My Favourite Cook Books

Cookbooks for me are an invaluable source of information and inspiration. I read them all the time. Sometimes following recipes slavishly, sometimes being inspired to invent something myself. Their purpose is to arm me with the knowledge and know-how to create dishes I wouldn’t normally know where to start with. It makes me white with anger when I hear comments like “Oh, you’re using a recipe?” or “I prefer to improvise”. To my mind, you can only improvise when you know what flavours and techniques work together and you can only know this if you’ve studied how it’s supposed to be done. Recipe books are the smartest way go.

I have a lot of books which cover pretty much the entire globe. Personally, I’m interested in collecting books on specific countries and don’t normally buy the all-in-one type which try and cram in Asian with French with Scottish with Korean… I prefer to read books that focus on a specific region and go all out for authenticity. I’m big on keeping it real so will often be found rummaging through obscure deli’s hunting out the MUST HAVE ingredient.

So, here are a collection, in no particular order, of books I am currently enjoying. And books that give me the food I am enjoying even more.

ArabesqueARABESQUE:
Author: Claudia Roden
Category: Turkish, Moroccan, Lebanese

For 30 years, Egyptian born, Claudia Roden has become the authority on Mediterranean cuisine. Her most famous book “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” has become one of the biggest sellers in the world. In Arabesque she focusses her attentions on three specific regions. The book is split into three sections. Moroccan, Turkish and Lebanese. Throughout this wonderfully designed book she offers up some mouth watering descriptions and beautifully styled photography. Her knowledge of mediterranean food is without question and it’s all in the detail. She uses familiar ingredients in an interesting and creative way, giving us no fuss, honest food as a result. This is one of my top 5 cookery books and never fails to inspire me.

The Complete Asian CookbookTHE COMPLETE ASIAN COOKBOOK
Author: Charmaine Solomon
Category: Asian

The sheer scale of this book is awesome. Charmaine Solomon, a Sri Lankan born food writer is a world authority on Asian food. The book explores some 14 countries and the food they are famous for. It gives us everything we could ever need to produce authentic tasty Asian dishes. It’s become one of the biggest selling Asian cookbooks ever, and it’s easy to see why. I have an early edition, which I picked up at a jumble sale a few years ago. Printed in the 70s, It has some of the most hideously styled photographs ever produced together with 30 years of drips and stains from its previous owners. A real timepiece. The latest reprint (shown left) thankfully has new photography, but the recipes remain largely the same. It’s my Asian food bible.

Amaretto, Apple Cake and ArtichokesAMARETTO, APPLE CAKE AND ARTICHOKES
Author: Anna Del Conte
Category: Italian

Anna Del Conte is the doyenne of Italian food. She knows everything there is to know! This book may be small in size but it packs in the recipes. There is no fancy photography, the design is perfunctory but the vast array of recipes is impressive. This book has become a mini bible for my Italian food. If I’m making any dish, no matter if I’m using a different recipe, I first check this book to see how Anna does it. Her recipes are full of valuable insights and techniques. Dotted through her recipes is an amusing Italian snobbery for ingredients and techniques. There’s one way to cook… and it’s her way. Not that I’m arguing.

Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry BibleMADHUR JAFFREY’S ULTIMATE CURRY BIBLE
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Category: Indian/South East Asian/World

Madhur Jaffrey is probably one of the world’s best known food writers. She has been synonymous with Indian food for over 30 years and changed the way we thought of it back in the 1970s. I own a few of her books but this one is quite literally is the ‘ultimate’ one. It is packed with an array of fantastic curry recipes, not only from India but Pakistan, South East Asia, Fiji, the Carribean and even South Africa. There are classics, and lots of little known dishes that will match anyone’s skill or patience levels. It is brimming over with intriguing recipes. On the downside, she can often come across as a little cold and aloof in her writing. There’s a lot of reading here but some of the historical writing is very interesting. However, when she starts banging on about her glorious childhood, I find my eyes glazing over as they wandder to the beautiful images which can be found throughout the book. If you’re looking to return to time and time again to a trusted source of delicious spicy cuisine, then this one should be on your shelf.

MovidaMOVIDA
Authors: Frank Camorra, Richard Cornish
Category: Spanish

This book comes to us from Frank Camorra, the owner and head chef of a very successful Spanish restaurant in Melbourne Australia. I am yet to visit the restaurant, but I have a made a few dishes from this book with excellent results. The recipe for Spanish ribs in sherry is one of my most favourite dishes ever! This book looks good, and the food tastes even better. One slight criticism is that the books pages are (deliberately) printed on an uncoated paper. This gives a pleasing aesthetic to the book itself, but the practicality of this and me (forever dripping ingredients on to it) means that a few of the pages are now stuck together.

