There was a point in my life when I thought cookbooks were pointless. Everything I needed was available for free on the internet, right? Well, let’s just say, sometimes you get what you pay for.
It’s not that all recipes on the internet are crap. I put my recipes on the internet for free and many of the authors below do, too. But there is something to be said for diving into a collection of recipes that have been vetted, especially if they include beautiful pictures and writing to accompany them.
If you are reading this on the day of or after posting, there may be a very popular online retailer that has their own version of Black Friday (*wink*) offering these books for Buy 3 for the Price of 2 discount on many items, including a wide selection of cookbooks (and many are additionally discounted). If you stumble across this post later, or prefer to shop local, independently owned shops, I still can’t recommend these books enough.
Top 3 Recommendations
If you are going to take advantage of the buy 3 for 2 deal, this is where I would start.
Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark – If you are in a dinner rut and want to punch it up a notch, this is the book for you. Everything in here is easy to make and accessible. There is nothing “weird” in this book. Instead you’ll find mostly familiar foods in distinctive combinations that will make you say “why didn’t I think of that?” My favorites – Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby, Penne and Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Hake with Crispy Mushrooms, Seared Tofu with Bacon[!], Shiitakes, and Chives, Summer Grain Bowl, Smoky Fish and Potato Chowder, and of course the one-pan Harissa Chicken with Leeks and Potatoes that practically has a cult following.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart – As much as I love to read and write (my day job is teaching English, after all) I have to confess that I am also a big math nerd. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is the textbook of bread baking. If you want to truly understand the science and ratios behind good bread, and maybe develop recipes of your own, this is a must-own. I read it cover to cover and took notes like I was majoring in Bread in college. Once you understand the math and science, the recipes are infallible.
Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman – If you are looking for a modern go-to book that has it all (breakfast, snacks, dinners, baking), and does it all well, this is it. Some favorites – Granola Biscotti, Carrot Salad, Halloumi Roast, Caramelized Cabbage Risotto, Meatballs Marsala, Gooey Oat Bars, and – probably the most re-made recipe from any cookbook we own – Street-Cart Style Chicken and Rice.
Looking for something different? Already have the ones above? Here are more favorites.
All-Inclusive – Books with a variety of recipes you will keep going back to.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – Needs no introduction. The version on Amazon is a split volume, which is more accessible than the full tome.
Six Seasons by Josh McFadden – Recipes for every vegetable you can imagine, organized by season.
Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi’s books are enormously popular, and there are other titles in the sale, as well. In this one, try the Seeded Chicken Schnitzel and the Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa
Specific Cuisines – Great for mastering cuisines from specific countries or regions.
Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop – The General Tso’s chicken is so good, we even use this recipe for chicken nuggets without the sauce sometimes.
Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen – There wasn’t a bad recipe in this book, and most of the ingredients are very accessible to the American cook. The Glass Noodle Soup and Beef Lettuce Wraps were some of our favorites.
Season: Big Flavors Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma – I would classify this as American food by an Indian chef. Try the Spiced Meatloaf.
Indian-ish by Priya Krishna – I would classify this as Indian food by an American-born cook (as made by her Indian-born mom). In other words, what actual Indian-Americans eat.
Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian – Delicious Persian food interwoven with beautiful personal stories. Her instructions are impeccable – I followed to a T and my tahdig came out perfectly on the first try.
Dinner in French by Melissa Clark – French flavors for the American kitchen – essentially an updated Mastering the Art of French Cooking – and you can’t go wrong with Clark’s books (see Dinner: Changing the Game above).
Amá by Josef Centeno – Tex-Mex food – try the bougie nacho cheese.
Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin – Southern recipes with a side of history. Not only was every recipe in here delicious and decadent, Tipton-Martin does a beautiful job of honoring so many Black voices that made Southern food what it is today. Try the Shrimp and Grits, Red Beans and Rice, and Jambalaya.
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen – This is a reprint of the original classic – a must for vegetarian cooking.
Baking – For the dessert and bread lovers
Midwest Made by Shauna Sever – Great for homestyle classic American baking.
Black Girl Baking by Jerelle Guy – I love that this book is organized by the five senses!
The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Bernbaum – This is a great book if you want to elevate your baking game, but not to levels of French patisserie. The pie crust recipe in this book will NEVER FAIL YOU.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse by Amy Emberling – I don’t know if it’s worth buying a whole cookbook for the perfect brownie recipe, but if it is, the recipe in this book is it – perfectly fudgy with a crackly top.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen – My Pop used to say he had two favorite kinds of pie – hot and cold. You will have lots of favorites from this book.
Food Non-Fiction (not cookbooks) – When you love food so much you want to read about it
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – One of my favorite non-fiction books ever. I will likely never become vegan but this book made the most convincing argument, and has made me re-evaluate my meat consumption.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – The OG restaurant exposé. A must read for anyone who loves food.
What’s in My Cart
This is what I am trying to choose between right now. Drop your recommendations in the comments. There are a few I am embarrassed to not already own!
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
From Crook to Cook: Platinum Recipes from Tha Boss Dogg’s Kitchen by Snoop Dogg
Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish
The Good Book of Southern Baking by Kelly Fields
Falastin by Sami Tamimi
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi
Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
Sally’s Cookie Addiction and Sally’s Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney