Cookbook Shortlist

My son is going to college, and he’s keen on cooking great food, as I’ve been striving for it all his life.

Regrettably, several of his upcoming housemates have narrow, in this case Midwestern USA, tolerances, but what can you do?.

Cookbooks or food books are among the things I’ll send him off with, and it made me think in a selective sense about what the epically important shortlist is. Books that aren’t just great, which is many, but definitive. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

I’ll add that some cookbooks, like pretty much anything by Paula Wolfort, are not on the list, because they’re specialized and intensive, and he won’t have a great variety of tools or ingredient access.

Off the top of my head, and I’m giving him these:

How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook (my first away from college in the 1980s)
Asian Ingredients, by Bruce Cost
Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sanhi
One of Marcella Hazan’s books, like Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Others come to mind?

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In spite of our living example, our son is not as food adventurous as my wife and me. The foods he likes, he likes alot though. When he went off to college, he didnt have a kitchen until his 2nd yr forward and we selected four books from this publisher that are based on main ingredient titles. They are avail online at a national bookstores. He’s now living and working in MA and still uses these books. To see them well worn, gives me hope👍 that new food adventures are still possible.


I look forward to seeing what my son does. As he approaches leaving home, he’s getting more outgoing about cooking. Asked me today where he could get quail eggs! He made a ratatouille yesterday…

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I still haven’t made those dishes! Color me impressed. Is he studying a food related degrees?

To be honest, truly, I think he sees himself leaving our home, which has been massive food exploration for his whole life, and now he’s going into a place where most of his peers do not have a clue. I mean, he’s had squid-ink pasta in Venice. We’ve cooked octopus twice (incidentally, the most challenging ingredient I know). It’s his child’s reciprocal to the parental empty nest. We’ll miss each other.

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That’s awesome. Good luck to him. And you😉


Bittman’s “how to cook everything vegetarian” was my go to for the longest time, so I’m sure the non-veg version will be a great resource.

And not a cookbook, but what will be an important undervalued skill - especially sharing a fridge- will be strategizing how and what dishes to make that have overlapping or similar ingredients to maximize what’s on hand per shopping trip.

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Thanks, Rooster and Trockwood. I didnt’know Bittman had a vegetarian book. As to son: yes, i do think it will be important at the “coordination” end of things with housemates. Fingers crossed.

Honestly, he’ll probably turn to the internet for recipes. I do more and more.

America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated “best of” cookbooks might be worth buying.


I also coordinate between internet recipes routinely. That’s the future, even the present.


I think it’s actually unusual for roommates to cook and eat together, seems especially in college everyone has different schedules and obligations.

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Not fancy but very effective especially for beginner / time-constrained cooking are Rachael Ray’s early 30-minute cookbooks. Easy, not a lot of ingredients, but good outcomes and varied cuisines.

Instead of Julie Sahni’s book consider Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking - shorter ingredient lists and simplified methods, without sacrificing much.

If an IP will be part of his equipment, an IP or one pot book - Melissa Clark recently put out one, and Martha Stewart has one as well. (Speaking of equipment, an immersion blender with a mini chopper attachment - Braun for eg - works wonders in a small kitchen.)

He may also be well served with good quality spice pastes and curry mixes vs individual ingredients - can be freshened up with basic ingredients and are shelf stable, so you can stock him up!


Good ideas, Saregama! Your perspective of looking to simpler rather than epic books seems well worth considering. I’m aware of shying from some truly specialized books with arcane and long ingredient lists, and I don’t think of Sanhi’s book in that category. However, I do like everything I’ve see from Madhur Jaffrey, and she is more accessible.

What’s an IP? InstaPot?

Better World Books might have the titles you wind up buying. Every purchase results in a book donation for those in need. W-W.

One of my favorite cookbooks is Judy Rodgers’s The Zuni Café Cookbook. A lot of the recipes are, for me, uninteresting, but her discussions of principles of cooking are very valuable.
I think that the Bittman book is a bit superficial.


I culled a lot of my cookbooks a few years ago. One that made the cut was Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food.

Most of the recipes only have a few ingredients that are fairly easy to get hold of and not too expensive. Most take no more than 30 minutes. It’s definitely the one cookbook I wish I’d had when I was at university.

Another firm and longstanding favourite is the first Moro cookbook. Great Spanish and North African recipes.


Yes, InstantPot. Assume there’s a key kitchen equipment list under construction - the 3Qt IP might be a good candidate given multi-functionality (fast cook as PC, slow cook, rice cooker).

Quick but good food-focused books will be helpful as he’ll quickly figure out that there’s not much time at college (at least early on) for much other than schoolwork :wink:

Here are the EYB recipe indices for the books I mentioned:

I actually do not think the Bittman book is cheering, and I find his spicing and “ethnic” intensity to be lacking. But it seems a solid start and compendious for my son.

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Thanks! My son’s moving will be big for both of us.