The Calcutta KitchenTHE CALCUTTA KITCHEN
Authors: Simon Parkes, Udit Sarkhel
Category: Indian

This is an excellent book, which explores the often overlooked food of Eastern India. Bengali food, and especially that of Kolkata (Calcutta) is a rich, spicy cuisine. Authors Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel take us on a beautifully illustrated journey through the region with some unusual recipes and interesting facts along the way. It’s a book chock-full of great food ideas, recipes like Fish steamed in a banana leaf with mustard, and the tempting coconut chicken. This book has become one of the first on the shelf I reach for when I want to cook something different. It’s also become a book I can rely on delivering curries with a kick. When I’m in the mood for hot spice, it’s my book of choice.

The Food Of IndiaTHE FOOD OF INDIA – A journey for food lovers
Author: Various
Category: Indian

This book is part of a great range of “Food of…” titles from Murdoch Books. The Indian edition features mainly classic dishes that we all know and love. With beautiful photography and well written recipes it makes for a really great cookbook. It’s a great book if you’re new to Indian food and want to learn how to make dishes you may have tried in restaurants. It’s the book that got me hooked on cooking Indian food at home. The page in my copy for Lamb Madras resembles the kitchen floor as it’s spotted with hundreds of little splatters and drips. The pages have also begun to drop out too as the book has been flattened out so many times. As far as Indian cookbooks go, this one’s hot!

Casa Moro CASA MORO
Authors: Sam and Sam Clarke
Category: Moorish/Mediterranean

Sam and Sam Clarke are the married couple and owners of Moro restaurant in London. They are a couple of smug yuppies to boot. This book, their second, is packed full of photographs of the couple on their mediterranean journey of self exploration – be it cross legged amongst the locals or wafting through a field, wicker basket in hand, it’s all very self conscious and eye-rollingly sickening. If it weren’t for the food, which is amazing, this book would have been ritually burned years ago. However, the duo have a knack of making anything and everything sound utterly delicious. It is well designed and the food styling is great. The recipes are inspired and feature some of the tastiest things I’ve cooked. If you’re looking to cook simple, honest mediterranean food, this is a great start. Overall this set of recipes is awesome – just ignore the whimsical smugness that litters its pages.

The Eastern & Central European Kitchen THE EASTERN & CENTRAL EUROPEAN KITCHEN
Author: Silvana Rowe
Category: European
It’s not often I cook Central and Eastern European, but I really don’t know why. It’s not as stodgy and fattening as I remember it being. Silvana Rowe brings us an inventive, no fuss book that really delivers some interesting tasty recipes. Beautiful photography and simple, clean styling add style to a often overlooked region of cookery. I loved the recipe for Bulgarian veal, almond and sour-cherry domades as well as the many recipies for delicious cakes and sweets synonymous with the area. Silvana really knows her stuff and and I admire her no fuss, but very warm style of writing. This book never fails to tempt me whenever I pick it from the shelf – something I must do a little more of in the future.

lacocinademama1LA COCINA DE MAMÁ
Author: Penelope Casas
Category: Spanish

La Cocina De Mama is one of those books just brimming with delicious, rustic and 100% authentic recipes. I’m all for a bit of authenticity and this is the book I pick up If I want to cook something a little unusual but traditional at the same time. Packed full of interesting dishes, Casas borrows recipes from friends and family from all over Spain. Fabulous salads, stews and a selection of classic and localised tapas dishes she gives us a a glimpse into Spanish cuisine that many books fail miserably trying to achieve. One note of criticism is that she can sound a little condescending at times and also some of her measurements are penadtic and exacting – something I wouldn’t have associated with rustic peasant cooking but that said, the final results are always impressive.

TurquoiseTURQUOISE
Authors: Greg and Lucy Malouf
Category: Turkish

I’m not normally one to buy expensive, glossy cookbooks but I couldn’t resist this one. I was very impressed with it’s luscious design and amazing photography. It’s a really beautifully thought out and well crafted book just full of gorgeous photographs of one of my favourite places on Earth. Greg Malouf is a highly skilled chef and he knows what is aesthetically impressive too. He manages to make classic Turkish food look modern and beautiful on the plate. A little cheffy at times, but the recipes are not too difficult for the home cook to achieve. It’s the only book in my collection I am careful not to spill onto which is really saying something. If you like Turkish food, you need this book!

  • Rebecca McFarland

    Love the Casa Moro review. Matching names too! Ha!

  • Love everything Sylvana does ( right from the 1st time she was ever on T V ( & I must buy her latest book ) as she loves all the type of cook books I do !!

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