We’ve done a lot of cooking at home this year, and it’s a life skill that’ll see us through 2021 and beyond. But, if you’re up for a new culinary challenge, looking for more meals to put on regular rotation, or scrambling for a Christmas gift, this list has you covered.

These cookbooks are filled with clever and delicious recipes – that’s a given – but they also tell stories that matter. There’s a family that fled conflict, a self-made cook that changed the brunch game, a person who overcame anxiety through the act of cooking and two clever cookies finding solutions to food waste. Find these and more in these volumes.

Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen by Durkhanai Ayubi and Farida Ayubi ($45, Murdoch Books)
The publishing debut from vibrant Adelaide restaurant Parwana is a collection of dishes the eatery is known for (including this amazing creation), but at the same time it’s so much more than that. Written by Durkhanai Ayubi with recipes from mum Farida, it’s also a detailed retelling of Afghan history and culture, and of the family’s journey from fleeing the Cold War in 1985 to running one of Adelaide’s most beloved eateries for more than a decade. There are spicy curries, slow-cooked meats, flatbreads and steamed dumplings, woven into an eye-opening reclamation of a broader narrative usually pushed aside in favour of accounts of war and unrest.

Australian Food by Bill Granger ($49.99, Murdoch Books)
When Bill Granger opened his eponymous Sydney cafe and eatery in 1993, he unknowingly wrote the playbook for a new kind of Australian cafe: a cheery, high-energy spot slinging great coffee and vibrant, boldly “brunchy” food. Twenty years after the release of his first book, Sydney Food, his follow-up (and 11th tome) Australian Food is a reflection on the evolution of how the country eats and cooks two decades later. It includes 100 recipes, and reads like a blueprint for cafe menus from now until the end of time (and yes, his signature scrambled eggs is in here).

Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull ($45, Hardie Grant Books)
Two decades after teenage Natalie Paull first wrote Maggie Beer asking for an apprenticeship (and heard back), she opened her popular, now-cult Melbourne bakery Beatrix. The simply named Beatrix Bakes is her first cookbook, filled with recipes for the bakery’s classics, such as Cheesecake (That You Will Love the Most), the lavish and layered Notorious BFC black forest cake, smoky, salty choc-chip cookies and a rhubarb-ginger custard crumble hand pie. There’s also a shopping list of baking essentials, Paull’s preferred tools and the baking beliefs that underpin her practice.

Vegan With Bite by Shannon Martinez ($34.99, Hardie Grant Books)
Chef-restaurateur Shannon Martinez of Melbourne's Smith & Daughters is one of Australia's leading authorities on plant-based food, and her book proves that vegan fare can be just as delicious, punchy and flavourful as its meaty counterparts (these creamy and spicy dan dan noodles are the perfect example). And it's not limited to recipes and cooking tips – it's also about how to create tasty food that has less impact on the environment.

Always Add Lemon by Danielle Alvarez ($50, Hardie Grant Books)
The type of food that Danielle Alvarez, the head chef of lauded Sydney restaurant Fred’s, likes to make is the kind that tastes like home cooking, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in her cookbook Always Add Lemon (which is also great advice). Her philosophy is all about elevating simple ingredients – mostly seasonal vegetables – into flavourful dishes you’ll actually want to cook and eat. In its pages you’ll find recipes for tomato, onion and cheddar tart (with flaky, buttery pastry), summer veg panzanella, duck pot pie and roasted pineapple with salted caramel and rum – aka perfect summer picnic fodder.

A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura ($39.99, Plum)
Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s 2017 release Ostro is already a beloved cookbook, and this follow-up seems set to become one too. Divided into the four seasons, A Year of Simple Family Food is full of ultra-comforting meals that are generous, unfussy and buoyed by great ingredients. Recipes include her best fried potatoes (named so by her four-year-old son); a three-cheese lasagne with extra-flavourful ragu; crepes with whipped ricotta; Japanese congee and more.

