Whether you’re an experienced chef or a reluctant home cook, gastronomy is a great way to understand the history, culture, and traditions of a country, as well as indulge in a little kitchen counter escapism. Combining captivating storytelling with enticing recipes, these colourful cookbooks will take your mind — and your taste buds — on a journey across the diverse landscapes of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
From the Jewish legacy of Odesa to Turkey’s rugged northern coast, Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light is a mesmerising gastronomic exploration of the Black Sea coast through Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Journalist and travel writer Caroline Eden’s lyrical descriptions are interspersed with mouth-watering recipes and arresting photography, creating, in her own words, “a way to ‘eat the culture’ and taste the journey.” Layering her experience with that of other travelers, Eden invites you to partake in the food and stories of her travels, creating a vivid picture of the cultural and culinary idiosyncrasies of the region. Our favourite? Zelnick afternoon pie: a delicious chard, spinach, and filo pie from Bulgaria.
Buy from Blackwell’s
Often labelled as the “New Nordic”, the popularity of Baltic culture is on the rise — and so is its cuisine. Gathering recipes from across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, this cookbook offers an immersion into the dishes and landscapes of northeastern Europe. Gifted with a lengthy coastline, lush forests, and a tradition of homegrown produce, Baltic recipes are fresh, seasonal, and flavoursome. Smoked fish hotpot with potatoes and cream, herring cake, or pear and pollen cake are some of the luscious treats in Baltic that will take you on a mouth-watering trip across this lesser-known foodie destination.
Buy from Hardie Grant
Determined to debunk the myth that Polish cuisine is bland and stodgy, Zuza Zak wrote Polska. Featuring family stories and homemade recipes with a sophisticated chef’s zest, Zak captures both the folkloric roots and refined tastes of new Polish cuisine through beginner-friendly recipes. From breakfast to dinner and dessert, Polska unpacks flavours and stories about why Polish food is what it is, what it means, and how it differs within itself. And, of course, there are some boozy cocktail recipes where vodka takes the spotlight.
Buy from Foyles or Barnes & Noble
Named after the iconic Armenian flatbread that features in the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list, Lavash is a soulful love letter to the little-known world of Armenian cuisine. Part cookbook, part photo journal, and travelogue, Lavash unpacks layers of flavour and history in a journey across the gastronomy of Armenia and its diaspora communities. Providing the base of every meal, lavash extends far past staple-food in Armenia to constitute an essential part of its culture. Likewise, this book can be the starting point of a culinary immersion into Armenian culture, both in the Caucasus and across the world. Beyond the book, Lavash’s website and Instagram page also contain recipes and video tutorials that make the wonders of Armenian cuisine accessible to the home cook.
Buy from Bookshop or Waterstones
Selected as a Guardian book of the year in 2016, Samarkand is an enticing love letter to the culinary diversity of the Silk Road. Interweaving mouth-watering recipes with travel stories, Caroline Eden introduces the region’s different ethnic groups with a wide array of dishes where the spices and flavours of Central Asia’s ancient trading culture delicately merge. The recipes, which are sophisticated but adapted to the intermediate-to-experienced cook, include apricot and red lentil soup, mutton kebab with tomato relish, pomegranate, and quince, kefir pancakes with blackberry syrup, a range of breads, and the region’s culinary deity, plov: a traditionally Uzbek dish consisting of rice with onions, carrots, and mutton, lamb, or beef, slowly cooked in layers.
Buy from Octopus Books
Mamushka, an award-winning recipe book by London-based chef Olia Hercules, is a succulent ode to the culinary depth and breadth of Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Redolent of long summers in her mother’s garden, Hercules’s tasteful recipes are artfully photographed, ingrained with the flavour of home, and enhanced by the writer’s own stint as a chef. From Ukrainian buns with potatoes and shallots, to garlicky Georgian poussins with spicy plum chutney, wasp nest buns, or apricot and sour cherry pie, Mamushka is a delightful mosaic of the region’s flavours.
Buy from Blackwell’s
If Siberia doesn’t automatically bring to mind mouth-watering dishes, this cookbook will change your mind. Combining mesmerising photography and evocative storytelling, Salt & Time takes readers on a journey that is as poetic as it is geographical and culinary. Delving into her childhood memories and family stories, film scholar-turned-cook Alissa Timoshkina gathers an exquisite collection of dishes that draw on different strands of Russian culinary tradition. Using natural, simple ingredients available in pantries across the world, Timoshkina elevates overlooked Russian staples, such as buckwheat, to highlight their flavours and turns them into sophisticated, delicate dishes. With recipes such as spelt and mushroom risotto, pine nut and honey cake, or sbiten, Siberian mulled wine, Salt & Time is a cookbook that both explains and entices.
Buy from Octopus Books
Unearth the gastronomic treasures of Romania with Irina Georgescu’s colourful celebration of her home country’s culinary tradition. In pages full of life and flavour, Carpathia is a journey from Transylvania to the Danube Delta with homemade recipes that vividly transmit a spirit of sharing, hospitality and joy that is so central to the tradition of Romanian cuisine. After trying Georgescu’s wild garlic and cheese stuffed bread, chicken liver with caramelised onions, or grapefruit and thyme cake, your heart will be full, and your palate will be yearning for a trip to the Carpathian mountains.
Buy it from Waterstones or Barnes & Noble
In Kaukasis, Olia Hercules turns her attention to the Caucasus region to explore the lesser-known cuisine of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Combining flavour-packed recipes with captivating storytelling, Kaukasis is a gripping journey across culinary traditions from the Black to the Caspian seas. Alongside local tales and travel tips, expect to discover how to make the perfect Georgian khachapuri and Armenian “cognac” profiteroles, to name just a few.
Buy from Octopus Books
Central to Georgian culture is the supra, or traditional celebratory feast. Literally meaning tablecloth, this gathering of friends and family only sees the procession of mouthwatering dishes and flee-flowing wine interrupted by heart-warming toasts. In a loving ode to her country’s hospitality, Tiko Tuskadze, the owner and chef of London’s Little Georgia restaurant, shares the dishes and stories that have been passed down through her family for generations. The recipes range from the iconic khachapuri, scrumptious cheese-filled bread, and khinkali, giant Georgian dumplings, to lesser-known dishes such as chkmeruli, chicken in garlic and nut sauce, or badrijani nigvzit, aubergine rolls with herbs and ground walnuts.
Buy from Waterstones