Many of the Bay Area’s most popular restaurants specialize in inventive spins on classic dishes, and this year, the best new cookbooks often did the same.
The level of creativity feels particularly high this year, with chefs tossing chewy Chinese rice cakes with slow-cooked Italian Bolognese, or relying on collard greens for a highly textured version of Indian saag. Baklava might be filled with hazelnut praline, rather than the more typical pistachios or walnuts, while the flavors of cumin lamb get a vegan update thanks to tofu skins. At the same time, many of these books celebrate tradition, too.
These 10 titles are The Chronicle food team’s favorites from 2022, with an emphasis on local authors and fall releases. (Find our spring cookbook recommendations here.) We’re also featuring four excellent recipes. As you think ahead to the season of gifting, any of these books would be a hit. — J.B.
The cover of “Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora” by Reem Assil.
Much has been written about Reem Assil, the chef behind Reem’s California, a former labor organizer and current force for change in the restaurant industry who is transforming her San Francisco restaurant into a worker-owned business. So it’s a pleasure to read Assil’s own words in her debut cookbook, “Arabiyya,” which is part memoir, part cookbook and part cultural dive into the Arab diaspora. (Assil is the daughter of a Palestinian mother and Syrian father.) The recipes will delight fans of the restaurant who can now make favorites like pillowy mana’eesh and muhammara, the red pepper-walnut dip, at home. Fans of Assil’s now-closed project with Daniel Patterson, Dyafa, may also recognize hits like shakriyah, lamb shank in a pool of garlicky yogurt, and ma’louba, the layered Palestinian rice dish. — J.B.
“Arabiyya: Recipe From the Life of an Arab in Diaspora” by Reem Assil (Ten Speed Press; 304 pages; $35)
Ukrainian and Eastern European dishes get a contemporary look and oh-so-Californian infusion of local produce in San Francisco chef Anna Voloshyna’s first book, “Budmo!” There are loads of vegetarian dishes, pickles, soups, breads and dumplings, like Voloshyna’s popular sweet cherry varenyky. Many feel sneakily simple: a vegan summer squash spread, made simply by stewing the yellow gourds with carrot, tomato paste and aromatics, felt shockingly rich, while the spicy pickled tomatoes were a small, speedy revelation. The book is also a trove for Georgian recipes, including elegant eggplant rolls filled with herby walnuts, then drizzled with tangy pomegranate molasses. — J.B.
“Budmo!: Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen” by Anna Voloshyna (Rizzoli; $39.95; 224 pages)
‘California Soul’
Despite shutting down her famed Oakland restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen, Tanya Holland is still a force in the food world. Case in point: Holland’s third and quietly subversive cookbook, “California Soul.” It’s a beautiful, dreamy book with stories of Black foodmakers and seasonal recipes that make a strong case for the impact of Black culture on California cuisine. The dishes are often light, produce-forward and not too complicated: A custardy clafoutis might be layered with summer peaches and pecans, while lightly charred Monterey Bay squid is served with a punchy salsa verde made from mustard greens. — J.B.
“Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West” by Tanya Holland (Ten Speed Press; $35; 256 pages)
British cookbook writer Ruby Tandoh has cultivated a distinctly reassuring voice: one that balances the sensorial beauty of food with an understanding of the many reasons why it can make us anxious, too. So her latest cookbook, “Cook as You Are,” is thoroughly steeped in empathy for the reader and whatever material and emotional resources they’re able to bring to the act of cooking. There’s a phenomenal dish of gnocchi with chile crisp oil, capers and plenty of butter that Tandoh frames as ideal for cooking in a malaise; and more ambitious recipes, like a cacio e pepe lasagna that’s the pasta equivalent of tucking yourself into bedsheets with an astronomically high thread count. As a bonus, Tandoh is a meticulous citer of the cookbooks that inspire her, so you’ll find lots of excellent recommendations here. — S.H.
