By Rachel Hagan
The best cookbooks are such a joy - whether you’re a seasoned chef or a novice cook looking to improve your skills or impress a loved one. Many cookbooks used to be about technique – how to roast a chicken; how to boil an egg, how to make a white sauce. But now the emphasis is more on the delicious recipes themselves - what wonderful flavor combinations can be created, and how to be the hostess with the mostess.
Cookbook sales are up 33 percent compared with 2019, as we all look to expand our cookery skills and take our tastebuds on a culinary journey across the globe. And it's no surprise - for many of us, cookbooks are life manuals, mood lifters, and the best teachers too.
As such, we've rounded up a list of the best cookbooks that every kitchen should have. There are some recognizable faces on our list, from Nigella Lawson to Diana Henry, as well as some up-and-coming chefs for you to get to know and places of the world to discover. We’ve got some old, some new, and some yet-to-be-released books, all with one thing in common: their culinary brilliance.
From grandmothers to refugees, Vietnam to Afghanistan, vegan to meat-lovers, simple to fussy, and everything else in between. It’s no longer just about the food but the history, geography, culture, and voice of the chef too.
A new cookbook is the best way to hone your skills, change your diet or just shake up your usual weekly shopping. We’ve scoured the market, and these are the best of the best cookbooks to buy - whether you prefer to read them in print or on your best eReader or best Kindle.
The best cookbooks to buy
1. Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook, by Ixta Belfrage and Yotam Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi has become a household name with his Instagrammable dishes making their way to many of our tables. There may be lots of ingredients to gather, but it's worth it. What else is there to do in lockdown anyway? With his co-writer and recipe developer, Ixta Belfrage, this vegetarian book has won over the most committed carnivores. If you still need convincing, make the spicy mushroom lasagne.
2. Simply by Sabrina Ghayour
Sabrina is a British-Iranian cook who has now written five cookbooks, and this is her easiest to follow and straight to the point one yet. Most recipes also have a ‘simply delicious with’ section giving you ideas of other recipes in the book that would make a nice meal. Anything to save time is a winner, and this a great feature. The yogurt and Spice-roasted Salmon would make a gorgeous addition to a summer spread.
3. The Moro Cookbook by Samuel and Sam Clark
This book, by the husband-and-wife team behind London restaurants Moro and Morito was what paved the way for Ottolenghi-esque recipes. It may be 20 years old, but it’s one that many chefs couldn’t be without. The Spanish and North African recipes are accessible and clearly written with beautiful accompanying stories too. The marinated chicken recipes are particularly good.
4. A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine
For a summer of no lockdown, this book will become your bible. Known for her fancy table arrangements and feasts posted on Instagram, Skye’s book is your window into becoming the best host possible. As she puts it, this is food “you can plonk down in the center of the table for everyone to tuck into, towering platefuls of it.”
5. Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side by Rob Howell
It seems everyone is trying to eat less meat, aren’t they? But if you’re struggling to cut it out altogether, then this book offers a happy medium. Instead of having meat as the centerpiece, these recipes lead with seasonal plants, with a bit of well-chosen meat and fish for the odd special occasion. Vegetables are no longer just the accompaniment to a meal.
6. Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland by Caroline Eden
This isn’t your usual cookbook and is more of a travel book with recipes Caroline has picked up and adapted from people and places while journeying through central Asia for six months. Reading this is true escapism and may make you feel better for the lack of travel we’ve had over the last year! The recipes range from hearty soups and breads to delicate pastries, meat dumplings, and Uyghur noodles.
7. The 7-Day Basket by Ian Haste
The idea of this book is so simple and yet has never been done before: Ian gives us a shopping list of goods which will create meals for the next seven days, saving time, food, and money. This is what your week could look like: Pea, feta and mint frittata with a lemon-dressed salad; Griddled tuna steak, niçoise salad; Feta and chicken meatballs in lemon spaghetti; Thai coconut king prawn curry; Chorizo and mushroom toasts with sunny-side-up eggs; Tear-and-share chicken shashlik naan; and Peach and sage-stuffed pork fillet with garlic roasties. Yes, please!
8. Grand Dishes by Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari
Everyone thinks their grandma makes the best food, don’t they? Well, authors Iska and Anastasia with German and Greek grandmothers certainly do, which set them on a journey to find the best grandma cooks from around the globe. Helen from Tennessee teaches us how to make the BBQ sides, including slaw and potato salad. Lally from Germany has the best schnitzel recipe, and Betsy's Mexican Chicken Tostadas sounds excellent.
9. Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen by Durkhanai Ayubi
The Ayubi family fled Afghanistan and opened a restaurant, Parwana, in Adelaide, Australia. This book is filled with love and has some of the restaurant's best recipes for kebabs, dahls, dumplings, flatbreads, and everything else in between. The book is peppered with stories from the country which has been occupied by communist Soviet troops and US-led international forces, been ruled by militant groups, and the — infamous — Taliban in the years in between.
