Single-subject cookbooks reflect their times, says Lisa Dyer, associate publisher at Welbeck Publishing Group. In the 1990s, she recalls, books touted of-the-moment appliances and equipment such as microwaves and juicers; slim, gift-y titles about a single ingredient, like the avocado, followed. Forthcoming books, Dyer says, speak to a market hungry for both simplicity and variety: “Even if I have one thing,” the thinking goes, “I can build a meal around it.”
In Ramen, a June release from Welbeck imprint OH! Life, that one thing is the familiar Japanese noodle soup, rendered by London restaurateur Makiko Sano in 80 recipes that emphasize ease and affordability. “Ramen is ubiquitous, popular, and endlessly customizable,” Dyer says, explaining that Sano draws from her Japanese childhood and her Korean culinary education in foundational recipes for dashis and tares, and in dishes that incorporate fresh sea vegetables. “The book also includes TikTok-inspired takes on instant ramen,” Dyer adds. “We want readers to have fun, and eat ramen all the time: for breakfast or instead of grandma’s chicken soup when you’re sick.”
Anna Hezel, senior editor at Epicurious, emphasizes the versatility of canned seafood in Tin to Table (Chronicle, Apr.). “I’m part of the CannedSardines subreddit,” she says. “It’s tens of thousands of people who eat tinned fish and leave funny, nice little reviews about how they ate them and what they paired them with.”
Packaged seafood, Hezel notes in the book’s introduction, has made its way into “hundreds of dishes and cuisines around the world.” She stresses its utility in the opening chapters: tinned mussels may be enjoyed straight out of the can; canned octopus is just as delicious as its fresh counterpart and far more affordable, too. “There’s plenty of inspiration to be found here,” according to PW’s review, in snacks (Vermouth Hour Potato Chips with Mussels, Olives & Piparras), mains (Rice Cooker Sardine Rice with Grated Ginger, Sweet Corn & Green Onions), and more. Eunjo Park, a 2020 Food & Wine best new chef, contributed a recipe for tuna kimbap. “The cheapest canned tuna mixed with gochujang for a spicy, fermented, sweet flavor,” Hezel says. “It’s insanely good. You won’t believe that you’re eating a $2 can of tuna.”
The Arepa (Ryland Peters & Small, June) focuses on what Baltimore restaurateur Irena Stein sees as “an ambassador of Venezuelan cuisine.” Millions of people have left Venezuela for political and economic reasons, she says, and “went everywhere in the world. Wherever they went, they brought arepas. I want to honor this wonderful, important aspect of our gastronomy, which started before colonial times and has stayed in everybody’s household every single day.”
Stein’s favorite recipes are for cheese arepa, which “every child takes to school,” and pabellon arepa, which she calls Venezuela’s national dish. “They’re important in our culture, and they’re damn delicious.” She sees the book’s Asian-, Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern–inspired variations as a celebration of the Venezuelan diaspora. “Every Latin country has its pockets of bread,” she says. “And every flavor of every culture fits in it so well.”
Baking cookbooks, a category unto themselves, are ripe for the single-subject treatment.
When Brown Butter Blondie blogger Heather Mubarak noticed that her sandwich cookies—whoopie pies, macarons, copycat Oreos—were popular on her social media channels, she knew she’d hit upon a book idea. In her debut, Stuffed (Chronicle, Apr.), she shares 65 recipes for stuffed cookies, including ones she says are “a little less typical,” such as carrot cake cookies with brown butter cream cheese frosting and rosemary pine nut sables with whipped goat cheese. The book’s final chapter has recipes for 30 fillings, among them eggnog buttercream, Meyer lemon curd, and slow-churn ice cream. “I want readers to mix and match,” she says. “Because really, no two cookie cravings are the same.”
Erika Council, the chef-owner of Atlanta’s Bomb Biscuits, speaks to the African American heritage of her signature quick bread in Still We Rise (Clarkson Potter, Aug.). “I grew up in this industry and I saw nothing but African American men and women baking,” she says. “Everything that elevated my own baking style came from them.”
