“I wrote 63 songs this year. They’re all about Jeter.” Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls’ Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don’t forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: Ask The Readers Book-a-thon #2

Submitted by on March 3, 2010 – 10:06 AM36 Comments

Hi Sars,

I want this book to exist, but I’m not certain that it does. It’s such a great concept that it HAS to exist, I figure.

I want a cookbook containing recipes entirely composed from a fairly short list of ingredients. Ideally, it would contain a list of, say, thirty ingredients a normal person might have on hand, and I’d know that if I had those ingredients on hand, I could make everything in the book.

I like to cook, but hate to shop, and I like the idea of stocking a basic pantry and NOT being ambushed by recipes with weird ingredients I don’t have.

Does this exist? Or am I going to have to write it?





  • Patricia says:

    I don’t know if it exists, but I would totally buy it if it does.

  • SorchaRei says:

    I believe that you will find that “The Practical Pantry Cookbook” by Tammie Olson will suit your purposes. It does require that you purchase occasional fresh items for recipes with meat or produce in them, but otherwise, it relies on a smallish selection of pantry items.

    I haven’t cooked from it myself, but I have a nephew who swears by it, and I’ve eaten some stuff cooked from it, which was tasty.

  • Tricia says:

    Probably not exactly what you’re looking for, but 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles is formatted kind of like that. ( There is a pantry section in the front with basic cooking and shopping info. It’s my favorite cookbook even though I’m not entirely vegetarian.

  • Sue says:

    Or try this: Off The Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry by Donna Hay. That’s the premise behind the book. Basic pantry supplies with fresh ingredients as needed. I have it and use it frequently.

  • alice says:

    It’s not a book, it’s a website but it’s pretty amazing – you just tick the boxes of ingredients you have and it’ll throw out suggestions for basic recipes.

  • kristy says:

    There’s a cookbook by Rozanne Gold called Cooking 1-2-3 that has recipes with three ingredients max (not counting salt and pepper). I’m not sure how much the three ingredients overlap in the recipes (I’m guessing probably not much) but it might be worth a try.

  • Paula says:

    The recipes in this cookbook are all made with five ingredients or less. Not the same five ingredients in the whole book, but I think the simplicity of these might be what you are looking for.

  • Suzanne says:

    Oh my yes, these totally exist. One in particular which I’ve found particularly useful is What to Cook (When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat). Also Mark Bittman, aka the Minimalist, of New York Times fame, has a new one out devoted to super-quick and easy cooking called Kitchen Express

    Here are the URLs for the two I mentioned:

    Also, your local library should have quite a few books under the subject heading “Quick and easy cookery”. :)

  • Cynthia says:

    Rachael Ray.
    A ton of recipes pretty much using the same ingredients
    in different combinations.
    Fast and easy with quite a few of her cookbooks to choose from.

  • Katie says:

    I love this question. I can’t wait to check out all the books the TN recommends!

  • Cara says:

    There’s a fabulous book called “Bread Tomato Garlic” by Jill Dupleix. Each recipe has three main ingredients and no more than five supporting ingredients. Also, none of them take all that long to make.

  • katre says:

    Checked out “The Stocked Kitchen”. It sounds close to what you want.

    I’m not sure I like the emphasis on canned and frozen foods (any recipe that starts from frozen bread dough worries me), but it’s got a decent range of recipes from a pretty small list of ingredients.

  • Roisin says:

    My vote is for Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater. I like it because you can get it in paperback, and his recipes are really simple, but they are all based on things you might have knocking around the house, or that are easy to find. The companion Real Fast Puddings, is also a winner.

  • Cait says:

    I’m not sure if this is quite what you’re looking for; it’s not about a set list of ingredients per se, but the premise is that every recipe has only four ingredients. I haven’t read it, but it’s been a best-seller here in Australia: .

  • herschel says:

    rachael ray has a cookbook that does something similar — it’s called “express lane cooking.”

    it has lists of things to keep in the pantry, the fridge and the freezer, and the recipes involve those items plus a few things to purchase fresh.

  • MaryAnne says:

    I have one from the Gooseberry Patch cookbook series called “5 Ingredients or Less” that I love, love, love. Every recipe is just that, and are usually pretty quick from start to finish as well.

    It’s also broken down by season, which makes it easier to pick a recipe with ingredients that might actually be available in the produce section.

    My only minor nitpick is that the recipes are indexed alphabetically by the cutesy titles – for example, even though in MY alphabet, potato comes before tomato, here “Easy Potato Soup” comes before “Grandma’s Tomato Soup” – but since they arealso indexed by category, neither is very hard to find under “Soups.”

