Here’s a list of my favourite cookbooks that I use over and over again that I think are worth gifting – to yourself or a lucky person in your life!
Independence statement: These are 100% my own independent opinions. There are no affiliate links here, and I have no commercial or personal relationship with any of the authors or publishers. These are genuinely just cookbooks I personally value!
Cookbooks are an investment…. both cost-wise and space-wise!! In fact, sometimes I even test drive cookbooks before I buy them by borrowing them from the library. If I renew them repeatedly, only then do I buy them. No joke!
If you’re going to buy a cookbook, you want it to be one you really, really want. Not one you buy on a whim, flip through a few times, and then languishes in a pile somewhere gathering dust. A cookbook collection should be a like a treasured record collection: Something you’ve carefully amassed, curated (even sometimes been painfully forced to cull) over many years that you’re proud to display, and provides you endless enjoyment and inspiration.
So here are my top 14 cookbooks, the ones that I find myself thumbing through over and over again. How many of these do you already know of or own? 🙂
Jerusalem & Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Why I love them: UGH, I hate that cookbook #1 is so obvious!!! But hand on heart, 5 years after purchasing it, Jerusalem remains one of my most popular cookbooks on my shelf.
Somewhat of a vegetarian recipe bible for foodies, it made me excited to eat more vegetables – and that is saying something for this cheese-loving, roast-loving carb-monster!!!
Ottolenghi followed up Jerusalem with a rapid succession of new cookbooks almost annually, and to be honest I haven’t been blown away by any of the others with the exception of Plenty, where the recipes are more reminiscent of those that I loved in Jerusalem.
While many of his recipes include one or two (or more!) specialty ingredients that I wouldn’t buy just to make a single recipe, mostly I love that I can get great flavour combination and unique ideas for preparing vegetables that are just really, really tasty even if I skip the odd spice or two.
Bonus: Jerusalem has a beautifully textured fabric-feel hardcover which makes it a bit extra special for gifting
Community by Hetty McKinnon
Why I love it: I call this cookbook the Sydney version of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Filled with interesting salad recipes with unique flavour combinations, I also like the author’s personality. She comes across as genuine, totally down-to-earth and her recipes reflect that: The recipes are straightforward and she doesn’t care for trendy fads, she just likes good food.
I also like the story behind the book. The author used to live in Redfern (in inner Sydney) and ran a lunch service called Arthur Street Kitchen, delivering salads to local businesses. This cookbook is filled with the recipes she used to make there!
Today she resides in Brooklyn and I’ve started seeing her work cropping up in New York Times Cooking, which speaks volumes of her credibility and talent.
Australian Women’s Weekly Best Ever Recipes
Why I love it: My first cookbook! Well, the first cookbook I stole from my mother….😂 By far the oldest but also most-thumbed recipe book in my collection, this is for anyone who loves nostalgic recipes reflecting a bygone era of Australian food culture – before avo on toast was ever a thing and Sweet n’ Sour Pork was “exotic”. Duck with Mangoes, Seafood Pancakes, Brandy Snaps…. I love ’em all!
The only reason it isn’t number 1 on the list is because it’s such an old book, it’s no longer in print. 😩
Where to buy: search Ebay! Regretfully, unlikely to find outside Australia …
The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander
Why I love it: If you ever find yourself holding an ingredient in your hand wondering what on earth to do with it, turn to the Cook’s Companion. Cooking doyenne Stephanie Alexander’s 1192-page tome is usefully organised A-Z by ingredient. Each ingredient has a description and preparation notes, followed by a series of practical, interesting and delicious recipes incorporating that ingredient. So comprehensive and practical is this book, if I had to think of one tactic to guarantee a win on Masterchef, I’d memorise the Cook’s Companion …. all, um, 1192 pages?
Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook by John Susman et al
Why I love it: A collaboration by some of Australia’s most highly-respected seafood industry veterans, this book is a a goldmine of collective experience and wisdom about common Australian fishes and how to prepare them.
