From the classics to modern wonders, these are the must-have cookbooks for your growing collection
Of all the books you own, we’d bet our bottom dollar it’s your cookbooks that are among the most well-thumbed and loved, as well as the most stained. The best cookbooks and their recipes stay with you forever, whether they’re the short and simple type or one of those massive collection-style deals.
So which are the cookbooks that are the most cherished and adored by those who love to cook? We decided to find out. These are the best cookbooks from celebrity chefs, authors and classic cooks. They’re the books that will have you reaching straight for your pots and pans, seeking out the very freshest ingredients to whip up some culinary delights.
If you need a bit of helping to decide which cookbook to try our buying guide below should help shed some light on what to look out for. If you’re already a keen cook though, read on, for our roundup of the best cookbooks.
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How to choose the best cookbook for you
Aren’t cookbooks dead?
Writer and chef Prue Leith made headlines a few years ago when she claimed that most modern cookbooks are now destined for the coffee table – we drool over them, but don’t actually use them. Dismissing contemporary cookbooks as glossy food porn by (usually male) celebrity chefs, she said: “We don’t need cookbooks except to feed the internet”.
But we disagree. No self-respecting chef is without a decent cookbook stack and besides, who wants to leave their pristine laptop within range of oil spills, flour explosions and sticky catastrophes? Cookbooks are designed to sit in the thick of it, weathering the worst messes your culinary inexperience can throw at them.
So we say they’re here to stay. Few things make nicer gifts for foodies and the best ones become a major part of family life – a part you’d feel lost without.
Which type of cookbook is better – modern or classic?
Both have their place, which is why our roundup includes books from a wide range of years. The older ones may not have the thick shiny pages and arthouse photography, but don’t assume the recipes are outdated – the best recipes are timeless. Meanwhile, newer recipe books will keep you right on trend with the foodie world, as well as often offering more variety and niche areas (anything from South African braai recipes to the Brexit cookbook – and yes, there is one).
What about cookbooks for our changing dietary requirements?
Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free or lactose-intolerant, the good news is there’ll be a cookbook for you. And not just the odd poorly produced, self-published and self-righteous book tucked away in the dustiest corners of your local booksellers. There is a dazzling array of big and bright cookbooks with recipes as fabulous as the best-sellers.
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The best cookbooks you can buy
1. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi: The best vegetarian cookbook
Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon
If you love food, then you’ll love this award-winning, stylish and innovative book from the mastermind that is Ottolenghi. Even if you don’t cook, you’ll enjoy pouring over the dazzling food photography. Although Ottolenghi isn’t vegetarian himself, you’d never known from his outstanding vegetable dishes, all of them inspired by his Mediterranean roots. Most come from his column “The New Vegetarian” in the Guardian Weekend magazine, with some added extras thrown in.
We like the sensibly organised sections on the likes of pasta and couscous, aubergines, cooking greens, squashes and fruit. Don’t be tempted to rule it out just because you’re a meat eater, though – this book should be a staple in any food-loving household. Among our favourites are the artichoke gratin and burnt aubergine with tahini.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Mediterranean; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2010; Publisher: Ebury
2. Pinch of Nom by Kay Featherstone and Catherine Allinson: The best slimming cookbook
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon
For anyone looking to drop a few waist sizes, this newbie cookbook is a must. Not only is it beautifully designed and a real pleasure to flick through, but the recipes are as tasty and hearty as they are healthy and non-fattening. They’re also genuinely practical to make, even on a work night when the last thing you feel like doing is filling your work surface with kitchen scales, pans and cooking utensils.
No wonder Pinch of Nom has become the UK’s fastest selling non-fiction book (it sold over 200,000 copies in the first three days). It all started with the authors’ blog of the same name, which has helped thousands of people lose weight while still eating appetising food. We can vouch for the fact that fans of the blog will not be disappointed, as well as the fact that – joy of joys – no recipes will send you on a hunt for bizarre ingredients that can only be found in the likes of posh Notting Hill delis.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Slimming; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2018; Publisher: Pan Macmillan
3. Completely Perfect by Felicity Cloake: The best cookbook for perfecting the basics
Price: £11 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’ve ever found yourself trawling through endless hummus, egg, brownie or flaky pastry recipes, desperately trying to find the perfect one, this is the book for you. Based on Felicity Cloake’s ‘how to make the perfect’ column in the Guardian newspaper, this book brings together her findings, after researching and testing hundreds of recipes from some of the greatest chefs of our time. There are only 120 recipes in this book and if you’re eager to learn how to cook from scratch, or simply want to perfect some of the basics, you’ll want to work through this from start to finish.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Variety, best-of recipes; Format: Paperback and Kindle; Year published: 2018; Publisher: Fig Tree
4. Student Eats by Rachel Phipps: The best student cookbook
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon
Small budget cooking is in and, as such, there’s no shortage of student-worthy cookbooks. This one stands out for being written by a recent university graduate who knows what it’s like to come home hungry after a long day of learning to a bare kitchen that reflects your empty wallet. It has simple instructions, practical advice, cheap ingredients and quick-to-cook recipes. We like the “Meal maths” section, which helps avoid wastage and gets readers to make full use of emergency store-cupboard items. Worried you won’t have the utensils? Don’t be – she’s thought of that, too.
