Just as Black people are not a monolith, neither is our food. The cookbooks represented below, though not an exhaustive list, reflect the diversity and significance of the foods that Black chefs and culinarians continue to innovate, reinterpret, and document. While you may see more than one cookbook with “soul” in the title, look closer—the recipes reveal they are far from the same.
In this cookbook roundup, you’ll learn how Edna Lewis, the Grande Dame of Southern cooking, centers fresh produce in In Pursuit of Flavor; taste Creole cuisine that travels a path of the Great Migration in Tanya Holland’s California Soul; absorb the flavors of the Caribbean and beyond in Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet; and revel in a place of origin in Pierre Thiam’s Senegal. The culinary knowledge in these cookbooks runs deep, the creativity is limitless, and the food is always well-seasoned.
For Inspiration From the African Diaspora
This isn’t just a cookbook but a whole experience: Chef Bryant Terry’s curated anthology celebrates the foods of the African diaspora through recipes, art, music, and insightful essays. In its pages are themed playlists aligned with chapters entitled “Black Future” and “Migrations” and illuminating pieces about the Black church, self-care, and queerness. The featured recipes trace our steps between and around continents. Terry taps a who’s who of Black chefs, bakers, mixologists, writers, and culinarians to contribute a wide span of offerings, each with a story to tell. Chef Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah, Georgia, chronicles her journey to enjoying greens, including her own recipe for smoked collards braised in onions and dressed in pepper vinegar, a combination of West African and Southern flavor profiles. Likewise, jerk chicken ramen is chef Suzanne Barr’s ode to Jamaica—the birthplace of her parents—and her love of travel. These are just two examples of the flavorful and innovative recipes reflecting the diasporic palate of this book.
Chefs Pierre Serrao and Lester Walker and CEO Jon Gray, are Ghetto Gastro: a culinary collective that uses art, activism, and fashion to bring their food from the “Bronx to the world.” In this groundbreaking book from the trio are intentional, delicious, often plant-based recipes rooted in the African diaspora. Take their quintessential recipe known as the Triple Cs: cornbread stacked with crab salad and caviar. Each component tells a story about people, politics, and history, a hallmark of the Ghetto Gastro approach. The corn in cornbread points to the enslaved Africans and Indigenous people who were at the foundation of building wealth for others. The crab salad questions the idea of “crabs in a barrel” trying to pull each other down, instead positing that they are trying to help each other get out. Finally, caviar highlights the importance of complete histories: This luxury ingredient is not European in origin but from the Middle East and Asia. The knowledge and the flavors in this book are equally layered and unforgettable.
The West African country of Senegal was one of the main departure points for enslaved people brought to the Americas, and many ingredients that we recognize as a part of Southern food today, like black-eyed peas and okra, can be traced back to those shores. That makes cooking through this celebrated chef’s book feel familiar yet inspiringly expansive. Pierre Thiam’s risotto is enriched with a sorrel-okra sauce and palm oil, considered an “unctuous” staple of the cuisine, while his lamb burger is topped with caramelized yassa onions and redolent in fresh thyme, garlic, and cayenne pepper. You’ll also find traditional food, like the national dish of fish, rice and vegetables known as thiebou jenn (Thiam says no Senegalese cookbook would be complete without it) and a vegetarian version of jollof rice.
Nina Simone’s powerful anthem “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was written in dedication to the brilliant Lorraine Hansberry, her friend and noted playwright, but it also aptly describes chef Kwame Onwuachi. He’s opened six restaurants—his most recent is Tatiana in New York City, which explores the African diaspora at “the intersection of family and food”—and wrote a revered memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef. His second book is an exploration of his ancestral culinary inheritance, informed by his personal and professional experiences, highlighting the brilliance and breadth of Black food. The chapter on pantry staples is a masterclass in bases, sauces, and seasonings that build the flavor profiles summoned throughout this book. Homemade curry powder, green seasoning, Scotch bonnet–based pepper sauce, and more can be kept on hand in your cupboard, fridge, or freezer for Jamaican patties, curried goat or chicken, and many other recipes in the book. Do not sleep on his globe-spanning sweet treats like Caribbean rum cake, Southern chess pie with satsuma orange, and puff puff, the Nigerian fried dough treat hailed as the “grandmother of beignets.”