From flesh tasting notes to seasonality, cooking qualities to suggested preparations, it’s my go-to bible for seafood expertise. If you’re an Aussie passionate about sourcing and cooking quality fish, this book is a must for your shelf!
Bill’s Food by Bill Granger
Why I love this book: To me, the first book by Bill Granger, Bill’s Sydney Food, is still his best and contain many of the early recipes from his iconic restaurants. Sadly it’s very hard to get hold of new these days. So my other recommendations I own are Bill’s Food and Simply Bill which are full of recipes of a similar style which I also very much enjoy.
I’ve always admired Granger’s talent for stripping a dish back to its bare essentials, while losing none of its appeal in the process. In fact, the simplicity of his food and recipes are their appeal – the focused flavours, unfussy preparation and a minimum of ingredients required.
He also has true knack for understanding the Australian palate and what Australians love to eat, and there’s no more apt a title for this book than Sydney Food.
The Joy of Cooking 2019
Why I love it: If I lived in America and could only have one cookbook, this would probably be it – it’s legendary! A recipe bible filled with American classics, I regard this as the American version of Australia’s The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander.
It contains a recipe for everything you could ever want, from cakes to frostings, pies to roasts, sides to canapés. First published in 1931 by Irma Rombauer, it’s been republished and updated a number of times, most recently in 2019 by her great-grandson. This is the edition I have.
Nopalito by Gonzalo Guzmán
Why I love it: Gifted to me by my friend Kevin from Kevin is Cooking (my personal go-to resource for all things Mexican!), I call this the Mexican version of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Not only filled with the most tantalising and authentic Mexican recipes, the photos and stories are engaging and is one of those books that I actually read beyond just the recipes.
Written by the owner of the popular Nopalito restaurant in San Francisco, this blows away every other Mexican recipe book I’ve read or owned.
Sauces by Michel Roux
Why I love it: This book is currently the subject of a heated argument over rightful ownership between my brother and I, which is an indication of just how much it’s valued by us. (Update: He just realised he also has his own copy, hence the mystery and ensuing argument. I have now put my name on my copy! PS. Everyone take note that I was right in that argument??😂)
This book was authored by the late Michel Roux, patriarch of an overachieving family of French-trained chefs with a plethora of Michelin stars earned between them. There’s an extraordinary diversity of sauces, both modern and classical, precisely documented in his book Sauces, all accompanied by stunningly beautiful photography.
I find myself thumbing through this book regularly, sometimes for inspiration, sometimes for instruction. But usually just to admire the photos, read the recipes and drool. The inspiration for many, many sauces on my website have come from this fantastic book.
The Food of Italy by Claudia Roden
Why I love it: Many others also do and it’s widely considered a classic on Italian food, originally published in 1989. Roden travels the entire country, north to south, devoting a chapter to every region. Each chapter showcases the region’s typical as well as lesser-known dishes. It’s fascinating to observe the incredible diversity of Italian food across different regions and is why Italians often explain to foreigners, “There’s no such thing as ‘Italian food'”.
I love that this book showcases real Italian food – the food of the people – while opening our eyes to a vast world of delicious, inventive food beyond the often limited or clichéd Italian food we’re accustomed to. Much of my education around traditional Italian food and cookery has come from this book.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Why I love this book: An old book and author that has shot back to fame in the last decade, this is a must-have for those with a soft spot for sentimental and traditional Old World French cooking. It’s filled with all the French classics, from Beef Bourguignon to Cheese Soufflé, Quiche Lorraine to French Onion Soup.
Of course, it’s also packed with highly traditional and regional recipes that will be unfamiliar to many.
Be warned: This book is not for beginners and Child’s recipes demand discipline and attention to detail. There are no short cuts, hacks and it’s not a book for people who need dinner on the table in an under an hour. Rather this is a book for those who enjoy the process of cooking, diving deep into the divine world of French food, spending a whole lazy Sunday pottering around in the kitchen.
Rates highly on the gift-giving scale, this is a classic!
