MSG Brownies & the Best Food Reads of 2023

By Mieke

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for listicles and present inspiration. So in no particular order below I list my top food and cookbook reads of the year, as well as the recipe for MSG brownies from Abi Balingit’s wonderful Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed. I have tried to group the books together somewhat in case you’re looking for something in particular.

Note these are books that I read this year, not necessarily books that came out this year. As a bookhoarder I tend to be a bit behind on my evergrowing pile of books.

Buy Arabiyya by Reem Assil – Kitchen Arts & Letters

Best cookbook overall

I have no words for what is being done to Palestinians right now. I have been following Reem Assil for a while and finally got round to reading her beautiful book Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of An Arab in Diaspora in September, right before all hell broke loose to a new extreme. Arabiyya is such a wonderful book. It is filled with amazing recipes, as well as Reem’s personal history both as a Palestinian, a community organizer and finally a baker. It feels wrong right now to say “Oh I can’t wait to cook from this” though of course I do. But what I really want is for people to read this book and learn about what it means to be Palestinian and what you can do to organize resistance to what is happening in Palestine as well as to what is happening all over the world (staring in Dutch election results).

Food reads

I lagged a bit in my non-cooking food reads this year, but the books I did read were stand-outs. First there is A Bite-sized History of France, which peaked my interest because I moved to France and wanted to understand a bit more about the history and the food. This delivers on both ends. It doesn’t go too deep, but you’ll still walk away with a decent idea of French history and the role food played in it.

The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes): Lebo, Kate: 9780374110321: Books

Then there’s The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo. Though it starts off as a kind of ‘difficult’ fruit almanac, it veers and then careens off into something more personal and political. I did also learn about fruit (how to check for the ripeness of blackberries for example, and that cultivated raspberries suck – something I verified with the pre-existing raspberries growing against the kitchen wall here). This one won’t be for everyone, but if you’re into fruit and the thorny issues that women face this could be a good fit for you.

Best vegan, vegetarian and plant-based cookbooks

I’ve already praised the glories of Pamelia Chia’s Plantasia: A Vegetarian Cookbook Through Asia, sharing her easy punchy recipe for adobo spaghetti here. I was equally impressed with Sam Dixon‘s Broke Vegan: One Pot. I shared the recipe for gnocchi with butternut and sage and sang the praises of that nifty stocking stuffer of a book here. Another one of my favorites I’ve already written about and shared a delicious and easy recipe from (can you detect the theme here?) is Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea by Andrea Nguyen, whose Vietnamese herby pancakes you will find here.

Two books I didn’t mention before are Vegan Pasta Night: A Modern Guide to Italian-Style Cooking by Brianna Claxton and Amazing Asia Vega by Emma de Thouars. Vegan Pasta Night is a wonderful, surprisingly personal translation of classic Italian recipes for vegans. Having grown up with classic Italian cooking Brianna does an amazing job turning classic Italian dishes vegan. The book includes recipes for all the basic cheeses, pastas and sauces and I’m especially keen to build a supply of classic Italian sauces to ween ourselves off the jars we keep in the store cupboard for days when we don’t feel like cooking and have home-made sauces instead.

Emma's Amazing Asia vega: 9789038809892: unknown author: Books -

In the mean time Emma has been successfully hacking away at becoming somewhat of a Dutch Fuchsia Dunlop, albeit with a stronger focus on recipes and a more pan-Asian approach. I am very late to the party but finally got around to reading Amazing Asia Vega last month, and it made me so delirious with hunger. It also inspired me to finally pick up some fermented black beans, egg tofu and Chinese sesame paste during my last Asian supermarkt raid and I cannot wait to cook from it. I made the steamed spicy enoki for dinner tonight, the sauce and method for that will become a staple for many vegetables. But I’m also excited to try the whole grain spaghetti with miso butter, Korean stewed tofu, Indian egg and Indian eggplant curries and chaat massala potatoes with chutney mayo are all also very high on my hitlist. Unfortunately this book by Emma has not made it to translation yet, but her book How to Fall in Love with Tofu: 40 Recipes from Breakfast to Dessert, did make it to translation, so maybe get your hands on that instead.

Best Asian cookbooks

This category feels a bit silly, because as you can probably tell by now, I have a very strong Asia-focus. But here we are.

Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook by Yin, Mandy

I am obsessed with laksa and why laksa still hasn’t gotten the noodle soup hype that ramen has. I am also obsessed with any book shot by Louise Hagger and (prop) styled by Alexander Breeze So when I saw Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook was coming out, I had to have it. I made the chicken satay this summer, which was a simple and easy delight. I tried their Malaysian fried chicken on my last trip to London, so it’s now on my to-do list, as well as the coconut and lemon grass roast chicken, the black pepper lamb soup and Hainanese five-spice pork chops, among others. During my visit back in August I also got to try their laksa and their curry puffs. I highly recommend a visit to Sambal Shiok if you find yourself in London.

