Ruby Tandoh picks 11 of her favourite cookbooks for ‘normal, real-life cooking’
In my house, there are kitchen cookbooks and bedroom cookbooks. Kitchen cookbooks, as you can imagine, are the ones I actually cook from: they’re faded, dog-eared and stained with the colours of countless good dinners. Bedroom cookbooks are different. Those are the ones I leaf through at night and with a full belly: the cookbooks I know in my heart I’ll never cook from. The bedroom cookbooks feed my food daydreams, while the kitchen ones nourish me in my real life.
When I wrote my new cookbook, Cook As You Are, I knew from the start it needed to be a kitchen cookbook. It had to be realistic, with easy-to-follow recipes and ingredients you could actually afford. I tested the recipes in a normal, messy kitchen, with bog standard equipment and ingredients bought from the big supermarket nearby.
It’s not romantic but it’s still special: this is real cooking, for real people – the everyday food that keeps us going. Here are 11 of my favourite dream cookbooks for normal, real-life cooking…
1. One Pot: Three Ways by Rachel Ama (Hodder & Stoughton)
This smart vegan cookbook from Rachel Ama has clever hacks for avoiding the age-old problem of what to do with leftovers. If you’re sick of cooking a big batch of something which you then have to eat night after night, Rachel is here to help. The caribbean-style ackee, for instance, has spin-off recipes that include an ackee breakfast burrito and ackee fried rice. These are creative, thoughtful recipes to banish dinner boredom.
2. Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Penguin)
It might not be his biggest or glossiest cookbook, but I think this is some of Nigel Slater’s best work. In Real Fast Food, he delivers a wealth of speedy, no-fuss recipe ideas that are easy to rustle up but still exciting enough to pique your kitchen curiosity. You get the impression when you read this book that the simplest foods are the ones that delight the author the most, and that enthusiasm is contagious: everything from sandwiches to simple scrambled eggs sparkle when given the Nigel Slater treatment.
3. Carbs by Laura Goodman (Quadrille)
Laura Goodman knows that the cornerstone of good home cooking is, more often than not, carbs. In this encouraging, cheerful cookbook, she journeys from potatoes to rice, pasta and beyond to show you how to find joy in your carbs. Highlights include the marmalade bread pudding and the mustardy farro with sausage and kale. It’s time to say goodbye to low-carb fad diets once and for all.
4. The Quick Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg)
The writer behind the million-selling Roasting Tin series, Rukmini Iyer has spent years perfecting the art of simple, bung-it-in-the-oven dinners. In this book, she turns her focus to quick recipes that can be on the table in less than 30 minutes. A personal favourite is the Chilli Peanut Beef with Red Peppers, Sweetcorn and Spring Onions. Saving you endless chopping, stirring and fuss, Rukmini is the queen of midweek dinners for a reason.
5. Carpathia by Irina Georgescu (Frances Lincoln)
This book is a paean to Romanian cooking, which hasn’t always got the attention it deserves here in the UK. I love how thoughtfully its author, Irina Georgescu, balances authenticity with realism: the recipes are richly researched but always simply explained. It’s a cookbook that will delight and nourish you, whether you’re already familiar with Romanian cooking or not. The pearl barley pilaf with chicken and mushrooms is one of the recipes you need to try.
6. The Ice Kitchen by Shivi Ramoutar
How many of us have a freezer of horrors, full of frostbitten scraps we should really throw away? With The Ice Kitchen, Shivi Ramoutar is here to save us from this freezer purgatory. She cleverly explains how to cook, freeze and reheat your meals in advance, so you have homemade freezer meals ready to go whenever hunger strikes. The recipes here are especially written with that philosophy in mind, and include Cheddar french toast and butternut squash and sage pasta bake.
7. Poppy Cooks by Poppy O’Toole (Bloomsbury)
TikTok star Poppy O’Toole has done something really clever: she’s translated and expanded her wildly popular cooking videos into a cookbook format, but without losing her trademark warmth, genuineness or relatability. Poppy is a trained chef, guiding us through classical techniques but without ever losing sight of the fact home cooking should be fun. Her butterscotch apple crumble is next level, by the way.
8. Complete Chinese Cookbook by Ken Hom (BBC Books)
Ken Hom is an amazing cook and an even better teacher: following any one of his recipes, you feel as confident as if he was standing right there beside you. In this much-loved book, he guides readers lovingly through a diverse selection of Chinese recipes, from chiu chow style sweet and sour pork to stir fried ginger broccoli. Many of the dishes here are quick, with minimal cooking time for maximum flavour. It’s home cooking at its best.
9. Community Comfort by Riaz Phillips and many more (Tezetapress)
This beautiful ebook was released to raise money for those left behind after the deaths of Black, Asian and Ethnic minority people from COVID-19. As well as having an amazing ethos, it’s full of the kind of recipes you will return to again and again, from Filipino mushroom oat lugaw to roasted plantain and pistachio ice cream. This is home cooking from across the world, brought together in service of a very good cause. You can buy this exclusively from tezetapress.com.
10. One Tin Bakes Easy by Edd Kimber (Kyle Books)
The follow-up to Edd Kimber’s bestselling One Tin Bakes, this new cookbook takes his back-to-basics baking philosophy to a new level. Everything here, from chocolate chip pecan pie bars to rhubarb and custard pavlova can be made in a standard 22x33cm roasting tin, with adaptations available for baking in loaf tins, too. It’s a really refreshing book, making baking that bit more accessible to those of us who don’t have a tin, gadget and mould and for every occasion.
11. Tin Can Cook by Jack Monroe (Bluebird)
Jack Monroe has been dedicated to making cooking affordable and accessible since their very first cookbook, but with Tin Can Cook they really hit their stride. This is a resourceful, inventive cookbook of recipes that bring new life to tinned foods, from sardines to cannellini beans and fruit cocktail. A lot of generosity and care has gone into these recipes: Jack’s determined to respect not only these much-maligned tinned foods, but also to respect the food bank users, home cooks and people on a budget who rely on them.
Cook As You Are by Ruby Tandoh is published by Serpent’s Tail, priced £19.99. Available now.
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