12 essential cookbooks by Black chefs and authors
Celebrate Black culture with a feast
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Cooking goes beyond a hobby for many African American people; it's also a love language, a way of life, and a way to bond and teach family history to younger generations.
Have you ever thought about why black-eyed peas and collard greens are served on the first day of the new year? Ever pondered the origins of pound cake and eggnog? There are a number of Southern dishes and comfort foods like these that are enjoyed across the country—as well as the world—that can be traced to enslaved African people.
Today, Black communities continue to create culture and history through cooking. And because there was a time in the not-so-distant past when our ancestors didn’t have the means to record recipes, cookbooks like those listed below are especially important as a method of documenting our history by way of recipes to honor those who came before us and those who will come after us.
Here are 12 cookbooks by Black chefs you will enjoy having in your library for years to come.
1. My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef: A Cookbook
Chef, author, and Bronx native Kwame Onwuachi depicts a nuanced, multicultural interpretation of what defines American food in My America. Rich with 125 flavorful recipes, this book includes both traditional dishes from his heritage (think Nigerian jollof and Jamaican beef patties) and more modern recipes from regions like the American South (think baby back ribs and red velvet cake). In addition to recipes, Onwuachi also blends in stories of his own travels to explicitly connect the undeniable link between cuisine and culture.
If you're looking to diversify your home cooking game—and celebrate the cultural patchwork of America—this cookbook is a staple.
2. I Heart Soul Food: 100 Southern Comfort Food Favorites
In the mood for oxtail stew? Craving blueberry cornbread waffles? Fancy some peach cobbler? Lucky for you, Rosie Mayes has compiled more than 100 recipes of comforting foods like these that you can eat anytime of the day! This cookbook is perfect for people who love mouthwatering side dishes and desserts.
(Already have and love I Heart Soul Food? Pre-order Mayes' upcoming cookbook, Super Soul Food With Cousin Rosie, which launches in October 2022.)
3. Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Landmark Restaurant
Okay, so this one isn't actually a cookbook per se, but it's all about a Black-owned restaurant we love: The Grey. Mashama Bailey, executive chef and co-owner of The Grey and The Grey Market, recounts her journey to opening the award-winning Southern eatery. The Grey, which was once a segregated Greyhound Bus Terminal, is now a popular food destination in Savannah, Georgia where Bailey serves her delicious cuisine.
4. In Bibi's Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean
Packed with 75 recipes from grandmothers, Somali chef Hawa Hassan's cookbook is the next best thing to actual travel thanks to flavorful spices and pairings. "Bibis," also known as grandmothers, discuss with Hassan the history of spices as they relate to their home countries. Try the ajemi bread with carrots and green pepper or the shiro (ground chickpea stew) for a hearty solution to everyday meals.
5. The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food
Television star, bestselling author, and chef Marcus Sameulsson journeys through history to examine the impact of the culinary contributions of Black Americans. Sameulsson makes that case that Black chefs and cooks have pushed American food culture to the forefront, despite being erased in the process.
With over 150 recipes and notable historical facts accompanying them, you'll be eager to try incredible dishes such as crab curry with yams and mustard greens, grilled short ribs with a piri-piri marinade, and saffron tapioca pudding.
6. Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking
In this award-winning cookbook, African American culinary scholar Toni Tipton-Martin introduces new historical facts and insight on Black American cuisine. Tipton-Martin combines the insight and skills of enslaved cooks to today's Black food influencers, in order to document generations of culinary achievements. Dive into recipes like sweet potato biscuits and spoon bread.
7. Sweet Home Café Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking
The National Museum of African American History and Culture selected 109 recipes from its very own Sweet Home Café in order to create this cookbook. As the museum gained recognition, so did the cafe, which serves foods long associated with Black culture. Now, fans of the museum can cook their favorite recipes from the comfort of their own homes.
Try recreating the dreamy johnnycakes recipe or the tomato-watermelon salad. Reviewers say this is the perfect cookbook if you want to learn some modern techniques on traditional Black recipes.
8. Eating Well to Win: Inspired Living Through Inspired Cooking
Richard Ingraham has been NBA star Dwayne Wade's personal chef for more than a decade, so he knows a thing or two about making healthy, hearty dishes. Ingraham has also created his own chef network called ChefRLI that caters to professional athletes across the country.
Ingraham consistently creates dishes that allow your body to perform while fueling it with all the nutrients you need. His client list continues to grow, which is no surprise considering his repertoire includes the likes of blueberry oatmeal muffins and sweet potato lasagna.
9. Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories
Popular food writer Jocelyn Delk Adams has been combining Black culture, food, and her family’s history since 2012 on her blog Grandbaby Cakes. In her debut cookbook, she pays homage to the Black bakers in her family, connecting past, present, and future through baking. Her cookbook is inspirational, fun, and full of tasty treats that've been passed down for generations.
10. The African American Heritage Cookbook: Traditional Recipes and Fond Remembrances from Alabama's Renowned Tuskegee Institute
The Tuskegee Institute was founded by former enslaved person Booker T. Washington in 1881 along with Lewis Adams and Dr. George Washington Carver. Since its founding, the institution has remained synonymous with Black history, pride, and progress. The recipes in this cookbook are reflective of some of America’s notable Black figures, like Rosa Parks and Dr. Carver.
With Southern recipes like Dr. Carver’s peanut cake with molasses, you'll find yourself transported to a time when Black intellectuals started to flourish. Reviewers say that this book contains delicious, historic recipes, as well as vintage photos and poems that provide further context and insight.
11. The Taste of Country Cooking: The 30th Anniversary Edition of a Great Southern Classic Cookbook
Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia—a town founded by her grandfather—in 1916. She grew up farming and cooking alongside members of her family. Lewis' first cookbook was published in 1976 and it successfully connected her approach to farm-grown, seasonal cooking with the recipes her family had cherished since they were freed from slavery. Reviewers say this is the best classic Black Southern cookbook on the market.
12. Vegan Soul Food Cookbook: Plant-Based, No-Fuss Southern Favorites
If you're looking for vegan or vegetarian takes on classic soul food recipes, look no further than this cookbook by Nadira Jenkins-El. (Believe it or not, vegan soul food is just as good and sometimes even better than its meaty counterparts!) Learn how to stew tofu and other protein alternatives so you can enjoy vegan gravy-covered biscuits, gumbo, and even cajun style “chicken." Pro tip: The jackfruit "ribs" are a must-try.
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