I also really loved Mr. Jiu’s in Chinatown by Brendan Jew but I must confess I read it back in March and beyond it being a lovely hommage to Chinatown old and new I cannot tell you anything more about it because my brain is rusty. I do know it’s worth the read for the history lesson alone.

Best barbecue cookbooks

I already featured smokey roasted roots with pistachio butter from Live Fire: Seasonal Barbecue Recipes and Stories of Live Fire Traditions Old and New on the website here last week. Definitely one of my favorites from this year both for all the delicious recipes and ease of use.

The other favorite barbecue book I read this year was Chasing Smoke: Cooking over Fire Around the Levant. by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co fame. It’s packed with both delicious recipes and beautiful stories from around the Levant (or Middle East). In the coming year at the very least I want to make the roast pear with tahin, the whole burnt aubergine with roast eggyolk and the grilled watermelon with prawns, feta and chili from this.

Best baking books

Finally, while I am still a shit baker, I wanted to hit on two stellar baking books I’ve read. Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries by Kristina Cho was one of those instant classics when it first came out and reading it I was not disappointed. It is both extensive and precise and I am certain this is one of those books that will make you a better baker. My first plan for this Christmas holiday is to make the pork floss and seaweed pull apart rolls, but I also really want to make her mother of milk bread and I already made the salted egg yolks for a recipe I tested for the ebook I am working on for the new year.

Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed: Balingit, Abi: 9780063244061: Books

Last but not least it’s the beautiful and inspired Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed by the lovely Abi Balingit. Abi is one of the most exciting bakers to come out of the pandemic, with both innovatively flavored baked goods as well as a huge heart. I’ve been desperately seeking ube paste and a new supply of tajin since I finished reading Mayumu. While I wait to find those I really want to make her lychee madelines, isles flottantes in salted duck egg creme anglaise and peach mango compote as well. I’ve already happily tried her chai leche flan (divine)and delved into her MSG brownies this week. You can find the recipe below.

MSG brownies

Having been an MSG-convert ever since I was a kid, of course Abi’s MSG brownies beckoned me. They were so good! If you love dark chocolate, this is the brownie for you. It’s a deliciousy dense supremely dark chocolate brownie. Do invest in the best quality dark chocolate (60-70%) and unsweetened cacao powder you can find for this. Abi makes her MSG brownies with (five-spice) turrones de casoy, which is a paper wafer wrapped Filipino nougat, for which she shares a recipe in her book. But you can also make these with Snickers or Milky Ways as well. For photographic effect I made my MSG brownies with store-bought nougat. Also delicious.

Abi Balingit's MSG Brownies

Dorothy Porker
Delicious supremely dark chocolate MSG brownies from Abi Balingit's Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed baking book.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Filipino


  • Oven
  • square baking tray 20x20cm - 8"x8" or equivalent
  • Parchment
  • Large bowl
  • medium bowl
  • Wire rack


  • 6 oz - 170 g dark chocolate (60-70%) coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 c olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t MSG
  • 1 t instant coffee
  • 4 Snickers or Milky Way bars cut into 1" - 2.5 cm pieces


  • Preheat the oven to 160° C - 325°F and place a rack in the middle of it.
  • Line a 20 x 20 cm - 8 × 8-inch (or similarly dimensioned) square pan with parchment paper cut into strips, crossing over each other, with plenty of overhang on both sides to help lift the brownie out after baking.
  • In a large bowl, combine 2/3 c olive oil, 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 1 t vanilla extract, 1 1/2 c powdered and 1/2 c dark brown sugars. Whisk together until smooth and glossy.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 all-purpose flour, 2/3 unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t MSG, and 1 t instant coffee.
  • Now gently whisk the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture until well combined.
  • Using a spatula, fold in 6 oz - 170 g of coarsely chopped dark chocolate until evenly distributed before pouring the brownie batter into the parchment-lined pan.
  • Stud the surface of the batter with the chopped Snickers of Milky Ways cut into 1" - 2.5 cm pieces before baking.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes up with only a few moist crumbs. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
  • When it’s cooled, use the parchment overhang to lift the brownie out of the pan. Cut into 9 squares and serve.


  • These brownies will keep for 4 days in an airtight container at room temperature. 
  • I may have switched out the coffee for five-spice, because I don't do coffee and I do do five-spice
Keyword brownies, chocolate, dark chocolate, msg

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