The best cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers for 2020 include Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen by mother-daughter Farida Ayubi and Durkhanai Ayubi, Use It All by Alex Elliot-Howery and Jaimee Edwards of Sydney café Cornersmith, and Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull, the owner-baker of Melbourne bakery Beatrix.
If you’re looking for Christmas gift ideas for your cookbook loving friends, a daughter or niece with cheffing aspirations, or you just want to show some love to Australian women working in and writing on food in Australia, then browse our list of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers for 2020.
When we published a post earlier this year on cookbooks by Australian chefs that we suggested to support your favourite Australian restaurants during the pandemic, a reader asked why we hadn’t included women chefs. In fact, the list featured two women, however, I’d also intended to publish posts dedicated to Australian women-authored cookbooks.
In this guide, you’ll find new Australian cookbooks for 2020 by female chefs helming Australian restaurants, cafés and bakeries, a former MasterChef Australian contestant or two, and Australian women working in and writing on food – it’s a great cross-section of Australian culinary talent that draws attention to the diversity of Australian women in food as much as the diversity of cuisines that comprise Australia’s culinary culture.
This list of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers for 2020 includes everything from In Praise of Veg by food writer, presenter and educator Alice Zaslavsky, Saturday Night Pasta by friend and restaurant PR extraordinaire Elizabeth Hewson, and Coconut and Sambal by Australian-Indonesian Lara Lee, who contributed to my guide to How to Cook Rice from Around the World.
I’ve also scheduled a guide to classic Australian cookbooks by women, where you can expect to discover cookbooks by some of the most influential Australian women in food, from Margaret Fulton to Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander to Christine Manfield. But first, here are the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers for 2020 that you need to put under the Christmas tree.
Best Cookbooks by Australian Women Chefs, Cooks, Bakers, and Writers
These are the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers for 2020 that we recommend for your favourite home cooks. We’ve only selected cookbooks available to purchase online as so many of our readers around the world are in lockdown, but if you’re able to get out do head to your nearest independent bookseller.
Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen by Durkhanai Ayubi and Farida Ayubi
We were completely charmed by the colour, kitschy décor, kind staff, and fantastic Afghan street food at Kutchi Deli Parwana at lovely Ebenezer Place in Adelaide’s East End. Kutchi means gypsy or nomad in Afghanistan’s Dari language and the themes of migration and fresh beginnings were at the heart of the Ayubi family’s second, more casual eatery. Sadly, we didn’t get to their first restaurant, Parwana Kitchen, in Torrensville, but it’s top of our list for the next trip. If you haven’t been to either, the enchanting Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen will take you there. With a compelling narrative by Durkhanai Ayubi and family recipes by her mother, chef Farida Ayubi, Parwarna captures the vibrancy, spirit and warmth of the restaurants as few cookbooks do, while telling the story of the family’s journey alongside the story of Afghanistan and its complicated history, politics and culture. There are recipes for tokhme banjanromi, a traditional Afghan breakfast eggs dish with onion, tomatoes, chillies and fresh coriander, a Kabuli palaw with carrots, sultanas and nuts that is Afghanistan’s national dish, and ashak, boiled leak-filled dumplings swimming in a rich lamb kofta sauce and garlic yoghurt dressing, which I polished off myself when we lunched at Kutchi Deli. This is one of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs and writers for 2020 and it’s a book you’ll want to read before you cook from, so you can retell its stories as you share its wonderful food with family and friends.
In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky
While the Parwana cookbook successfully evokes the colour and spirit of its restaurants, In Praise of Veg does well to capture the exuberant personality and flamboyant style of its author Alice Zaslavsky. A food writer, editor, educator, presenter, broadcaster, and former MasterChef contestant, Alice was born in Georgia, where she has fond memories of foraging in her grandfather’s vegetable garden. It’s no surprise then that her first cookbook is a bold, bright vegetable-driven tome (almost 500 pages!) organised by the tones of ingredients with colour-coded recipe pages. Because, as Alice writes in her introduction, “Part of what makes vegetables one of nature’s wonders is the available palette of colours to tantalise the palate.” There’s a brilliant ‘vegetable matrix’ if you want to get creative rather than follow a recipe, structured by ingredients with tips to what to do with them depending on whether you’re ‘in a hurry’, are looking for ‘light and bright’, you want to ‘set and forget’, or you want a ‘flavour bomb’. Another handy section called ‘the heat spectrum’ provides a guide to the best ways to cook vegetables, starting from gentle to searing-hot, so blanching is best for delicate greens, roasting for starchy veg, and so on. If you’re in the northern hemisphere and in need of comfort food right now, Alice’s Keralan fried cauliflower with coconut chutney will warm you up, while if you’re in the south, you’ll want to start with her fennel and tomato panzanella with home-made ricotta, which screams summer. I love the look of Alice’s deep-red borscht, a favourite from my childhood, often spent in my Russian grandmother’s kitchen – and my grandfather’s vegetable garden.
