Best Cookbooks of 2023: Grilling, Baking, Fermenting, Cocktails

Years ago while perusing one of Nigel Slater’s many cookbooks, I wondered aloud to a British friend about what made him so popular and prodigious.

“Reading his recipes makes you feel like you’re sitting in his cozy kitchen, drinking a decent glass of claret and waiting for something delicious to eat,” says my friend, Guardian journalist Alexandra Topping.

Slater’s in the rare-air league of UK luminaries like Diana Henry, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Simon Hopkinson. When his new book arrived (another one!), I set it aside while I perused his fresher-feeling competition. On a trip home to see my folks, though, I found a few things to try cooking with Mom, and realized for myself why he’s so beloved—it’s smart, inventive food that makes me want to cook more.

One night, Mom and I marinated chicken with za’atar—a favorite ingredient-technique combo of his—then grilled it, and served it with a tahini and yogurt sauce, alongside a big salad. We made three leg quarters for three of us and everyone wished I’d cooked more so there would be leftovers. Next, we made savory pancakes with herbs blended into the batter, wrapped them around sautéed mushrooms with thyme and crème fraîche, and showered the whole thing with Parmesan. It was superb.

“His books are like a salve to the soul, it’s the life you wish you had,” says Topping. “In Slater’s recipes, there is no such thing as too much butter, cream, or melting cheese. I love him.”

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