Are you cooking a lot right now? Are you sick of cooking a lot right now? Are you tired of all your go-to cookbooks? Tired of scouring the internet for new recipes? Do you need some cooking inspiration to remind you that yes, making dinner can be a joy, and yes, you can make cheap, delicious, pantry-based meals that aren’t just a dressed-up can of chickpeas?
Me too. So in search of inspiration, motivation, and some comfort, I’ve turned to my favorite cookbook authors, the ones I’d trust with coming up with the recipes for my last meal on earth. I recommend every cookbook these talented chefs have ever written, but that’s a lot of cookbooks. So I’ve picked my one must-buy cookbook for each of them. These are the cookbooks I cook from day in and day out, the ones that are full of post-its and covered in splatters and stains.
Melissa Clark: Dinner: Changing the Game
Melissa Clark is the queen of the simple meal, and Dinner is a book of simple meals so mouthwatering that you’ll find yourself making the same ones over and over. When I first got this cookbook, I cooked out of it almost exclusively for two months. It’s an especially fantastic book if you’re new to cooking, if you’re balancing work and parenting, or if you’re craving new and exciting recipes but also want something that comes together in thirty minutes. If you’re a meat eater, the book begins with a string of utterly luscious roast chicken recipes (chicken and grapes, anyone?) Some of my favorite recipes, ones that I now cook once a week, include pasta with roasted cauliflower and capers, maple roasted tofu with winter squash, and herbed parmesan dutch baby.
Dorie Greenspan: Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook
If you’re a baker, Dorie’s Cookies is absolutely indispensable. But for general cooking, this is my favorite Dorie Greenspan cookbook. It’s her slimmest book, but it’s packed with great recipes that range from super simple to fancy enough to make for a special occasion without spending hours at the stove. If you’re the kind of eater who enjoys a little of this and a little of that, you’ll love the “Nibbles, Starters & Small Meals” section. The gougeres recipe (mustardy cheese puffs) is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve also made that gorgeous tart on the cover (Lower East Side Brunch Tart) which I then proceeded to eat at every meal for several days. If you like cookbooks that offer a little of everything, this book also has a great dessert section (of course). I’m especially partial to blueberry-buttermilk bundt cake, and, if you’re in the mood for something a little more complicated, the triple-layer parsnip and cranberry cake is out-of-this-world.
Joanne Chang: Flour
This is definitely a baking book. If you are not a baker, I’d recommend Flour, Too instead, which is equally delightful and full of some of the best savory recipes from Flour Bakery. But this is the Joanne Chang cookbook I’d take with me to a desert island (you know, one with a stand mixer and plenty of flour and butter). Chang is one of my favorite cookbook authors because she’s so friendly and enthusiastic; you can practically feel her smiling at you while reading her recipes. This cookbook because it’s full of simple, easy, one-bowl delights (oatmeal maple scones, classic carrot cake, snickerdoodles), but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try lemon-raspberry layer cake with lemon buttercream (it’s worth it). I used the recipe in this book to learn how to make brioche, and now I make all sorts of luscious brioche treats—like cinnamon buns and pain au chocolate—all the time.
Yotam Ottolenghi: Plenty
Ottolenghi’s style isn’t for everyone. He’s got a reputation for complicated recipes with long ingredient lists, and you’ll find lots of those in his cookbooks. But you’ll also find recipes that are actually quite simple, with long lists of spices and little else. And you’ll always be rewarded, because the flavors are incredible. I love all his cookbooks, but his vegetarian ones are my favorites. Honestly, it was a toss-up between this one and Plenty More. In the end I had to pick this one because it contains two of my favorite recipes ever: roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette (it’s just a fancy way of saying dressed-up roasted roots; I make it all the time) and caramelized garlic tart (which takes a little work but is basically the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten).
Plenty is divided into sections based on vegetables, which is great if you like seasonal cooking. And unlike some vegetarian cookbooks, in this one, vegetables are absolutely the star of the show. I wasn’t much of an eggplant fan until I made burnt eggplant with tahini from this book. In the summer, I make the simple-and-outrageously-good zucchini and hazelnut salad all the time. And this book has got some great pantry recipes, too—chickpea, tomato, and bread soup is one of my favorites.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: River Cottage Veg
Fearnley-Whittingstall has a ton of cookbooks, but this is my absolute favorite: accessible and unfussy. Earlier this year, I decided to do a cook-through of this cookbook. I’ve had it and loved it for years, but I haven’t made every single recipe in it. I don’t know if I’ll actually get through it all this year, but it’s been a fabulous project so far. I make red lentil dal from this book almost weekly, and my current obsession is a sweet potato and peanut gratin, which comes together in 20 minutes and is absurdly delicious. The “Raw Assemblies” section is full of tons of quick and delicious salads—beets with walnuts and cumin; carrot, orange, and cashews; tomatoes with Thai dressing. I often turn to this book for inspiration when I’ve got a vegetable sitting in my fridge that I don’t know what to do with. Even if I don’t find a recipe, I almost always find a good idea. There’s even a whole chapter devoted to pantry suppers! Perhaps my favorite recipe in the whole book, though, is the magic bread dough—which I’ve turned into flatbread, pitas, pizza, and rolls.
Chetna Makan: Chetna’s Healthy Indian
I fell in love with Chetna Makan when she was on The Great British Baking Show, bought her first cookbook, The Cardamom Trail, and then promptly bought her first non-baking cookbook, Chetna’s Healthy Indian. The Cardamom Trail is a fantastic book if you enjoy baking with lots of delicious spices and flavor combos. But as much as I love baking, this is my favorite book of hers. The recipes are simple and delicious; if Indian cooking is new to you, this is a fantastic book to start with. She covers a wide variety of dishes—fish, chicken and vegetable curries, rice dishes, lentils and grains, and plenty of flatbread recipes. She also shows you how to substitute one ingredient for something else, as well as offering suggestions for different ways to serve various dishes. I make the spicy chicken and chickpea curry bake all the time, and red lentils with spinach has become one of my go-to “I’m-so-hungry-I-need-dinner-right-now-help!” recipes. And if chutneys and pickles are your favorite part of an Indian meal (me too!) there’s a whole section in this book. Ginger and tamarind chutney is one of my current favorites to make.
Looking for more cooking inspiration? Check out this list of the best cookbooks for quarantine cooking. And be sure to take a look at our cookbook archives for lots more tasty reading, cooking, and baking.