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Have you ever tried typing the words ‘What are the greatest cookbooks of all time?’ into a search engine? What comes up shows just quite how subjective such lists always are. One person’s sublime culinary genius is another person’s fussy and pretentious chef.
So, what are our crucial ingredients for an indispensable cookbook (pun intended)? Reliability. A go-to list of crowd pleasers that never let you down, time after time. A range of options for everyone from hearty meat eaters to vegans. A lot will, of course, depend on whether you like being a pedant in the kitchen, measuring out every recipe by the teaspoon, or you prefer pulling, tearing and chopping and instructions defined by the handful.
Anyway, here they are. The books we feel you can trust. The food gurus who inspire and make us feel brave and believe in our own cooking skills, despite all evidence to the contrary. From our palate to your kitchen. Bon appetit!
Nigel Slater – The Kitchen Diaries
A beautiful book for all seasons; as much lavish care and attention has gone into the production values of the physical edition as has gone into the text. Fundamentally, this is a prime example of exquisite food writing with recipes for each month, often based on the optimum time to find certain key ingredients available to buy in-store. A wonderful evocative companion throughout the year by one of the most quietly influential cooks of the last two decades.
Jamie Oliver – 5 Ingredients
Some of the best ideas are the simplest. Not the first book to take as inspiration such a concept, but easily the most successful. Twenty years on from the Naked Chef first sliding down the banisters on TV, before dashing around London on his moped and cooking up a storm for his mates, and tens of millions of book sales later, Jamie Oliver continues to stay ahead of his competitors through obsessive, passionate focus on making the best books possible year after year.
Simon Hopkinson – Roast Chicken and Other Stories
This book is hurtling towards its 25th anniversary but remains as essential and relevant as ever – 160 recipes from a classically trained chef, but one who speaks the language of kitchens everywhere. Full of wisdom and not a little ranting, it is a book that celebrates food you should love to cook and eat as opposed to what might impress other people or be seen to follow fashion. It is also occasionally seeped in a delicious, infectious nostalgia: ‘My mother makes really good potato cakes. They are at their best eaten on a Sunday afternoon, melting in front of the fire in their pool of butter. It should be winter, about 5pm, dark outside and a Marx Brothers film has just finished on the television.’ Genius.
Meera Sodha – Made In India
A glorious fusion of classic Indian food, cooked and interpreted by Sodha, who grew up in Lincolnshire. Initially she set out to capture the many recipes that had been passed down through the generations of her own family (her parents came to Britain from Uganda in the 1970s), but the book also sheds a new and contemporary light on some of the most popular dishes eaten in the UK. Sodha also highlights the value of growing up in and around a farming community and using local produce. Her latest book East focuses on vegetarian and vegan recipes.
Nigella – Kitchen
Knock Nigella all you like for watching souffles rise in a dressing gown, but this bestseller proved what an inventive and zeitgeisty cook she really is, and how fantastic her cookbooks are. Full of everything from what to do with leftovers (including a mouth-watering chicken stew) or food you might be about to throw away (black bananas, anyone?), there’s also a range of more experimental dishes and sound advice on both express options and slow cooking. Never dull, always delicious and with 190 recipes, pretty much something for everyone who enjoys eating.