Best cookbooks of 2023, according to 5 local pros

From left: “Still We Rise” by Erika Council; “Sweet Enough” by Alison Roman; “Start Here” by Sohla El-Waylly; “Ikoyi” by Jeremy Chan; and “The Clean Vegan Cookbook” by Jackie Akerberg. 

Writer: Karla Walsh

Last year when we asked local chefs and bakers to recommend their favorite cookbooks of 2022, they focused on fundamentals: flour, cornmeal, the workhorse wok and the like. This year, they’re turning a new page. Their new recommendations overflow with inspiration that can transport your taste buds to Atlanta, Africa and Asia — or to the bounty in your own backyard.

So for one of our new favorite year-end traditions, just in time for the holiday gifting season, we asked five local food pros and book experts to dish up their favorite new cookbooks from 2023.

Alisa Woods, owner of Sift n Sprinkle Bakery, swooned over “Sweet Enough” by Alison Roman. After falling in love with Roman’s recipes in the New York Times (chocolate chunk shortbread for the win!), Woods decided to treat herself to Roman’s latest dessert-focused cookbook. “Both the photos and recipes are retro but timeless,” she said. “The ingredients are listed in grams and cup measurements, and most recipes call for staples you most likely have in your pantry. ‘Sweet Enough’ reminded me that good food doesn’t have to be fussy if you use quality ingredients.”

George Formaro, chef-partner of the Orchestrate Hospitality restaurants, confirmed that “Still We Rise” by Erika Council rises to the occasion as both a cookbook and a worthwhile history lesson. “It spotlights the legacy of generations of Black cooks whose achievements are largely unrecognized,” he told us. “The book beautifully honors these culinary artisans, detailing the deep cultural significance of the ‘humble’ biscuit through narrative and scores of recipes.”

Dominic Iannarelliexecutive chef at Splash Seafood and director of restaurants for both Splash and Jethro’s BBQ, has a massive cookbook library at home. He pulls out few of the books as often as his top recommendation of 2023, “Ikoyi” by Jeremy Chan. “This has some of the most refined yet bold flavors I have seen in a book in a while,” Iannarelli said. He’s particularly fond of the creamed spinach, which is great as is but also easy to modify based on your mood and the ingredients you have on hand.

Jan Kaiser, marketing and events coordinator at Beaverdale Books, gave a colorful hat tip to “The Clean Vegan Cookbook” by Des Moines’ own Jackie Ackerberg. With a subtitle that promises “60 whole food, plant-based recipes to nourish your body and soul,” this was the bookstore’s top-selling cookbook that debuted in 2023. “Our store is well known for featuring Iowa authors, and it’s always great to see their books embraced by our community,” Kaiser said. “The photos in the book are so enticing!”

Keri Jacobson, a librarian at Des Moines Public Library’s north side location, has a reputation among her co-workers as DMPL’s resident cookbook aficionado. For beginning and experienced cooks alike, especially those who loved Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” she recommended “Start Here” by Sohla El-Waylly. As Jacobson put it, “El-Waylly’s greatly anticipated first cookbook encourages learning basic techniques and building from there and embraces mistakes and substitutions.” (To get specific, start right here: Try the creative pistachio ranch fun dip.)

If you’d prefer to try before you buy, you’re in great company. For a little bonus kitchen inspiration, here are the top 5 most frequently checked-out 2023 cookbooks at the Des Moines Public Library’s six locations:

  1. Dinner with the President” by Alex Prud’homme
  2. Love and Lemons: Simple Feel-Good Food” by Jeanine Donofrio
  3. Magnolia Table, Vol. 3” by Joanna Gaines
  4. Baking Yesteryear” by B. Dylan Hollis
  5. Everyday Bread” from America’s Test Kitchen

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