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These cookbooks inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance.
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
My grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles would all pour into our home throughout the day, eagerly awaiting their favorite dish.
During those times, my mom transformed into executive chef and drill sergeant, sending my sister and me on grocery store runs for obscure ingredients or directing us to remove cobwebs from forgotten corners of the house.
The scents wafting from my mom’s magic entrées and appetizers were intoxicating. They made all the toil worth it.
Our home burst with the scent of warm syrupy-sweet yams, smoked turkey necks drowning in collard greens, a countertop completely covered by her pound cake, and sweet potato pie whipped to perfection.
I always looked forward to those family dinners, my relatives’ laughing faces, and their overflowing plates.
As much as I loved our quality family time, those dinners fueled my fear of cooking. I could never accept and conquer the mental preparation it required: the brainstorming, the grocery lists, the grocery store lines, the time management.
I couldn’t bear the hefty expectations of cooking as a way to maintain our Black American cultural and family traditions, a mix of Southern roots with Pacific Northwest nuance.
I added cooking to the list of things that I knew were important, but that I probably would never really care about (kind of like backing up my devices regularly). I didn’t want to spend the necessary energy to learn how to achieve those glorious family dinners — or even everyday meals.
Cooking required too much pressure and preparation. Cooking required too much of myself.
Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.
I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.
Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.
In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn’t rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.
These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They’re also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking
by Toni Tipton-Martin
Who says a cookbook can’t also be a history lesson?
Tipton-Martin draws on her nutritionist and food activist background to amass over 125 recipes that demonstrate the complexity and nuance of soul food.
“Jubilee” pushes beyond the trope of soul food as survival wherein enslaved and impoverished Africans created a new cuisine out of plantation scraps. The author showcases the culinary skills of Black chefs who were enslaved, entrepreneurs, upper class, and everything in between.
Whether it’s the black-eyed pea fritters, okra gumbo, or braised lamb shanks with peanut sauce, you will be joyfully full.
The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem
by Marcus Samuelsson
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Chef Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. It was undoubtedly my bougiest Black fantasy.
The food was simple but decadent, and the ambiance was Black, beautiful, and triumphant, much like the neighborhood. Samuelsson’s cookbook leans into his Swedish-Ethiopian and Afropolitan experiences with recipes for chicken and waffles, cornbread and bird funk, wild wild wings, and donuts with sweet potato cream.
Interspersed with poignant photos of Harlem, this cookbook is Samuelson’s tribute to this culturally iconic neighborhood.
Eat Yourself Sexy: Eat Your Way to Shiny Hair, Glowing Skin and Weight Loss
by Lauren Von Der Pool
If she’s a good enough chef for Stevie Wonder, Common, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Sebi, and Venus and Serena Williams, she’s good enough for me!
Celebrity chef Von Der Pool wrote “Eat Yourself Sexy” to empower female-identified readers on their inner journey toward sexiness through raw food and homemade beauty products.
If you’re intimidated by a plant-based diet or DIY beauty, this is a must-read. Chef Von Der Pool’s simple recipes, stunning photos, and comprehensive information about eating whole foods will inspire you to get started.
The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well
by Ayesha Curry
Outspoken and unapologetic Food Network host, restaurateur, mom, and wife Ayesha Curry, gifts readers with 100 recipes that are perfect for your hectic work-life balance.
My older sister (also coincidentally named Aisha) has fed our family with Curry’s recipes that range from mouthwatering brown sugar bacon, game day chili, and harvest sangria, to white chocolate bread pudding and butternut squash mash.
“The Seasoned Life” shows audiences why Ayesha is Chef Curry with the pot.
Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing
by Jerrelle Guy
Inspired by #blackgirlmagic, this cookbook is Guy’s empowering journey of accepting her fullest self through cooking.
Perhaps what makes her cookbook so defining is her insistence that readers abandon the idea of baking perfection and fall in love with the process of baking instead.
The recipes don’t disappoint, either. Strawberry balsamic cupcakes, sweet potato rice crispies, and peanut butter jelly bread? Yes, please!
Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland
by Tanya Holland
Inspired by Chef Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen restaurant in Oakland, California, her cookbook offers over 80 recipes that are simply delicious.
Her soul food entrées include everything from shrimp gumbo, black-eyed peas’ salad, chili glazed salmon, to cornmeal waffles with apple cider syrup.
While Bryant doesn’t shy away from popular favorites like fried chicken, she includes alternative options for eaters with dietary restrictions.
Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed
by Bryant Terry
Food activist and chef Bryant Terry offers perfectly seasoned vegan recipes from the African Diaspora that will impress even your most carnivorous dinner guests.
Terry combines ingredients from seemingly disparate regions like North Africa, the American South, and the Caribbean into delicious dishes like sweet potato and lima bean tagine, pomegranate peach BBQ sauce, and skillet cornbread with pecan dukkah.
“Afro-Vegan” even includes genre-diverse playlists to accompany Terry’s recipes. My aunt’s personal favorite is the savory grits with slow-cooked collard greens. You can listen to the accompanying song, “The Funk,” here.
Whether you’re in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.
Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
Zahida Sherman is a diversity and inclusion professional who writes about culture, race, gender, and adulthood. She’s a history nerd and rookie surfer. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.