Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla, meaning ‘mixture’ in Spanish, is a celebration of fusion food and represents a journey through author Ixta Belfrage’s childhood experiences of Italy, Brazil and Mexico. You may recognise Ixta as the co-author of Flavour alongside benevolent culinary overlord Yotam Ottolenghi. 

Many of the recipes are the meeting point of these cuisines. Cannelloni enchiladas for instance, with the tortillas swapped for lasagne sheets or the Brazilian beef dish rabada com agrião covered in Mexican mole. Alongside, are plenty of other dishes that take inspiration from around the globe and introduce us to unique interpretations of familiar dishes.

There is so much joy to be found in this book, not least from Yuki Sugiura’s photography which is almost as satisfying as eating the actual dishes. The recipes are positively unsubtle, vibrant and as if designed by algorithm for maximum satisfaction (there’s a recipe for half a loaf of sourdough with cheese, honey and chilli butter for goodness sake). 

Highlights of the quick cooks include oyster mushroom skewers covered in rose harissa and roasted until charred; a ricotta dip with hot sauce and pine nuts; marinated prawns with burnt lime; and a bavette steak covered in a soy and maple butter. A butternut and sage lasagne gratin, in which I wanted to submerge myself and never return, is a standout of the Entertaining section, alongside noodles made from omelette with a charred red pepper sauce; a mushroom and sesame roll; and a prawn lasagne with habanero oil.

It must be noted as the Belfrage does in the foreword, that fusion food comes with baggage. Despite all cuisine in some way being a result of thousands of years of migration, invasion, trade routes and cultural exchange, there are legitimate concerns around appropriation and the dilution of tradition.

We are in safe hands here though. Mezcla presents distinctive takes on recipes that feel familiar and new at the same time while still respecting the traditions from which they derive. It is a mezcla of playful, personal and imaginative cookery with recipes and inventiveness that you won’t find anywhere else.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music

That Sounds So Good

What’s the USP? What we have here is one of my favourite themes a cookbook can have: food is good, but sometimes it’s exhausting, let’s make it easier. That Sounds So Good offers up ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’, and in its introduction author Carla Lalli Music says each of the dishes in the book ‘is designed to help remove any psychic and emotional barriers that get in the way of cooking at home’. A lovely sentiment, if one that sounds like the author’s editor might also be her therapist.

Who wrote it? Carla Lalli Music, who is perhaps best known for her video work at Bon Appetit, until she quit in 2020 in solidarity with her BIPOC colleagues, who had been chronically mistreated by the organisation. Music is also behind 2019’s Where Cooking Begins, which focused on uncomplicated recipes, and was as much about how to shop for food as it was how to cook what you bought.

Is it good bedtime reading? Better than many cookbooks. Often the titles with the most to read are those that have specific themes that allow for deep-dives on history, culture and so on. A short essay on the cheesemaking process. A few pages on the socio-economic impact of grains on Western European culture. Given that Music’s book is essentially ‘here are some nice recipes to try’, she gets a decent amount of writing in. From a lengthy introduction that takes in essential kitchenware and revisits ideas around food shopping to chunky histories for various recipes, there’s a lot to browse here.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Everything is kept neat and simple here, with ingredients kindly presented first in metric and then in the usual US-friendly imperial measurements. There’s also handy little sections at the bottom of each recipe that cover variations and substitutions that might aid the process.

How often will I cook from the book? Music’s promise of real-life recipes is definitely fulfilled here, and you could plausibly find yourself revisiting this book a few times in any given week. Perhaps the biggest achievement is that the end results don’t look or feel like quick and easy dishes thrown together in a relatively short amount of time.

When Jamie Oliver offers up an idea for a Gnarly Chicken with Sizzlin’ Broccoli, or whatever the hell he’s suggesting this time around, it does the job, but it rarely looks particularly impressive. Music’s dishes manage so much more: they are rich and varied, feel fresh and healthy, and would impress any guest passing through your dining room that evening.

Killer recipes: Pantry Eggs in Purgatory, Seared Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Lime Pickle, Spaghetti with Melted Cauliflower Sauce, Banana Galette with Cashew Frangipane… there are honestly too many to mention.

Should I buy it? Carla Lalli Music has hit upon a winner with this book, which offers an absolute wealth of original ideas and inspired twists on classic dishes. It almost does itself a disservice by reducing its central promise, ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’ to a fraction of its vibrant cover. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s something of a cost of living crisis going on right now, and books like Music’s are exactly what we need. Filled with affordable food and adaptable recipes, I can see dishes like Brothy Basil Beans and Split Pea Soup with Mustard-Chilli Sizzle offering some affordable warmth in many a cold home this winter. The dishes here don’t just sound good – they look good, taste good, and feel good too.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music
£25, Hardie Grant Books

Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Hazelnut Roulade with rosewater & raspberries

Paired Wine: Sparkling Rosé NV from Wiston Estate 

If you are reading this recipe on a dark, grizzly November day, I urge you to make this roulade and open a bottle of Wiston Sparkling Rosé. You will instantly be transported to a long, lazy, summer Sunday lunch in a sunny English garden. Roulades are a bit of a go-to in my kitchen if I need something that looks very impressive but is a doddle to make, be it sweet or savoury. Although I have suggested raspberries here, you could use redcurrants, rhubarb or strawberries, all of which match the red-fruit aromas in this delectable sparkling wine. As an aside, this rosé is also the ideal wine to serve with sweet-cured bacon and ricotta pancakes for brunch!

SERVES SIX TO EIGHT

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
50g roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
300ml double cream
Rosewater, to taste
200g raspberries, plus extra to serve Neutral vegetable oil, to grease 

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a Swiss roll tin (23 × 33cm) with neutral vegetable oil and line with baking parchment.

Put the egg whites into the scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until stiff points form.

Still whisking, gradually add the sugar, about a heaped teaspoon at a time, and whisk well. By the time all the sugar is added the meringue should be glossy with very stiff peaks. Spread into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the nuts and bake for 8 minutes – it should be lightly coloured.

Reduce the temperature to 140°C fan/160°C/gas mark 3 and bake for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, lay a large sheet of baking paper on a flat surface.

Remove the meringue from the oven and turn it over onto the sheet of baking paper (the nutty side will be underneath). Carefully peel off the lining paper from the meringue. Allow to cool for about 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the rosewater according to taste. It is quite enthusiastic in flavour, so start with 1⁄2 teaspoon and taste to see if you need more.

Spread the whipped cream over the cold meringue and scatter with the raspberries.

Now form it into a Swiss roll shape. Using the base sheet of paper as an aid, roll the meringue firmly from one long side. Wrap in a fresh sheet of baking paper and chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Serve the roulade in thick slices, perhaps with more fresh raspberries on the side and a few chopped hazelnuts.

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Goats Cheese and Wasabi

Paired Wine: Bacchus from Lyme Bay Winery

These are perfectly behaved soufflés, with the second baking giving you, the cook, a comforting reassurance rather than blind panic as guests arrive. Surprisingly perhaps, since wasabi is associated with Japanese cuisine, this type of horseradish is grown in the south of England, and its fresh leaves give a peppery kick to dishes. It is available online but if it is hard to find, here you could instead use chives or watercress leaves (no stems). The citrus notes of the goat’s cheese match those in the Bacchus beautifully.

SERVES SIX

50g butter
25g panko breadcrumbs, blitzed briefly in a blender until very fine
40g plain flour
300ml milk, preferably full-fat
150g soft goat’s cheese, chopped or crumbled
3 tbsp chopped fresh wasabi leaves (washed and dried thoroughly)
3 large free-range eggs, separated 50ml double cream
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6.

Melt about 10g of the butter in a pan and sparingly brush the insides of six ramekins (approx. size 250ml). Coat the first with panko by rolling the breadcrumbs around until the base and sides are fully coated then tip the rest into the next ramekin and so on.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir to cook for about 2 minutes.

Gradually add the milk – it should be full-fat but as I seldom buy it for one recipe, semi-skimmed works too if that is what you have in the fridge. Stir and gently bring to the boil. Cook for 3–4 minutes until it thickens. 

Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, wasabi leaves and egg yolks. Beat well, taste and season, bearing in mind that you must slightly overseason to offset the neutrality of the egg whites. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix an initial spoonful into the yolk mixture, which helps to blend it, and then carefully fold in the rest using a metal spoon, trying not to knock the air out.

Divide between the ramekins, almost to the top. Run a fingertip around the edge – this gives the soufflé a better chance to rise. 

Put the ramekins in a deep-sided baking tray. Fill the tray with boiling water so that it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 15–20 minutes. Remove from the oven and out of the water bath and allow to cool. You can make these ahead at this point and keep in the fridge for baking later or the following day. 

When you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C/gas mark 7. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside edge of the soufflés and turn out into a buttered ovenproof dish. You can do this in individual dishes or a larger ceramic serving bowl. 

Pour the cream over the top, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for 10 minutes. Serve at once, possibly with a simple watercress salad on the side. 

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey

Monkfish Tail

Paired Wine: Native Grace Barrel Chardonnay from Henners Vineyard

The original dish that I planned to match with this wine was whole roasted turbot with fennel – and that would be delicious. But after a splendid tasting at Henners, I enjoyed a fabulous barbecued monkfish at the outstanding restaurant The Salt Room in Brighton. The smokiness of the ’nduja balances the barrel ferment, though you can replace it with smoked paprika for a less punchy element in the dish, while the ‘meaty’ texture of the monkfish is heaven with this wine. I was so taken with enjoying the English wine, the English seafood and great company, I neglected to ask the Chef for the recipe, so this is my reinvention from that inspiration.

SERVES TWO

Large jar of alargada white beans (about 700g undrained weight)*
Olive oil, for frying
1 large white onion, finely chopped
115g ’nduja
400–450ml vegetable stock (homemade if possible – keep on a simmer until needed)
1 monkfish tail (800g–1kg) – whole on the bone, skin and membrane removed
30g butter
100g samphire
Sea salt and black pepper

To serve:
Extra-virgin olive oil Smoked paprika (optional) Zest of 1 lemon

* The Perelló brand of alargada white beans is excellent but you can also make this with butter beans or even chickpeas. Do, however, buy them in jars not cans, as the texture and taste is so much better.

Please do read the method first because you can either cook the beans while the fish is cooking, or get ahead and prepare earlier – the beans (before the samphire is added) are very forgiving at being reheated. You won’t use all of the beans from a large jar but they are delicious next day as a salad with tomatoes and feta, or even on toast with some bacon!

Empty out the white beans into a sieve, rinse and drain. 

Heat a couple of glugs of oil in a large, heavy-based casserole (Le Creuset style) over a medium heat. Add the onions and leave to soften but not colour – about 10 minutes – stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat if they start to catch.

Add the ’nduja and, keeping the heat low, mix in well until it breaks down completely and the onions take on a rich red colour – about 5 minutes.

Tip in the drained beans and mix well with the onions. Add the heated stock and stir well again. Smush a couple of spoonfuls of the beans against the side of the casserole with a cooking spoon. This will give the dish a creamy texture. Continue to cook over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes – keep an eye on the stock level and add bit more if required.

Preheat the oven to 130°C fan/150°C/ gas mark 2.

Season the monkfish lightly with salt (bear in mind the samphire will give lots of saltiness to the dish).

Melt the butter until foaming in a large frying pan. Brown the monkfish on all sides (allow 4–5 minutes) and transfer to a roasting tin. Pour melted butter from the pan over the fish. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn the fish over and cook for further 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, cover with aluminium foil, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Ensure the bean mixture is hot and stir through the samphire – just enough to warm it through for 1 minute so that it does not lose its crunch. Do not be tempted to add more salt – the samphire will be naturally salty enough.

To serve, portion beans and samphire onto two plates, slice each fillet of monkfish down the side of the bone and place on the beans and samphire, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of smoked paprika. Finish with fresh lemon zest. 

Cook more from this book
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Watercress, Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey

High-Res Cover image

Watercress, Willow and Wine is a celebration of all things English wine covering the regions, vineyards and the wines themselves.  There are food pairings for a featured wine from each of the 33 wineries included in the book in the form of some of the best ingredients and food items produced local to the vineyard, as well as a matched recipe.

The author Cindy-Marie Harvey is a wine expert and former wine importer and owner of Love Wine Food Ltd, a private wine tour company. She has travelled continually for almost 25 years, visiting iconic wine estates across Italy, New Zealand, South America, Portugal and many others. This is her first book.

You should buy Watercress, Willow and Wine if you are curious about English wine and want to learn more, and would like to try some delicious recipes to match with some bottles you may not have tried before. How about mackerel tacos and gooseberry compote with a glass of Ridgeview Blanc de Noirs fizz, or linguine with crab, bottarga and lemon with Rathfinny’s Cradle Valley White?

Covering vineyards in the English counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Surry, as well as urban wineries in London and Gateshead, the book also acts as a useful touring guide to English wine country.

In addition to an overview of the English wineries and profiles of each of the wineries – some like Nyetimber that you will certainly have heard of, and some like Sugrue you may not have – Harvey has included lots of other useful stuff like a guide to the grape varieties used in English wine making, a glossary of wine terms and a guide to matching food and wine.  Beautiful hand drawn illustrations from Chloe Robertson complete the package.

As Julia Trustram-Eve of Wines of Great Britain says in her introduction, ‘The wine industry of Great Britain is at a pivotal moment in its history, so it couldn’t be a better time to discover more about this exciting wine region’. We agree and recommend you pick up a copy of Watercress, Willow and Wine, you won’t find a better introduction to English wine.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Watercress, Willow and Wine
£25, Love Wine Food Books

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Outside by Gill Meller

Outside by Gill Meller

What’s up?  You haven’t had a look on your face like that since your tortoise died. 

I’m not sure I can go through this again 

Through what?

It’s another one. By him. 

Have you had a stroke? What are you talking about?

Gill Meller, he’s got a new book out.

Who?

Don’t tell me you don’t remember. The last one was during lockdown. I’m still not really over it.

Oh, you mean Gill Meller, alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017 and his other books include root, steam, leaf, flower and Time, both of which you’ve reviewed.

Why are you talking like that? You sound like a newspaper article or something.

I’m not talking like anything. Anyway, I don’t know why you’ve got such a problem with him, I think he’s great. The books always look fantastic, and his recipes are ace. Let me see. Oh, it’s Andrew Montgomery doing the pics. I like him. That one of Meller in the woods, that’s stunning.

Hmm, what do you know? I’m the cookbook blogger. Give it here. Actually, before you do, check something for me.

What? That Gill Meller is still better looking and more successful than you, you bitter old…

Poetry. Is there any poetry in the book? 

Oh, good point. That’s what tipped you over the edge last time wasn’t it? Let me have a look. Nope, nothing, unless you count the recipe for ‘The Bacon Sandwich’ which is better than an Amanda Gorman stanza.

It’s called ‘the’ bacon sandwich? 

Yeah. Why? What’s the problem with that?

Nothing. Not really, it’s just, you know…

Oh God, I remember, you’ve got a problem with his recipe titles, haven’t you? ‘Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me’ is what you said. What is wrong with you?

Tell me some other titles, go on. Do your worst, let’s get it over with. 

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but they’re all just sort of normal.

What?! Let me see. 

Alright, don’t snatch! Learn some manners.

This is weird, ‘Salted cabbage salad with chestnut mushrooms and flaked seaweed’, ‘Wild garlic polenta with barbecued asparagus and crispy stinging nettles’. They are just sort of normal. No poetry, no offensive recipe titles. It’s almost like he’s read my review. 

Oh, do not flatter yourself! You sound ridiculous.

I’ll have you know I’m an internationally renowned food writer.