Saturday Night Pasta by Elizabeth Hewson
While we were staying at home here in Siem Reap during the first few months of the pandemic, we quickly learnt that embarking on engaging cooking projects – from sourdough starter discard recipes to Terence’s Asian-inspired Aussie meat pies and sausage rolls to recipe-testing for our Cambodian cookbook – helped to keep us focused and calm during very testing times. Australian restaurant marketing and PR whizz and cookbook writer Elizabeth Hewson, who we befriended over the years she worked for the Fink Group, looking after Quay, Bennelong, Firedoor, and Otto, found that making handmade pasta from scratch worked well to keep her anxiety at bay – particularly the pasta-making rituals such as kneading dough, shaping pasta and preparing sauces, not to mention cooking to Frank Sinatra at home with friends on weekends. As a result, Lizzy’s second cookbook, Saturday Night Pasta, is as much a book about personal growth and self-care as it is a pasta recipe book, making it the perfect gift for loved-ones who’ve struggled through lockdowns this year, who might still be having a tough time. Add a rolling pin and wrap it all in an apron, and they’ll have no excuse for starting their own calming cooking rituals.
Comida Mexicana by Rosa Cienfuegos
I love colour and loathe the restaurant cookbook trend of recent years of dark images of dimly-lit dishes lying partly in shadow. It brings me great joy to see all these vivid cookbooks with their bold use of colour and vibrant dishes, and ‘tamale queen’ Rosa Cienfuegos’ Comida Mexicana is another. It’s also another of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs for 2020. Mexican-Australian Cienfuegos learnt to make Mexican food from her father, Julio, who left Mexico City over 20 years ago for Australia. Rosa joined her father in Australia in 2010 and together the two cooked up authentic Mexican food at El Cuervo Cantina in Enmore until its closure, and Rosa consulted her dad on the recipes for this cookbook. Rosa, who now runs the Tamaleria & Mexican Deli in Dulwich Hill, returned to Mexico to research the book, travelling the country to learn to make dishes. Comida Mexicana will take you on a culinary journey with Rosa from the lively streets of Mexico City to little known villages and laidback beach towns to discover street food snacks from elotes and empanadas to tamales de piña, torta de milanesa and tacos de canasta. Rosa also has recipes and tips for making your own tortillas from scratch, a classic guacamole, and authentic salsas.
Always Add Lemon by Danielle Alvarez
I adore cookbooks that take a deep dive into an ingredient or show us how an ingredient can be used in a variety of dishes across an array of cuisines to add flavour. Always Add Lemon by Cuban-American Australian expat Danielle Alvarez is one such book that does the latter and it’s easily another of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs for 2020. The focus of the book is not so much on lemons, despite most recipes featuring lemon juice or a drizzle of lemon before serving. Rather, the book is more about how good dishes can taste great if you start with quality produce and how simple food can taste exceptional when elevated with the right seasoning, whether it’s a sprinkle of salt or a squeeze of lemon. The head chef of acclaimed Sydney restaurant Fred’s, Alvarez trained at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and worked at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse for four years, where she developed her passion for farm-to-table food, creating stuff from scratch, and deliciously-simple produce-driven cuisine. At Fred’s, where she’s developed relationships with some of Australia’s best growers and producers, Alvarez creates menus based on what’s delivered to the restaurant each day. It’s a great lesson for home cooks: don’t go to the supermarket or market with a shopping list, instead see what produce looks fantastic, then consult your recipe app. Of the book’s many fabulous recipes, I like the idea of the pot-roasted mud crab with lemon, garlic, chilli, butter, and noodles for Christmas lunch.
Use It All, The Cornersmith Guide To a More Sustainable Kitchen by Alex Elliot-Howery and Jaimee Edwards
If, like us, you became more conscious of how much food is wasted, simply because you were spending so much more time in the kitchen during lockdown, then you are going to love Use It All, The Cornersmith Guide to a More Sustainable Kitchen by Alex Elliott-Howery, owner of Sydney’s award-winning Cornersmith Cafe and Cornersmith Picklery, and Jaimee Edwards, who runs cooking classes and workshops on pickling, preserving, fermenting, and baking at the Picklery in Marrickville. This guide to waste-free cooking contains 230 recipes, ideas and tips for shopping and reducing food waste aimed at inspiring you to buy less but buy whole and how to use up every bit of produce you buy so nothing is thrown out. Cleverly, chapters are focused on seasonal shopping baskets of produce with flexible foundation recipes designed for you to use what you have in the basket and pantry. Each seasonal basket offers up five meals and five sides with sweets, snacks and drinks, along with suggestions for things to do to with leftovers, such as herbs, rinds and stale bread, and loads of recipes for ferments, pickles, preserves, and cures. This is Alex’s third cookbook. She also co-wrote Cornersmith: Recipes from the Café and Picklery with husband James Grant, focused on their favourite seasonal dishes, and Cornersmith: Salads and Pickles, Vegetables with More Taste and Less Waste, another vegetable-forward cookbook, focused on seasonal cooking, co-authored with Sabine Spindler.