10. How To Eat, Nigella Lawson
There may be newer Nigella books (after all, this is her first), but we really think this stands the test of time. No photography, just brilliant, delicious, classic, and practical recipes with sound cookery advice — it is one for all ages. In honor of its 20th anniversary, it’s been updated in the paperback version, and we can promise you’ll turn to it time and time again if you’re in a rut with what to cook.
11. Baan: Recipes and stories from my Thai home by Kay Plunkett Hogge
There’s a lot more to Thai food than your local takeaway may suggest, and while those classics are in this book, Kay also has some lesser-known but very delicious things for you to try. Considerate towards novice chefs, the book provides ingredient substitutions and short-cuts and is a lot less daunting than other Thai books. With over 120 recipes that have been gathered over 30 years, you’ll never need to order a takeaway again.
12. Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavours by Diana Henry
This book is in its 10th edition, which means you know it is good and as the title handily suggests, the recipes are easy and stress-free but somehow manage to feel like you've got something fancy on the table! The key is in the easy ingredient list, no need for obscure spices and pastes here. We love the Korean chicken burgers, fish tielle (that’s an Italian pie to you and me), and the sausage and fennel pasta.
13. Honey & Co: At Home: Middle Eastern Recipes from Our Kitchen by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer
If you have taste buds for Ottolenghi's food, then this book is the one to buy next. These tasty Middle Eastern dishes are broken down into handy categories: “For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd and The Kitchen,” you’ll find yourself turning to these chapters for each occasion when you want “hearty comfort food with a sophisticated edge,” as Nigella said about Itamar and Sarit’s cooking.
14. The Kitchen Without Borders by The Eat Offbeat Chefs
Eat Offbeat is a New York-based catering company founded by a brother and sister duo that hires immigrant chefs from Sri Lanka, Senegal, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Venezuela. They work with the International Rescue Committee charity to find talented home cooks resettled in New York City. The book has recipes from 14 regions, and we think the hummus recipe trumps any other!
15. River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Rose Gray, Sian Wyn Owen, and Joseph Trivelli
This Thameside restaurant is our favorite place to go for a celebration, and this book marks 30 years of good food at the southwest London establishment popular with celebs. Championing good quality Italian cooking, this is a collection of ninety refined original recipes and 30 new ones. We love the iconic slow-cooked tomato sauce, pear and almond tart, crab and artichoke salad, and the spinach and ricotta gnocchi. Yum.
16. Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal
Jikoni is the name of Ravidner’s much loved smart restaurant in Marylebone, London, and this book is a mixture of joyous and heartwarming recipes. There’s a take on a fish pie, curries, a lamb wellington with feta, pine nuts, sumac, and even cocktails. Ravinder, born in Kenya to Indian parents, came to the UK as a child and calls her cooking “proudly inauthentic” - we think it's wonderful, and it's no surprise her restaurant is such a hit.
17. Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte
This book has a whopping 700 recipes that are all easy to make at home and are the closest you’re going to get on a Mexican home cooking encyclopedia. Mexican Margarita has dedicated 30 years to teaching and cooking the cuisine, and this book is a colorful journey, with over 200 pictures, into one of the most globally favored cuisines. The salsa is a dream.
18. Table Manners: The Cookbook by Jessie Ware and Lennie Ware
Table Manners podcast is one of our favorites. Musician Jessie Ware and her social worker Mum sit down with a celeb over a delicious plate of food and natter, laugh, debate, and argue! The recipe book is filled with recipes which Jessie and Lennie have served up to the stars and is divided into seven handy categories: Effortless, A Bit More Effort, Summertime, Desserts and Baking, Chrismukkah, and Jewish-ish Food.
19. One: Pot, Pan, Planet: A Greener Way to Cook for You, Your Family and the Planet by Anna Jones
Anna Jones trained under Jamie Oliver and has now made a name for herself as one of the best wholly veggie chefs. As well as brimming with excellent recipes, this book is also a bible on how to live a greener, healthier lives. Anna has spent three years tweaking and testing recipes to make them as easy, cheap, and sustainable as possible. She really is clever.
20. The Silver Spoon Classic by The Silver Spoon Kitchen
Il cucchiaio d’argento (the silver spoon) was first published in 1950, and when Emilia Terragni, publisher of Phaidon, was growing up in Como, Italy, it was the only cookbook in her family’s kitchen. This tome has continually been updated, and the most recent re-issue is the perfect guide for anyone who is fanatic about Italian cuisine and culture. Helpful recipe symbols indicate gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, five ingredients or fewer, 30 minutes or less, and one-pot recipes.
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