*yawns*

What is Outside actually about? Let me have a look at the back cover. ‘We shouldn’t be shutting doors anymore – we should be opening them’. That’s terrible advice. One, obvious security issue, who leaves their front door open? Two, you’re going to let all the heat out and no one can afford to do that, hasn’t he heard about the cost-of-living crisis? And three, you’re not really using the full functionality of a door if you’re just opening it are you? Doors by their very nature open and close. You might as well just have a hole in the wall if you’re never going to shut it. Stands to reason. 

Very funny, have you considered a career in stand up? Russell Howard must be shitting himself.    

Anyway, it doesn’t make any sense, I’m going to have to read the introduction, aren’t I?

I see you’ve deliberately ignored the bit on the back cover where it also says ‘Gill Meller’s new book Outside is a thoughtful celebration of the joys of cooking and eating outdoors’, but you know, comic effect is more important than accuracy. And it is your bloody job to read the introduction. 

Suppose.

*sighs*

Read out the best bits otherwise there’s just going to be a blank space.

You mean a silence? 

Erm, yeah, whatever. 

I’m through the first paragraph, no problem. I think everything’s going to be OK…

Well done you. Keep going. You’re a hero. 

Oh shit…spoke too soon. 

What is it now? Jesus. 

Writing. Creative writing. So much. Can’t breathe. Heart is racing. Must stay calm. 

Read it out, you’ll feel better. We’ll all feel better. 

What do you mean ‘we’ll all feel better’? Who is ‘we’?

Just read it, there’s a dear. 

So, he’s writing about moving to the countryside from the town when he was a kid and getting into bird watching as way of adapting to the change. Which is all fine, and then he says, ‘the rooks would fall on to the wing and dance up over the pine, tumbling, shrieking, wheeling to the weather. They cut a shifty, marauding form, but squabbled with eloquence as they turned and raked together, a black ballet in the afternoon.’ 

Gosh. That’s…a lot. It’s very descriptive though, isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a black ballet in the afternoon. Don’t get distracted, what’s the book actually about?

OK, now were getting to it. He’s having a Proust’s madeleine moment except it involves a flask of soup and some bread. The general idea seems to be that by cooking and eating outside we can reconnect with a kinder gentler time when we were closer to nature and not so tied to technology. 

What, by having a picnic? 

Actually, yes. 

Well, you can’t beat Ginster’s and a packet of Frazzles in the park can you? 

Don’t forget your four pack of Special Brew, will you? That doesn’t sound very ‘elemental’ does it, you’re not going to discover ‘another aspect of our primal hardwiring’ with that heart attack on a paper plate are you? No, Gill has something a little more sophisticated in mind for you, like wild mushroom and thyme sausage rolls or a ham hock, potato and parsley terrine.  

Ooh, fancy. Actually, I do fancy that. Go on, what else is in the book?

Why don’t you have a look yourself? 

Because you’ve got to tell me. Otherwise, this doesn’t work.

What won’t work? Honestly, you are in a strange mood today. Well, there’s a chapter on cooking over fire, one on eating out (don’t even think about making a joke, it’s beneath even you) that’s based around raw preparations, a chapter on camping out (I’ll just pause for a moment here. Are you done? Good) which is really just more cooking over fire, a section on wild things (foraging) and an early autumn feast that’s based around setting a sheep on fire by the looks of things. 

That doesn’t sound very PC. 

Hold that call to PETA. It says, ‘A Sheep on Fire’ but what it actually means is ‘A Sheep on a Fire’ which is an entirely different thing. It’s already dead and has had a pole stuck up its…

That’s quite enough detail thanks. So, what are you cooking for us tonight then, oh former Masterchef semi-finalist. 

Can you be a ‘former Masterchef semi-finalist’? You either are or you aren’t. It’s a bit like being a president. 

What, do you tart about insisting people call you by your title? When they ask you for your name at Starbucks do say ‘Masterchef semi-finalist Lynes’.

No, of course not. At least not since the, er, incident. I’m not cooking anything if you’re just going to take the piss.  

Just pick a recipe.

Alright, I’m thinking. I’m not setting fire to a sheep, that’s for sure. I could make the hispi cabbage with miso, honey, tamari and sesame. Sounds nice. Oh, hold on, I’ll need ‘a bed of hot chunky embers’ and some clay to wrap the cabbage in. Maybe not. Smokey anchovies with baked wet garlic? But where am I going to get fresh anchovy fillet and wet garlic from? Venison cured with blackberries, elderberries, juniper and bay…no good, got to marinate the meat for 24 hours. 

You’re just looking for problems, aren’t you? Give me the book. Look, what’s wrong with lentils cooked with garlic, chilli and rosemary with baked eggs and kale. Or spatchcock chicken, aioli and toast. Or a lovely vegetarian ‘Campervan’ stew?

*shrugs*

Sorry, I didn’t hear you. 

I said ‘nothing’. 

Right then. Supermarket it is. Well, shall we go?

Yes, let’s go. 

They do not move.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Outside by Gill Meller
£30, Hardie Grant

 

Interview: Cindy-Marie Harvey, author of Watercress, Willow and Wine

What inspired you to come up with the idea for the book?
Like many people, there has been a potential book meandering around the edges of my mind for quite a while, and it was always going to be about food & wine pairing. But in lockdown, as all of the tours that I organise to vineyards around the world were not happening, I started doing online Zoom tastings for clients. I would choose between 6 – 10 wines and I would send recipes to match for clients to cook at home and share on screen during the tasting. I would also send suggestions of cheeses or charcuterie as easy pairings, and discovered a wealth of lesser known artisan cheeses and cured meats made in Britain. So after one particular English Wine tasting, with a glass of Pinot Blanc in hand, the germ of Watercress, Willow & Wine was created.

Why is it the right time for a book about English wine now?
English Wine is experiencing a really exciting time, as wine lovers both at home and abroad are starting to discover its quality and diversity. No longer a “patriotic one off” purchase, English wine is establishing a very loyal following – from sparkling wines that have repeatedly beaten top Champagne producers in blind tastings at international awards, through to crisp whites that delight the palate, fruit filled Rosés perfect for a picnic, even the fickle grape variety of Pinot Noir has found a happy new home in the South of England.

How did you develop the recipes for the book – were they directly inspired by your visits to the vineyards and tastings of the wine?
Some of the recipes draw inspiration from the produce of the county where the wine is produced, such as watercress in Hampshire. Some of them are inspired by my meanderings around the vineyards of the world, so might have an Italian influence but using clams from Cornwall or apples from Kent. Some of them indeed direct from the vineyards themselves. But the starting place was always the featured wine from each producer in the book. So it was a case of pouring a glass of the chosen wine, sitting quietly with a notebook and giving my creative food-brain free range to see what flavours the wine could inspire. It was such a tough job!

There’s a wide range of cuisines in the book, were you surprised at how adaptable the wines were in terms of dishes they would pair with?
Not really, as that was one of the reasons that I wrote the book – to share this incredible versatility with people. At the moment, quite a few wine lovers still think that we only make sparkling wines in this country – so spreading the word about what great food friendly still English wines there are being produced – and that will pair happily with a myriad of food styles. I hope the book encourages people to try new pairings – I’d love to see more people drinking white wine with cheese (rather than red) and also more people understanding that Sparkling wines are not just as an aperitif – but are fabulous with a meal as well.

It’s a beautiful book and I love the illustrations. Why did you decide on the drawings rather than photographs?
Much as I love great food photography, for this book I wanted a very quintessentially English feel – and was lucky enough to discover the brilliant illustrator, Chloe Robertson who lives just down the road from myself in the South Downs. As I envisioned the book as taking readers on a voyage of discovery of English wine, I wanted to make it as accessible as possible . I feel that illustrations are a lot more forgiving to the home cook – I’m sure that I’m not alone in having cooked a recipe for the first time and looked at the spectacular accompanying photo and been slightly disheartened at the comparison! Chloe’s beautiful illustrations give the cook an idea to aim for whilst still allowing for home creativity.

It’s arguable that, although English sparkling wines have been embraced by the public, the still wines are perhaps less well understood. Is there one wine and recipe pairing in the book that you would point to that would open people’s eyes to English still wines.
I absolutely agree, our still wines are getting better known but still don’t have the wider spread fame of our sparkling wines (yet!). A hard call to mention just one, but perhaps the Pinot Gris from Stopham in West Sussex paired with Chameleon Curry. The off dry style of the Pinot Gris is fabulous with a host of spicy foods but also so much more.

Readers will probably be familiar with the big named vineyards in the book like Nyetimber and Chapel Down. Where would you recommend people to start if they wanted to explore some of the lesser-known vineyards?
If they are lucky enough to live close to a vineyard, then start by booking a tasting visit on their own doorstep as it were! There are so many smaller, family run wine estates that welcome visitors by appointment, where a warm welcome awaits from the people who actually grow the grapes themselves! Do visit winegb.co.uk as they have over 200 wine estates listed – You can search by location, those that offer lunches, those with accommodation and everything you need to know for a visit! From the private English Wine tours that we have organised, I can definitely say that a day out visiting a couple of English wine estates, is a great way to celebrate a birthday or just getting together with friends.

How do you think English wine tourism compares to other wine regions around the world?
In its infancy for sure, but growing rapidly and generally in the right direction. It’s great to see winery restaurants opening up such as the new one at Wiston (West Sussex), at Sandridge Barton (Devon) and at Hambledon (Hampshire). But also smaller estates that offer platters of local cheeses, or as at Nutbourne (West Sussex), a glorious picnic full of home baked goodies and heritage tomatoes from a few fields away! Looking ahead, I think it’s important that wine estates remember that all visitors are different, and not to follow the “one size fits all” approach of some of the New World Cellar Door operations, where the personal touch has been lost.

Did you come to any conclusions about English wine as a region in terms of style compared to other regions around the world?
Not in terms of style, as there is so much diversity – from Bacchus grapes fermented in terracotta amphorae to late harvested Ortega grapes resulting in delicious dessert wine. But one thing that did emerge, was that being a relatively young wine region, that our winemakers are unfettered by tradition, which gives them a huge scope for experimentation – which is great news for us, the curious wine drinkers.

What will be your next project?
Well once I’ve been to Sicily, Alto Adige, Piemonte and Chile on tour this Autumn, I’ll start focusing on my next book – but a few more glasses of wine are still needed yet, for creative purposes of course, before I decide which region to focus on!

Cindy-Marie Harvey’s book Watercress, Willow and Wine is published 15 September 2022 by whitefox. Visit Cindy-Marie’s website, Love Wine Food, to find out more: lovewinefood.com

Buy this book: Watercress Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey
£25, Love Wine Food Books 

Read the review 

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Core by Clare Smyth

Core by Clare Smyth
As the first and currently only British female chef to hold three Michelin stars, Clare Smyth needs no introduction. But in case you didn’t know, before opening Core restaurant in Notting Hill in 2017, Smyth was chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, worked for Alain Ducasse in Monaco and staged at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Per Se, all of them three Michelin starred establishments. So it’s no surprise to flick through the gold lined pages of this sumptuously produced book to find immaculately presented, highly detailed and technically brilliant dishes.

From a ‘Caviar Sandwich’ – a perfect, tiny wedge of buckwheat pancake layered with sieved egg white and yolk bound in mayonnaise, creme fraiche, puffed buckwheat and caviar served on a beautiful bespoke wooden sphere – to a pear and verbena Eton mess that belies its name with a Faberge-like construction of upturned meringue dome filled with lemon verbena cream, pear puree, verbena jelly,
compressed pear pearls and pear sorbet, topped with miniature discs of pear and meringue, each of the 60 recipes (there are also a further 70 recipes for stocks, sauces and breads) is an elegant work of culinary art.

Smyth calls her style ‘British fine dining’, eschewing and ‘excessive reliance on imported luxury ingredients’ and instead celebrating world class produce from the British Isles such as Scottish langoustines and Lake District hogget. In Smyth’s hands, even the humble potato (from a secret supplier she won’t reveal the name of) is transformed into a signature dish of astonishingly intense flavours. Cooked sous vide with kombu and dulse, topped with trout and herring roe and homemade salt and vinegar crisps and served with a dulse beurre blanc ‘Potato and Roe’ is an homage to the food of Smyth’s Northern Ireland coastal upbringing.

With a forward by Ramsay, introduction by journalist Kieran Morris, essays on subjects such as Smyth’s suppliers and informative recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read, while the colour food and landscape photography – and black and white shots of the restaurant in action –are stunning. It all adds up to an unmissable package that any ambitious cook will find inspiring.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: Core by Clare Smyth 
£45, Phaidon

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire is a book so dedicated to the subject of barbecue that it will convince you that you can cook over live fire all year round. But this isn’t just a barbecue book for all seasons, it’s for all cuisines too with carefully researched recipes from around the globe, bolstered by interviews with experts in many of the national and regional traditions featured.

The author is a widely published London-based food writer and editor of the highly rated, independently published Pit magazine that’s not just about food and fire, but also is about it, if that makes sense. Live Fire is Graves’s first book.

You should buy Live Fire if you are new to barbecue and need some guidance on equipment, accessories, what fuel to burn and cooking techniques. But you should buy it especially if you are an experienced barbecue cook and are looking to expand your repertoire.  With more than 100 recipes covering everything from a simple plate of sugar snap peas with mint (the sort of thing you’d imagine Fergus Henderson cooking if you let him near the barbecue) to expert-level smoked and braised ox cheek tacos, Graves has got every skill level, taste and occasion covered.

Things get even more interesting when Graves delves into those aforementioned global live fire culinary traditions that include suya – spicy beef skewers from West Africa, Vietnamese bun cha – barbecued pork with noodles and a dipping sauce, and Jamaican jerk chicken among many others. Each comes with a well researched and fascinating essay, making the book as much of an entertaining and informative read as it is a cooking manual.  That said, it’s worth the cover price alone for Graves’s version of the legendary tandoori lamb chops from Tayyabs restaurant in Whitechapel.

There are many barbecue books on the market, but none I’ve seen are quite like Live Fire. Even if you don’t have a barbecue and never intend buying one, I’d still recommend getting hold of a copy of this book. As Graves points out, you can use a cast iron griddle pan to cook many of the recipes. The result may not be quite the same, but at least you won’t be missing out on all those delicious dishes.

Buy this book: Live Fire by Helen Graves
£26, Hardie Grant

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar
Curry Everyday is a curry cookbook that isn’t entirely about curry. Instead, it’s introduced as a kind of culinary cultural exchange programme where the plant-based recipes are linked vaguely by the techniques, ingredients and heritage of making curry.

In the foreword, Atul Kochhar, Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur and author of this book as well as Atul’s Curries of the World and 30 Minute Curries defines curry as “a spiced dish with a sauce, gravy or masala base”. And here they are: Cauliflower Korma, Paneer in a Tomato and Cashew Nut Gravy and a series of dals, featuring alongside their colleagues from other countries such as Japanese Katsu and Thai curries. Then there’s soups and stews, Laksa, Iranian Fesenjān (called “Persian Curry” here) and saucy spiced things like Shakshuka which in a dim light and a bit of goodwill, give a decent impression of curry. And finally, what can only be avant garde, Free Jazz interpretations of curry like Pad Thai, Tteokbokki, Momos, stir-frys and salads.

There is much to love in this book. It’s a backpacker’s tour of continents, subcontinents and countries with recipes from places that are certainly underrepresented in my culinary output. There’s dishes from Yemen, Zimbabwe, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Nepal, Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan as well as Indian recipes from all points of the compass. Its globe-trotting nature however means you’ll need a multilingual spice cupboard or a well-stocked international supermarket nearby and some disposable cash.