This James Beard Award–winning cookbook is full of stunningly beautiful and delicious food you can’t wait to eat. Gregory Gourdet is the chef and founder of Kann in Portland, Oregon, and a Top Chef alum. But it is his inspiring personal journey back to health after recovering from addiction that informs the recipes in this book. Gourdet’s food seamlessly crosses cuisines and hemispheres. Grilled salmon with peach curry and coconut cream blends American Southern and Southeast Asian flavors while legim, a savory Haitian stew, is made in his family’s style with eggplant brightened by spicy epis. These recipes are comforting yet modern—so much so, you won’t miss the gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, and legumes (this book is free of them!). Because Gourdet focuses on making food that tastes great and is good for you, his inclusive, mouthwatering recipes can nourish both body and soul.
I read these recipes on a gray winter day, and it made me want to book a trip to the Caribbean, stat. A native of Barbados, Taymer Mason went vegan in 2006 when she decided she no longer had a taste for the meat-based recipes she was developing as a food scientist. She then began crafting her plant-based point of view on the multi-layered cuisine of the Caribbean, influenced by the African, Indian, Taino, French, Spanish, British, and Dutch cultures that have played a part in the region’s complex history. You can see their legacy in delicious dishes like mini sweet potato pies topped with pineapple and cherries, curry mayonnaise (perfect for deli-type salads or sandwiches), and green mango chutney, which Mason suggests serving with her take on Trinidadian doubles, a popular street food of fried flatbread smothered in curried chickpeas.
Marcus Samuelsson wants you to know that this cookbook celebrating Black foodways and Black chefs “isn’t an encyclopedia” but “a feast.” The book spotlights chefs and experts in this country and beyond, honoring them with recipes inspired by their work. Citrus-cured shrimp with injera and awaze is a tasty tribute to chef Mariya Russell, the first Black woman chef to earn a Michelin star. Pitmaster Rodney Scott, one of few pitmasters to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef and the co-author of Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ, is likewise celebrated. Samuelsson honors him with a spread of spareribs, hush puppies, baked cowpeas, and peanut succotash, a throwback to a time they cooked together in Harlem. It’s also an excellent blueprint for your next backyard barbecue.
For Diving Deep Into African American Heritage Cooking
This one isn’t only for history buffs. Every dish I cooked from this book was family-approved with few leftovers. Informed by an extensive personal collection of nearly 400 cookbooks by Black chefs and cooks, Toni Tipton-Martin showcases their (and her own) culinary ingenuity by pulling their wisdom into her recipes. For example, inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s chef, the great James Hemings, and others, she uses ingredients evocative of a savory French custard to bind macaroni and cheese instead of a roux-based béchamel. Jubilee is a true celebration, and what better celebration food than fried chicken? Tipton-Martin gives us three delicious versions to choose from, Creole, homestyle, and buttermilk. For the Creole fried chicken, she turns to Lena Richard, culinary pioneer and author of the New Orleans Cookbook, for the secret to a crispy coating: finely crushed crackers. The piquant seasonings in the homestyle and buttermilk recipes hit all of the notes many look for in fried chicken—paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper to name a few.
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor was a writer, poet, culinary anthropologist, and such a good cook she did not need to weigh or measure a thing. She just cooked “by vibration.” Fortunately for us, this 1970 book provides some details of how she cooked for the lucky guests at her tables in New York, Rome, and Paris. But those in the know don’t just flip through Vibration Cooking for her brief recipes*—*though her pumpkin soup, salade Niçoise, saltimbocca, and watermelon-rind preserves are worth the purchase alone—but for the writing. Smart-Grosvenor was a storyteller, skilled at conveying the meaning of an interaction in a few words, and refreshingly frank. In the foreword, Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson writes: “In sharing the stories of her travels and the foods she encounters, Vertamae discredits the notion that Black people only eat fried chicken, chitlins, collard greens, and other Southern foods that we see directly reflecting particular geographical locations and migratory patterns.” Instead, she cooked her way around the world and left us this sublime work.
If you have not yet been introduced to the Grande Dame of Southern cooking, then you may want to start with her definitive work, The Taste of Country Cooking. (It is organized by season, as Edna Lewis pioneered eating seasonally before such icons as Alice Waters). In Pursuit of Flavor is an equally wonderful guide to cooking proteins and local produce at their peak. As in her previous work, Lewis takes us through the bountiful gardens, fields, and streams of her childhood in Freetown, Virginia, and shares vegetable, meat, and fish dishes that still feel modern. She turns ripe summer tomatoes and fresh basil into a refreshing cold soup garnished with unsweetened whipped cream, serves a rosemary, black pepper, and garlic leg of lamb with spring asparagus, and black-eyed peas in an onion-laden sauce, no pork or smoked turkey leg necessary. As you cook through her panfried oysters, herbed pork roasts, plum preserves, and a variety of pickles and desserts, you’ll get a more intimate look at the famed chef and author whose country upbringing influenced her culinary ethos.