“Cook as You Are” by Ruby Tandoh (Alfred A. Knopf; $35; 344 pages)
Rice cake Bolognese. Chinese sausage corn dogs. Oolong milk tea rice crispy treats. “First Generation” is filled with such creative Taiwanese American recipes. The most inventive come from Frankie Gaw, the popular food blogger known as Little Fat Boy, while his parents, Taiwanese immigrants who adapted to life in Cincinnati, contribute other twists and more traditional dishes. They’re all showcased in this stunning, colorful book, full of artistic photography, illustrations and helpful step-by-step imagery, plus Gaw’s touching and, at times, vulnerable narration.You’ll find a mix of quick options such as dan bing, Taiwanese egg crepes showered with sesame seeds, and entrees worth planning ahead for, like a comforting pork belly stew over rice known as lu rou fan. — J.B.  
“First Generation: Recipes From My Taiwanese-American Home” by Frankie Gaw (Ten Speed Press; $32.50; 224 pages)
Vishwesh Bhatt, a James Beard award-winning chef in Mississippi, braids his Indian heritage with the foodways of the American South in “I Am From Here.” The book is broken up by ingredient, showcasing common staples like corn, peanuts and tomatoes in a series of inventive twists on classics. A seemingly simple tomato soup explodes with warm spices, ginger and black pepper, while grilled summer corn gets rubbed in a powerful mix of toasted cumin, hot cayenne and lime juice. To give more life to saag, the typical Indian restaurant dish, Bhatt reaches for sturdy collards and tart mango powder (see recipe below). When you need inspiration, this collection won’t let you down. — J.B.
“I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef” by Vishwesh Bhatt (W. W. Norton & Company; $37.50; 320 pages)
One of the surprises among this year’s cookbooks is “Masa,” written by Jorge Gaviria, the founder of heirloom corn importer Masienda. It’s a book that goes deep on masa, the nixtamalized corn dough that Gaviria calls “a food staple that is so ubiquitous, yet at the same time unappreciated for the full extent of its role in human civilization.” And thus, the rest of the book is a detailed blueprint for everything that masa can turn into, from Venezuelan arepas to Mexican quesadillas to Tex-Mex puffy tacos. If you want to make your own from dried corn kernels, there are instructions here (but you can skip that and grab a bag of dried masa from Masienda or your local Latin market). The final chapter is a funky collection of recipes from Gaviria’s chef buddies: Santa Monica chef Saw Naing contributes Burmese masa samosas, while cottage baker Karlo Evaristo uses blue masa to tint a sourdough loaf. — S.H.
“Masa: Techniques, Recipes and Reflections on a Timeless Staple” by Jorge Gaviria (Chronicle Books; $35; 271 pages)
While supremely meaty dishes like kung pao pastrami and salted cod fried rice catapulted San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food (and its now-closed sibling restaurants in New York City, one of which became embroiled in public controversy over workplace toxicity) to national culinary stardom, restaurant co-founder Danny Bowien’s new cookbook is entirely vegan. In “Mission Vegan,” Bowien and collaborator J.J. Goode apply the chef’s exploratory and transgressive take on Asian American cuisine to all things plant-based: cumin flavor tofu skin, inspired by meals at Old Mandarin Islamic; chilled tofu in a bath of peanut milk and chile oil; Korean samgyetang soup rebooted as roasted kabocha squash; and probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever had, made with blended radishes, citrus juice and yuzu kosho. There’s a newfound wealth of Korean dishes — stews, chilled noodles and kimchi — that has come along with some soul-searching by Bowien, a Korean adoptee. The recipes here are very doable in a home kitchen, and your efforts will be rewarded with the bold flavors that have distinguished the chef’s restaurants. — S.H.
“Mission Vegan: Wildly Delicious Food for Everyone” by Danny Bowien with J.J. Goode (Ecco; $39.99; 254 pages)
“The Cook You Want to Be” cookbook by Andy Baraghani.
Longtime Bon Appetit readers know an Andy Baraghani recipe when they see one: It’s almost always laden with fresh herbs, zippy with acidity and very likely vegetable-forward. In many ways, his food is a portal to the Berkeley native’s Bay Area roots and that perspective is found throughout Baraghani’s first cookbook, “The Cook You Want to Be.” Baraghani, who started his cooking career at Bay Area institution Chez Panisse and went on to become a food writer and recipe developer at Saveur and Bon Appetit, takes humble cabbage to a caramelized, deeply flavorful place with anchovies, dill and lots of lemon. His fennel salad with spicy green olives and toasty pistachios is crunchy, verdant and refreshing. Make your way through the sauce section for condiments that enliven the most basic or slap-dash of meals, like a mayo-free ranch made with nutty tahini and tangy yogurt. Many recipes channel Baraghani’s Iranian roots, from classic rice dish tahdig to chicken braised with pomegranate molasses, inspired by fesenjan, a Persian stew. — E.K.
