Got some food lovers on your list? Food writer Hali Bey Ramdene recommends these tasty volumes.

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six cookbooks lined up
Photography by Kate Mathis
| Credit: Photography by Kate Mathis

Living Lively

By Haile Thomas 

Everything about 19-year-old Haile Thomas dazzles: her recipes, her writing, and the joy she feels for healthy living. The activist, motivational speaker, health coach, and vegan blogger got her start when she was eight years old and her dad developed type 2 diabetes. Since then, healthy living and eating have been her passion. I was drawn in by the 80 plant-based recipes, like the delicious Jamaican Rice & Peas with Curry Mushrooms, but the real strength of this book is the space for self-reflection. For anyone of any age looking for permission to scribble in the margins and get to know themselves in the kitchen, this book is for you. 


By Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley 

Part love letter, part encyclopedia, and 100 percent a book you should not miss, Falastin adds the missing ingredient to the story of hummus, falafel, sumac, and other Middle Eastern favorites: the people and culture of Falastin (the phonetic Arabic spelling of Palestine). If you're not familiar with Tamimi, it's not because you don't know him. The Palestinian chef is business partners with Yotam Ottolenghi and has cowritten cookbooks with him. Must-tries in this volume include hummus with herby stewed eggplant, Pasta with Yogurt and Parsley Breadcrumbs, and the tangy Labneh Cheesecake that's topped with honey-roasted apricots. 

The Flavor Equation

By Nik Sharma 

If Nik Sharma is talking about food science, I'm listening. The former molecular biologist with a talent for photography and a passion for ingredients is serious about his subjects. His first book, Season, introduced us to a world of big flavors and beautiful food inspired by his Goan heritage. This one goes a step further and pulls back the curtain on how those flavors are made. From emotion and sight to mouthfeel and aroma, Sharma breaks it down—and gives us the recipes to experience it all. Science never tasted so good. 

Meals, Music, and Muses

By Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers 

In this slim book powered by Alexander Smalls's love of food and music, the restaurateur and opera singer curates a playlist of essential African American recipes. The book is organized by seven styles of music that introduce us to the voices that made the music and the foods it inspired. "Jazz" starts the meal with appetizers like Hoppin' John Cakes, and "Serenades" finishes it off with treats like Sweet Potato Coconut Cake. In between, the meal, just like this book, builds to a powerful crescendo of stories and flavors that celebrate what African Americans have contributed both food- and music-wise to American culture.

My Korea 

By Hooni Kim with Aki Kamozawa 

One of my favorite cookbook genres is the unfiltered home cooking of a chef. The polish of the restaurant gets stripped away, the essentials are elevated, and we get to eat the way they eat. In My Korea, Hooni Kim, the Michelinstarred chef behind New York's Danji and Hanjan, makes simple dishes like cold Spinach with Sesame and Braised Beef Short Ribs, which is a delicious, all-day affair. This is his Korean cooking, and it has expanded my home cooking as well. 

Open Kitchen 

By Susan Spungen 

In this ode to eating together, food stylist Susan Spungen gives a master class on honest entertaining using recipes that range from elegant toasts (I've made the Roasted Tomato and Burrata Toast twice!) to the glorious Rosey Harissa Chicken. At the center of the book is her philosophy on cooking and entertaining: "It's pleasure that fuels the work." That's an attitude that will serve you well in the kitchen and far beyond it. 

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.