The book is all business: a brief foreword, sparse introductions and meticulous descriptions of preparation, occasionally calling for bespoke spice powders without substitutes. I did however make one recipe that began with the preparation of sweetcorn and instructions to set aside for later use, only for it never to be mentioned again. In the scheme of things, not something to write to your local MP in outrage over but somewhat annoying when the recipe is called “Potato and Sweetcorn Curry” (so you can sleep easy, I chucked it in at the end).

This omission felt at odds with the otherwise exacting nature of the recipes and summarises some of the contradictions in this book: a publication called Curry Everyday that isn’t really about curry or for cooking from every day. There’s certainly curry recipes, though many that aren’t and while there’s meals that can become weeknight staples, lots call for complex ingredients making for longer cooking times. But like the sweetcorn, put it aside, forget about it and enjoy a fascinating and diverse range of recipes from across the world.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar 
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt by Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt is the latest book to build itself around a single ingredient – but in letting that ingredient be ‘salt’, it might also be the most shoddily realised. See, salt isn’t a flavour most people aspire to taste. We use salt, every day, sure – but only to enhance the other flavours in our dish. ‘Salty’ is a term we use negatively to refer to our food. And so building an entire book around the concept of ‘salt’ doesn’t really work. Sea Salt doesn’t say ‘look at all these lovely dishes we built around salt’, but rather ‘here is a collection of dishes we like, that can be made even better with salt’.

The authors are ‘The Lea-Wilson Family’, but don’t worry if that means nothing to you. This isn’t a cookbook from the latest household of podcasting celebrities (see: Jessie and Lennie Ware, Chris and Rosie Ramsey, Idris and Sabrina Elba); this is the clan behind salt company Halen Môn. There is, then, a rather vested interest in selling the virtues of salt and, by extension, their specific range of goods.

You should buy Sea Salt for one reason, and one reason only: it has some lovely representation for Welsh food and culture. As well as each recipe’s name being transcribed in both English and Welsh, there are a few dishes that really champion what is perhaps Britain’s least recognised cuisine. So we have instructions for a Welsh Rarebit, of course, but also Fritto Misto and Moules Frites that, though Italian and French in origin, champion the local seafood.

The rest of the dishes look lovely and fresh, but offer very little originality. Worse: when something exciting does pop up, it often reveals the decidedly middle class world of the Lea-Wilson family. No sentence in a cookbook has ever isolated me more from the author than ‘use the mincing attachment on your mixer’. It’s not the fact they have one – it’s the fact they don’t seem to consider for a second that someone might not.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family 
£26, White Lion Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger

The Year of Miracles Ella Risbridger

The best food writing is never really about the food. There is almost always something else that sits at the heart of the food writing that most appeals to us; the essays, memoirs or cookbooks that we read cover to cover as though they were a novel. Food, when written well, is a character that interacts with the world around it. In the same way that The Great Gatsby isn’t really about Gatsby, or Nick, the very best food writing uses food to tell us more about ourselves, and who we are as individuals. 

Nigel Slater remains one of the finest food writers around – whether he’s using food nostalgia as a means to explore family is his memoir Toast, or simply to meditate on the value of the seasons in books like his two Greenfeast volumes. Even Julia Child seems to have a sort of philosophy on her mind when she writes about food. In My Life in France she writes that ‘No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing’, and comes across as a sort of gourmand Yoda. 

The Year of Miracles is the second cookbook by Ella Risbridger and, like its predecessor Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For), is about so much more than the recipes within. As debut cookbooks by non-household names go, Midnight Chicken was a phenomenal success, becoming a bestseller both in classic hardback and the less traditional novel-sized paperback formats, and winning Cookbook of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards in 2020. 

And, excellent a collection of recipes as it was, this success is every bit as much down to the real subject matter of the book. It was a book not about food, but finding peace for oneself through food. About coming to terms with what life has given you, and learning how to build something you want around that. Much of the book speaks lovingly of ‘The Tall Man’ – Risbridger’s partner with whom she shared a home. Their relationship is portrayed evocatively as one that, though not without its clashes, was built on mutual respect and a deep, empathetic love. Which made the revelation that was tucked away amidst the acknowledgements a tremendous gut punch for those readers who were not already aware of Risbridger’s story. Much of the book was written whilst her partner was receiving treatment in hospital. Around the time she handed in her final draft, The Tall Man passed away. Though this part of Risbridger’s life doesn’t directly feature in the book itself, it impacts it at every turn, with the author’s view the world inevitably tied to what that world is presenting to her. 

Now, three years on from the publication of Midnight Chicken, we are gifted The Year of Miracles. It doesn’t feel entirely right to call the new title a sequel – we should reserve those for superhero films and YA adaptations on Netflix. This is simply: a life, continued. We return to Risbridger at the beginning of 2020, as she leaves the tiny flat she had shared with The Tall Man (here named Jim, though this is a pseudonym, as are all the other friend’s names throughout the book). Some months have passed since Jim’s death, and though she continues to grieve, the action of moving into a new home with a close friend feels like the opportunity for a fresh start. Of course, fresh starts were few and far between at the beginning of 2020, and so a food diary about change and new beginnings turns into something that is about grief, and solitude, and friends, and the family we build for ourselves as the world falls apart around us. 

Fans of Midnight Chicken will find nothing to disappoint them here. Everything that made Risbridger’s first book so lovable returns for this, her fourth (she’s tucked a children’s novel and a poetry anthology in between). Elisa Cunningham’s bright illustrations return, offering imperfect visions of dishes that are sort of meant to be imperfect. Risbridger does not fuss with stiff, precise recipes. Her dishes are flexible, so that they can fit around whatever life is throwing at you. Her ingredients lists are gloriously candid, filled with little asides offering ideas for substitutes, or simply reassuring you. She calls for vanilla extract a number of times – the first comes with a plea ‘(not essence! never essence!)’, the second with practical advice: ‘(don’t worry about using very expensive stuff; they’ve run tests and you can’t tell in baked goods)’.

The recipes themselves are similarly unpretentious, with instructions that kindly explain why you do the things you do or, just as frequently, politely request that you ‘just trust me’ on the matter. As in Midnight Chicken, the dishes are a mix between big meals you might serve to friends (Bourride! Pho! Fish Pie!) and small moments of sustenance that will keep you going when you need them most. These dishes are often the most fun in the book – a celebration of the unlikely combinations we discover in our early adulthood, and can be raised infinitely with a smart food-centric mind like Risbridger’s. Here we have a Salt & Vinegar Crisp Omelette, Jacket Potato Garlic Soup, or Marmite Crumpet Cauliflower Cheese. 

These recipes might not speak to everyone, but they will resonate with many. Risbridger approaches food as a restorative action. For the soul, for the heart, and for just about anything else that might need it. Every element of The Year of Miracles offers an element of comfort. Even as we touch on grief, guilt and the frustrations of living through a pandemic, Risbridger’s prose is written with such a contemplative warmth that it is impossible not to feel comforted – if only in knowing that we are not suffering alone. 

As the miraculous year ticks along, and the seasons change, and lockdowns are lifted, we are exposed more and more to the friendships that fuel both Risbridger and the book itself. The best food writing is never really about food. Here, it is a way of connecting with friends, with those we love, those we have lost, and those we are only just getting to know. The food has as much to say as anyone in this story, and it serves as a means to bring people together – for a conversation in the park, a cry in the kitchen, or a singalong in the back garden. We don’t need food for any of these things, but it is there nonetheless, and it is something that can be shared between whoever might be nearby. Something to bring us all together. 

It seems very likely that we can expect a third cookbook from Ella Risbridger at some point. After these first two, it would be a huge shame if there were not. What’s harder to guess is whether that third book will be all that similar to the two that came before it. The Year of Miracles itself was never intended to look like this, with the author initially pitching a ‘cheerful dinner-party’ cookbook. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get next. In a way, you sort of hope for it. For Risbridger to have an opportunity to explore something new. And down the line, maybe, there’ll be time again for another book like this. Not a sequel, simply: a life, continued.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks 
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book:
The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

 

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
Ahead of the opening of his AngloThai restaurant later this year in central London, cult chef John Chantarasak has published his first cookbook. Kin Thai (‘eat Thai’) contains 60 recipes fusing Thai cuisine with British ingredients, reflecting Chantarasak’s heritage as a Liverpudlian born to an English mother and Thai father. In Chantarasak’s hands, the classic salad of som tam becomes ‘som tam farang’ (farang is Thai slang for ‘white foreigner’) with the usual unripe green papaya replaced by thinly shredded carrot, celeriac and parsnip which are pounded in a pestle and mortar with chillies, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce and lime juice to make a dish with the quintessential Thai taste combination of spicy, salty sweet and sour.

Chantarasak has been generous in sharing knowledge acquired from childhood trips to Bangkok where he ate his grandmother’s food, the 18 months he spent in the city working in David Thompson’s kitchen at Nahm, and as sous chef of London’s highly regarded Thai restaurant Som Saa. The expansive introduction covers the regional cuisine of Thailand and the British ingredients Chantarasak favours such as sea arrowgrass that he says has a flavour reminiscent of coriander, as well as Thai staples including yellow soybean sauce, dried shrimp and white cardamom.

He also outlines equipment, such a traditional clay mortar and wooden pestle, heavy cleaver and spice grinder that are ideal for preparing the book’s recipes that are divided into chapters covering salads and laab (Thai steak tartare), grilled dishes, relishes, soups and braises, stir fries, curries, snacks and sweets. Some of the dishes, such as Muslim-spiced curry of beef short rib, require numerous ingredients and are labour intensive, but many, including a classic pad thai or grilled coriander and garlic chicken, are much more straightforward.

The clearly written and easy to follow methods and informative chapter and recipe introductions mean that even chefs new to Thai cuisine will feel like instant experts after a few days spent studying the book, which, with its mouth-watering food photography and design as colourful and vibrant as the recipes it contains, would be no hardship at all.

Cuisine: Thai
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book:
Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
£22, Hardie Grant

Greenfeast by Nigel Slater

Greenfeast is a two-part collection of seasonal, no-frills plant-based recipes from multi-award winning author, journalist and presenter Nigel Slater. These books represent some of his most recent output, alongside A Cook’s Book, in a career now spanning three decades. My parents cooked from his books, as I do now and in a testament to his quality and longevity, I wouldn’t be surprised if in thirty years time my children do too. His work is to have a constant reassuring presence in the kitchen, the culinary equivalent of calling your mum or putting on a favourite jumper. (He also really looks like my friend’s Dad, so maybe I feel like he’s been a bigger part of my life than most people.)

The first volume Spring, Summer contains lighter recipes for lighter nights, the kind of thing to throw together to eat on a picnic blanket and moan about how hot it is. The second collection of recipes, Autumn, Winter are heartier and more nourishing, ones to draw the curtains, leave to simmer and long for the days of moaning about how hot it is. Both books are divided into vague chapters such as In a Bowl, On a Plate and With a Ladle – the latter being to serve, not to consume with. Regardless of what you eat them with, the recipes are straightforward, informal and wholly appetising.

You should buy Greenfeast if you want to grab a few ingredients, mix together with a handful of this, a dollop of that and get something tasty to eat. There’s plenty to go on here: broths, stir-frys, curries, salads, pastas, stews, burgers and more. Some are spectacular in their simplicity like Spring, Summer’s mushrooms on toast with a pea, herb and lemon puree; and orzo with smoked mozzarella and thyme from Autumn, Winter. Most recipes though are unfussy, hearty food. Spring, Summer highlights include aubergine, chilli and soy; shiitake, coconut, soba noodles; and fettuccine with samphire and lemon. From Autumn, Winter: milk, mushrooms and rice; sweet potato, cashew nut and coconut curry; and beetroot with sauerkraut and dill. The writing is masterful – it’s Nigel Slater, guys – descriptive, homely and approachable all at once. You get the impression that these are the sort of things he would cook you if you popped round for tea, waiting politely while he nips out to the garden to grab a few more broad beans to chuck in the lasagne.

The seasonal approach to cooking is a great idea in principle but considering we have roughly three days of summer in this country, most recipes will be suitable for all year round. If you were to get one, I would say Autumn, Winter has the most diverse and interesting recipes, though both would make great additions to the kitchen shelf for the next thirty years or so.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book:
Greenfeast: spring, summer
£24, 4th Estate
Greenfeast: autumn, winter
£22, 4th Estate

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? Flavour is the third in the series of Ottolenghi’s veggie focused books following on from Plenty and Plenty More. This edition focuses on maximising the distinct characteristics of different vegetables and exploring cooking techniques to ramp up their flavours to create “flavour bombs”. The book is divided into three categories – Process, Pairing and Produce – with each featuring subcategories discussing further techniques for making the most of vegetables. Process for instance, delves into charring and ageing; Pairing has sections dedicated to acidity and chilli; while Produce is all about the ingredients themselves. 

Who wrote it? Yotam Ottolenghi, who if you’re reading this blog likely needs no introduction. If you do need a reminder, he’s the reason you chargrill your broccoli rather than boil it. And if you need more than that, he’s an internationally renowned writer, chef and restaurateur. He’s joined by frequent collaborators from the Ottolenghi family Ixta Belfrage and Tara Wigley. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you want to get back out of bed to start cooking. There are insightful and in-depth forewords to each of the book’s sections though the main value of this book will be found in the kitchen. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Not at all. Everything is written with the utmost care and attention to weight and size with all opportunities for doubt removed. Instead of fretting about whether your small onion is actually medium-sized or if your handful of herbs depends on how big your mitts are, it’s listed in precise measurements (if you’re interested, one small onion is 60g). 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? We often have a philosophical Ottolenghi-chicken or egg debate in our household: do the Ottolenghi team make recipes based on what they can find at Waitrose or do Waitrose stock Ottolenghi ingredients knowing their customers are likely to own a copy or two? All of this is to say you can get 99% of what you need in this book from Waitrose, including the more unusual ingredients such as dried black limes or Aleppo chilli flakes. You’ll also find them more affordably at an international supermarket if you should have one near. Failing that, Ottolenghi have their own online pantry for you to order from including the 20 main ingredients you’ll need for this book. 

What’s the faff factor? That definitely depends on what you’re making. Some of these recipes take hours and are all the better for it such as Spicy Mushroom Lasagne and Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana. Many others require little effort and with most recipes, you can take shortcuts to reduce the time. My first try at Swede Gnocchi with Miso Butter took most of the evening making the gnocchi from scratch. The second time took minutes, simply making the sauce and using pre-made gnocchi. 

How often will I cook from the book?  While suffering from a bout of COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, I itemised every recipe I wanted to cook from every cookbook I own to pass the time (don’t judge me, it was a simpler time). Such is the depth of the recipes in this book, I listed almost every recipe from Flavour. There are meals for all occasions in here: quick weeknight dinners such as Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, adventurous weekend cooking projects like Cheese Tamales, or adventurous weekend cooking projects that can be modified to be quick weeknight dinners like the Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal. I have yet to stop returning to this book for old favourites or to find something new.

Killer recipes: Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal, Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions, Oyster Mushroom Tacos, Tofu Meatball Korma, Charred Peppers and Fresh Corn Polenta with Soy-Cured Yolk… I really could list the whole book here.

Should I buy it? If you haven’t already bought it by this point I haven’t done a good enough job in this review. 

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi, Flavour
£27, Ebury Press

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk.

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
Tokyo Up Late is a guide to the after-dark dishes of Japan’s sprawling capital city. Taking you through the long night with recipes that reflect that breadth of gastronomical options Tokyo offers even in the depths of the witching hour, the book attempts to offer something fresh in the increasingly crowded Japanese cookbook market. Whether it succeeds is another matter entirely.