Vegan With Bite by Shannon Martinez
Owner-chef of beloved Melbourne plant-based deli and restaurant Smith & Daughters, Martinez has shown Australians both at her eateries and in her body of work – Vegan With Bite is her third cookbook; the first were Smith and Daughters: A Cookbook (That Happens to be Vegan) and Smith and Deli-cious: Food From Our Deli (That Happens to be Vegan) – that vegan food can be incredibly flavourful (not that vegans would doubt that). There are easy recipes for 80 meat-free meals in her latest book that are not only delicious but also sustainable and affordable, an essential kitchen larder, shopping tips, chef hacks, a chapter on condiments, sauces and dips, which is where those big flavours come from, and a guide to ingredients that are thought of as vegan but aren’t and vice versa. Like the Cornerstone women, Martinez also includes plenty of tips of using leftovers and reducing kitchen waste. Recipes I have my eye on include her take on the one-pot Mexican burrito rice, Malaysian noodle classic, char kway teow, a meat-free mapo tofu, Korean mung bean pancakes, and a Japanese mashed potato-cum-potato salad dish, made with vegan Kewpie mayonnaise, that looks like ice cream. Shannon Martinez has not only been struggling to run her restaurant and deli in a city that’s had the longest lockdown in the world, but she’s also been fighting breast cancer and is currently going through chemotherapy. This is easily another of the best cookbooks by Australian women chefs for 2020 and I’m sure purchases will be appreciated by Shannon, her business partner and team.
Coconut and Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen by Lara Lee
I serendipitously discovered the author of Coconut and Sambal, Australian-Indonesian Lara Lee, on Instagram while looking for Indonesian chefs and writers to share fried rice dishes for my guide to How to Cook Rice Around the World, part of my #makericenotwar mission to promote ‘peace, love and rice understanding’. Lee shared nasi goreng and she ahas a chicken nasi goreng, eaten with green beans, fried shallots and prawn crackers in her book. Lee was born in Sydney to an Australian mother and Chinese-Indonesian father, and like many of us of mixed heritage who straddled two cultures, she longed for a place she had never been. She writes in the book: “The first time I watched the sky bleed tones of orange and red as the sun set over the sea in my father’s home town of Kupang, Timor, it struck me as a moment of coming home – but to a place I had never been before.” But before Lee would travel to Indonesia to learn to cook her grandmother’s recipes, like many Australians she made a beeline for London, where she went to Leith’s culinary school, worked in Michelin-starred kitchens, started a catering company with a Kiwi friend cooking New Zealand and Australian food, and befriended Indonesian cuisine expert, Sri Owen. Coconut and Sambal is organised by dish type, contains a guide to the Indonesian pantry, along with advice on how to plan a traditional Indonesian meal. I’m eager to make Lara’s spiced corn fritters, lamb martabak, and beef rendang, along with her recipes for the spicy Indonesian relish that is sambal.
A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura
Melbourne cook, writer, and cooking teacher Julia Busuttil Nishimura might not be so well known abroad, but in Australia her unfussy food, down-to-earth personality, adorable son Haruki, and cooking videos during lockdown made her ‘the queen of home cooking’. Her first cookbook Ostro, published in 2017, quickly became a favourite for countless Australian home cooks, and A Year of Simple Family Food, focused on seasonal cooking and filled with easy recipes for ultra-comforting food unpretentious food became another, despite being released during lockdown. Her banana bread recipe had its own following! Nishimura’s heritage in Maltese, she lived in Italy for a while, and her chef husband Nori Nishimura is Japanese, so in true Australian style, her book features everything from pastas handmade from scratch to a Japanese congee. She’s currently working on her third cookbook, due for release in 2021.
Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull
The year of the pandemic saw everyone baking, everything from sourdough to banana bread, so I’m surprised we didn’t see more baking cookbooks released this year, but Beatrix Bakes is probably the only baking cookbook you need anyway. Natalie Paull is another Melbourne resident, renowned for her cult bakery Beatrix Bakes, although she worked for Australian food industry icons Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Greg Malouf before opening her bakery in 2011. Such is its fame that pre-pandemic there were long lines every day for her fifteen cakes, rotated daily. Despite a 20-year career, this is Paull’s first cookbook and it’s a must-have for those of you with a sweet tooth. Along with 70 recipes that include everything from classics such as cheesecakes and choc chip cookies, you’ll find her famous layered Notorious BFC black forest cake. Don’t expect recipes for “frou frou” cakes – a warning also on her website – rather these are recipes for delicious baked goods based on seasonal produce that ingredients that Paull would source from farmers markets and quality producers. Unlike a lot of baking books that are very prescriptive, Paull invites readers to choose their own adventure with seasonal mix-and-match alternatives provided for every recipe, including a pie chart that encourages you to adapt recipes by following your own heart, and stomach.
Please do let us know if you buy any of the cookbooks by Australian women chefs, cooks, bakers, and writers that we consider the best of 2020. We’d love to know what you think of them. We’d also love to hear your tips for the year’s best cookbooks.
Pictured above is an image from Parwana supplied by Murdoch Books.