Our relationship to cookbooks can be an extremely personal thing. While some prefer to idly flip through them to enjoy the mouth-watering photos of perfectly styled dishes, others pore over them with gleeful intent, devouring them from cover to cover like the latest bestselling beach read. On the one hand, you might use a cookbook simply as inspiration, while on the other, your annoying roommate may insist on following the author’s instructions as if they were a religious edict.
Of course, there really is no wrong way to enjoy a cookbook. But any chef worth their salt probably has a few tried and true favorites on the shelf. Whether you’re looking to add to your library or create a solid foundation in gastronomy, we’ve come up with a list of nine classic women-authored cookbooks worth adding to your collection.
Related Reading: The Best New Cookbooks for Fall 2019
1. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, $22.54 on AmazonBuy Now
While few have the time, money, and inclination Julie Powell did to try making every recipe in this imposing two-volume set, there’s a reason they’re often referred to as groundbreaking. First published in 1961, it was the first truly successful attempt to redefine classic French cooking for an American audience. It also led to Julia Child’s success as a beloved TV cooking icon. Perhaps more importantly, it contains a wealth of extremely useful tips on cooking technique and preparation, and made cooking for pleasure a cause to celebrate. From how to make a perfect omelette to trying your hand at cassoulet, there’s something useful in here for everyone.
It’s been over 40 years since this vegetarian gem landed on shelves, and in that time, the way Americans eat has certainly changed. What was once considered revolutionary—eating a plant-based diet, using local ingredients, and encouraging spontaneity while cooking—now seems commonplace. But, more importantly, the recipes still hold up (although, depending on your dietary preferences, you may prefer the 1977 edition to the 90s-era low-fat revised edition). Katzen’s warm, inviting tone and charming illustrations are reason enough to own it, but some stand-out dishes include recipes for soul-warming ginger-carrot soup and layered spinach lasagna.
Author Grace Young thoughtfully separates this iconic guide to Cantonese cooking into two parts: fundamentals—think simple ingredients and a focus on technique—and celebratory dishes mostly made for special occasions. Young also winds family history and Chinese culture, medicine, spirituality, and philosophy into the mix, with easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions for dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, dumplings, and ginger chicken.
Edna Lewis is hailed as the “grand dame of Southern cooking” for good reason; she was not only an accomplished chef, but also served as a conduit to the past by helping to preserve traditional recipes and cooking techniques from the South. In addition to treasured family recipes organized by season, this book serves as a memoir of Lewis’s childhood in Virginia. From preserving and pickling to fancy picnic spreads to comfort food like chicken and dumplings, there is no shortage of recipes to explore from within these pages.
Originally titled “Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery,” this updated version is touted as THE cookbook on Indian cuisine. It includes color photos, detailed explanations, and educational information on seasoning, equipment, and techniques. From standard fare, like naan and tandoori chicken, to inventive curries and desserts, this book will quickly become your go-to for all things Indian food.
Much like Julia Child is credited with changing the way Americans think about French cuisine, Marcella Hazan is credited with doing the same for Italian. One of her most famous recipes is also one of the simplest, a tomato sauce made with just four ingredients: fresh tomatoes, butter, onion, and salt. But don’t let that fool you. This collection of recipes, which actually combines her two best-sellers, “The Classic Italian Cookbook” and “More Classic Italian Cooking,” explores the full range of Italian cuisine, from soup to nuts, and includes helpful tips on ingredients, equipment, and food storage.
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to baking or a certified pastry chef; we all know what it’s like to experience a kitchen failure. But Rose Levy Beranbaum wants to save you from repeating past mistakes. Her recipes in this and other cookbooks, such as ”The Bread Bible” and “The Pie and Pastry Bible”, have been lauded as foolproof for good reason: they’re clear, precise, and they yield excellent results. If baking is a science—which it basically is—consider Beranbaum the greatest pastry professor bar none.
8. “The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution” by Alice Waters, $18.99 on AmazonBuy Now
As a pioneer of California cuisine and the farm-to-table movement, Alice Waters has made an impact on how we eat that is still being felt today. The recipes in this cookbook come from her landmark restaurant, Chez Panisse, and emphasize quality, seasonality, and simplicity for bringing out the best in each dish. You’ll find recipes for linguine with clams, roasted root vegetables, aioli, beef stew, grilled whole fish, and apple tart. Waters’s philosophy on cooking begins and ends with this quote, found in the beginning of the book: “Good food can only come from good ingredients.”
Born in the UK and having spent decades living in and traveling throughout Mexico, Diana Kennedy is considered a leading authority on the cuisine of our neighbor to the south. Whether you’re looking for something simple or up for a culinary challenge, this cookbook will not disappoint. Kennedy gives advice on selecting produce and exploring flavors, interspersed with stories of her travels. You’ll find recipes for all of your favorites—tamales, mole, enchiladas, frijoles—and learn about regional specialties and local traditions in the process.
Even More Picks for Your Cookbook Collection
Header image courtesy of Raptis Rare Books.