Cook as You Are by Ruby Tandoh is an invitation to reflect on our culinary desires and urges readers to enjoy time in the kitchen. This book demonstrates that food is not just refueling, but an occasion to savor life.
In Cook as You Are, Tandoh shows that anyone can cook. If you are unsure if this cookbook fits your needs or abilities, the introduction affirms that this cookbook is made for whoever and however you are.
The recipes have options for vegan and vegetarian diets and if you don’t have access to fresh ingredients, Tandoh explains how to make a substitution with canned or frozen items. She also adds multiple sensory cues to recipes, making the book accessible to those who have sensory impairments.
I admire Tandoh’s deliberate inclusivity throughout. At the end of the introduction she acknowledges that there are reasons that a person’s relationship to food could be less than joyful. To this end, she promises not to moralize food — saying that something is “good” or “bad” for you — and offers a reading list that addresses disordered eating, fatphobia, and body image. Tandoh is not here to dictate what one should or should not cook. She is a friendly voice chatting about food, flavor, and its enjoyment.
There are no photographs of the recipes in this book, opting instead for whimsical drawings by Sinae Park. These illustrations highlight important parts of recipes, such as how to fold flatbreads. They also depict different types of kitchens and cooks. The omission of staged food photos is an effort to ease comparisons and focus on the making of the food rather than the look of the finished product.
This book, beyond being a cookbook, is a lesson in community.
From the beginning, Tandoh recognizes that cooking is a communal effort and that no recipe is created in a vacuum. Recipes are the product of years of history and hundreds of people.
She asserts that though she is the author, she’s really a curator rather than the sole creator.
When sharing recipes from cultures that are not her own she takes care of not enforcing a colonialist mindset, including reading lists at the start of each chapter. These lists encourage readers to enjoy the chefs and cultures that inspired her. To further this sense of community, Tandoh writes on page 2:
“My dream is that instead of taking these recipes for gospel, you’ll rehash them to suit you and create your own kitchen folklore.” Not only is this a cookbook, it is also a choose-your-own-adventure book, with Tavndoh as an enthusiastic guide.
Peppered between recipes, like “Goes-With-Everything Groundnut Soup” and “Effortless Cod in Red Lentil, Tomato and Lemongrass Broth,” are short essays about the wonders of food.
Tandoh romanticizes simple things like frozen peas, late night snacks, and the magic of creating something out of nothing. These essays are a love letter to food.
I have cooked a fair share of the recipes from this book since I read through it and some of my favorites are “Pea Green Soup” and “In-the-Oven Tomato and Lima Beans in a Spiced Coconut Broth.”
The recipes are easy to understand and quick to come together. They have provided a pleasant addition to my rotation of recipes. They have also given me a jumping off point, introducing me to flavor profiles and textures that are different than those that I generally gravitate to.
This book has become a staple in my kitchen. Tandoh delivers a heartfelt guide to cooking, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of cooks and kitchens across the world.
Cook as You Are is Tandoh’s fourth book. She has also been published in The New Yorker, The Guardian, Vice, and more. I look forward to what she cooks up next.