“The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress” by Andy Baraghani (Lorena Jones Books; 336 pages; $35)
It’d be impossible to go looking for a Chinese recipe online without bumping up against the Woks of Life, an astoundingly thorough and personable food blog maintained by the Leung family since 2013. The Leungs have garnered a major fanbase with their multi-generational and inclusive take on Chinese cuisine, and the book continues that work with recipes inspired by Bill’s youth cooking in his family’s Chinese American restaurant, Judy’s childhood in Shanghai, and the daughters’ yearning to learn everything they can. There are recipes here for all skill levels: dim sum-worthy siu mai for beginners, a phenomenal chile oil and Cantonese roast duck for those looking for a big project. — S.H.
“The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese American Family” by Bill, Judy, Sarah and Kaitlin Leung (Clarkson Potter; 320 pages; $35)
Janelle Bitker is the San Francisco Chronicle’s senior editor of Food & Wine, Soleil Ho is The Chronicle’s restaurant critic and Elena Kadvany is a Chronicle staff writer. Email: janelle.bitker@sfchronicle.com, soleil.ho@sfchronicle.com, elena.kadvany@sfchronicle.com
Serves 4 to 5
If you have ever eaten at an Indian buffet, there is a good chance you have had saag, a generic Hindi word for greens. Too often, at Indian restaurants in the United States, it translates as little more than overcooked spinach. A few years ago, when my good friend Meherwan Irani invited me to cook with him for a video segment at the Southern Living test kitchen, we decided to make a proper saag. Since we were in Birmingham, Alabama, we used readily available collard greens. We served our saag with Meherwan’s makki ki roti for a play on greens and cornbread — ​as fine a Southern lunch as you can have.
This recipe calls for two ingredients that might be new to you: amchur (dried mango powder) and mustard oil. Both are available at Indian grocery stores, or you can order them online. — Vishwesh Bhatt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons ghee 
2 cups minced yellow onion (1 to 1½ large onions)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2¼ teaspoons garam masala 
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
2½ pounds collard greens, tough ribs and stems removed, leaves finely chopped (8 to 10 cups, from about 2 bunches)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon mustard seed oil or peanut oil
½ teaspoon amchur (dried mango powder)
½ teaspoon sugar
Toast the coriander seeds in a small, dry pan over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds and toast, shaking the pan gently so that the seeds toast evenly and do not burn, until both spices are fragrant, about 1 more minute. Remove from the heat and, when cool enough to handle, crush with a mortar and pestle or grind coarsely in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Set aside.
Heat the ghee in a Dutch oven or other wide, heavy-​bottomed pot over medium-​low heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Cooking the onions low and slow until they caramelize is the key to this recipe; be patient and do not rush this step. You are looking for most of the liquid to cook out and for the onions to take on a caramel-​brown color. They will break down to more of a paste consistency than individual pieces.
Once the onions have caramelized, add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more. Stir in the crushed coriander and cumin, garam masala, and turmeric and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes, until fragrant. Add ¾ cup water and stir, scraping up any bits that may have stuck to the bottom. At this point, you should have a richly fragrant brown paste in the bottom of the pot. Stir in the greens and salt. Mix very well to coat the greens in the onion and spice paste. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook until the greens have begun to soften and are no longer crunchy, about 20 minutes. They will wilt and reduce substantially. Stir in the cream, cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cream has thickened and the greens are cooked through. You may need to add a touch more water if the greens appear too dry. Stir in the mustard oil, amchur, and sugar. Taste and season with additional salt if needed. Indian restaurants in the United States often serve a very smooth saag. If you prefer that smooth texture, blend the greens with an immersion blender before serving. (I do not blend my saag.) Serve hot.