The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Why I love this book: “Kenji says this, Kenji says that, Kenji’s technique is this, Kenji’s tested that already …”. The name “Kenji” gets thrown around quite a bit in the RecipeTin family cooking debates. We admire his science-based approach to cooking in pursuit of producing recipes that are as close to perfection as possible. Ultimate roast beef, the perfect crispy New York pizza, the Reverse Sear, the silkiest Mac and Cheese…. The famous Kenji hits go and on.
This cookbook isn’t for everyone. While it contains hundreds of recipes across the 1,000+ pages, much of the writing is dedicated to the science of food and cooking, and describing the process of each recipe’s development. It’s a brilliant resource for people like me who create recipes and want to understand the why in order to improve my own food, without going to impractical lengths to achieve it. Kenji in other words, often has done a lot of legwork for me so I don’t have to – and I love him for it!
But know this – if you do follow his recipes and all his tips, your dish will be perfect!
Cool Beans by Joe Yonan
Why I love it: A book that makes you want to eat beans?? I know, it’s almost unbelievable!
Written by the food editor of The Washington Post, this is a cookbook that literally stopped me in my tracks. I opened the package by the mailbox and 10 minutes later, I was still standing there reading the book. I’d never had guessed at the sheer amount of imagination that could be applied to this humble legume and craft an entire book of amazingly delicious recipes around it.
If you just don’t like beans, obviously this is not the book for you. But if you’re open to the possibilities of eating more of the world’s greatest source of plant-based protein, you will love this book.
These aren’t hardcopy cookbooks, but instead online subscription-based recipe resources that I use a LOT. Probably more than any of the above listed print books – because I do live in the online world!!
While I know it’s not the same as wrapping a physical present, I thought I’d add these to the list as digital gift ideas. I know it’s the sort of thing I would have loved if I didn’t already have subscriptions!
New York Times Cooking is one of my greatest online resources for wonderful recipes from highly-regarded cooks that I use for day to day cooking, and to experiment with new recipes.
America’s Test Kitchen & Cooks’ Illustrated’s tagline, “recipes that work” is no exaggeration! An excellent resource for fail-proof recipes you can trust will work, though I must confess I often tinker with flavouring.
Reader requested extras!
Adding a few more items to the list pursuant to reader messages!
Creating really great restaurant curries from around the world is a bit of a passion of mine (hence a whole category of Curry recipes on my website!). But in the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that I don’t have a single “go-to” cookbook which is why it’s not listed. More often, I use informal YouTube videos made by Indian homecooks and restaurants, then cross check with cookbooks and chef recipes.
That is not to say I don’t have curry cookbooks I hold in high regard! Here are my favourites:
Curry Nation by Madhur Jaffrey – filled with all the popular curries, a cookbook written by one of the UK’s favourite Indian cooks (the Brits are mad for their curries!!). Buy it: AUS / US (only Kindle) / UK
PS And yes, you may have spied Rick Stein’s India in the bookshelf up the top but I’m sorry to say it doesn’t top my list. I rate the others considerably higher for recipes you can use without tweaking.
Spice I Am by Sujet Saenkham
Restaurant recipes from the chef-owner of Sydney’s highly regarded Spice I Am and House Thai restaurants, this is filled with truly authentic Thai recipes, including his famous Pad Thai which I shared on my website many years ago.
The only reason it doesn’t make my top 14 is because the recipes are quite specialised in that they err more on the side of really authentic which means many people (including my friends) can find the flavours a bit too “Thai funky” with very strong fish sauce and dried shrimp flavours. I find I need to tweak the flavours a bit when cooking for other people.
But for those who know and are familiar with either of his restaurants or love the food in Thailand (outside of the touristy Westernised places), then you will LOVE this cookbook as much as I do. Definitely my highest rated Thai cookbook!
Buy Spice I Am online: AUS only I’m afraid!
And there you have it! Those are the most used cookbooks in the world of RecipeTin, along with why I love them so much. Maybe there’s someone in your life deserving of one?? (I am, of course, including you yourself in that suggestion ….! ) – Nagi x
Life of Dozer
I was just trying to take a photo of my cookbooks, and he even gets in the way of THAT!