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13 best cookbooks for beginners to build confidence in the kitchen

Whether you're a novice wanting to learn the basics or keen to master something new, these are the guides you need

Stacey Smith
Thursday 10 September 2020 14:29 BST
Look to TV names like Mary Berry, as well as much-loved classics with step-by-step pictures for the most reliable sources
Look to TV names like Mary Berry, as well as much-loved classics with step-by-step pictures for the most reliable sources

If the enforced lockdown has exposed your kitchen skills for what they really are (ie below par), now might feel like a good time to address that. With all of us spending more time at home, there has definitely been less opportunity to hide behind ready meals, takeaways and restaurants. But with a few simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to get a tasty plate of food on the table, fast. Yes, even you.

We’ve rounded up a selection of brand new releases as well as some older titles that have stood the test of time, all of which will have you cooking up a storm (even if you’re a complete beginner). Whether you’re cooking for yourself or need to feed a whole family, we’ve got the books to help you on your culinary journey.

We’ve turned to the queen of the kitchen, Delia Smith, to teach us the absolute kitchen basics – such as how to make the perfect omelette, while Jamie Oliver shows us the ropes when it comes to making the everyday favourites we should all have in our arsenal. Whether you’re looking to eat less meat, sticking to a budget or simply want to make the delicious dishes you enjoy elsewhere, all by yourself, these books will show you how, leaving you with a newfound confidence you can’t beat.

The benefits of learning to cook are endless, including mental clarity, having a creative outlet, not to mention the joy it brings seeing loved ones tuck into a dish you’ve created.

Of course, not everyone will enjoy the act of cooking (and for those, I’d focus on some of the speedy, one-tray books below), but learning this life skill is one of the greatest gifts you can yourself.

The ultimate act of self-love, not only does food sustain us each and every day but with a little know-how, you’ll no longer look into that pantry with trepidation but with excitement. We’ll set the table, while you choose the best books for you.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Jamie's Ministry of Food: Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours’ by Jamie Oliver. Published by Penguin Books

We originally learned how to cook with Jamie's Ministry of Food and although our copy looks a bit battered, it still delivers when it comes to the basics. Each recipe is accompanied by multiple action shots so you can be confident you’re getting it right at each stage, with a very fresh-faced Jamie providing bitesize instructions that are easy to follow. Chapters cover everyday favourites including quick pasta dishes, tasty stir-frys and easy curries. There are fail-proof mince recipes for lasagne, bolognese and chilli con carne and a section on side dishes to spruce up our veg. It may take longer than 24 hours to master all of the recipes in this book but as the subtitle suggests it certainly won’t take long to bring you up to speed. A confidence-boosting classic.

‘The Roasting Tin Around the World: Global One Dish Dinners’ by Rukmini Iyer. Published by Square Peg

This is the fourth book from food stylist Rukmini Iyer and follows the same one-pan ethos as her previous titles but this time takes culinary influences from around the world. Although it’s aimed at busy people, we actually think these tray bake-style recipes are perfect for beginners as all the chopping and prepping is done upfront, leaving the oven to do the rest. With the ethos, “minimum effort, maximum flavour”, she’ll have you effortlessly making a quick dressing whilst your Korean-style aubergines with sesame rice is cooking. Some ingredients, such as gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes) or the north African spicy marinade chermoula may be unfamiliar if you’re just starting out but Iyer explains what everything is and how to get your hands on them.

‘6-Minute Showstoppers: Delicious bakes, cakes, treats and sweets – in a flash!’ by Sarah Rainey. Published by Michael Joseph

If your idea of a six-minute meal is beans on toast (and let’s face it, even that sounds pretty speedy), you’ll find Sarah Rainey’s latest collection of recipes nothing short of remarkable. Following on from her debut book, Three Ingredient Baking, this time you’ll learn how to make the likes of butterscotch banoffee pie and Pimm’s cupcakes in just six minutes from start to finish. It’s not all sweet treats though – swift savoury showstoppers include halloumi fritters and flatbread pizzetta. Once you’ve got the basics down you’ll feel more confident in adding your own twist to recipes based on what you have to hand. It's published 4 May, and you can pre-order now.

‘Delia's Complete How to Cook: Both a Guide for Beginners and a Tried and Tested Recipe Collection for Life’ by Delia Smith. Published by BBC Books

An oldie but still a goodie. Although this was first released back in 2009 it’s still just as relevant to newbies now as it was then. Featuring 700 pages of basic cooking guides, with years of experience under her belt, Delia gives us the definitive recipe for every dish you could realistically want to make – from how to cook an egg through to the perfect risotto. Step by step photos will reassure even the most inexperienced cook, with techniques thoroughly explained so that you really understand why you’re following each instruction. You’ll need to clear some space for this tome of a book but it’s one you’ll refer back to time and time again.

‘Good Food: 5 Ingredients: 130 simple dishes for every day of the week’ by Good Food Guides. Published by BBC Books

We often find recipes that have too many hard to find ingredients immediately off-putting. Not so with this back to basics cookbook by Good Food where each dish contains just five ingredients or less. Recipes may be straightforward but when you’re learning to cook or trying to rustle something tasty up mid-week, that’s exactly what we look for. The blackened salmon fajitas take just 15 minutes to get on the table but will leave you feeling very satisfied. With lots of clear photography, full nutritional information and numbered instructions, you can’t go wrong.

The verdict: Books for learning how to cook

Although not a new release, rereading Jamie's Ministry of Food feels just as relevant today as it did when it came out. Containing easy to follow, foolproof recipes that you and your family will actually want to make, in Jamie’s typical down to earth way.

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