The Joy of Cooking is by now a classic, a Bible of cooking. An encyclopedic tome of procedures, material and recipes. I shall not attempt to cover its many virtues here, but instead I would like to focus on two reasons why you MUST get this book:
LEARNING TO COOK The Joy of Cooking is more than just a recipe book. It's a textbook. As a student, living on my own and having to take my first steps in the kitchen, this book was a life saver -- it taught me how to cook. Other cookbooks are mere collections of recipes: If you follow them carefully, you have a good chance at ending up with something close to what the author intended. But most cookbooks don't teach you anything about preparing food -- they're just recipes -- so you never really understand, for example, how different doughs are made and how they're used for different breads and pastries, or what kinds of fish should be broiled, fried or cooked, etc. The Joy of Cooking teaches you all that, and much more. If you take the time to actually read the descriptions at the start of each chapter, as opposed to just searching for and following a recipe, you will understand how to cook. The importance of this is immense: If you actually understand what your doing, as opposed to simply following directions, you can improvise, invent new recipes, correct any problems/mistakes/errors, etc. You will begin to think like a Chef. I own many cookbooks, but the Joy of Cooking is one of the very few that actually attempts (and does such a wonderful job) teaching you how to cook. You shouldn't miss up on this opportunity. It's very clear, very well-written, and is ideal for those that are taking their first steps in the kitchen.
RARE AND DIFFICULT TO FIND RECIPES While the Joy of Cooking can't contain each and every ethnic food, it is quite encyclopedic nonetheless. Often, I search dosens of cookbooks, surf the internet, ask friends, only to discover that what I'm looking for is already in the Joy of Cooking! I should have consulted it first! Do you realise that the Joy of Cooking will teach you how to make marshmellows, Halwa, Turkish pastry dough (for borekas), candy, and many other not-so-easy-to-find recipes? And all from scratch: Marshmellows are essentially whipped sugar syrup and gelatin. Halva is essentially sugar syrup and raw tehini sauce. Making Turkish pastry dough is an involved process that takes time and precision -- all the steps for which are in the Joy of Cooking. While I have all these recipes in other books as well, I have no other SINGLE book that contains them all. The Joy of Cooking is encyclopedic and diverse, its scope as far as procedures or ethnic foods are concerned is enormous. This should be your first cookbook, and unless you're looking for some really exotic procedures and recipes, it could very well be your only cookbook.