COVID-19 landed with dynamite force, a week before my husband and I were scheduled to leave on a long-anticipated trip to Morocco. After getting over the disappointment and hunkering down, I picked up a Moroccan cookbook, borrowed a tagine, and started cooking. It turned out to be a little silver lining — a time of discovery, enjoyment, and some gob-smacking meals. From any of this season’s profusion of new cookbooks and a time-honoured classic, you can indulge your wanderlust, bringing traditional flavours and recipes from around the world into your kitchen.
“The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert
Published in 2011, it is still the quintessential guide — an extraordinary culinary journey across a colourful and exhilarating country.
Lavishly photographed, it’s packed with tantalizing recipes and helpful techniques for chefs and home cooks alike.
If you are an armchair traveller, if you are prepping for a trip, or if you are just reminiscing about your last vacation, consider a book like this a dividend. (Harper Collins, $56)
“Dining in Paradise” by Raquel Fox
Like pearls scattered across the dazzling blue ocean, the islands of the Bahamas are home to long, white sand beaches, carefree vacations, and one of the most flavourful cooking styles throughout the Caribbean. Seafood, including conch, grouper, lobster and crab, gets top billing, supported by tropical fruits, spices, chilies, lime, and rum.
Growing up in the Bahamas, Raquel Fox learned the nuances of traditional island cooking from her grandmother. She and her husband owned a restaurant there for years. She became a celebrity, hosting her own television show. Realizing how underrated Bahamian food was outside her country, she wrote Dining in Paradise, bringing background stories and more than150 recipes — the food that she grew up with — to the rest of the world. “I wanted to show people how really amazing it is,” she said. Now living in Toronto, Fox works as a chef and instructor at George Brown College, where she teaches her own Caribbean cooking course. (Whitecap, $34.95)
“In Bibi’s Kitchen” by Hawa Hassan
Chef Hawa Hassan invites you into the kitchens of 18 grandmothers in eight countries down the east coast of Africa, including her native Somalia. More than a book of mostly vegetarian recipes, it is a homage to the bibis (“grandmothers” in Swahili), capturing not only the essence of the dishes they cook in their spice-trade regions but the wealth of experience they hold dear. It is the conversations with these women that bring the food and the narrative alive. Hassan’s first book, co-authored with her friend and award-winning cookbook author, Julia Turshen, was named one of the best cookbooks of 2020 by Bon Appetit.
The recipes, accompanied by evocative photography shot on location, are uncomplicated and timeless. Each dish, accompanied by its bibi’s story, invites the reader to an intimate talk around the kitchen table. A beautiful nod to grandmothers, a demystifying of African foods for westerners, and a glimpse into a way of life that few travellers are able to experience. (Ten Speed Press, $45)
“The Farmer’s Daughter Bakes” by Kelsey Siemens
Full-time apple farmer and food blogger Kelsey Siemens provides a captivating glimpse into her farm-to-table world. In addition to overseeing her family’s orchard in British Columbia’s beautiful Fraser Valley, she captures the sweet taste of the seasons and the joy of growing the produce, then creating imaginative baked goods. In spring, rhubarb and strawberries steal the show. Berries arrive in summer and in fall all eyes are on the orchard.
Siemens shares the ins and outs of a year on the farm and the joys of eating seasonally, encouraging readers, wherever they live or travel, to connect with local farmers, to pick their own food, to visit farmers markets, and to eat seasonally whenever possible.
“Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone” by Meni Valle
Ikaria, the tiny, lush Greek island in the Aegean Sea, a.k.a. “the island where people forget to die,” is home to one of the longest-living populations on the planet. Geography, a stress-free culture, a simple lifestyle including daily naps, red wine, herbal tea, mindful exercise, and a positive outlook all help to explain the “Blue Zone” phenomenon. And then there is the food.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, prepared from scratch as they were generations ago, to be enjoyed around a dinner table with family and friends. Meni Valle, an Australian-Greek educator and cookbook writer, fell in love with Ikaria while researching the Mediterranean diet. Her homage to the island is part gorgeous photography of luscious dishes, part travelogue, and part captivating stories from locals. (Raincoast, $39.99)
“Coconut & Sambal” by Lara Lee
Be transported to the beautiful islands of Indonesia and taste the country through the passion of a young Asian chef. Lara Lee shares her vast knowledge of Indonesian cuisine — a gift from her grandmother and from cooks she has met travelling through the island nation.
In her more than 80 recipes and beguiling tales that have been passed down through generations, you’ll discover dishes that are the heart and soul of Indonesian cuisine.
Two culinary staples — coconut in its many forms, and sambal, a ubiquitous chili sauce — inspired the title. Selected by the New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of fall 2020, it is a sumptuous collection, perfect for home cooks and armchair travellers alike. (Raincoast, $47.50)