Starting with the food you may find in izakayas – Japan’s popular type of bar, which often serves a range of light meals and snacks that put your local Greene King to shame – the book also offers a look at a cross-section of the city’s society. From makanai (meals served to restaurant workers at the end of their shifts) to fast food, convenience stores and the late night snacks eaten once the evening comes to a close, there’s plenty of ideas here, but very little that hasn’t been shared elsewhere already.

The author is Brendan Liew, whose last book, Tokyo Local, offered a similar look at the practical everyday eating of the city. Liew’s writing here is well researched, but frequently let down by the book’s design, which clumps paragraphs together into a hard to read mass. It’s not the only design flaw in a title that often feels fairly claustrophobic to look at. Gorta Yuuki’s photography and Yuko Yamaguchi’s food styling both work hard to overcome the oppressive colour scheme and blocky prose, but it’s too big an ask.

You should buy Tokyo Up Late for a friend who has a real obsession with recreating Japanese food at home, and the commitment to follow through. Whilst many of the ideas here have been presented previously (and more accessibly) in books like Tokyo Cult Recipes or Tim Anderson’s recent Your Home Izakaya, Liew is a stickler for authenticity, and regularly calls for hard-to-find ingredients like zarame or usukuchi soy sauce. There are some tasty looking dishes here, including a lovingly-presented egg sando and a tempting instant ramen carbonara. But Japan’s cuisine is well-represented on bookshelves at the moment, and this is unlikely to be anybody’s first port of call – especially at the end of a long day.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26, Smith Street Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet is a collection of recipes from Tibet, drawing on the warming foods that feed local cooks in the often challenging climate of the region. 

The author is Julie Kleeman, who works in close collaboration with her husband Yeshi Jampa. Kleeman might do the heavy lifting on the writing front, but it’s Jampa who brings the authenticity, having learnt how to cook in a tent on the Tibetan plateau, where he grew up herding livestock with his family. The pair now live in Oxford, serving Tibetan dishes from a restaurant that shares its name with this book.

You should buy Taste Tibet for an insight into the culture of the region – though perhaps not as much insight into its ongoing independence movement as you might expect. Those looking for comforting foods will certainly find something here – though the book received a spring release, its dishes are better suited to the colder months. There’s not as much variety as one might hope for – the same base ingredients star in an overwhelming amount of the dishes. It’s tempting to put this down to the limited options available to locals in the region, but that doesn’t ring entirely true – Taste Tibet is one of a number of recent books exploring the cuisines around the Himalayas, and others (including Santosh Shah’s Ayla and Romy Gill’s On The Himalayan Trail) manage to do so with much more variety. Perhaps opt for those, unless you are specifically interested in Tibet.

Cuisine: Tibetan
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa
£25, Murdoch Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Coriander & peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Badam ko chutney - Coriander & peanut chutney
MAKES 4–6 SERVINGS

The freshness of this chutney is perfect to accompany Sherpa Roti (Sherpa Fried Bread, see page 180) and Pyaj Ke Kachari (Crispy Onion Beignets, see page 39). To keep the colour a vibrant green, prepare it at the last minute.

ingredients
150g (5½oz) fresh coriander
50g (⅓ cup) blanched peanuts
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 green chillies, tailed and chopped
75ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
An airtight container, for storing

Method
Wash the coriander and pat dry with kitchen paper (paper towels). Chop roughly.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar and crush to obtain a thick paste. Alternatively, blend all the ingredients in a small food processor.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt or lemon juice as needed.

This should be eaten on the day it is made, and stored in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) – by Santosh Shah

Kukhura ko momo - Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney

MAKES 20 (ALLOW 5 PER SERVING)

Originating in Tibet, momos are now Nepal’s most popular dish – we have them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Minced (ground) buffalo meat is often used in the filling, but you can substitute a meat filling with a mixture of finely chopped vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, broccoli and asparagus. They can be served with any chutney but I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney.

Tip: If you prefer, you can skip making the momo wrappers and substitute these with 20 sheets of store-bought round dumpling pastry.

For the wrappers
200g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 good pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch), to dust

For the filling
250g (9oz) free-range chicken thighs, skinned, boned and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2.5-cm (1-in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 spring onion (scallion), finely chopped
1 small lemongrass stick, finely chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh coriander (chopped)
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
¾ teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ a lemon

To serve:
Served with any chutney. I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney (page 151 in Ayla)
Finely sliced red onion and chopped coriander (cilantro)

Special equipment: A large steamer basket

Method:

For the wrapper dough (if making), sift the flour and baking powder onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre, sprinkle in the salt and 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water. Start working the dough with your hands. Add another 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water and continue to work until the dough is formed. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with a dry kitchen towel (dishcloth) and set aside for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Place all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and set aside.

Make the wrappers. Transfer the dough onto a tabletop well dusted with flour. Roll with your hands into a long cylindrical shape about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. Cut into pieces about 2.5cm (1in) wide. Dust with flour and flatten each piece into a circular shape. Roll out each piece with a rolling pin until you have a circle about 8cm (3¼in) in diameter and the thickness of 1–2mm. Dust the pastry with cornflour between each layer and cover the wrappers with a damp kitchen towel (dishcloth) to prevent them from getting dry.

Take a momo wrapper and wet the edge of the pastry with a little water. Place a heaped teaspoonful of the filling mixture in the centre and starting from one point on the outer edge of the wrapper, make a succession of small pleats, in a circular motion, until you come back to the starting point. Now hold all the pleats together and twist them slightly to seal the opening. Repeat the process to make the rest of the momos and keep them covered. Transfer all the momos into a large steamer basket. Steam over high heat for 10–12 minutes, until the filling is well cooked. To serve, place a dollop of chutney on a serving plate, place 5 momos on top and garnish with sliced red onion and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Cook more from this book
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah

Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu - Crispy chilli chicken
One of our most popular street foods in Nepal is a direct influence from our Indo-Chinese borders: crispy chilli chicken. It is found everywhere, usually served with soup and chow mein. The success of this dish is all in the technique. First the chicken cubes are coated and deep-fried until golden and beautifully crispy. Then the sauce, prepared in an extremely hot wok, wraps the crispy chicken in a caramelized, charred, umami seal.

It is traditionally served with Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book).

For the chicken
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
¼ teaspoon salt
400g (14oz) skinless, free-range chicken breasts, cut into 2.5-cm (1-in) cubes
500ml (2 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
100g (1 cup) chopped onion
150g (1⅓ cup) diced mixed (bell) peppers
½ chicken stock cube
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 large pinch of timmur peppercorns, or Sichuan peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Luiche Masala (Chicken Garam Masala, see page 193 in the book)
4 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Equipment: A kitchen thermometer

To serve (optional)
Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book)

Method
First, marinate the chicken. Place the cornflour, plain flour, chilli powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of water and mix until well blended. Add the chicken cubes and toss until well coated.

Heat the 500ml (2 cups) of oil in a large wok until it reaches 180°C (350°F). Deep-fry the coated chicken cubes, in batches, for approximately 7–8 minutes until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towels) and set aside. Discard the oil.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in the wok over high heat. Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and chillies for 1 minute, until golden. Add the onion and (bell) peppers and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until charred, stirring frequently. Add about 200ml (scant 1 cup) water and the ½ chicken stock cube and cook for about 3 minutes, until reduced by three quarters. Add the fried chicken pieces, soy sauce and vinegar, and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the cornflour mix and cook for 1 minute until the mixture is thick enough to coat the chicken and the mixture is well caramelized. Finish by adding the timmur, cumin and garam masala. Adjust the seasoning and add salt if needed, then add the coriander.

Serve the chicken hot and crispy, topped with the sliced spring onions. Offer a bowl of the hot and sour soup, if you like.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Aloo ko tarkari – Potato curry by Santosh Shah

Aloo ko tarkari Potato curry

SERVES 4

Aloo Ko Tarkari (potato curry) is so often eaten with puri, that I have combined the two recipes for you here. Puri are also served alongside other dishes, such as Chana Ko Dal (Spicy Chickpeas, see page 93 of the book). The puri here are vegan, but see page 177 of the book for an alternative recipe, with the option of ghee (clarified butter), and if you want to make them without the potato curry.

For the puri (makes 20)
500g (3¾ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour or roti (chapati) flour, or an equal mixture of both
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for working into the dough
1 litre (4 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for rolling

For the potato curry
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon ginger paste
500g (18oz) red-skinned waxy potatoes, unpeeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 dried hot red chillies, crushed
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
½ teaspoon Sakahar Barha Masala (Vegetable Garam Masala, see page 194 of the book)
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock, or water

A kitchen thermometer

Method

First, make the puri dough. Combine the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil and, using your fingers, work the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Make a well in the flour and measure out 250ml (1 cup) of water. Add some of the water into the well and start mixing the dough, gradually adding the remaining water, a little at a time, until a firm dough forms. Knead the dough well with your hands for about 10 minutes until soft and elastic. Cover with a clean damp cloth and set aside for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 20 pieces and keep them covered.

Make the potato curry. Heat the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let them crackle until they turn dark brown.  Add the cumin and nigella seeds. Cook them for a few seconds just until they crackle. Add the garlic and ginger pastes, potato cubes, salt, crushed red chillies and all the ground spices. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until the potatoes are well coated with oil and spices. Add the vegetable stock or water, bring the mixture to the boil, and then turn down the heat to low.

Simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the potatoes are soft. When the potatoes are soft enough, start stirring them while lightly crushing them with a spatula. You want the potatoes to absorb all the liquid and to have some chunkiness and texture. When they are thick and glossy from the juices, they are ready.

While the potatoes are cooking, fry the puri. Heat the oil in a deep sauté pan until it reaches 190°C (375°F). Roll one of the dough pieces in your hand to make a smooth ball. Apply a little oil on the dough ball and roll it out on an oiled surface with a rolling pin to obtain a 10-cm (4-in) disc. Repeat with the other dough balls. Keep the discs covered with a wet cloth. Place a puri in the hot oil. When it rises to the surface, press it down very gently into the oil with a skimmer. The puri will start puffing up. Flip it over and cook for a few seconds. When the puri are crisp and golden brown – this should take a couple of minutes on each side – remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper (paper towels) to drain.

Serve the potato curry hot with the crisp puri on the side.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

 

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi Test kitchen
Think of Shelf Love as a culinary extemporisation by the Modern Ottolenghi Quintet featuring Noor Murad, Verena Lochmuller, Ixta Belfrage, Tara Wigley and Gitai Fisher. They are the key players who work at the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK) in a converted railway arch in north London devising recipes with Yotam Ottolenghi for his cookbooks and restaurant and cafe empire. Shelf Love is the first of a planned series of OTK-branded cookbooks and is designed to help you work with what you have in the house and make the most of (and improvise with) the ingredients lurking on your shelves, in your veg box, in your fridge and in your freezer. There’s a chapter on sweet things too thrown in for good measure.

You should buy Shelf Love if you ever find yourself staring vacantly into your fridge at six o’clock at night wondering what on earth you are going to make for dinner. The book is not only packed with thrillingly delicious recipes such as magical chicken and parmesan soup with papparedelle; one pan crispy spaghetti with chicken; spicy pulled pork vindaloo; sweet potato shakshuka with sriracha butter and pickled onions, and carrot cake sandwich cookies, but each one comes annotated with a ‘make it your own’ footnote with suggestions for substitutions and alternatives. As you cook through it, Shelf Love encourages you to think for yourself so that one day you may not be left with unloved ingredients at the back of your fridge, but you will still want to keep the book in a prominent position on you kitchen bookshelf.

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for: 
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
 Four stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi
£25, Ebury Press

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend is an old fashioned famous white bloke’s cookbook. The 100 motley recipes that brazenly raid global cooking traditions – like famous white bloke’s cookbooks  tend to do – are hung around the thin premise of ‘weekend’ cooking when notionally you have more time to spend in the kitchen.  In reality, you could knock many of the recipes up at any time of the week. But no matter, the concept doesn’t seem to detain Tebbutt too much, who expounds on it briefly in some fleeting introductory passages, so let’s not let it spoil our fun. There’s some nice things to cook here.

The author is Saturday morning BBC TV’s Mr Wobbly Head Matt Tebbutt, presenter of Saturday Kitchen. He formerly ran The Foxhunter pub in Wales and has worked in the kitchens of top chefs Marco Pierre White and Alistair Little, among others.  That dates him.

You should buy Weekend if you want to cook some nice things to eat. It’s really no more complicated, or interesting than that. Recipes are divided into six chapters: Friday Night (I’m not even going to try explain what that’s meant to mean as I’ll have to use the phrase ‘ fuss-free fodder’ and then I’d have to kill myself); breakfast and brunch; lunch and BBQ; Saturday night (when you’re not watching Britain’s Got Talent in your PJs with a Domino’s, apparently); Sunday lunch and Desserts.

The head-spinningly varied collection careens from Portuguese chicken, coriander and garlic soup to Malaysian nasi lemak, and from a Reuben sandwich to biltong. There’s Mexican-style grilled corn, Italian malfatti dumplings with tuna, American cobb salad and Cape Malay lamb curry.  It’s not what you’d call cohesive, or true to any particular culinary heritage, style or tradition. It’s all over the bloody place, but then, isn’t that how many of us cook at home?

You’re not going to learn anything profound from the book, it’s not going to change your life, but you will almost certainly enjoy cooking from it. It’s something for the weekend.

Buy this book
Weekend by Matt Tebbutt
£22, Quadrille 

Cuisine: International 
Suitable for:
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Sambal Shiok is ‘The Malaysian Cookbook’ according to its subtitle. However ‘A Malaysian Cookbook’ might be more accurate; not due to any shortcomings but simply because, by the author’s own admission, the book is not intended to be definitive – ‘several of my dishes are not what you may traditionally find in Malaysia but are firmly rooted in Malaysian flavours,’ says Yin.

The author is Mandy Yin, a London based lawyer-turn-street food vendor who now runs Sambal Shiok (which means ‘shockingly good sambal’) Laksa Bar restaurant in the Holloway Road. This is her first cookbook.

You should buy Sambal Shiok. That’s it. Trust me, click the link below immediately, you’ll love it. Still need convincing? Well, if you happen to be new to the irresistibly spicy, sweet, savoury and sour delights of Malaysian cuisine, then this is the perfect introduction.

The selection of essential ‘Hawker-Centre Favourites’ includes chicken satay with peanut sauce, anchovy fried rice (nasi goreng), fried flat rice noodles (char kway teow); curry laksa noodle soup, and coconut rice with egg and sambal (nasi lemak). If that isn’t already making you feel very hungry indeed, then how about some home style dishes like Malaysian chicken curry; beef rendang; tamarind prawns, or classic spiral curry puffs? Yin’s own non-traditional dishes include the satay burgers that launched her food career.

Thanks to a chunky introductory section and generous recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read about Yin’s own food journey as well as Malaysian food culture and background information to the dishes.

Yes, the ingredients lists can look a little long and daunting, but once you’ve got your Malaysian store cupboard stocked up, the recipes are actually mostly very  straightforward.  Have you ordered it yet?

Cuisine: Malaysian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin
£20, Headline Home

This book was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia is a gastronomic tour of Sicily in recipes and essays courtesy of one of London’s top chefs.

The author is Ben Tish, chef director of the London-based Cubitt House group of upmarket gastropubs. His CV also included opening the Sicilian-Moorish influenced restaurant Norma, and the position of chef director of the acclaimed Salt Yard restaurant group, both in London. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, contributes to a number of newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on TV.