  • Hirayuki says:

    @alice: Supercook is kind of like that, too. We have a lot of weird stuff in our house (UK and Japanese groceries, mostly), so I haven’t gotten much use out of it yet.

  • Emily says:

    I got a cookbook several years ago for my birthday that does exactly this – it’s Recipes to the Rescue: Thrilling Kitchen Adventures. It’s got a lot of old school pop-art-esque illustrations, and some of the recipes are a little elementary for my taste, but it does have a really good pantry list, and most recipes cook directly from that list or add maybe 1 or 2 common items.

  • Jessamyn says:

    Another vote for Arthur Schwartz’s What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat. And anything by Nigel Slater, especially Appetite.

    Also, Ann Lovejoy (the garden writer) published a little book a while back called Cooking with Eight Items or Less.

  • Sue says:

    I second the recommendation for Mark Bittman. One of the things I like about his Minimalist books is that he’ll give you the basic recipe, and then in a sidebar, he’ll give you ideas for making the dish a bit fancier (add this or that) or to change it with substitutions. He also gives some completely bare bones recipes, as in a cream soup recipe he breaks down into proportions of broth and veggies and cream. Thus, you can make cream of carrot as easily as cream of broccoli. Nice, that!

  • One note of caution on Rachel Ray. I was given one of her cookbooks as a wedding gift (365 days of something or other – basically a year’s worth of dinners) and was excited because she’s the cook with the really simple recipes that you can make in 30-min or less which means that they’ve GOT to be easy and use simple ingredients, right? WRONG! I forget what recipe it was exactly, but it was the….baked paprika? SMOKED paprika….that was it….that finally convinced me to yard sale the book. She explains in her text how easy it is to find smoked paprika and how absolutely necessary it is to the recipe. And I sat in the spice aisle at my grocery store for 20 minutes on hands and knees, going over every single spice bottle while my infant son wailed and tried to throw himself out of the cart. And never found the darn smoked paprika.

    Anyway….long-story-slightly-longer, the one RR cookbook I had did NOT meet your “cook from the pantry with few and common ingredients” mentality, so make sure you look through any you might purchase, looking for key words like “smoked paprika.”

  • April says:

    I think my mom listened to all my whining about cooking and got me this:

    In addition to having very few ingredients they’re all extremely easy to make. You can see lots of ingredients that get used over and over so you can stock up, like, um, potato chip crumbs and cream of mushroom soup. I didn’t say it was healthy food. But you feel like you made an actual meal instead of mixing some raw meat with box of hamberger helper, and it’s just as easy.

  • KTB says:

    Whatever you do, *avoid* the cookbook “Basic Cooking.” It’s orange, with a lemon on the front and it is most definitely not basic. The book looks like what you are talking about, what with the ingredient list and all, but the recipes are a total pain in the a**, take forever to make, and frequently require every single ingredient discussed.

    I got a whole slew of cookbooks for wedding presents last year, and the best ones have been “Two Dudes, One Pan,” by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, which requires a tad bit of shopping, but not so much cleanup, and “How to Cook Everything,” by the afore-mentioned Mark Bittman, which is both encyclopedic, and totally awesome.

  • p jane says:

    If you’re looking more to simplify shopping than limit ingredients, try an inexpensive cooking program from the $5 bin. The ones I have let you select your own menu of recipes, which generates a shopping list. Meal planning is the part of cooking I hate, but once I started planning a week at a time the shopping fell into place.

    Leanne Ely’s “Saving Dinner” has weekly meal plans, complete with shopping lists, grouped by season. It’s geared toward healthy, balanced family meals and most of the recipes I’ve tried are great, but there are just as many that don’t appeal to me at all…so the meal plans and lists are wasted. Separately, I have a couple “X ingredients or fewer” type cookbooks, both of which rely heavily on canned cream-of-whatever soup. I personally like some stuff like that, but it squicks hubby right out (not complaining, he’s not generally picky).

  • F. McGee says:

    I like Cooking Light’s 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook. I got it for my mom, who also really likes it, and you can usually find it used cheap on Amazon. I can’t use most of the recipes anymore because I can’t eat red meat and I have celiac disease so my food has to be gluten-free. Most of the food doesn’t fit those criteria, so I wrote down the few recipes I wanted and sold the book. I’d recommend it to someone who can eat meat and gluten, though

  • Sally says:

    The first cookbooks I ever got (after the big Southern Living cookbook, which has many ingredients but is AWESOME) is the series called Four Ingredient Cookbooks published by Coffee and Cale. They are SO easy and often SO tasty.

    Rachel Ray CAN be good–her books all have a basic list of things you need in the front–but as mentioned, many of her recipes require more exotic things (I think I made the smoked paprika one the other day! But I found said spice at ShopRite) and they NEVER take 30 minutes. And I don’t mean than that.