Council is the granddaughter of soul food chef Mildred “Mama Dip” Council, who cooked and baked to support the civil rights movement, and many of the book’s recipes are rooted in family histories. For example, her roasted peach biscuit is an homage to her great-aunt’s “shortcake biscuit-type concoction, which she cut in wedges, like a cake,” she says. “They’re not the prettiest, but they remind me of what she made.”
Council hopes her single-subject book will lead readers to cookbooks that shaped African American culinary history, like those by Norma Jean and Carole Darden, Cleora Butler, and Freda DeKnight. “And all these extraordinary African American men and women who were fermenting potatoes to make biscuits in 1939,” she says. “I want people to know their names.”
What’s the big idea?
Narrowing the focus to a single ingredient can inspire introspection and exploration, says Artisan publisher Lia Ronnen. A pair of her spring titles highlight ingredients that foodies “obsess over,” she says. “People who are really interested in food love going narrow and deep. They have definite opinions about tomatoes and oysters.”
In The Joy of Oysters (May), Wine Enthusiast food editor Nils Bernstein shares tips for buying, storing, and shucking oysters, and, Ronnen says, debunks the notion that oysters should only be eaten during certain months. Recipes include Korean oyster fritters (gul jeon), oyster fricassee, and oyster shooters. In Simply Tomato, James Beard Award–winning food writer Martha Holmberg stresses using the right tomato for the right preparation—a beefsteak to roast with fish, cherry tomatoes for a salad—and embraces the convenience of canned varieties. “People like to become instant experts; that’s part of the intention of these books,” Ronnen says.
Rhubarb (TouchWood, May) by chef and photographer Søren Staun Petersen speaks to the same sort of readership, and elevates the spring ingredient beyond pies and crisps. Petersen’s 35 recipes include savory preparations, such as pizza bianca, and sweets, such as rhubarb banana bread, as well as compotes, chutneys, and drinks. In Yogurt & Whey (Norton, out now), Homa Dashtaki, founder of artisanal yogurt brand White Moustache, highlights whey, a by-product of traditional yogurt-making practices. She employs whey as the star in labneh and kashak, and in a supporting role in ghormeh sabzi, lemon meringue pie, and pineapple martinis. PW’s starred review called Dashtaki’s debut an “edifying and delicious exploration of Zoroastrian cuisine.”
Michigan chef Abra Berens’s previous books addressed vegetables (Ruffage) and beans and grains (Grist); her next outing, Pulp (Chronicle, Apr.), which incorporates fruit at every meal, “will have home chefs heading to the farmers market or produce aisle with renewed confidence,” according to PW’s review. Chapters are divided by fruit (drupelet berries, pears, plums) and further by technique (raw, poached, stewed). Her one-pan Sunday roast uses baked apples; she tops coconut tapioca pudding with roasted mulberries and lime.
Similar to Berens, Mark Kurlansky has written several well-regarded single-subject books, including Cod, Salt, and Milk!. With the forthcoming The Core of an Onion (Bloomsbury, July), he peels back the allium’s layers through science, art, mythology, and 100 historical recipes. “Onions are both commonplace and unusual: they’re the only vegetable with a built-in defense mechanism to attack mammals who try to eat them,” he says. “They’re also ubiquitous around the world, but because of their strangeness, they’ve taken on all kinds of meanings in different cultures and are used in a lot of ways.” He packs the book with historical context, including “the whole story of how sweet onions ended up in Texas. The British didn’t want to waste their land growing onions, so they grew them in Bermuda. Then the U.S. used tariffs to destroy Bermuda onions and grew them in Texas instead.”
Kurlansky, like other authors and editors interviewed for this piece, uses his narrow lens as a window onto a larger vista: “You’re learning a lot about the world when you look at these seemingly small things.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Erika Council's name.
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