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Best Summer Meal Cookbooks of 2021

Bress ’n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford with Amy Paige Condon

Chef Matthew Raiford’s Gullah Geechee cookbook, Bress ’n’ Nyam, is ideal for long, shared summer meals. Begin with a pot of earthy-sweet Gullah rice, then pick from his recipes for paprika-seasoned snapper, grilled watermelon, pork loin sauced in mango dressing, to accompany it. Or spread out the newspapers and opt for a whole afternoon spent enjoying Raiford’s Low Country boil, dipping the bounty in a cocktail sauce spiked with paprika and cumin.

Raiford, after a long stint training and working in restaurant kitchens from coast to coast, now lives in coastal Georgia in the community he was raised in. He’s a farmer as well as a chef, and his approach to food and the land is circular, nourishing, and inclusive. If you’re from Georgia, you’ll find plenty of recommendations for local cane syrup or oysters. But, those of us who live elsewhere will still walk away with an appreciation for regenerative agriculture. It’s especially refreshing to read this book, as so much of the conversation around farm to table eating still focuses around a rarefied Californian kind of dining—and ignores the African American origins of this style of cooking.

Sea & Shore by Emily Scott

I love the simple, decadent food of Cornwall, mostly because it’s chock-full of gorgeous, silky local dairy: English cucumber sandwiches slathered with butter and all manner of creamy desserts—pistachio pudding, a flourless chocolate and almond pudding, and a great big pavlova, all paired with drizzles of crème anglaise and swoops of whipped cream.

Of course there’s a lot of pared-back seafood in this cookbook too—stuff you’d be happy to pull together for an elegant lunch on the patio, even if your crab toast relies on the freezer variety. But if you are beach-bound, flip to instructions for creating a fire pit in the sand, and a tongue-in-cheek “recipe” for toasting marshmallows. Emily Scott’s Sea & Shore is as much a meandering advertisement for coastal England—or no-fuss coastal dining in general—as it is a cookbook.

Colombiana by Mariana Velásquez

Mariana Velásquez came to write her first solo cookbook, Colombiana, after 20 or so years coauthoring other books, working in kitchens like Prune and the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar, and developing recipes for magazines including Gourmet and Saveur. All that is to say when she wrote Colombiana, she not only had years of culinary experience and a lifelong dedication to Colombia’s food. But she also knew how to make flavors and techniques achievable for home cooks. Flip through the book for dependable, clearly written recipes for smoky, creamy lentils dotted with chorizo, or a sweet corn arepa piled high with salty quesito and summer tomatoes. Or, skip to the lighthearted cocktails and missives on entertaining. The Refajo a La Brooklyn, a spritz made of Aperol, beer, and orange, will certainly usher you into hosting again—if Velásquez’s notes on seating and playlist tips don’t get you there first.

Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain

Just eight months after the publication of Time to Eat, Great British Bakeoff winner Nadiya Hussain is back with another approachable, joyful cookbook. The Blueberry and Lavender Scone Pizza lends a once fuddy-duddy dessert a fun-factor and quirkiness; the scone base is spooned with big, swirly scoops of berry-flecked cream—and all of a sudden it’s lush and bright. Hussain has a great grasp on spice; those who appreciate balanced sweetness will love the savory notes of molasses and anise in her madeleines. One last entry in the not-to-be missed category? All the easy-eating, pull-apart savory goods: a wreath of brioche to be dipped in chile jam and Camembert, deeply toasted onion pretzels, and rugelach swirled with rose harissa.

Wine Style by Kate Leahy

Kate Leahy coauthored multiple books on the topic before setting out to write her own wine book. In it, she breaks down pairings into nine concise, cheeky, and not-at-all dogmatic chapters. Before you even get to the pairings, though, Leahy answers all the questions you might be embarrassed to ask at the shop. Should I age my wine? How am I really supposed to store half a bottle? What’s this natural wine I keep seeing everywhere? If you weren’t convinced that this book is a far cry from dusty old oenophile tomes, the first recipe is for popcorn. There are four of them, in fact, to pair with pét-nat, Lambrusco, or really anything else with fizz. The mostly-finger-food recipes are exactly what you want for a summer cocktail hour outdoors (or as Leahy calls it, Porch Time), but you could turn to this book for a killer ginger chicken salad regardless of whether you’re drinking at all.