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Kitchen & Cooking

8 cookbooks for people who don't know how to cook

Who said you have to be an expert to whip up a tasty meal?

Cartoon of person in kitchen looking at cook book next to newly gifted standing mixer. Credit: Reviewed / Danie Drankwalter

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As a professional pastry chef, these are the cookbooks I keep coming back to when cooking at home because the recipes get to the point, are tested well enough to withstand the occasional substitution and are reliably delicious. None of these titles are books on how to cook everything, but they offer strong perspectives on ingredients, technique and storytelling to capture the minds of those who don’t yet know how to make their mealtime fantasies a reality. 

Here are 8 cookbooks to gift to the new cooks in your life.

1. "The Family Meal"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have silverware artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Phaidon Press

Cook like a pro with these recipes from the infamous elBulli restaurant.

Ferran Adrià’s book for home cooks draws on the staff meal greatest hits in his late restaurant, elBulli. I frequently give this as a wedding gift to non-foodie friends because it so thoroughly demystifies how to make a three-course meal without sacrificing an afternoon.

It was published in the U.S. one year after Instagram launched and it anticipated the visual grid of today’s cooking culture so thoroughly that it will snag a Gen Z culinary holdout as quickly as it will persuade a retiree who does not want to look up anything online. Also, I will never make burger patties any other way than by following Adrià’s method. 

Get "The Family Meal" by Ferran Adrià on Amazon for $29.10

2. "Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have food artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Artisan

Restaurant chef Joshua McFadden reveals his tricks of the trade.

Of the many vegetable-focused cookbooks on the market, few espouse the dual goals of starting from square one and of deploying minimal ingredients for maximum enjoyment. Joshua McFadden’s guide excels at both.

These are recipes that every last relative around your holiday table would use because they’re umami-rich and can be made on a weeknight. Buy it for the compound butters and salad dressings alone. 

Get "Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables" by Joshua McFadden on Amazon for $21.31

3. "Dessert Person"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have dessert artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Clarkson Potter

Bon Appétit alum Claire Saffitz's guide to desserts.

Sometimes, you have to begin at the end. Baking is not just for people with a sweet tooth, but also for those who seek precision. Claire Saffitz’s recipes have been touted across the internet, but the praise bears repeating here because she makes the practice—and science—of baking accessible even to people who have never turned on their oven.

A recipe matrix charts the table of contents by difficulty and time so anyone can easily pinpoint which photos are both swoon-inducing and achievable. Her explanations of how to get to know your oven and which ingredients can be substituted arm the beginner cook with more than enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Get "Dessert Person" by Claire Saffitz on Amazon for $22.24

4. "Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have Indian cuisines as artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Marnier

Priya Kishna's debut cookbook includes recipes inspired by her mom's cooking.

Priya Krishna combines her family’s recipes with the Texas ingredients that her mother often used. Gift this cookbook to the person in your life who has a fun, impeccable palate, but who will not be peer-pressured into cooking just any old meal.

Most cookbooks present themselves as a dinner party waiting to happen, but few succeed in offering individual recipes that are packed with flavor and delight. I made Krishna's saag feta for a neighbor one weeknight, and she texted me the next morning that she ate the leftovers for breakfast.

Get "Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family" by Priya Krishna on Amazon for $18.29

5. "Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have cursive writing s as artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Ten Speed Press

This cookbook is ideal for folks who frequent local farmers' markets.

This tome looks canonical, but fear not, it’s simply filled with recipes for one calendar year. Penned by "The Guardian" columnist Nigel Slater, this cookbook is my dinner failsafe. For anyone who lives in the northern hemisphere, flip to today’s date and you'll have both a recipe whose ingredients are likely in stock at the grocery store and food writing so deceptively lush, you may forget to cook all together.

Get "Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes" by Nigel Slater on Amazon for $40

6. "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have soup and bread as artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Chronicle Books

In this book, author Julia Turshen encourages adapting recipes to suit your tastes.

Many cookbooks these days address a range of eating habits and ingredient availability, but Julia Turshen empowers the home cook with so many iterations of her recipes that each meal can truly be victorious. Whether you're looking for inspiration for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, Turshen's simple, achievable recipes are ideal for beginners and seasoned pros alike.

Get "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs" by Julia Turshen on Amazon for $15.39

7. "The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have spices as artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / Clarkson Potter

Take a deep dive into spices from around the globe with this cookbook.

A deep dive into spices may seem too abstract for most entry level cooks, but think of the occasional griller or the sandwich factory manager in your family—a dictionary of spices, including recipes for blends, may be all they need to get cooking. People often ask me why restaurant food tastes so much better and the main reason is the depth of flavor. Seasoning is one component of that and understanding it can make almost anything in the fridge exciting.

Also, let’s face it: Some people don’t want to learn a bunch of recipes, but they are curious about what makes a sauce go from good to incredible and are willing to grind a few spices to get there. This book will kickstart their cabinets to be set up for success, whatever they decide to make. 

Get "The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices" by Lior Lev Sercarz on Amazon for $19.26

8. "The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story"

Front and back of cookbook cover that have a hand holding a burger and hold as artwork.
Credit: Reviewed / William Morrow Cookbooks

This cookbook is filled with recipes ideal for those with big imaginations.

This last book is for the ultra-hobbyist in your life who, once they set their mind to something, dives in completely. It also doubles as a spoonful of sugar for the existentialist on your list as Mandy Lee’s candor about her years living in Beijing—during which many of these recipes were developed—are unsparing. Her dishes push the limit of flavor, and best of all, leave the reader daydreaming about what they could cook up next. 

Get "The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story" by Mandy Lee on Amazon for $24.49

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