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Best cookbooks 2019: Add a dash of tradition to your cooking from £8

Expert Reviews logo Expert Reviews 30/04/2019 Kate Hilpern
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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. And probably the most stained. After all, everyone knows that the more treasured a recipe book is, the more likely it is to be filled with blotches and marks. It’s part of the appeal of the cookbook itself: unlike your phone, laptop or tablet, a cookbook can handle the clear and present danger of a messy kitchen counter.

So which are the cookbooks that are the most cherished and adored by those who love to cook? We decided to find out. From Jamie’s Italy to Stein’s India – and much more besides – these are the cookbooks that will have you reaching straight for your pots and pans and seeking out the very freshest ingredients to whip up some culinary delights.

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.’

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But we disagree. No self-respecting cook is without shelves bulging with their favourite recipe books – some of which may have even helped spark their passion for cooking in the first place. 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 (especially when the rellies announce they’re descending on you).

Which type of cookbook is better – modern or classic?

Both have their place, which is why our roundup includes Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, which dates back to 1960, right through to Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking, which was new for 2019. 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 deepest, darkest, dustiest corners of your local booksellers, but a dazzling big hardback with recipes as fabulous as the best-sellers.

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The best cookbooks you can buy

1. Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking: Best new cookbook for 2019

Price: £11 (hardback) |

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No roundup of best cookbooks would be complete without an offering from the nation’s favourite baker, Mary Berry. This is her latest cookbook, with over 120 recipes from a mouth-watering 30-minute beef ragu to a delectable passionfruit and orange cheesecake. Accompanying her new BBC series, it’s a godsend for those of you strapped for time, with 20- and 30-minute meals galore – many of which taste and look as though they took longer.

There’s no skimping on the photography, making this a proud addition to any coffee table, as well as being a bible for any working kitchen. And it’s packed with invaluable practical advice too. Top tip - don’t miss the Moroccan summer salad, it’s delish.

Key specs – Type of cooking: fast; Format: hardback and Kindle; Year published: 2019; Publisher: BBC Books

2. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi: Best vegetarian cookbook

Price: £17 | 

a close up of a logo: Image of Delia's Complete How To Cook: Both a guide for beginners and a tried & tested recipe collection for life © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Image of Delia's Complete How To Cook: Both a guide for beginners and a tried & tested recipe collection for life

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’ from 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 or fruit. Don’t be tempted to rule it out just because you’re a meat eater – 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

3. Pinch of Nom by Kay Featherstone and Catherine Allinson: Best slimming cookbook

Price: £10 (hardback) |

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For anyone looking to drop a few waist sizes, this newbie cookbook is a must. Not only is it beautifully designed – 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 appetizing 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

4. Delia’s How to Cook by Delia Smith: Best cookbook for beginners

Price: £32 (hardback) |

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Delia’s How to Cook TV series was one of the most talked about shows of 2009 – it was even famously credited with raising sales of cranberries by 200 per cent after appearing in one of the programme’s recipes. This is the book that came out of it and we think it stands out for two main reasons.

First, it’s a step-by-step guide, making it a winner for amateurs right through to those with more experience in the kitchen who could do with a bit of refinement in their cooking. In other words, not only does it teach the basics, but it helps you realise you don’t have to give up on recipes that don’t go to plan. Second, it’s Delia and what’s not to love about this traditional, no-nonsense chef whose recipes seem to be foolproof time after time?

Key specs – Type of cooking: modern British; Format: hardback; Year published: 2009; Publisher: BBC Books

a close up of a box: Image of Delia's Complete How To Cook: Both a guide for beginners and a tried & tested recipe collection for life © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Image of Delia's Complete How To Cook: Both a guide for beginners and a tried & tested recipe collection for life

5. Student Eats – Fast, Cheap, Healthy by Rachel Phipps: Best student cookbook

Price: £11 (paperback) |

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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 room-mate.

Key specs – Type of cooking: low-budget; Format: paperback and Kindle; Year published: 2017; Publisher: Ebury

Image of Student Eats: Fast, Cheap, Healthy – the best tried-and-tested recipes for students © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Image of Student Eats: Fast, Cheap, Healthy – the best tried-and-tested recipes for students

6. The Dirty Vegan by Matt Pritchard: Best vegan cookbook

Price: £8 (hardback) |

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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 do-able, 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

7. Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver: Best Italian cookbook

Price: £16 (hardback) |

a person sitting in a chair © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Rare is the chef that has quite so many strings to his bow. Not only has Oliver’s accessible approach to cooking won him numerous television series but he’s excelled as a restauranteur too, with his fare featuring in some format or another across many British cities and towns. Then there’s his campaigns: Jamie is credited most famously with introducing school children to healthier cafeteria food (who can forget the eradication of the now infamous turkey twizzlers?).

Oliver’s training was firmly based in Italian food, though, and so this cookbook takes him back to the cuisine that kicked off his career. The recipes are hearty and scrumptious, with beautiful illustrations – the kind of recipes you’ll make over and over again. Spaghetti con gamberetti e rucola and the torta di nada are both to die for, among many others.

Key specs – Type of cooking: Italian; Format: hardback and paperback; Year published: 2005; Publisher: Penguin

8. French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David: Best vintage cookbook

Price: £12 (hardcover) |

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

This is well-recognised as a work of genius in the world of cookery and surely a staple book in many a chef’s collection. It’s the kind of classic publication that evokes fond memories of childhoods spent poring over the pages, as many user reviews will testify. Regularly described as ‘intoxicating’ and ‘a masterpiece’, every recipe transports you straight to Provincial France – from Normandy to Provence, and everywhere in-between – with accompanying text that reads like a Romantic novel.

Don’t be put off by the fact that it came out nearly half a century ago. The recipes still knock the socks off many modern French equivalents and it’s all the richer for its old-fashioned sketches and nostalgic eye on cooking before modern gizmos such as blenders and food processors took over our kitchens.

Key specs – Type of cooking: French; Format: hardback, paperback and kindle; Year published: 1960; Publisher: Grub Street

9. Rick Stein’s India: Best Indian cookbook

Price: £15 (hardback) |

a close up of Rick Stein © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

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

Gallery: Around the world in 23 chicken dishes [Photos]


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