/ by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

According to Forbes, cookbooks are hot. Last year, 17.8 million hardcover cookbooks were sold, a 25% increase over the prior year. And even a cursory glance at the cookbook section of your indie bookstore reveals a sheer number and variety that can seem almost overwhelming. Gigantic reference tomes (designed to be a lower-cost substitute for a cooking-school degree) share shelf space with single-subject volumes meant to inspire mastery in a single fascination (like gelato, or hand-made pasta, or even fifty variations on a Spritz cocktail). Trend books flood the market in lock-step with new diets or an innovation in kitchen gadgetry (Instant-Pot everything).

The kind of cookbook we’re most inclined to buy, however, are the most personal ones, written by talented cooks with compelling stories to tell; about how their life shaped their love of particular flavors and preparations, their inclination toward certain techniques, their repertoire. The best of these books function as a warm invitation into the kitchen to watch and learn, and these are the ones we most often give to others as gifts, because they introduce the recipient to a new friend, with their best recipes thrown in for good measure!

We find ourselves turning, again and again, to these five recently published cookbooks and plan to bestow them as gifts during this holiday season. We checked and all of them are available at  M. Judson Booksellers.

Coconuts and Collards, by Von Diaz

As a child, writer and radio producer Diaz moved from her native Río Piedras, Puerto Rico to Atlanta. She returned to the island during summers to visit her grandmother, from whom she learned to cook. In Coconuts and Collards, Diaz explores the many proximities between southern and Puerto Rican food, and tells stories of how her experiences of both evolved into a highly personal, and flavorful, cuisine.

Must-cook recipe: Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo Soffrito

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Secrets of the Southern Table, by Virginia Willis

Georgia-born and French-trained, Willis is a chef and author of four books, including the James Beard Award winning Lighten Up Y’all. Her latest, Secrets of the Southern Table, is a travelogue and a stellar collection of recipes representing the kitchen-wisdom and inspiration of diverse cultures and communities she found while traveling  throughout the region.

Must-cook recipe: Smashed Fried Okra with Spicy Yogurt Dipping Sauce

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SOUL, by Todd Richards

Richards is well-known in Atlanta for being founding chef of One Flew South (America’s first restaurant of quality to be found in an airport) and for Southern Fried at Krog Street Market. SOUL, which won the 2019 IACP Award for Best American Cookbook, is his biography-in-recipes, of how being raised in Chicago by southerners and living in Atlanta as a chef trained in fine-dining kitchens, influenced his path to the suave and deeply flavorful repertoire that has become his trademark.

Must-cook recipe: Country Fried Lamb Steak Hot Chicken Style

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The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis

No book does a better job than Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking of evoking the rhythms and rituals of seasonal southern cooking (wheat-threshing, hog killing, gathering wild strawberries), and the ways they bind a community together. Her stories of growing up in Freetown, Virginia and the recipes that emerge from them have become a beacon for every cook who aims to prepare simple, honest, and refined southern food today. Not a new book, but a classic, and recently published in a 30th Anniversary Edition with a foreword by Alice Waters.

Must-cook recipe: Pan-Fried Shad with Roe

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Turnip Greens and Tortillas, by Eddie Hernandez

Hernandez, executive chef-owner of the wildly popular Tacqueria del Sol restaurants in Nashville and Atlanta, was born in Monterrey Mexico, and by the age of 15 he’d opened his own torta shop, serving sandwiches stuffed with pernil he’d learned to make from his grandmother. He dreamed of traveling the world as a rock musician but landed in Georgia and became a self-professed “born-again Southerner.” The recipes in Turnip Greens and Tortillas are a thrilling fusion of Mexican roots and Southern flavors.

Must-cook recipe: Eddie’s Turnip Greens