Emily Meggett’s many years in the kitchen made her one of the most venerated cooks on South Carolina’s Edisto Island. Though she became an ancestor in 2023, her cookbook, a New York Times best-seller and James Beard Award nominee, is filled with her precious knowledge of Gullah Geechee recipes that are a part of her rich legacy. Mrs. Meggett began her cooking career in 1954 and became renowned for her food as she cooked for families around the island, including her own. Fresh seafood is a staple on Edisto Island, and her recipes for shrimp and grits with gravy, she-crab soup, and stuffed fish with parsley rice and roe will transport you right to the Lowcountry coast, where food, family, and community informed this beautiful book.
For Regional Cooking Traditions
The Top Chef alum and chef behind Butterfunk Biscuit Co. in Harlem artfully tracks his lineage through food in this deeply personal book. Through ingenious recipes like yam molasses, Chris Scott thoughtfully pieces together his family heritage from Africa (yams) to the South (sweet potatoes) to Pennsylvania (molasses), where his great-grandfather landed. But the biggest get of this cookbook is the recipe for his award-winning macaroni and cheese. It packs a flavor punch with a Parmesan béchamel base mixed with macaroni shells and covered with two kinds of melted cheese (Monterey Jack and cheddar).
Sometimes one copy of a cookbook is not enough. California Soul is one of them—it deserves to be displayed, unsullied, in order to take in the compelling profiles of Black makers, rich photography, and a meaningful foreword by none other than Alice Walker. But to do so means we’d miss out on cooking through Tanya Holland’s brilliant interpretations of the food that migrated to California with her family from Louisiana. Organized by season, much in the tradition of Edna Lewis, Holland showcases her uniquely Californian culinary point of view through the ingredients she chooses. The recipe for gumbo z’herbes—a dish perhaps best known for only being served on Holy Thursday (before Easter) by the late culinary maven Leah Chase at Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans—is a vegetable-forward pescetarian version of her mother’s, loaded with spinach, kale, and okra as well as succulent Dungeness crab and prawns. Holland interprets Louisiana po’boys through a California lens, swapping the usual proteins for crunchy breaded fried artichokes. She drizzles her California po’boy with a creamy and bright rémoulade, so flavorful with Creole seasonings that I did not miss the seafood.
In her debut cookbook, nominated for a James Beard Award, chef and Top Chef finalist Adrienne Cheatham sets out to give Southern cuisine the respect it deserves. She honors and highlights the versatility of ingredients that have comprised the Southern food lexicon for generations and gives them global twists—think kimchi made with collard greens, catfish roasted in an herby yogurt, and pickled shrimp escabeche. Cooking through this book also shows Cheatham’s skill in making fine-dining techniques (she honed her talents at the celebrated Le Bernardin in New York City) accessible to the home cook. For example, she makes French gougères more attainable by creating a less finicky choux dough with cornmeal and Gruyère. These cornbread gougeres are perfect on their own, added to a charcuterie board, or, as Cheatham suggests, dressed up with pimento cheese, thinly sliced prosciutto, or fried quail eggs, just right for Sunday brunch.
The chef and host of the popular Food Network show, Delicious Miss Brown, generously offers a variety of inspired answers to that persistent daily question: “What’s for dinner?” Kardea Brown shares her culinary connection to her South Carolina Gullah Geechee roots along with easy-to-follow recipes with a reasonable number of ingredients, from chicken skillet dinners to weeknight-ready pasta dishes to her take on Southern classics (smoky barbecue ribs, sweet potato cheesecake). The eight rice-based recipes in this book serve as flavorful tributes to the many Gullah ancestors brought to this country for their expertise in growing rice. Standouts are her chicken perloo with bacon and kielbasa and her crab rice, a satisfying dish that comes together quickly in a cast-iron skillet.
