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The Listener's Best Cookbooks of 2019

From high-end restaurant recipes to camp cooking and plant-based dishes, this selection of the year’s best food writing has something for everyone.

Good cookbooks are to be treasured and can be the most loved and useful of all gifts. This year’s list should tempt almost anyone into the kitchen.

Top New Zealand books

DAMSON: From Hedgerow to Harvest, by Lynda Hallinan (Foggydale Farm Press, $50)

Fans of the damson plum will revel in the tales of growers, bakers and gardeners by one of our most entertaining food and gardening writers. Lynda Hallinan journeyed around the country and to Britain seeking tips, stories and wonderful recipes for this brilliantly photographed and illustrated book.

MAGNOLIA KITCHEN, by Bernadette Gee (Allen & Unwin, $45)

One of the most stunning and bestselling books of the year, filled with beautiful recipes for the delicious cakes and baked goodies from the Magnolia Kitchen cafe and bakery. Bernadette Gee shares her trade secrets, recipes and methods for cakes, icings, fillings and all manner of sweet treats, including instructions on how to make the perfect macaron.

Buy now

Read more: Win the Best Cookbooks of 2019

SUMMER: with Simon Gault (Penguin Random House, $50)

A book from one of our favourite chefs that will take you through the New Zealand summer with loads of delicious colourful salads, tasty barbecue meat and fish recipes and some sweet treats. And then there’s the added delight of Simon Gault’s lovely daughter, Hazel, who is pictured taste-testing her dad’s recipes throughout the book.

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SUNDAY BAKING 2, by Jordan Rondel (The Caker, $50)

Known for her excellent Auckland bakery and regular newspaper column, Jordan Rondel has followed her beautiful 2018 collection of recipes with a second volume that is due to arrive by Christmas. Go to thecaker.co.nz to order.

FRESH FROM AKAROA, by Lou and Ant Bentley (Penguin Random House, $50)

Recipes range from simple fritters to complex desserts in this collection from the popular cooking school near Christchurch. An added bonus is the lovely photography of the surrounding Akaroa peninsula and harbour.

Buy now

THE CAMPING COOKBOOK, by Sara Mutande and Andrea Lo Vetere (Beatnik, $25)

If you know anyone who is going camping, this is a great little stocking filler. It contains lovely recipes for outdoor and camp-oven cooking along with shopping lists, tips for equipment to take and home prep to do before you leave, as well as menus for short road trips.

THE RECIPE, by Josh Emett (Upstart, $50)

When an accomplished chef researches classic recipes of the world over the past 50 years, there will be some mighty fine meals. Josh Emett has rewritten and cooked them all, with beautiful photography to match. A definitive classic for all kitchens.

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VEGFUL, by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $49)

Right on cue, one of our loveliest food writers has put together an extraordinary collection of vegetable recipes for all occasions. Nadia Lim does not claim to be a vegetarian or a vegan but her expertise shines throughout as she celebrates food that is healthy, vibrant and very accessible.

Buy now

WHOLE AGAIN, by Bronwyn Kan (Beatnik, $45)

Following on from Whole, Bronwyn Kan has interviewed a range of personalities from Invercargill to the Far North, all known for healthy, wholesome wholefood cooking. They share delicious and beautifully photographed recipes from their kitchens along with their philosophy on and interest in holistic health.

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Top International books

BALTIC: New and Old Recipes – Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant, $50)

If ever there was a book with an offbeat food angle, this is it. In a refreshing change from the usual cookbook destinations of Europe, Australian author Simon Bajada has sought classic and surprising recipes from three countries that specialise in wild, woodsy food. Expect such things as summer milk soup, salmon cured in beer and sprat and herb omelette.

Buy now

BISH BASH BOSH!, by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby (HarperCollins, $40)

The plant-based diet revolution seems to show no signs of slowing, and it’s no wonder when this popular pair produce such a lively, interesting book of recipes. From hearty dishes such as lasagne to midweek dinners with spicy flavours such as kebabish tandoori special or curry house jalfrezi, it makes the vegan kitchen seem fun.

Buy now

FROM THE OVEN TO THE TABLE, by Diana Henry (Octopus, $45)

The subtitle “simple dishes that look after themselves” says it all. Diana Henry is well recognised as a popular and talented food writer and has produced yet another book that is a must for families and entertainers who love modern, tasty food. The recipes have surprising twists and combinations, such as aubergines with saffron, black cardamom and date butter or roast stonefruit with almond and orange-flower crumbs.


Nigel Slater, another popular and prolific British food writer, has released two small, simple yet stunning volumes of seasonal recipes. A quick dip into these books will fuel the body and fire the imagination.

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NOTHING FANCY: Unfussy Food for Having People Over, by Alison Roman (Hardie Grant, $50)

Alison Roman is a New York Times columnist and lifestyle celebrity who is taking the US by storm with her excellent writing and unfussy cooking. Her philosophy of having friends over is about sharing food rather than ”entertaining”. Her dinner-party manual is backed up with tips, ideas and even cocktail recipes.

Buy now

RICK STEIN’S SECRET FRANCE (Penguin Random House, $60)

Rick Stein is an absolute star of the small screen and this cookbook, based on his latest BBC series, features 120 rustic French recipes. Many are well-known (and wonderfully photographed) classics and they sit alongside pictures of the French countryside that capture the rural Gallic lifestyle beautifully.

THE WAY WE EAT NOW, by Bee Wilson (4th Estate, $45)

Not a cookbook, but an essential read for any food lover who likes to think about what and how we eat. Bee Wilson explains how modern food, in all its complexity, has transformed our lives. Highly recommended.

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THE WHOLE FISH COOKBOOK, by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant, $60)

At a time when there’s incredible pressure on fisheries to think and act sustainably, this book hits the sweet spot. Fine recipes and engaging philosophy about everything fishy from the kitchens of revered Sydney restaurant Saint Peter by its chef/owner Josh Niland.

Buy now

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This article was first published in the December 7, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.