Comida Mexicana by Rosa Cienfuegos ($45, Smith Street Books)
Never make tamales when you’re sad – that’s one of the gems of wisdom in the colourful and fun cookbook by Rosa Cienfuegos, who runs her eponymous tamaleria in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill. The 200-page pop art-style book is chock-full of Mexican recipes, including multiple tamales variations, tacos, tortas and desserts from the country’s vibrant streets, tucked-away villages, coastal towns and beyond.

To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon ($39.99, Plum)
Hetty McKinnon wears many hats – chef, food editor, publisher, podcast host, writer and contributor to top news sites. Her latest cookbook is her most personal yet, with details of her life and upbringing alongside delicious recipes (including this mash-up of cacio e pepe and udon). Coming from a Chinese background, growing up in Australia, and now living in the US have all influenced her cooking, which is evident in how she weaves an homage to tradition with rebellious “third-culture cooking”.

Use It All by Alex Elliot-Howery and Jaimee Edwards ($39.99, Murdoch Books)
Innovative Sydney cafe Cornersmith has been showing us how to eat with the seasons and preserve beautiful produce since 2012, so it’s no surprise that they have a keen focus on waste-free cooking. This clever new book has more than 230 recipes, ideas and solutions to reduce food waste, encouraging you to buy whole, buy less, and use up every bit of what you have. Plus it helps you repurpose what’s filling your fridge and pantry, including these three suggestions for resuscitating stale bread.

Saturday Night Pasta by Elizabeth Hewson ($36.99, Plum)
For Elizabeth Hewson (who manages marketing at Fink Group, which includes Bennelong, Quay and Firedoor), making pasta from scratch is more than just a step towards getting dinner on the table: it’s also a ritual, one that helped her overcome anxiety and find calm. Saturday Night Pasta is a cookbook of recipes and a guide to making basic pasta shapes, but it also tells her personal story of growth, liberation and self-care through kneading dough, pasta sauce and Frank Sinatra.

In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky ($59.99, Murdoch Books)
As the title suggests, this colourful kitchen companion from Masterchef alum Alice Zaslavsky is dedicated to the humble vegetable. There are more than 150 recipes and profiles of 50 vegetable varieties in the whopping 500-page compendium. It’s not a purely plant-based, veg-only, meat-free book, but it’s plant forward and filled with ways to move veg up from a side to the star of the show. An example? KFC (Keralan Fried Cauliflower) with coconut chutney that’s perfect to share or easy to turn into breakfast.

Honourable mentions

Perhaps the most famous book in this list is the Australian Women’s Weekly iconic Children’s Birthday Cake Book. It was republished this year to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It was an event we got behind, with a Broadsheet cake-off to end all cake-offs.

The Isol(Asian) Cookbook features recipes from Rosheen Kaul, formerly of Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook, Dinner by Heston, Ezard, and now at Etta. The 40-page cookbook features illustrations by Joanna Hu alongside recipes for wontons, noodles, “completely unauthentic dim sum crispy prawn toast” and chilli oil. There’s already a second volume out, as well as a vegan edition.

The Take Away series by Somekind Press features beautifully designed and affordable cookbooks, crowdfunded to support chefs and restaurateurs during lockdown. Cook dishes from Peter Gunn’s Ides; make Leigh Street Wine Room’s in-house cheeses and cured meats; learn about curry spices from Lankan Filling Station; study wine with P&V Merchants; or read up on recipes and stories from more than a dozen other venues.

Cartilage was also founded by three Sydney creatives (including a couple of Australian Gourmet Traveller alums) to help hospo through a tough time. Each downloadable journal includes three core menu items and a quick add-on from the likes of Sydney’s The Unicorn Hotel, Love, Tilly Devine, Saint Peter and Ho Jiak, and from Melbourne’s Sunda, Capitano, Embla, Marion and Napier Quarter.


If you missed some of the recipes we published, visit our hub here.