This is the very first cookbook to center Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free in 1865—more than two years after actual emancipation. One year later, in 1866, those same folks gathered to celebrate, and the Juneteenth tradition began. Nicole Taylor pays homage to the holiday through classic cookout recipes with a twist—pork ribs with a flight of barbecue sauces, apricot lamb chops with green garlic chimichurri—and a whole chapter dedicated to red drinks, the ruby-colored beverages emblematic of Juneteenth. I couldn’t resist the cover recipe, hibiscus tea with a bit of rich cream and seltzer served over ice (coined an Afro egg cream). It’s perfectly sweet, creamy, and effervescent. This book is a celebration in its own right.
Chef and restaurateur Alexander Smalls tapped chef JJ Johnson to run the kitchens of two notable Harlem spaces, The Cecil and Minton’s, and together, they explored what they call “the Afro-Asian flavor profile:” a nuanced culinary point of view focused on how the foodways of the Asian and African diasporas mingled throughout history. It’s the focus of this James Beard Award–winning cookbook, epitomized in savorous recipes like their take on moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew made with a green curry base; okra fries coated in a light and crunchy tempura-like dredge; and perhaps most powerfully in “the Mother Africa Sauce.” Peanut-based, bright, and balanced with chile, herbs, citrus, tomato, and cumin, it is a “foundational sauce to the Afro-Asian flavor profile,” plus an exciting and versatile addition to the pantheon of otherwise French mother sauces.
In the James Beard Award–winning The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty documents his “journey through African American culinary history in the old South.” But this memoir, which includes recipes and meticulous historical research, looks at food through another lens of his experience: being an African American Jew. The result is an important addition to both the Jewish cooking and soul food canons. Recipes are organized by African American or Jewish holidays or occasions, like Kwanzaa and Passover, and use ingredients that creatively unify the cuisines. For example, Twitty brings Kenyan flavors (curry, coconut milk, tomato) to roast chicken, a signature dinner for the Jewish Sabbath. Similarly, the Juneteenth cookout menu features barbecued ribs seasoned with horseradish, often found in the Ashkenazi Jewish pantry, and brown sugar, paprika, onion and garlic, seasonings both cultures share.
For Your Next Baking Project
Cheryl Day is known for all of the buttery, baked goodness at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia, but she is also an incredible teacher. In her definitive Southern baking book, Day goes beyond telling readers the what, when, and how of a recipe—she also explains the why, sometimes with a sprinkle of history on top. For her all-butter pie crust, Day uses apple cider vinegar to relax the gluten in the dough and make it pleasantly pliable, a technique passed down by her grandmother, who in turn learned it from her mother. (Don’t worry, any strong vinegar flavor bakes out.) The filling of her apple-rose pie is sweet and floral but balanced and not too loose thanks to the salted caramel made from the apples’ macerated juices. According to Day, this caramel also ensures an even cook and a flaky, not soggy, crust. After using this book, not only will you have access to scrumptious bakes, like Day’s stellar scallion and cheddar cathead biscuits (named for their extra-large size) or cold-oven pound cake, but you’ll become a better baker overall.
Jerrelle Guy, the brains behind the popular food blog Chocolate for Basil, is making nourishing food with a great deal of creativity. She expertly chooses a variety of fats and flours to include a number of vegan, gluten-free, and allergen-free treats in this book. Examples include the blackberry and cherry crostata, made with sour cream to make the dough egg-free, and the recipe for butter pecan Bundt cake, which swaps out milk and butter for vegan options. But don’t think that “wholesome” means “boring.” Guy wraps spiced bananas in phyllo to turn them into bananas Foster lumpia, glazed in rum and agave. And her yeasted ricotta dough buns, filled with a fragrant symphony of honey and lemon and topped with pistachios, taste like baklava in the form of a morning pastry. For me, biting into one was like a quick but luxurious vacation.
If you love pie like I do, this book will make you do a happy dance. Maya-Camille Broussard, of Netflix’s Bake Squad fame, offers the full range of sweet and savory options, from lemon chicken and leek pot pie, tomato tart, and salmon Wellington to salted caramel peach pie, chocolate-peanut-butter-pretzel tart and churro whoopie pies. But the heart of this book are the stories of “exceptional people” who inspire some of her most innovative recipes—people like Christopher LeMark, the founder of Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health, an organization that works to destigmatize therapy in Black and brown communities. According to the book, LeMark’s personal realization that he needed therapy came over a slice of lemon cake. The recipe for lemon espresso pie acknowledges this pivotal moment, marrying lemon custard and curd in an espresso chocolate cookie crust. For Broussard, making a positive impact in the world through community activism or strawberry-basil key lime pie is equally sweet.