture my guests at an upcoming dinner party about how eggplants are actually fruit. Veg-table takes you through how vegetables grow, what they’re made of, the best practices for preparing them, and even what properties make them vegetables in the first place. It’s an amazing undertaking, and you’ll quickly find yourself itching to make corn cakes with Sichuan chive butter, lettuce with avocado Caesar dressing, okonomiyaki-style brassica fritters, and Kung Pao sweet potatoes.
To quote The Shawshank Redemption, “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!” That was about cooking, right?
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.
The post Flavor Zone: The Best Cookbooks That Dropped in October appeared first on VICE.