Community cookbooks, like cause-driven cookbooks — to say nothing of celebrity cookbooks — are, to paint them with a broad brush, often only of interest to people whose lives intersect with one of the reasons the book got published in the first place. “Together: Our Community Cookbook,” which rode into bookstores in September on the train of the dress of the new Duchess of Sussex — who, I imagine, is not putting dinner on the table every night — seemed like one of those books: possibly interesting but probably forgettable.
Fortunately, “Together” is more than just a cause pamphlet or a vehicle to endear the royals to us commonfolk. It is a very good cookbook, and the cause it benefits is worthy: a community kitchen set up by women who were displaced by the devastating Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 residents of a West London housing complex in 2017. Meghan Markle, who volunteered at the kitchen, came up with the idea for a cookbook to raise money to keep the kitchen open every day. Championing worthy causes is a royal tradition — her husband, Prince Harry, founded the Invictus Games; his mother, Princess Diana, worked with AIDS patients as early as the 1980s — and it seems as if Markle may be picking food as hers.
“Together” is filled with 50 recipes that feature the many cultures of the North Kensington community: dishes with roots in Algeria, Morocco, Russia, Uganda, Ireland, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, France, India, Pakistan, Iran and more. It’s also a charmingly old-fashioned publication in the manner of the recipe collections gathered by church groups and schools and community centers — a notebook of everyday recipes from neighborhood women published so that the meals might continue along with the kitchen itself.
It’s not just home cooking, but multicultural comfort food: coconut chicken curry, Persian lamb and herb stew, African beignets, Moroccan chickpea and noodle soup, eggplant masala, and Russian semolina cake. Each recipe is named for the woman who contributed it and fronted by a short headnote in which she gives some context for the dish. So we have little family histories; cheery, melting pot stuff; or tidbits of helpful historical information. The directions are consistent and well written, and the recipes work.
And at the end of the book, after a recipe for spiced mint tea, an index and a bit about the Royal Foundation, the charitable vehicle set up by Princes William and Harry and their spouses, there’s an endearing call for readers to tell their own food stories. So maybe make some eggplant masala and a pot of tea and write them a letter.