Reprinted from “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef” by Vishwesh Bhatt. Copyright © 2022 by Vishwesh Bhatt. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Serves 4
Lu rou fan is a homey dish that’s beloved in Taiwan, and perhaps just as iconic as Taiwanese beef noodle soup. It’s a bowl of comfort: diced pork belly and shiitake mushrooms are braised in soy sauce and Shaoxing wine to create a fatty, lick-your-lips meat sauce destined to be eaten over white rice. Every salty bite is an indulgence, the shiny sauce glistening with pork fat coating fragrant tender meat as it dribbles over each grain of rice. — Frankie Gaw
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
Spice packet:
1 three-inch-long strip orange zest
3 thumb-sized slices of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
3 star anise pods
2 whole cloves
Meat sauce:
Canola oil or vegetable oil
3 shallots, diced
1 pound pork belly, diced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Shaoxing wine
2½ teaspoons light brown sugar
2 cups cooked white rice
4 Soft-Boiled Tea Eggs, optional
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Prep the mushrooms: In a medium mixing bowl, cover the mushrooms with 3 cups of water. Set aside to soak, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the soaking water. Dice the mushrooms and set aside.
Make the spice packet: Place the orange peel, ginger, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, star anise and cloves on a large piece of cheesecloth and tie the ends together with a piece of string.
Make the meat sauce: In a large pot over medium heat, warm a generous glug of oil. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent and softened, about 2 minutes. Add the pork belly and stir-fry until the pork has browned a bit in color. Add the diced mushrooms and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add the reserved 2 cups mushroom soaking water, the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, brown sugar, and the spice packet and stir to combine.
Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and let it gently simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender and the sauce has thickened. When the sauce is done, remove the spice packet. Divide the rice among four bowls and and spoon the meat sauce over. Top with a halved egg, if using, and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve immediately.
Reprinted with permission from “First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-American Home” by Frankie Gaw. Text and photography by Franklin Gaw copyright 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Serves 8
These tomatoes are hands down the most popular zakuska I serve at my dinners. As you can guess from the name, these are another of my mom’s creations. They are very different from traditional pickled tomatoes, which typically call for a vinegary pickling liquid. My mom immerses her tomatoes in a thick, spicy sauce made from fresh herbs, chile, oil and vinegar. This incredible mixture makes the tomatoes wonderfully refreshing, with a bright pop of acid and a flavor riot of herbs and garlic. I have to warn you, however, that because thee might be the most delicious pickled tomatoes youu will have ever tasted, it will be hard to wait the three days they need to sit before trying one. I have personally witnessed diners at my pop-ups drinking the leftover pickling liquid once the tomatoes have been wiped out. — Anna Voloshyna
2 pounds small red tomatoes (such as Campari or Pearl), halved lengthwise
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 medium-size fresh jalapeño chile
4 garlic cloves
1 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as dill, flat-leaf parsley and cilantro)
⅓ cup sunflower or grapeseed oil
⅓ cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Pack the tomato halves into a clean, widemouthed 2-quart glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
To make the pickling marinade, in a food processor, combine the bell pepper, chile, garlic, herbs, oil, vinegar, sugar and salt and pulse until a thick, slightly chunky mixture forms, about 30 seconds. Pour the marinade over the tomatoes and screw the lid on the jar.
Refrigerate for at least 3 days before serving. The tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Over time, they will develop even brighter acidity and more complex flavor of slightly fermented tomatoes.
Serves 6
Cacio e pepe is ordinarily pasta with grated pecorino cheese and lots of black pepper. In a little of the pasta cooking water, the cheese emulsifies to create a slippery, salty sauce flecked with fiery pepper pieces. In this wildly unconventional take on that classic, I’ve incorporated the pecorino and black pepper into an intensely creamy lasagna — no meat, no ragù, no veg, just cheese. 