You should buy Sicilia for the tomato sauce and pasta all norma recipes alone, but also if you want to understand more about the diverse culinary heritage of Sicily. A regular visitor to the island and its satellites, Tish’s introduction takes a brief look at various aspects of the cuisine and food culture, from the influences from the Moors and the Berbers to the food markets and a hidden restaurant gem,  Terra Mia on the slopes of Mount Etna. The main body of the book contained in nine chapters covers recipes for bread, fritti, pasta and rice, vegetables, fish, meat, sweets, granita and ice creams and sauces and basics.  Other must-cook recipes include bignolati (Sicilian sausage bread ring); baked conchiglioni (pasta shells) with pumpkin and rosemary; grilled quid with peas, mint, tomato and sweet vinegar; stuffed and braised lamb’s hearts with broad beans and lemon, and iris (chocolate and ricotta-filled doughnuts), among many others.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Sicilia by Ben Tish
£26, Absolute

A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens is ‘a journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, renowned British food writer Sophie Grigson made the life-changing decision to relocate permanently from her home in Oxford to the small town of Candela in Puglia in southern Italy. In 10 chapters, the book covers a period of just over a year from June 2019 to Autumn 2020 and explores the culture, history and geography of the region all through the prism of food, documented in short essays and recipes.  And that title? Grigson says you won’t find chicken on a restaurant menu in Puglia which she attributes to the fact that, traditionally in the region ‘a laying chicken was just too precious to kill off’.

The author is Sophie Grigson (daughter of legendary food writer Jane Grigson) who has written more than 20 books and has presented nine TV series for various British broadcasters.

You should buy A Curious Absence of Chickens for the carefully collated and curated collection of mostly traditional Puglian recipes (none of which are pictures, the only illustrations in the book are Kavel Rafferty’s charming drawings) including polpette di carne (meatballs);  bombette (thinly sliced pork shoulder rolled with pancetta, parsley and cheese; ciambotto (fish stew with squid, chillies and tomatoes) and ciceri e tria (a dish from Salento in the south of Puglia of  chickpeas cooked with cherry tomatoes and pasta and topped with fried pasta strips).

Although the book stems from a personal life choice, don’t expect Grigson to give too much away about herself in the book, which is more a journalist exploration of the regions food culture (and an excellent one at that) than traditional memoir.  

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson
£20, Headline Home

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is a food-centric memoir with recipes.

The author is Stanley Tucci, the much loved American actor, writer, film producer and director, most noted for his performances in The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games. However, foodies will know him best for the films Big Night and Julie and Julia and his excellent food and travel TV series Searching for Italy. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.  

You should buy Taste: My Life Through Food first and foremost if you are a fan of Tucci. The handful of recipes are for very familiar Italian dishes such as pasta alla Norma or are so simple, like a tomato salad or lamb chops, as to hardly warrant a recipe at all. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

However, you do get the recipe for Timpano, the spectacular centrepiece dish featured in Big Night that Tucci describes as ‘a baked drum of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragu, salami, various cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and meatballs’. There’s also some of Tucci’s favourite cocktails (including his now notorious shaken not stirred negroni), his wife’s recipe for roast potatoes and American BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang’s chimichurri sauce among other things.

But Tucci is an engaging writer and you will have fun discovering his childhood in upstate New York (as well as a year in Florence), his time working as a nineteen year old bar man in Alfredo’s restaurant in Manhattan and anecdotes from his life in the movie business.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
£20, Fig Tree

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Freekeh, Wild Wheat and Ancient Grains by Ruth Nieman

Freekeh
Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains is a collection of 80 ‘healthy’ recipes based around ancient grains including freekeh. The book’s six chapters also chart the 10,000 year history of the discovery and cultivation of grains including barley, rye and sorghum and wild wheats such as emmer and einkorn. 

The author is London-based food writer and former nurse and then caterer Ruth Nieman who specialises in the food of the Middle East. Her first self published book The Galilean Kitchen included home recipes from women of the northern Israeli region.  

You should buy Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains if you are interested in food history and finding out more about lesser known ingredients, as well as eating nutritious dishes such as pearl barley soup  with fennel, dill and feta which Nieman says is protein rich and contains fibre and antioxidants. The tone tends toward the  academic and there’s a distinct lack of food styling in the photography which gives the book a less than polished feel which may limit its appeal for some readers. 

Cuisine: Middle Eastern 
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Freekeh by Ruth Nieman
£20, Prospect Books

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton

THE MODERN PRESERVER'S KITCHEN - Kylee Newton

The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen is a guide to making and using jam, chutney, ferments and pickles with recipes for the preserves themselves and 70 dishes in which to use them.

The author is Kylee Newton is the New Zealand-born, London-based founder of the  Newton and Pott preserving company that makes small batch jams, pickles and chutneys that are available at Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols as well as local London markets. She is also the author of The Modern Preserver.

You should buy The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen if you are new to the subject and want to learn how to vinegar-brine vegetables and fruit, ferment vegetables to make things like sauerkraut and kimchi, make savoury chutneys relishes and pickles including cranberry sauce and sweet and hot tomato chilli jam and sweet jams, marmalades and jellies such as rhubarb and hibiscus jam and lime and tequila marmalade. If you’re already an expert preserver, recipes including  sweet chilli chicken wings with kimchi fried rice will provide plenty of inspiration of what to do with all those delicious store cupboard ingredients.

Cuisine: Preserving
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton
£22, Quadrille

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

andre simon logo

Sea and Shore by Emily Scott

Emily Scott Sea and Shore

Sea and Shore is a collection of recipes by a chef inspired by living and working in Cornwall. As there isn’t really such a thing as ‘Cornish cuisine’, it’s probably best to think of it as one cook’s personal culinary response to the produce and surroundings of the county.

The author is Emily Scott, chef of Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay in north Cornwall and the former owner and chef of St Tudy Inn near Bodmin. She recently hit the headlines as one of the team who catered the G7 conference at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in 2021. Scott also appeared on the BBCs Great British Menu series in 2019.

You should buy Sea and Shore because you’ll want to make Cornish crab linguine with chilli, lemon and parsley; slow roasted lamb shoulder with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme; little gem tart with Keen’s Cheddar, spring onions and flat leaf parsley; meringue roulade with clementine curd, cream and passionfruit and Cornish faring biscuits made with coconut, ginger and golden syrup, plus many of the other 80 simple recipes, making it an ideal book for novice cooks. The food looks colourful and appetising while the Cornish landscape photography will inspire your next English summer holiday.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Sea and Shore by Emily Scott 
£26, Hardie Grant

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry

Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
What’s the USP? Cookbooks are all about USPs at the moment. Whether they focus in on a single region’s cuisine, or promise a wealth of recipes that can be produced with nothing more than a roasting tin and a lot of patience for the scouring pad you’ll need after, these hyper-specialised cookbooks are, generally speaking, quite welcome. It’s lovely to know that should I wish to learn the nuances of fermentation, or become a master of teppanyaki, I can find a book that will support that. But it perhaps means that we see less of the other type of cookbook: the cook’s book.

There’s a small joy in rummaging through an individual’s favourite recipes, knowing that the overwhelming theme they want to share with you is as follows: these are the delicious things that I like to eat. Though the two great Nigels (Slater and -la Lawson) have each delivered excellent cook’s books over the last couple of years, I’m always excited to root about through the choice meals of a cook that I trust. And that’s exactly what Colu Cooks offers.

Who wrote it? Colu Henry, who ironically first came to my attention thanks to her hyper-specialised first book. In my late twenties, and keen to learn how to make pasta dishes that were slightly more accomplished than the jar of sauce/chopped up sausage combo I’d been relying on for years, Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta became a key source of flavour and fresh inspiration.

Five years later, and Henry is back with her second book. Pasta still features throughout – we never forget our first love – but exists as one facet in a book overflowing with flavour. Colu Cooks is a collection of recipes linked by little more than the author’s love for them.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s not bad bedtime reading, which is more than we can say for a lot of cookbooks. For the most part, chapter introductions are short and sweet, and individual recipes get a paragraph or two each. There’s the list of pantry staples that no cook’s book goes without, and a lovely section at the back where Henry, who is no big fan of desserts, hands over the sweetest section to a roster of friends. But for the most part the reading is limited, if lifted by Henry’s likeable and honest voice.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low. The book’s subtitle promises ‘easy fancy food’, which seems to be the case in no small part because those are precisely the recipes Henry loves most after all. Dishes are mostly pitched as taking less than half an hour to make, and those that take a little longer are often the simplest of all. I decided to knock together the Spatchcocked Lime Pickle Roasted Chicken one morning to offer a friend over for lunch, and barely even noticed the process as we chatted together in the kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? The joy of ‘easy fancy food’ is that though most dishes in the book would impress dinner guests, they’re equally suited to a weeknight meal. Put your mind to it, and you could easily work your way through the entire cookbook in a year.

What will I love? Everything looks and sounds delicious. It’s hard to resist most dishes. Danielle Youngsmith’s design and Tara Donne’s nostalgic photos manage to perfectly capture the feel of a 1970s food magazine that Henry wanted. A smattering of cocktail recipes only add to the vibe. It’s a fun look that recalls Lucky Peach’s books – a retro feel complimenting modern, exciting cookery.

What won’t I love? As with so many cook’s books, the dishes aren’t always as easy or cheap to source as you’d like. This isn’t Colu Henry’s fault, of course – ideally we should all be able to find good quality short ribs at affordable prices, but there are plenty of accessible dishes here nonetheless.

Killer recipes: Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, Za’atar and Preserved Lemon, Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola, A Dirty Bird (aka Potato Chip Chicken), Braised Lamb Shanks with Gingery Meyer Lemon Relish, Dregs and Fruit Crumble, Nutella Fudgsicles, Guvie’s Ramos Gin Fizz

Should I buy it? A celebration of food that is as indulgent as it is manageable, Colu Cooks is fun and flavourful. Such a passionate and engaging celebration of one individual’s favourite dishes gives us an opportunity to think about our own favourites, and build a cook’s book that best represents us. Chances are most people will find something here that they’ll want to add to theirs.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Cook from this book
Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Seared by Genevieve Taylor

Seared by Genevieve Taylor
There are few better qualified people to write a guide to barbecuing meat than Genevieve Taylor. As well as authoring ten previous cookbooks, including Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue, Taylor runs the Bristol Fire School where she teaches cooking over fire. She shares her knowledge and expertise in the practical side of barbecuing in an extended introduction that’s the next best thing to attending one of her classes. Taylor covers all the key areas of cooking over fire including all the equipment you’ll probably ever need as well as what sort of fuel you should consider buying and how to create various fuel set ups for cooking different cuts of meat.

Divided into two main chapters of ‘Beast’ (covering beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison and goat) and ‘Bird’ (chicken, turkey and duck), the collection of globally inspired recipes covers both fast and slow cooking methods and will help barbecue newbies and more experienced practitioners alike expand their repertoire. The creative dishes include pork tenderloin with pistachio crust and grilled spring veg; tandoori venison kebabs, and even a Thai red curry with meatballs and green beans.

The ubiquitous and often mundane barbecue double act of sausages and burgers are given a makeover with homemade pork butt and beef chuck Texas hot link sausages spiced with smoked paprika and cayenne, and minty lamb smash burgers served with feta and beetroot. Ribs get an entire chapter to themselves and have never sounded more tempting than in the guise of Sri Lankan black pork spare-ribs with curry BBQ sauce or cola and gochugaru flanken-cut (across the bones) beef ribs.

With guides on brines, marinades and rubs, how to cook the perfect steak (with or without bone), techniques for smoking and braising on the barbecue and a quick reference infographic guide to the internal temperatures for all the included varieties of meat, Taylor covers all the barbecue bases and lives up to the claim in the book’s subtitle that this is ‘The Ultimate Guide to Barbecuing Meat’.

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Seared by Genevieve Taylor
£20, Hardie Grant

This review was first published in The Caterer magazine. 

Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew

TUL_Back Home_Ochazuke
This is the most common ochazuke type in Japan and abroad, and for good reason. The flaky, salty, slightly rich salmon pairs well with the clean, pure flavour of the rice and green tea. Feel free to change the toppings and the soup to suit your tastes.

2 x 100 g (31/2 oz) salmon fillet pieces, skin on
300–400 g (101/2–14 oz) hot cooked rice
2 spring onions (scallions), white part only, finely sliced
2 tablespoons takana (pickled mustard greens)
2 tablespoons tororo kombu (finely shredded kombu)
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
2 tablespoons shredded nori (kizami nori)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, ground

SOUP
500 ml (2 cups) green tea (or tea of your choice)
1 handful of katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
2 teaspoons usukuchi soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1 teaspoon salt

SERVES 2

Preheat the oven grill (broiler) to high. Season the salmon fillets on both sides with salt, then place on a greased tray lined with foil, skin side up. Grill for 8–10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet and how you like your salmon cooked; it should be flaky.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the green tea to a simmer, then add the katsuobushi and turn the heat off. Leave for 5 minutes, then strain into a clean saucepan. Save the katsuobushi for another use (see note on page 216 of the book).

Bring the soup back to a simmer and season with the soy sauce, mirin and salt. Taste and adjust if necessary. Scoop the rice into serving bowls. Top with the cooked salmon, followed by the remaining ingredients, finishing with the soup.

Cook more from this book
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew
Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

TUL_Izakaya_Mizu Shingenmochi
This may be called a ‘cake’ in English, but it is really a jelly. A jelly that is very lightly set using agar, and resembles a crystal-clear raindrop, accompanied by a flavoured syrup. I’ve gone with a matcha syrup for this recipe, but traditionally it is served with the black sugar syrup (see page 188 of the book) and sprinkled with kinako (roasted soy bean flour). A raindrop cake looks spectacular, and with the right moulds (spherical ice moulds or semicircular moulds) is very easy to prepare. This makes it a great, easy dessert for busy izakayas, and a refreshing end to a meal.

1 g (1/28 oz) kanten agar
400 ml (14 fl oz) water
80 g (23/4 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons matcha powder, plus extra for sprinkling

SERVES 4
Set out four small bowls or circular moulds, about 6 cm (21/4 inches) in diameter. In a small saucepan, combine the agar, water and 20 g (3/4 oz) of the sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar and agar. Working quickly, so the liquid doesn’t start solidifying in the pan, pour the mixture into the bowls, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set.

Make a matcha syrup by whisking together the matcha powder and remaining (60 g) sugar in a small bowl. Heat 30 ml (1 fl oz) water in a small saucepan until simmering, then slowly stream it into the matcha powder and sugar, whisking well.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, just until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a container and refrigerate.

When the cakes have set, unmould each one onto a serving plate. Spoon the matcha syrup around them, sprinkle a little matcha powder over and serve.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew

TUL_Izakaya_Kamonegi

Like bacon and eggs, kamo (duck) and negi (leek) can be listed as just two ingredients on a menu, but the combination is so well known in Japan that people can envisage the dish based only on those two words alone. Kamo negi is usually seared, thinly sliced duck breast accompanied by the whites of leeks that have been slowly pan-fried or roasted to have nicely brown grill marks. It could be served plated
as an okazu (side dish) as part of a larger feast, or made into a delightful noodle soup. I’ve included both versions of the dish here, as you can double the amount of duck breast and turn it into two completely different meals. It is best to start this recipe the day before, to allow the duck breast to cure with the salt and sansho overnight. This draws out water from the meat while seasoning the duck at the same time, resulting in crispier duck skin and more flavoursome meat.

