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NPR's favorite food books of 2021

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Holidays - they're about family, gifts, faith, friends and, what are we going to eat? I even love to read about what we might eat tonight, right now or sometime - any time in the future. Books We Love, NPR's list of best reads from 2021, has hundreds of recommendations, including books about food. So here are four of our colleagues with their recommendations.

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WYNNE DAVIS, BYLINE: My name is Wynne Davis, and I'm a digital producer for the show All Things Considered. I'm recommending "Cook Real Hawai'i" by Sheldon Simeon.

So I buy a lot of cookbooks because I really enjoy cooking. And I remember going to Bold Fork Books - it's my local cookbook store - and everyone was talking about this. This is not a cookbook where you're going to find the kind of food that you eat at fancy resorts while you're visiting on vacation. You're going to find the recipes that provide warmth and comfort, that are often associated with family gatherings, which is how a lot of these recipes are designed to be served. So definitely call up your friends before you make a big one.

The other thing that Simeon has done with this book that I love is that it's not just about food. It is also about the people and cultures from places like China, Japan, Portugal, Korea and the Philippines that all have really distinct influences on local food.

We're about to be in the deep depths of winter, but between the recipes, the stories and the, like, beautifully stunning photography, you can definitely bring some of the brightness from Simeon's Hawaii into your own home.

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LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: Hi, my name is Leah Donnella, and I'm an editor with NPR's Code Switch team. This year, I loved a cookbook by Anas Atassi called "Sumac: Recipes And Stories From Syria."

The author makes it really clear right away, "Sumac" is not a book that's concerned with purity or authenticity. It's really about luxuriating in Syrian food, food that has changed and adapted based on the ingredients that are available, the trends of the time, the preferences of people eating and the memories of the people cooking.

The recipes are all interlaced with beautiful descriptions of when and where Atassi encountered the dishes - more often than not, in his mother's kitchen. Insider tip - make every recipe in this book with roasted eggplant. You will not be disappointed.

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NATALIE ESCOBAR, BYLINE: My name is Natalie Escobar, and I'm an associate editor on the Culture Desk. So I've loved "The Book Of Difficult Fruit" by Kate Lebo. It's a collection of essays, each revolving around a specific fruit that is somehow difficult, like chokeberries and durians. They're fruits that people have either shunned or might not necessarily know about. And the author ties her own experiences trying to prepare or find a particular fruit and her emotional connection to it. So it's a really cool combination of memoir and nonfiction writing that I just really loved.

I loved how thoughtful it was about how, as hokey as it sounds, we all are what we eat, but also that we all are connected to the food systems that produce the food that we eat.

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ELENA BURNETT, BYLINE: My name is Elena Burnett, and I'm a production assistant on All Things Considered. "Taste: My Life Through Food" is the perfect morsel of a book if Stanley Tucci has ever made the list of your dream dinner party guests. Tucci warmly and generously serves tales of the meals that have accompanied the laughter and the heartbreak throughout his life. And in between, he's provided countless recipes that are made more flavorful and elegant by their simplicity. There's his infamous Negroni, the only tomato sauce you'll ever need and every imaginable improvement on pasta.

"Taste" really isn't a memoir, nor is it a cookbook with glossy images of perfectly plated meals dusted with garnishes. It's a book filled to the brim with gratitude for a life that food has made extraordinary. And like all great meals, you'll find yourself torn between happily consuming it all at once or patiently taking the time to savor every page.

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SIMON: That's Elena Burnett recommending "Taste," Natalie Escobar with "The Book Of Difficult Fruit," Leah Donnella, who suggested "Sumac," and Wynne Davis, who recommended "Cook Real Hawai'i." For more ideas on what to read, you can find the full list of Books We Love at npr.org/bestbooks, and good eating to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Natalie Escobar is an assistant editor on the Code Switch team, where she edits the blog and newsletter, runs the social media accounts and leads audience engagement. Before coming to NPR in 2020, Escobar was an assistant editor and editorial fellow at The Atlantic, where she covered family life and education. She also was a ProPublica emerging reporter fellow, where she helped their Illinois bureau do experimental audience engagement through theater workshops. (Really!)
Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.