I know I’m playing with fire here. There’s an infamous clip from This Morning in which Holly Willoughby suggests that a macaroni and cheese, if it had ham in it, would be a bit like a “British carbonara.” Gino D’Acampo freezes, fork midair, in shock. “If my grandmother had wheels,” he fires, “she would’ve been a bike!” There are times when a dish is a dish is a dish: it is itself, and it’s not there to be played around with. Especially if a food culture is seldom taken seriously, the greatest respect you can give it is to make recipes as they were intended, as tradition dictates, without trying to reinvent the wheel for a Western, and often white, palate. But I really don’t think there’s any risk of Italian food being underappreciated or under-respected in our foodscape. Cacio e pepe will live to tell the tale, under the Italian sun and in fancy small- plates pasta restaurants. Besides, you don’t need to take my word for it: Italian chef Rita Sodi has made a name for herself with a 21-layer cacio e pepe lasagna in her Manhattan restaurant, I Sodi. If it’s good enough for her . . . — Ruby Tandoh
For the béchamel sauce: 
6 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter 
¾ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups whole or reduced-fat milk (low-fat milk isn’t rich enough for this outrageous dinner) 
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Lots of freshly and coarsely ground black pepper
Salt, to taste 
To assemble: 
Vegetable oil, to grease
15 dried lasagna sheets
1¾ cups pecorino, Parmesan or Grana 
Padano or vegetarian alternative(s), finely grated
2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella Lots of freshly and coarsely ground black pepper 
Start by making the béchamel sauce. This white sauce will be the foundation of the lasagna. In a medium to large saucepan, melt the butter over a medium-low heat. Once it’s sizzling, add the flour and whisk to combine. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking all the time, until the flour is slightly toasted and the paste is bubbling. Add the milk very gradually, whisking all the time and keeping the pan on the heat. At first it’ll create a thick, gummy paste, then slacken to a custard-like soup before relaxing back into milkiness. Add the nutmeg, then increase the heat slightly and bring to a simmer, stirring all the time so the sauce doesn’t become lumpy. By the time it’s bubbling, it should have thickened slightly. Turn off the heat and season with lots of coarsely ground black pepper and a little salt — you’ll need more or less salt depending on whether your butter was salted, but best to err on the side of under-seasoning this sauce, as you’ll be adding lots of salty cheese when you assemble everything. 
Once the béchamel is ready, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get out a large roasting pan. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and lightly grease a couple of baking sheets with vegetable oil. Have your cheeses ready and grated and your black pepper at hand. 
Working in a couple of batches, parboil the lasagna sheets for 4 minutes in the boiling water. If you stir the pasta as soon as it goes in the water, it shouldn’t stick. Once cooked, pluck the sheets from the pan with tongs or a couple of forks, and lay them out on your greased baking sheets (if you tip the lasagna sheets into a colander together, they’ll congeal into a thick pasta brick). 
Now, assemble the lasagna: You’ll need a large 13×9 inch roasting pan. Start with an introductory ladleful of béchamel, spreading it across the bottom of the roasting pan — you’ll need about a sixth of the sauce. Next, lay down three lasagna sheets, followed by a generous ladle of béchamel, a sprinkle of hard cheese, a sprinkle of mozzarella and a good couple of pinches of black pepper. You’ll repeat these layers — lasagna, sauce, cheese, pepper — another four times, so you’ll be using roughly a fifth of the ingredients for each layer. 
Bake the lasagna in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. It’s ready when it’s bubbling, with mottled patches of bronze and gold across the top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to settle and firm before serving with something fresh and green. 
Variations and substitutions: You can use fresh lasagna sheets instead of dried (there’s no need to parboil them).
From “Cook As You Are” by Ruby Tandoh. Copyright © 2022 by Ruby Tandoh. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Janelle Bitker spearheads The San Francisco Chronicle’s Food & Wine department. She joined the newspaper in 2019 as a food enterprise reporter, covering restaurants as well as Bay Area culture through a food lens. Previously, she served as a reporter for Eater SF, managing editor at the East Bay Express, and arts & culture editor at the Sacramento News & Review. Her writing has been recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association and Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
Since 2019, Soleil Ho has been The Chronicle’s Restaurant Critic, spearheading Bay Area restaurant recommendations through the flagship Top Restaurants series. In 2022, they won a Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award from the James Beard Foundation.
Ho also writes features and cultural commentary, specializing in the ways that our food reflects the way we live. Their essay on pandemic fine dining domes was featured in the 2021 Best American Food Writing anthology. Ho also hosts The Chronicle’s food podcast, Extra Spicy, and has a weekly newsletter called Bite Curious.
Previously, Ho worked as a freelance food and pop culture writer, as a podcast producer on the Racist Sandwich, and as a restaurant chef. Illustration courtesy of Wendy Xu.
Elena Kadvany joined The San Francisco Chronicle as a food reporter in 2021. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Palo Alto Weekly and its sister publications, where she covered restaurants and education and also founded the Peninsula Foodist restaurant column and newsletter.

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