2 duck breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sansho pepper
1 thin leek, cleaned, whites cut into 4 pieces, greens discarded or used for stock
30 ml (1 fl oz) soy sauce
30 ml (1 fl oz) sake
15 g (1/2 oz) zarame or sugar

PLATED VERSION
1 bunch of spring onions
(scallions)

SOUP VERSION
500 ml (2 cups) dashi (see page 32 of book for recipe)
250 g (9 oz) ramen noodles, home-made (see page 130 of book for recipe) or store bought
1 bunch of green vegetables, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
shichimi togarashi, to serve

SERVES 2
Using a sharp knife, remove any silver skin from the underside of the duck breasts. Rub 1 teaspoon salt over the skin and meat of each breast, then rub the sansho pepper over only the flesh. (We season only the meat side with the sansho, because the sansho will burn on the skin side, which is pan-fried for a longer time than the meat side.) Place the duck breasts, skin side up, on a rack with a tray underneath. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, but at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook, use a sharp knife to cut lines down the duck skin, along the length of the breast, about 2 mm (1/8 inch) deep and 1 cm (1/2 inch) apart. This creates channels for the duck fat to render out, resulting in a crispier skin.

Place the duck, skin side down, in a cold frying pan and turn the heat to medium–low. When the duck starts sizzling and a thin layer of rendered duck fat coats the bottom of the pan, add the leek to the pan.

Cook for 15 minutes over medium–low heat, skin side down the whole time; there should be a light frying noise. Every 5 minutes, drain the fat from the pan, reserving it for roasted potatoes or stir-fries. Turn the leek over after 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the soy sauce, sake and zarame just enough to dissolve the zarame.  At this point, you can take the recipe in two different directions.

FOR THE PLATED VERSION:
Wash the spring onions, then divide into the green and white parts. Shred the green bits and very thinly julienne the whites, keeping them separate.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, turn it over onto the flesh side and sear all the parts that appear uncooked. After you’ve seared each side, leave the duck on the meat side for a further minute (it should be 2 minutes in total), then transfer the duck and leek from the pan to a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, but do not wash.

After 5 minutes, place the pan back on the heat and turn the heat up to high. Add the spring onion greens and stir-fry until wilted. Add the soy sauce mixture and any accumulated juices under the duck. Allow to bubble until slightly thickened, then remove from the heat. Slice the duck, then place on your serving dish with the leek. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the spring onion whites and serve.

FOR THE SOUP VERSION:
While the duck is cooking, bring the dashi to a simmer and prepare a pot of boiling water for cooking the noodles.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, very quickly sear the flesh side of the duck just to colour it, then remove from the pan with the leek. Don’t worry if you think it’s still raw; it will cook further in the soup.

Quickly blanch your vegetables in the boiling water; remove with tongs and place in a colander to drain. Boil the noodles in the same water, then pour into the colander to drain, shaking the colander to remove as much excess water as possible.

Divide the noodles and vegetables among bowls. Add 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture to the simmering dashi. Taste and add more of the dashi mixture, or salt, until you are happy with the flavour. Pour it over the noodles and top with the greens. Slice the duck breast and fan it out over the noodles with the leek. Serve with shichimi togarashi for sprinkling over.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry

SwordfishWithBurstTomatoes_p104a_ColuCooks
My dad ordered swordfish a lot when we vacationed on the Cape in the eighties. He also spent a lot of time unsuccessfully surf casting on Nauset Beach, but that’s another story. In the years following, swordfish became so overfished that for many years it was taken off menus. Since then, a lot of work has been done to rebuild the population and I’m so pleased we’re able to eat them responsibly again. They are meaty, flavorful, wonderful fish that hold their own with punchy flavors, which you’ll see here. If you can find the Italian Jimmy Nardello varietal of peppers for this recipe, please do. They are up there as one of my favorite peppers, and when cooked, their sweetness intensifies and almost becomes a bit smoky. I first had them in Napa and was thrilled when the farmers at Sparrowbush started growing them here in Hudson. Clearly a bell pepper will also work, but I think the Nardello’s are worth tracking down.

Serves 4
Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil
3 Jimmy Nardello peppers or 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long thin strips
2 pints (290 g) mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved if large
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 chile pepper, such as cayenne, serrano, or jalapeño, thinly sliced
2½ teaspoons za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend consisting of dried herbs and sesame seeds)
¼ cup (112 g) seeded and roughly chopped preserved lemon (both peel and flesh)
½ cup (120 ml) dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce/170 g) swordfish steaks, about ¾ inch (2 cm) thick
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
Flaky salt, for finishing (optional)

METHOD
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and beginning to turn golden in spots, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to burst, 5 to 7 minutes, pressing the tomatoes gently with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon to get them nice and jammy. (I like to keep some with more structure than the others for texture’s sake.) There should be a fair amount of liquid released in the pan. If not, add a few tablespoons of water. Stir in the garlic, chile pepper, za’atar, and preserved lemon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, until the garlic is fragrant and the spice mix is lightly toasted.

Pour in the white wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits that have formed at the bottom of the pan, and cook for 10 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to get to know each other and the sauce to slightly thicken. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare the swordfish steaks. Season the fish well with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and then gently flip to finish cooking, 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the flesh is opaque all the way through. Arrange the swordfish in the pan with the tomatoes and peppers and scatter the top with the oregano leaves. Season with flaky salt if you like. Spoon more of the sauce over the top and serve from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry

SpringLambRagu_p143a_ColuCooks
I originally made this dish for an intimate Buona Pasqua dinner. Intimate meaning for myself and Chad. Usually for Easter, we get together with Jenn, Steve, and their daughter Brynn and grill some cut of lamb over open fire, but that particular year was very different due to sheltering in place. Determined not to let it dampen my spirits, I made Chad drive all over town in hunt of forsythia to cut down, to bring some spring into the house and make our dinner feel celebratory—crankily (him) and sadly (me), we came home empty handed. Moments later and completely unprompted, Jenn texted to ask if we’d like some forsythia from her yard and I couldn’t believe my luck. Her husband Steve arrived on our porch an hour later, arms full of branches. I quickly put them in water in a big vase on the dining room table and Chad and I sat down to a late-afternoon spring supper of thick egg noodles tossed with lamb, the season’s first pea shoots, and lots of butter and herbs. Celebrate we did.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed, rinsed of grit, then thinly sliced (about 1½ cups/125 g) or 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 oil-packed anchovies
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound (455 g) ground lamb
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (120 ml) white wine
1½ to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) chicken stock
12 ounces (340 g) pappardelle or tagliatelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces (85 g) pea shoots, arugula, or other baby greens
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon), plus lemon juice for finishing
½ cup (25 g) loosely packed fresh herbs, such as flatleaf parsley leaves, mint leaves, and snipped chives
Freshly grated pecorino, for serving

SERVES 4
TIME 35 minutes

METHOD
Heat the olive oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and cook until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt. Stir in the garlic, anchovies, rosemary, and tomato paste and cook until the anchovies have melted and the tomato paste has toasted slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, pressing the meat firmly into the bottom of the pan until it begins to crisp up and stirring until it is browned through, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 minutes or so. Pour in 1½ cups (360 ml) of the chicken stock and allow the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, while you make the pasta. If it looks like it’s drying out, stir in the remaining ½ cup (60 ml) stock.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, just shy of al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet with the lamb along with the butter and pea shoots. Toss together, adding in a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water if needed, until the pasta is glossy with sauce, the pea shoots have wilted, and the butter has melted. Add half the herbs, the lemon zest, and a good squeeze of lemon juice and toss again. Plate in bowls and top with the remaining herbs.

Serve with some grated cheese.

Cook more from this book
Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry
Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon

The Nutmeg Trail by Eleanor Ford

The Nutmeg Trail by Eleanor FordWhat’s the USP? ‘A culinary journey along the ancient spice routes’, The Nutmeg Trail explores the way spices have travelled around the globe throughout history. Paying particularly close attention to the Asian origins of many of these spices, the book is a colourful and varied collection of recipes that are full of flavour.

Who wrote it? Eleanor Ford, who has made something of a name for herself in the cookbook world over the past six years or so. Her debut volume, Samarkand, took in the food of central Asia and won both Ford and co-writer Caroline Eden a clutch of awards. Her follow-up, the fantastic Fire Islands, offered up an in-depth look at Indonesian cuisine and further extended the need for a hefty trophy cabinet. Now Ford is back with her third title and – spoiler alert – may want to start thinking about where she’s going to tuck the next inevitable accolades coming her way.

Is it good bedtime reading? Books that explore the world of spices are not lacking in the cookbook world, and with so much nuanced history and flavour to cover, are usually excellent for readers looking for lengthy essays on, say, the migration of flavours across the middle east, or the impact that chillies have had on each new cuisine they’ve touched. Ford’s book is no outlier here, with extensive opening chapters sitting ahead of recipes that are themselves punctuated with further insight into specific spices and flavours.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Concisely written and refreshingly clear, the recipes in The Nutmeg Trail are a joy to follow. A welcome additional touch comes by way of Ford’s occasional ‘eat with’ notes, that might make vague-but-useful suggestions, or may include an entire second recipe for good measure.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The recipes here couldn’t be more global if they tried – from page to page you may flick from Mauritius to China to the Emirates. Occasionally this means you’ll come across slightly more niche ingredients like coconut vinegar or kewra water. On these occasions, though, Ford is careful to include alternatives, or ensure that the difficult ingredient is an optional extra. On the occasions that call for a specific and unusual spice mix, she provides instructions on how to make it yourself rather than rely on your ability to source a pre-packaged Uyghur seven spice.

What’s the faff factor? It very much depends on the dish at hand. I tried two myself, on back to back nights because I simply had no interest in waiting any longer to try them. The first, Red-Cooked Duck Breasts was both quick and relatively simple, taking roughly the same amount of time it normally would to pan fry and then roast duck breast fillets, but yielding a much richer and more interesting final plate.

My Jasmine Tea-Smoked Chicken was significantly more of a bother, though. It’s no mean feat, for a start, to source three tablespoons of loose-leaf jasmine tea without shelling out for significantly more than you need in the process. Once you’ve compiled the necessary ingredients, you’ll then need to toast and grind your own spice mix, set aside a day to season your chicken, and eventually create a DIY smoker using a trivet and a pan. I ended up building an elaborate tin foil structure to allow me to make the most of my saute pan and a bamboo steamer and, you know what? Absolutely bloody worth it. The chicken was gorgeously flavoured, and I had the thrill of smoking meat in my own kitchen, using little more than a hob and some loosely Macgyvered kitchenware. Most recipes don’t ask for this level of commitment, but at least the ones that do more than compensate you for the time and thought you put into the dish.

How often will I cook from the book? I’ll be honest: 2022 has not been a big year for repeat visits to cookbooks in our household. One of my two new year’s resolutions (alongside listening to every Willie Nelson album) was to cook at least one meal from every single cookbook on my shelves. It’s been an immensely rewarding exercise so far, but it doesn’t leave much room for cooking from the same book with great frequency. In fact, that The Nutmeg Trail managed to pull me back to its pages over two consecutive nights is telling enough. The recipes here are built to tempt – all flavour, no filler – and the variety on offer means home cooks may well be making weekly visits to its pages.

Killer recipes: Garlic Clove Curry, Royal Saffron Paneer, Typhoon Shelter Corn, Hot-&-Sour Tomato Rasam, Venetian Chicken with Almond Milk & Dates, Mushroom Rendang… the list goes on and on.

Should I buy it? Probably! It depends. Are you my mother? This is, after all, a book about spice. If, like her, you are so incapable of approaching the very concept of spice that you can’t even eat KFC without flapping about your mouth like Yosemite Sam after he’s accidentally swallowed a stick of dynamite, this probably isn’t the book for you.

If, however, you fall anywhere else on the spectrum of spice-eaters, there will be something for you here. Whilst The Nutmeg Trail shares a passion for history and exposition with the spice-centric books that have come before it, Ford manages to offer up the one thing these titles have so often forgotten: truly outstanding recipes, and plenty of them.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Nutmeg Trail by Eleanor Ford
£26,  Murdoch Books

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry

SmokyAndSpicyShrimp_p111a_ColuCooks_p111a

It’s all right there for you in the title. Sweet shrimp is sautéed until just cooked through, and fregola (a tiny toasted pasta from Sardinia) is added to the pot to toast in the melted anchovy butter and spices with some cherry tomatoes. I love Calabrian chiles packed in oil and use them here for some punchy heat, but if red pepper flakes are within closer reach feel free to use them instead. Once the fregola finishes cooking, return the shrimp to the pot to warm them through and serve straight from the pan. Serve with many bottles of chilled red wine.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS
1 pound (455 g) extra-large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (½ stick/55 g) unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 oil-packed anchovies
3 Calabrian chiles, roughly chopped, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pint (290 g) cherry or Sungold tomatoes
1½ cups (270 g) fregola
3 cups (700 ml) chicken stock
½ cup (20 g) loosely packed basil leaves, torn if large, or roughly chopped parsley or mint, or a combination of all three

METHOD
Season the shrimp well with salt and black pepper. In a 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove and set aside on a plate.

Add the garlic, anchovies, Calabrian chiles, and smoked paprika to the skillet and stir until the garlic is fragrant and the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and toast for a minute or so. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir to coat. Cook until the tomatoes begin to burst, pressing down on them gently to help release their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the fregola to the pan and stir until the pasta is well coated in the spiced butter. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the fregola is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the shrimp back to the pan with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and stir until they are just warmed through. Scatter with herbs and serve.

Cook more from this book
Swordfish with Burst Tomatoes, Peppers, and Za’atar and Preserved Lemon by Colu Henry
Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry


Buy this book
Colu Cooks by Colu Henry
£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali

Baking with fortitude
What’s the USP? Just because we’re not in lockdown any more doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our national sourdough habit, does it? Either way, here’s a collection of sourdough cakes and bakes (and non-fermented recipes too) from cult London bakery Fortitude to keep your (sourdough) mother happy.  The book is the winner of  the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021.

Who wrote it? Irish-born baker Dee Rettali was something of an organic food pioneer, opening Patisserie Organic in London in 1988. She is the former head chef of the London-based cafe chain Fernandez and Wells and opened Fortitude bakery in Bloomsbury in 2018.  This is her first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a six page introduction plus one or two page introductions to each of the seven chapters but that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an online specialist supplier for dried meadowsweet to make the first recipe in the book, a butter loaf cake flavoured with honey and meadowsweet (one of eight butter loaf cakes recipes – the book is organised around base recipes and their variations).

Go anywhere but your local supermarket for the ‘fresh ripe’ fruit Rettali specifies for things like Lavender and Pear Butter Loaf Cake because, well,  when was the last time you bought fruit from Asda et al that was fresh and ripe? If you need overpriced stuff that is rock hard, tasteless and goes bad before it approaches ripeness then you’d be laughing.

You’ll need to buy organic flour of course, including buckwheat flour to make orange, yoghurt and polenta cake, but you should have few issues obtaining the vast majority of ingredients specified in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Although the book is billed as a collection of sourdough bakes which might sound complicated, in fact most of the recipes don’t use a starter but can be fermented if you wish to deepen the resultant flavour which Rettali claims is an innovation in cake baking.  This process takes no additional effort, you just need to plan ahead.  The base recipes, that include the aforementioned butter loaf cake as well as olive oil cake, yoghurt cake and sour milk soda bread are often just a matter of combining the ingredients in a bowl although the brioche and sourdough butter cake mixes are a little more complex.

The complete recipes range from the simple and straightforward Blueberry and Lime Little Buns to the slightly more involved Sticky Cinnamon Buns with Molasses Sugar, but there is nothing off-puttingly complex or too fiddly here. This is good old fashioned baking rather than fancy detailed patisserie work.

What will I love? Rettali has a very clear culinary vision and distinct style so that the recipes never feel over-familiar. There are some classics like Eccles cakes and  hot cross buns (albeit a sourdough-based version mad with candied orange) but also creations you may not have come across before like  turmeric custard and roast pear brioche buns or chocolate and chilli sugar olive oil loaf cake.