  • Beckyzoole says:

    I also recommend Arthur Schwartz’s “What To Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House To Eat”. Fantastic book.

  • Jen S says:

    Third or fourth or whatever the recommendation for How To Cook Everything. Bought my copy ten years ago and have rode it hard/put it away wet ever since. I can’t count the times I’ve made variations on his blueberry muffins to use up cream or yogurt, and his spaghetti sauce is a staple in our household. Best of all, he has an actual basics shopping list of the ingredients to stock your kitchen with (ranging from flour to broth and so on) so that if you have them on hand, you can always compose a tasty dish of something.

    Now, off to make Mark B.’s pot roast! Yummy yum yum.

  • annabel says:

    I second that “Bread Tomato Garlic” is a fabulous book, with totally mouth-watering photography, but I don’t think it really qualifies for this standard-pantry approach that the reader is looking for. I haven’t cooked anything out of it in awhile, but I remember having to seek out some not-so-common ingredients on more than one recipe.

  • Clover says:

    Thanks for all the great suggestions! I think I will likely check out the Tammie Olson and Donna Hay books, as well as the Arthur Schwartz book. “The Stocked Kitchen” and “Recipes to the Rescue” sound promising, and “Two Dudes, One Pan” could just about be my biography (I’d be “One Chick, One Pan.”) The three- and five-ingredient books aren’t quite what I’m seeking. I really do want something with a master shopping list.

    Some of this stuff sounds good for someone with energy and an interest in cooking. I have a full-time job, am a serious runner (about 80 miles per week during peak training), and cook for myself, and at the end of the day I just want something healthy and easy that doesn’t necessitate another trip to the store. This usually ends up being “cereal.” I don’t need variety or excitement, just solid basic nourishment from an easy-to-manage shopping list. I’m really hoping the aforementioned will fit the bill.

    Thank you!

  • Carrie says:

    I would recommend Alice Waters’s cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food.” Her recipes are deeeelicious, and she actually has a list in the book that, if you buy everything on it, will enable you to cook every recipe in the book. It’s nothing outlandish or crazy, just some basic grains, herbs, proteins, etc. The recipes are all about making simple ingredients taste amazing.

  • Sarah says:

    Cooking Light Superfast Suppers has a section devoted to like “20 ingredients and 20 recipes.” It also has a make it once and eat it all week long section. My mom got it for me a couple years ago for Christmas. Not all of it is simple, but by and large, it is (unlike Cooking Light magazine which frequently calls for obscure ingredients), and the recipes are good. One thing – sometimes the portions are LARGE!

  • Bev says:

    @ ALICE
    Thank you, thank you, thank you !

    I have wanted a website for recipes, organized that way, for years. I knew it would be useful for me, and I thought for many others, but never had the motivation to start building the website myself. thanks again.

  • StrangeBird says:

    I don’t know about the 4 ingredients books – I’ve leafed through them and thought that a lot of the recipes would be better with more ingredients :) Limiting to a set number of ingredients (rather than just a focus on ingredients you’re likely to have, or a fairly small range of ingredients overall) seems like a gimmick that doesn’t actually make the meals simpler for the cook. Some of the other suggestions here sounds great, though/

  • meltina says:

    Chiming in with Bittman love. I own about 32 cookbooks (and counting… can you say “addiction”?), but How to Cook Everything is what I usually go to if I want something simple and don’t necessary want to run out to the store to make it.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I was hankering for dessert after a great meal, and having consulted “Joy of Cooking” and several desserts to no avail, I said to myself “Bittman’s book will have just the thing”. Half an hour later, we were having brownies, and I probably will never buy brownies baking mix again (they were that good, and fast: mixing the batter took 5 minutes from start to finish, and cooking only 20!).

  • phineyj says:

    I love Lindsay Bareham’s cookbooks. My favourite is ‘Wolf in the Kitchen’, which she wrote based on recipes she’d developed to feed her two teenage sons quickly when they were prowling about like…well, wolves in her kitchen. She doesn’t use loads of ingredients, the recipes are explained simply and everything I’ve tried of hers works. I especially like the ‘Cheat’s Risotto’ which gives you 30 mins in the middle to go and do something useful while it cooks itself in steam. Her book ‘One Pot Cooking’ is good too especially as it is designed to avoid generating lots of washing up. I’d like to second Nigel Slater too.

    I find that if you fill your fridge with those long-lasting tube versions of garlic paste, tomato puree, ginger, lemon grass, harissa paste, mustard, chilli etc, keep pasta, rice and stock cubes in the house and a packet of (pre-prepared) vegetables for roasting/baking you can make a lot of recipes by either of the two mentioned above without any shopping.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>