Perhaps most importantly, the recipes are imaginative and flavoursome – think frying-pan lasagne and pesto, loaded fajita salad, Nutella cheesecake cups and honeycomb crunch refrigerator squares, among others. Just don’t be surprised when everyone wants to be your new roommate.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Low-budget; Format: Paperback and Kindle; Year published: 2017; Publisher: Ebury
5. The Dirty Vegan by Matt Pritchard: The best simple vegan cookbook
Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon
The BBC recently aired its first vegan cookery programme and, unsurprisingly enough, the cookbook to accompany it quickly hit the bestseller list. The man behind it – Dirty Sanchez star turned endurance athlete Matt Pritchard – attributes much of his world record success to turning vegan and hopes to explain how to make the dietary change as comfortably (and cheaply) as possible.
True to his promise, the recipes are unpretentious and doable, with never any need to scream at the book as we so often have with others: “Yes, but where the hell am I going to find that ingredient!” We tried the recipes on vegans and non-vegans alike, both of whom came back for more every time.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Vegan; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2018; Publisher: BBC Books
6. The Collection by Antonio Carluccio: The best Italian cookbook for variety
Price: £20 | Buy now from Waterstones
This best-of book showcases all the greatest dishes from the late Antonio Carluccio and is packed full of amazing Italian recipes from his past and lifetime of travels. There’s a mix of quick, easy recipes, as well as tougher challenges for when you want to spend the weekend cooking up a storm.
Better still, this book features some fantastic classics from Carluccio’s restaurant, including the deliciously indulgent, veggie-packed Penne Giardiniera. If you want a diverse supply of genuinely authentic Italian dishes from a variety of regions, this is one you absolutely need to have on your shelf.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Italian; Format: Paperback and hardback; Year published: 2018; Publisher: Quadrille Publishing
7. Rick Stein’s India: The best Indian cookbook for classic comfort recipes
Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon
There are so many great Indian cookbooks, but after much deliberation, we settled on this one because Stein’s travels through India seem to have opened this imaginative chef’s eyes to the real essence and sheer variety of Indian cuisine. He shares his experiences, experiments and expertise in this magnificent, unforgettable book with no shortage of enticing aromas and tantalising flavours. Chettinad chicken and coconut prawn curry are among many dishes that, made once for friends, will have them begging you to make again when they next come over.
Spanning vast swathes of India and the rich culture therein, the recipes in this cookbook offer a moderate challenge, although none are exorbitantly time-consuming. The only real caveat to add here is that this is a fairly traditional, authentic take on Indian cuisine; as a result, some of the ingredients may need to be bought online or at a specialist supermarket.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Indian; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2013; Publisher: Ebury
8. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: The best Ottolenghi cookbook
Price: £18 | Buy now from Amazon
We’re big fans of all of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, but we really think Jerusalem showcases the best of Yotam and Sami’s cultural history. With a plethora of snacks, dinners and desserts all showcasing the melting pot of culture that is Jerusalem; this book is a true gem for anyone wanting to try their hand at some authentic Middle Eastern cooking.
Some of our favourite dishes include simple fried cauliflower with tahini, and cardamom rice with caramelised onion and chicken. The dishes are incredibly varied, moreish and not so tough that a beginner couldn’t get their head around them. A true classic.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Middle Eastern; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2012; Publisher: Ebury
9. 5 Ingredients Quick and Easy Food by Jamie Oliver: The best cookbook for beginners and speedy suppers
Price: £16 | Buy now from Amazon
If you want to create interesting meals but don’t have the time or skill-set to do so, this easy peasy offering from Jamie Oliver is ideal. Each meal uses only five ingredients (not including salt, pepper and oil, which are seen as ‘staples’) and all can be prepared relatively quickly. It’s a fantastic book for beginners, with a wide variety of meal options, and we love how simply each chapter is labelled. Whether you have a craving for a salad, fish, chicken or pasta, it’s incredibly easy to find what you fancy.
Key specs – Type of cooking: Simple world food; Format: Hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2017; Publisher: Michael Joseph