What won’t I like so much? Using the base-recipe-and-variations format means there is cross over and similarity among the groups of recipes (there are an awful lot of loaf cakes for example) in what, at 192 pages, is a relatively short book. You will need a food mixer for some of the recipes as alternative methods are not provided. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a keen baker, there is enough variety, from tahini, za’tar and sesame seed biscuits to tomato, garlic and oregano soda bread to keep you busy for many weeks.

Should I buy it? If you are an experienced baker looking to create something that little but different, this is definitely the book for you. Newbies will also appreciate Rettali’s encouraging attitude, ‘By sharing my recipes and approach to baking, I want to take away the fear. Use your hands, get your fingers right into the bottom of the bowl and feel the dough.’ 

Cuisine: British baking
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/beginners/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
£22, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021. Click the image below to find out more.

Food Longlist (3)

Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Rose and Pistachio (1)

At Fortitude, I top these rosewater-flavoured buns with organic dried rose buds from the Merzouga valley in Morocco. I have visited this region on many occasions, where you are always greeted by the heady floral smell of organic roses.

Makes 12 little buns

12-hole muffin tin or easy-release silicone mould, greased well with oil
170ml pomace oil (or light virgin olive oil)
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
4 eggs
125g fine semolina
50g pistachios, finely ground into a flour
200g ground almonds
1. teaspoons baking powder
25ml rosewater

To decorate
250g icing sugar
25g finely chopped pistachios
12 dried rose buds (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together the pomace oil and caster sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and continue to mix until combined, but do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, combine the semolina, ground pistachios, ground almonds and baking powder.

Fold the semolina mixture into the whipped olive oil mix using a metal spoon. When it is almost combined, add the rosewater and gently fold through. Leave overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6.

Fold any oil that is sitting on the surface back into the mixture to combine again. Making sure that the muffin tin or mould is greased well with oil, divide the mixture equally between the holes of the tin or mould, then place it on a baking tray. Bake in the centre of the hot oven for 22 minutes or until the buns feel set to the touch.

Transfer the buns from the tin or mould to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with just enough warm water to make a thick paste. Spread the top of each bun with the icing using the back of a spoon and sprinkle over the pistachios. If preferred, place a dried rose bud in the middle of each bun.

When stored in an airtight container in the fridge,
these little buns will keep for 7 days.

To ferment

Once mixed, store the cake batter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days to allow it to ferment. Fold any oil sitting on the surface back into the mixture before baking.

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Grand Dishes by Anastasia Miari and Iska Lupton

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What’s the USP? A global tour of grannies, learning about their lives and their cooking. Other grandmothers, it turns out, really did make exceptionally good food that tied together family relationships and defined the tastes of the generations that followed them.

Mine, on the other hand, didn’t really do any cooking but did have a habit of keeping the lunch meats from half-eaten café sandwiches in her pocket to feed to the dog later. She didn’t own a dog, but just hoped to see one at some point. The food ideas of the late, great Chris ‘Nanny’ Thomas have not made it into Grand Dishes.

Who wrote it? Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari, two friends who were inspired by their own grandmothers to travel the world interviewing other grans about their lives and their food. ‘This book is not about what it’s like to be old,’ the book tells us on a number of occasions. ‘It’s about what it’s like to have lived’.

This is the first food book for either of the authors, though in a sense that doesn’t matter – we’re here for the Abuelas and the Nonnas, the Nannys and the Grandmas.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a very balanced prose-to-recipe ratio here, with the majority of the book split first into chapters (Soups & Sides, Vegetables, Fish, Meat, Something Sweet) and then divided by grandmother. The obvious flaw here is that grannies aren’t easily able to share both a recipe for trout and another for jelly – though I can think of a few I’ve met in my time who would be tempted to pair those two.

Each granny is given plenty of room to breathe (no factory farmed Bubbies here). As well as an introduction from Lupton and Miari that tends to mythologise their experience in meeting and eating with their subject, there’s a story from the grandmother that might cover where they’ve come from, or how food has impacted their lives. Finally, there’s a recipe or two, drawn from the grandmother’s kitchen but kindly edited by the authors for both consistency and – importantly – the inclusion of measurements that were often eschewed by instinctive grans.

Perhaps best of all, each woman has a little fact sheet that tells us where and when they were born, what their mother tongue is, the name of their grandchildren, and what those grandchildren call them. No getting in this book unless you’re a full-fledged gran! We’re not letting just any old lady in this book. You’ve gotta have the gran-specific nickname to prove your status!

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Generally speaking, you should be fine. Lupton and Miari really have drawn in grannies from all over the place here, with Grandma Anne in New Orleans, Abuela Juana Maria in Cuba, and a wealth of ex-pat grannies who have relocated from the likes of Thailand and South Africa. Despite this, most ingredients are easy to pick up in even the biggest supermarkets. Occasionally a guest recipe from a professional chef will throw you into disarray though. Why is it everybody else’s gran shops at Tesco, but AngloThai chef John Chantarasak’s just happens to use salted duck egg? Typical.

What will I love? The book has been put together with immense love for all of the women involved, and it shows. The range of recipes on offer is immensely varied, too, and features meals that feel genuinely unique even amongst my fairly large cookbook collection. Grandmother Sharon’s Outer Banks Shrimp Stew with ‘Pie Bread’, for example. Or perhaps Miss D’s Pastry Pig Ears.

What won’t I love? The other side of the same coin is that there’s very little coherency between the recipes offered by the 60-plus grandmothers in here (that’s both a fair representation of quantity and age). As a result, this is less a book for casual cooking and one for browsing and inspiration. People often reach for Jamie Oliver’s books thinking ‘I want something quick and nutritious), or Claudia Roden’s thinking ‘I feel like something with a Mediterranean feel tonight’. What are you reaching for here? ‘I’m really craving food that’s been approved by a septuagenarian I’ve never met’?

Killer recipes: Bobee Harriet’s Corn and Crab Bisque, Grandmother Dona Margarita’s Mexican Rice with Chicken Offal, Abayeye Shewa’s Kale and Mustard Leaves Cooked With Garlic, Abuela Juana Maria’s Cuban Plantain Soup

Should I buy it? Grand Dishes often feels a little more like a coffee table title than a traditional cookbook. Though there are plenty of delicious recipes here, the real focus of the book is always on the stories of the women that sit at its heart. This weighting means that the title might be a little limited for those who have limited space in their lives and their kitchens for cookbooks – but those who want something warm and cosy to read that might also offer them an idea or two for dinner will be well served here.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book

Grand Dishes 
£25, Unbound

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Award 2021. Read more here.

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The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez

The Latin American Cookbook

What’s the USP? The latest entry in Phaidon’s ongoing quest to publish the definitive cookbook for every cuisine in the world, The Latin American Cookbook joins an increasingly heavy shelf that includes The Silver Spoon (and a few of its spin-offs) as well as titles dedicated to Japanese, American and Jewish foods.

The range was already fairly curious, with most titles priced at £35 despite the fact that some measure roughly twice the size of others. Each book follows roughly the same format – hundreds upon hundreds of authentic recipes, a smattering of pictures, and the occasional joy of having a dish require you to do something obscene to an animal you’ve previously only seen in a wildlife reserve.

Who wrote it? Virgilio Martínez is our guide to the biggest region to draw Phaidon’s attention so far. The Peruvian chef might also be the series’ most interesting author to date; he’s certainly the only one whose Wikipedia page has a section titled ‘Piranha smuggling incident’.

Martínez has previously broken onto our cookbook shelves with an exploration of his native Peruvian cuisine in LIMA, and a classic fancy-chef-does-good coffee table volume named after his restaurant Central. Here, though, he expands his vision to offer us over 600 recipes from over 20 different Latin American countries. No wonder the title also credits travel writer Nicholas Gill and Martínez’s own Mater Initiative as co-authors – this is a big undertaking by any measure.

Is it good bedtime reading? It would be unfair to say that I am not entirely a fan of Phaidon’s international cookbooks – I’ve just checked, and currently have six on my shelves, including currently out of print titles for France and Spain. But in their relative uniformity they are consistently flawed in a number of key places. Most significant among these: they are absolutely terrible reads.

Phaidon’s books are recipe collections, and little else. Though there are occasional exceptions, the series almost always features very minimal prose besides the recipes themselves. No change here, then: the introduction, given twelve pages in the contents, is actually one and a half pages and several very beautiful pictures presented without context (bar a single sentence for each tucked on the very final page of the book). Chapters, too, are limited to a couple of hundred words for an introduction.

The individual recipes offer a slight surprise given Phaidon’s form, generally offering at least a small paragraph that explains the dish, and how it might feature in a traditional meal. This doesn’t sound like much and, indeed, it isn’t – but this bare minimum is more than several of the publisher’s titles have mustered. It makes all the difference in a book where the overwhelming majority of the dishes are both unfamiliar to readers outside of each given nation, and also lack an accompanying photograph to give the home cook a little extra context.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Oh, very. Perhaps this is the result of the ‘cookbook by committee’ that Martínez has created via the involvement of his Mater Institute, but the recipes here are incredibly inconsistent. Though it’s admirable to attempt to deliver coherent instructions for British English and American English audiences alike, there is confusion to be had when spring onions are sometimes listed as ‘spring onions (scallions)’, other times as ‘spring onions (salad onions)’, and other times still as ‘salad onions (scallions)’. This sort of mess is only compounded further when the reader is introduced to a wealth of specialist ingredients that they won’t be familiar with, and certainly haven’t been introduced to in the non-existent chapter introductions. Achiote paste, for example, is generally listed as being the same as annatto paste – but on at least one occasion both are listed separately for the same recipe. This should be an easy fix – readers should be confused whether or not ‘loroco’ is a type of edible flower or a type of edible vine. There’s a decent sized glossary at the back, but it’s ineffective – both of the above ingredients are listed but I’m still no clearer.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Another mainstay of Phaidon’s international range. The short answer is: absolutely you will. In fact, there will be long sections of The Latin American Cookbook in which readers will struggle to find a single recipe that can be completed according to instructions using all the ingredients listed. Of the Fruit chapter’s twenty-five recipes, I can only reliably source the ingredients for seven dishes. For all but those of us in the biggest of cities, with the most intimate knowledge of local world supermarkets, the likes of yam beans, chira (banana flowers) and chicasquil (tree spinach) remain an exotic fantasy.

Many of these ingredients are presented without substitution suggestions, which essentially wipes out the practical use of at least a third of the recipes. Others require one of no less than fifteen different peppers that will be totally new to most readers (and equally inaccessible). It’s possible in most cases to guess a sensible substitute for these – but as a general rule, Martínez will have no interest in helping you make your choice.

How often will I cook from the book? Whilst there’s technically enough recipes here to keep you fed for the best part of two years, you’re not going to manage that. For a start, you’ll spend most of that time on the road trying to find a reliable source of queso Oaxaca. But for elaborate and authentic weekend meals, there’s still plenty to love here. I spent a couple of hours putting together a Mexican mole known as ‘tablecloth stainer’ and, though during the initial process the dish looked my likely to find its way to the bin than my stomach, there was a moment of alchemy at which point everything coalesced into a rich and delicious meal I would never have thought myself capable of. This is all you can ask for from a cookbook, really – the chance to create something entirely beyond you and to feel, if only for a minute, like a wizard, or a Michelin-starred chef, or somewhere inbetween.

What will I love? There’s no way to deny The Latin American Cookbook’s commitment to authenticity. This is what fans of the series seek, and it’s delivered here in spades. Yes, it means that many of the dishes are damned near impossible to accurately create in your home kitchen – but that’s not really the point, is it? We can’t seek to understand another nation’s cuisine only through those dishes that can be made using exclusively the ingredients available in your local Morrisons. And who amongst us doesn’t get a small thrill from seeing a recipe that calls for large-bottomed ants? How many cookbooks can you name that have a generally fairly unpleasant picture of fried guinea pig?

What won’t I love? Maybe the picture of the fried guinea pig, if you’re vegetarian.

For all of the authenticity and wonder present in The Latin American Cookbook, there’s still plenty of questions that need to be answered. Could the publisher have sprung for an editor who’d introduce a little more consistency to the recipes? Why didn’t Martínez and his team put a little more effort into providing the reader with clarity on substitutes where possible?

Perhaps the most interesting question, though, is why had Phaidon made Latin America share a cookbook when there is such a wealth of flavours across that sprawling continent and a half? Mexico, which features prominently in this book, already has an entire title of it’s own, which is almost double the length of this. Cuba, a nation with a population of 11 million or so, was given a volume specific to its cuisine, but the enormous nation of Brazil, with an additional 200 million inhabitants and all the diversity of culture and cuisine that entails, finds itself tucked between the dishes of nineteen other nations.

Killer recipes: Brazilian Black Bean and Pork Stew, Chilean Corn Pie, Colombian Braised Beef, Creole Stew, Ecuadorian Easter Soup, Guyanese Pepperpot, Reddish Mole, Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork

Should I buy it? Fans of Phaidon’s existing range will know what to expect here, but for all its authenticity, The Latin American Cookbook comes up short for accessibility. Though there are plenty of delicious dishes to discover, home cooks looking for an easy weeknight route into Latin American food would perhaps be better served seeking out one of the more focused books on the market.

Ultimately, The Latin American Cookbook’s ambition is never fully realised. Too authentic to be a practical collection of recipes, and yet too messy to serve as a definitive reference book – its audience is out there, but there’ll be plenty more who will be disappointed by the missed opportunity.

Cuisine: Latin American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez
£35, Phaidon

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Award 2021. Read more here.
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Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino

Eating to Extinction

What’s the USP? A global investigation into some of the world’s rarest foods in danger of disappearing from our diets, and how saving them could be part of the solution to fixing what the author says is a ‘food system that is contributing to the destruction of our planet’.

Who wrote it? Journalist and broadcaster Dan Saladino will be a familiar name to regular listeners of Radio 4’s The Food Programme  for which he is a producer and presenter. Eating to Extinction is his first book.

Why should I read it? By relating the history of and telling the stories behind 34 foods in danger of extinction (a small sample of what Saladino says are one million plant and animal species under threat)  including Kavilca Wheat from Anatolia; Geechee Red Pea from Georgia, USA;  Middle White Pig from the Wye Valley and Kyinja Banana from Uganda), Saladino amply demonstrates his point that the current monoculture and resultant lack of biodiversity that defines the current global food system is unsustainable as it means, among many other things, crops are ‘at greater risk of succumbing to diseases, pests and climate extremes’. Saladino also considers the cultural impact of losing the heritage behind these foods, what he calls the ‘wisdom of generations of unknown cooks and farmers’.

Is it just going to leave me feeling depressed and anxious about food security? It’s unquestionably an eye opening read, but it’s not all bad news. In Australia for example, murnong, ‘a radish-like root with a crisp bite and the taste of sweet coconut’ that has been in sharp decline since the mid-19th century as the aboriginal population who farmed it has been decimated, is making a slow comeback. It is being grown in aboriginal  community gardens and influential chef Ben Shewry has put it on his menu.

Should I buy it? Eating to Extinction is an important book that documents a turning point in our global food systems. Although Eating to Extinction is a work of some substance and heft (it runs to 450 pages including detailed notes), it’s not written in an academic style and is highly readable. Each chapter is a discreet entity making the book ideal for dipping in and out of, consuming it all in one go might be a little too alarming.

As an individual, the astonishing stats dotted throughout (did you know for example that more than half of all seafood consumed by humans is provided by aquaculture i.e. farmed fish?) might well inspire you to do your bit to help battle monoculture and adopt a more diverse diet that incorporates rare breed meat, wild seafood and heritage varieties of vegetables and grains and even for age for wild foods like seaweed, plants, herbs and flowers.

