From "Megapublishers" to Cookbook Kickstarters

Plus: Meera Sodha's Broccolini Pad Thai!

Howdy cookbook fans!

Hope you’re having a great Tuesday, and, if you’re in the US, are coming off a pleasant, if not terribly traditional, holiday weekend. It’s December now, which means we are in the thick of BEST COOKBOOK LISTICLES, and you will find a selection of them at the bottom of this issue for your superlative holiday shopping needs. Reminder that UK and Australian publishing schedules are different than the US and many of those titles may not be available here just yet.

I did a lot of cooking this weekend, most of it from my head, although I did make the Samin Nosrat buttermilk-brined turkey like everyone else I follow on Instagram. It was: very good. I also went old school and put the leftovers in a turkey tetrazzini recipe from The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas, a favorite of mine.

Out in the garden, yesterday was a big day because it was the first frost here in Austin. That means I did a lot of murdering: pulled the okra and the eggplant (any thoughts on what to do with a couple underripe eggplant? Email me.) and the green beans and the basil, which I buzzed with oil and froze. Tried to save a volunteer tomato plant with about three dozen romas on it and…well, let’s not speak of it again. Greens are still going strong, though. Next up: moving a couple raised beds to a sunnier spot for spring.

Featured this week is Meera Sodha’s new book East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing, which is gorgeous and full of tasty treats including a broccolini and tofu pad thai recipe that’s included below. Make it for dinner! If you want! On to the news.

There are people who were used to dining out pretty often—you go out one night for Italian, next night you go out for Thai, and two nights later, you’re in an Indian restaurant—and they’re used to a lot of variety. And unless they’re burning up the Seamless app on their phone, they’re going to have to be doing a lot more of that at home, so they’re building out their library so that they have a greater range of choices. 

—NYC cookbook shop Kitchen Arts & Letters owner Matt Sartwell on the cookbook consumer of 2020. A GoFundMe for the store raised $100,000 to keep the lights on despite a sharp decrease in foot traffic to the store. [Taste]

Penguin Random House to Buy Simon & Schuster

So the big news in publishing last week: German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House, plans to buy Simon & Schuster for $2.2 billion. PRH is the largest publisher in the US; S&S is third largest. It’s “a combination that could trigger antitrust concerns,” according to the NYT, so who knows what this looks like going forward, but its causing major waves through the books/publishing community. A Washington Post headline straight up called the sale “bad for readers.”

What does this mean for cookbooks? PRH is Crown, which is Ten Speed and Clarkson Potter, two of the most prolific cookbook publishers in the US, but also Knopf and Avery and others that produce culinary titles. S&S doesn’t have quite as large a food footprint, but they do publish some of the biggest food books out there, including The Joy of Cooking and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The plan is to keep the two houses editorially distinct. More on this when there’s more!

Austin Chef Jesse Griffiths to Self-Publish Hog Book

Meanwhile, what’s more interesting to me is a continued push I’m seeing authors make into self-publishing models. Take, for example, Austin chef Jesse Griffiths, who is funding his new cookbook, The Hog Book, via Kickstarter. Funding a cookbook on Kickstarter isn’t new, but Griffiths is someone who conceivably could have gone with a traditional publishing house and chose not to. In fact, his first book, Afield, was published in 2012 by Welcome Books (now part of Rizzoli).

Why publish on Kickstarter? The subject matter of hunting, butchering, and cooking feral pigs is, um, not for the squeamish: “In order to do justice to the subject matter in an honest and unfiltered manner, we chose to self publish. This resulting control allows us to accurately and frankly portray the process of getting wild pigs from the woods to the table.” And with photos by Jody Horton, I am sure that process is captured beautifully. (Also, as a big advocate for PUT YOUR DANG PHOTOGRAPHER’S NAME ON THE COOKBOOK COVER, I am thrilled to see Horton listed on the spine here!)

I suspect we’ll see more authors going to self-publishing small print runs, especially chefs and others who value the control (and potential profit margins) self-publishing allows. And between Kickstarter and other fresh takes on cookbook publishing/crowdfunding like Somekind Press, they have options.

Best Cookbooks of 2020 Lists!

Peanut Butter and Broccolini Pad Thai

Excerpted with permission from East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijingby Meera Sodha. Flatiron Books 2020. Photograph: David Loftus.

In the late 1930s, Thailand’s prime minister held a public competition to find a new national dish. The winning entry combined rice noodles, vegetables, peanuts, shrimp, and egg. It was named “pad thai” (pad meaning “stir-fry”) in a bid to promote a sense of Thai-ness. This vegan interpretation of that classic dish celebrates the brilliance of the original, while also bringing something new in the form of broccolini.

Note: Pad thai is best eaten with as many garnishes as possible, so feel free to customize yours with fried shallots, pickled vegetables, and crushed peanuts as you wish. Rice noodles are fragile, so be gentle with them.

Serves 4

For the pad thai sauce:

⅓ cup crunchy peanut butter

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

3 tablespoons agave syrup

¼ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from approximately 2 limes)

For the tofu and broccolini:

1 pound broccolini

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

½ inch ginger, peeled and grated

2 bird’s-eye chiles, finely chopped 

8 ounces firm tofu, drained and cubed 

9 ounces flat folded rice noodles 

canola oil

6 green onions, finely chopped

a handful of sesame seeds 

toasted sesame oil 

a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, shredded

a handful of fresh mint leaves, shredded

1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

  1. First, make the sauce by putting the peanut butter, tamarind paste, and agave syrup into a bowl, then slowly mixing in the soy sauce, lime juice, and ¼ cup of water.

  2. Next, trim the broccolini, and put the florets into a bowl. Chop the stalks and leaves into ½-inch pieces. Place the garlic, ginger, chiles, and tofu in little piles within easy reach of the stovetop. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, rinse under cold water, drain, then drizzle with a tablespoon of canola oil and toss gently with your hands.

  3. In a large non-stick frying pan for which you have a lid, heat  2 tablespoons of canola oil on a medium-high flame, then fry the tofu for 5 minutes, turning every minute, until it’s pale gold. Add the garlic, ginger, and chiles, cook for 2 minutes, then add the broccolini stalks and ¼ cup of water, cover the pan, and steam for  2 minutes, until the broccolini is tender. Add the broccolini florets, sauce, and green onions (reserve a handful for garnish), stir to combine, then cover again and leave for 2 minutes.

  4. Turn the heat down to a whisper, add the noodles handful by handful, gently mixing them in until coated in sauce, then turn off the heat. Distribute the noodles between four plates and sprinkle over the sesame seeds and reserved green onions. Drizzle each portion with sesame oil, scatter over the herbs, add a generous squeeze of lime, and serve immediately.

That’s all for today! I will see Friday people on Friday, have a great week.