The good news is that, according to Saladino, it seems the major food producers appear to have begun to recognise how destructive the monoculture they’ve propagated really is. The then head of diary giant Danone told the 2019 Climate Action Summit that, ‘We thought with science we could change the cycle of life and it’s rules…We’ve been killing life and now we need to restore it’.

Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: 
Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them
£25, Johnathan Cape

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Tarkari by Rohit Ghai

Tarkari by Rohit Ghai

What’s the USP? Tarkari is Bengali word that refers to any vegetable dish and  therefore a fitting title for this collection of vegetarian and vegan Indian dishes from one of the UK’s most exciting Indian chefs. 

Who is the author? Rohit Ghai is the Michelin-star winning chef of Kutir restaurant in Chelsea and Manthan in Mayfair. He was previously chef at various other highly acclaimed London destinations including Gymkhana, Jamavar, Trishna and Hoppers. Tarkari is his first book

Is it good bedtime reading? `Takari is first and foremost a recipe book, the only extras are a short introduction from Ghai and a brief chapter on ‘The Magic of Spices’ with a description of Ghai’s favoured spices and recipes for masalas, spice mixes and pastes.  

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The recipe for aloo gobi requires ‘2 potatoes, diced’, size, weight or variety is not specified. Similarly, the other ingredients include ‘1 cauliflower’ and ‘2 tomatoes’, both of which can vary in size quite dramticaly . No doubt you can get away with your own judgement here, but the quantities of spices are quite small, two and half teaspoons in total, so you may end up with an underpowered dish if your veggies are on the large side.  This is frustrating as there are more specific recipes elsewhere in the book. For example, Courgette Mussalam requires 250g of boiled and mashed potatoes. You see, it’s not that difficult is it? And yet Tawa Salad calls for ‘100g of beetroots’ (hurrah) and ‘2 carrots’ (boo). So, yeah, a bit annoyingly vague. 

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Starting with Ghai’s spice rack, you will probably have to resort to an online source for black moon flower (a key ingredient in his signature garam masala blend) and also amchur (dried mango powder), pomegranate powder, sambhar powder, fenugreek seeds and black cumin seeds if you don’t have a good Asian grocer near to you. I also had to order black lentils online for the rich and delicious dal makhani Kasundhi mustard may need hunting down, but pretty much everything else spice-wise should be easily obtainable. 

What’s the faff factor? To get the most out of the book, you’ll want to spend some time making Ghai’s spice blends for which you’ll need a spice blender (a very affordable addition to your kitchen batterie if you don’t already own one) or a decent sized pestle and mortar. Once you have your spice pantry sorted, the complexity of the recipes vary from a simple Chickpea and Samphire Salad or Bhuteko Bhat (Nepalese Fried Rice) to the more demanding (but still very achievable) Punjabi Samosa or Chandni Chowk Ki Aloo Tikki with its multiple elements and sub-recipes. In the main however, these are dishes that any enthusiastic home cook will be happy to tackle and feel it was worth the effort. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you love Indian food and observe a vegetarian or vegan diet then you could easily be cooking from Tarkari on a weekly basis, or even more often. If you are looking to cut down on meat, this book is full of dishes that would make excellent and delicious mid-week meals without too much effort required. 

Killer recipes: Malabar cauliflower (spicy battered and deep-fried florets); mushroom and truffle khichadi (a dish of spiced rice and lentils) ; dum aloo (potato curry); jackfruit masala; chickpea and mushroom biryani. 

Should I buy it? Covering everything from breakfasts to desserts with snacks, pickles and dips, curries, sharing plates, sides, and rice and breads in between, Tarkari is a one stop shop for vegetarian and vegan cooking. Ghai brings real flair and inspiration to the dishes making the book an essential purchase for anyone who loves Indian food or is looking for a comprehensive introduction to the vegetarian and vegan side of the cuisine.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to dine at one of Ghai’s restaurants may be disappointed that the book doesn’t include recipes for some of his sublime meat and fish dishes, but I imagine and certainly hope there will be a second volume on the horizon to cover those soon.  

Cuisine: Indian 
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Tarkari: Vegetarian and Vegan Indian Dishes with Heart and Soul
£25, Kyle Books

Truffle Hound by Rowan Jacobsen

Truffle Hound

There are few individual ingredients in the world of food as misunderstood as the truffle. Separated from large swathes of the public by virtue of its sheer expense alone, there are those who view it as a curious little marker of extreme wealth. Others still experience it only through their exposure to mid-range oil-based products: an aspirational glimpse of the true thing, seen skewed through the prism of a Pizza Express springtime menu, via chemically reproduced smells that have never met an actual tuber. 

Even those with the requisite disposable income can find themselves fooled by an industry that is built around the idea of the truffle more than the impact and effect the goods actually have on a dish. Some of the most prized truffles in the world – those marketed as Italian whites or the Périgord blacks of France are in fact shipped in from less glamorous locations simply to ensure the mystique of the truffle is preserved. 

The quest to find clarity or even just reliable information about the truffle can, at times, seem as convoluted as a forest-bound hunt for the mysterious tubers themselves. It is to Rowan Jacobsen’s credit, then, that he has produced a book that so effectively pulls back the veil on a baffling and fascinating industry. Mesmerised by the heady stench of a white Tuber magnatum he stumbles upon during dinner on a trip to Italy, Jacobsen began to explore the shadowy worlds that provide the world with their mucky little olfactory stimulants, travelling across Europe and North America to understand where the truffle industry has ventured thus far, and the promise its future holds. 

It has been, relatively speaking, a pretty good year for the truffle in culture. Last year, as cinemas reopened, I found myself absolutely enamoured by The Truffle Hunters – an unscripted, narrative-free documentary that reverentially followed the mostly elderly men who dominate the Italian truffle-hunting industry. Stubborn and occasionally treacherous in their insistence on protecting the hallowed grounds in which they hunt, this ageing group of eccentrics risk taking their secrets to their graves as they withhold all that they have learnt from the generations that will follow them in far smaller numbers. Around the same time Nicolas Cage offered up his most revered acting performance in years in Pig, an American-set drama that plays out a little like Taken, if Liam Neeson was looking for his truffle pig instead of his daughter and, also, was frankly too tired of his own existence to punch anybody.

Jacobsen’s book offers a far broader view of the industry than The Truffle Hunters’ fairly blinkered view, which touched only on a small group of individuals in Italy seeking out the Tuber magnatum and fails to even acknowledge the large amounts of this white truffle that are imported from the likes of Hungary and Croatia to fulfil the Italians’ tremendous demand. Though he meets eccentric local hunters, Jacobsen also encounters a curious mix of figures that each have their own distinct approach to truffles. In England he meets Zak Frost, a former DJ who has since made his name as tuber supplier to many of the nation’s top restaurants. In Hungary he meets the members of The Saint Ladislaus Order of Truffle Knights as well as their sworn enemy István Bagi, who has managed to exploit the nation’s strict truffle-hunting rules to his advantage. Everybody is presented with an empathetic sense of humanity that nevertheless highlights the strangely heightened world the truffle fosters.

Much time is spent championing the dogs at the heart of the hunts as well. Unlike Nic Cage, most truffle hunters prefer dogs, who are less desperately keen on the quarry and thus less likely to take off your finger as you attempt to pry it from their mouth. Jacobsen clearly is fascinated not only by the truffle dogs, but also by the different approaches their owners take to training them – in Italy they are often treated as working dogs; in the US, which is presented here as something of a New World for truffles, they are pampered and spoiled, spoken to with unashamed love. Once the main narrative of the book has rounded up, tucked between the acknowledgements and a section on recipes, Jacobsen offers an unexpected bonus chapter on an unlikely hero of America’s truffle dog championships. Told from the perspective of Gustave the chihuahua, it’s an odd little moment that nevertheless continues to celebrate the unexpected figures at the heart of the industry.

From those that hunt wild truffles Jacobsen moves on to the individuals who seek to actively cultivate truffles themselves – a practice that has been in ongoing development for hundreds of years, but has only begun to find its footings as science has begun to understand the nuances of truffle farming. From Spain, whose farms provide well of 90% of the black winter truffles passed off as French, to North American farms that defy our previous expectations for the possibilities truffle cultivation holds, Jacobsen’s travels seem to confirm two things: first, that there are truffles everywhere, if only you know how to find them and second, that if you aren’t looking for them, somebody else already is.

Ultimately, the book becomes less about the truffle itself and more about the tales of human (and animal) spirit that are rife throughout this industry. Jacobsen’s message seems to be that there is magic in the world, and with the right approach we can make a little of it our own. It’s a lovely idea for a tremendously likeable and engaging book that, had it focused in more depth on the mycorrhizal-level science could have been a much drier read that elicited far fewer out-loud laughs. Which isn’t to say that Truffle Hound doesn’t offer fascinating insight into the science of the truffle – it just always brings it back to the humans making the discoveries.

Nevertheless, this is an approach that perhaps shies away from the less charming elements of the industry. In last year’s The Truffle Hunters documentary the sheer charm of chasing eager Lagotto dogs through the woods is, at one point, brought to a sharp close as one truffle hunter loses his companion in the woods. We see him searching around his vehicle, and hear him hunting off camera. And then, in the next scene, discovers that his beloved truffle hound has been poisoned by a rival hunter. Worse still, it is the second dog that he has lost to poison in a matter of months.

Truffle Hound isn’t afraid to explore the complicated politics and economics that impact the way the truffle industry operates but, crucially, it always finds something to champion – be that the heady petroleum whiff of an as-yet unloved species of tuber, or the endeavouring spirits of those who, like their dogs, are getting dug in nose first to the truffle universe. But like a hunt for the prized goods themselves, Jacobsen could seek to dig up both the light and the dark, and it might have been interesting to have spent a moment longer lingering on those darker flavours.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, with Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs
£20, Bloomsbury Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

This book has been longlisted for the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022. Read about the awards here.  You can read an interview with this year’s Awards Food Assessor Yemisi Aribisala here.

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André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2021

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Ahead of the announcement on 8 March 2022 of the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020, cookbookreview.blog are delighted to bring you a special feature that includes reviews of all the shortlisted food books along with a selection of recipes from some of the books and an interview with this year’s Food Book Award Assessor, Yemisi Aribisala. To find out more about the awards and keep up with all the latest news head to the website and follow the awards on Twitter @andresimonaward.

The Food Book Shortlist
The Chair and Trustees of the prestigious annual André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards have announced the shortlist for 2021. From food activism to recipes inspired by the Eastern Mediterranean; from South American wine to the vineyards and people of Burgundy: these shortlisted books celebrate the very best of contemporary food and drink writing. The panel was guided by this year’s independent assessors: Yemisi Aribisala, a Nigerian born writer and artist for the food books and Rose Murray Brown MW for the drink books. The award ceremony will be held virtually on Tuesday 8 March 2022. 

An A-Z of Pasta, Rachel Roddy
Read the review 

Baking with Fortitude, Dee Rettali
Read the review

Eating to Extinction, Dan Saladino
Read the review

Freekeh, Ruth Nieman
Read the review

Herb, Mark Diacono
Read the review 

Ripe Figs, Yasmin Khan
Read the review

Sambal Shiok, Mandy Yin
Read the review

Cook from the shortlisted books
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

The Food Book Longlist 

Food Longlist (3)

Truffle Hound by Rowan Jacobsen
Herb by Mark Diacono
One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones
An A-Z of Pasta by Rachel Roddy
The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez
Grand Dishes by Anastasia Miari and Iska Lupton
Amber and Rye by Zuza Zak
60 Second Review: The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino
60 Second Review: Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
60 Second Review: Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains by Ruth Nieman
60 Second Review: Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
60 Second Review: A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson
60 Second Review: Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

More reviews coming soon

Read an interview with Food Book Award Assessor Yemisi Aribisala
YemisiAribisala

Yemisi Aribisala on the food books: “The pandemic locked us in, dimmed the lights, broke our embraces and tables of communion, but there was no more magical way to travel the world than through the food books submitted to the André Simon Prize in 2021. From sun filled days in the Mediterranean to elegant offerings from Syria, South Carolina to Iceland. Fairytale fare to forager’s riches, Perfectly invented dessert to delicious homemade frump, this year more than ever through the Baltic, Arabesque and scent of priceless truffles, food’s divinity was powerfully underscored. Food is power and the most potent medicine in the world, a lens that stretches our wisdom and compassion through solemn food banks to loaded tables and lush words written in honour of one of the greatest simple pleasures of man. What would I have done or been if I didn’t have the honour and terror of over 120 books arriving at my door. The André Simon awards is unmatched in discovering the perfect gems in food writing every year. This year won’t be different. Congratulations to the shortlisted books.”

Click here to read the full interview and follow Yemisi on Twitter at @yemisiAA

ABOUT ANDRÉ SIMON
André Louis Simon was the charismatic leader of the English wine trade for almost the entire first half of the 20th century, and the grand old man of literate connoisseurship for a further 20 years. In 66 years of authorship, he wrote 104 books. In 1972, after his death, the André Simon Memorial Fund was set up
and the awards followed 6 years later.

ABOUT THE ANDRÉ SIMON FOOD & DRINK BOOK AWARDS
The André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards were founded in 1978 to honour the charismatic leader of the English wine trade André Louis Simon who wrote 104 books throughout his lifetime. They are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers. Past winners include Elizabeth David, Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

There are two categories for entry: food and drinks. For the winner of each category there is an award of £2,000. In addition, there are awards of £1,500 in honour of John Avery and the Special Commendation Award of £1,500 – both of these are at the discretion of the judges.

The main criteria against which the works are judged are:
• The work shall contain a substantial proportion of original research and not simply be a re-arrangement of existing material.
• Great importance will be attached to the educational value of the work.
• The books chosen are likely to be ones that are pleasurable to read and not just professional textbooks.
• The book should be well produced.

When judging the books, the Trustees have the help and advice of two independent assessors. In 2021 Yemisi Aribisala has kindly agreed to assess the food books and Rose Murray Brown MW is assessing the drink books. Judging will be in the hands of the Trustees. Their decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. The André Simon Food & Drink Book Award Trustees are Nicholas Lander (Chair), Sarah Jane Evans MW, David Gleave MW and Xanthe Clay.

The winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony on Tuesday 8 March, an event that’s become an annual celebration of Britain’s best food and drink writing.

ABOUT YEMISI ARIBISAL – FOOD ASSESSOR
This year’s assessor for the food books, Yemisi Aribisala, is best known for her thematic use of food writing to explore Nigerian culture. Her first book, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups Sex & Nigerian Tastebuds won the 2016 John Avery Prize at the André Simon Awards and was shortlisted for the 2018 Art of Eating awards. Her writing has been published worldwide.

ABOUT ROSE MURRAY BROWN – DRINK ASSESSOR
Rose Murray Brown will be judging the drink books. Rose is one of 418 Masters of Wine worldwide (151 female) and offers bespoke events, wine courses & escorted wine tours across Scotland & northern England. She also hosts her own tours abroad, when covid restrictions aren’t in place. She worked in Tuscany for several wine estates, then returned to London to train with Sotheby’s International where she worked for 12 years.

Although we won’t be covering the Drink Award, you can discover what books have been shortlisted here.   

An interview with Yemisi Aribisala: Food Assessor 2021 – André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards

YemisiAribisala
How did you get involved with the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards?

Salt of the earth Xanthe Clay, Columnist, Chef, and trustee of the food prize sent me a message inviting me to help assess the 2021 Food Books. My first interaction with André Simon was an email titled The André Simon Shortlist 2016 EMBARGOED. I was sitting in the Western Cape stunned that my book Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds had been shortlisted and fretting whether Simon was like Nina Simone or Paul Simon.

It seems as though there are a mountain of great food and cookery books published every year, how many did you start with and what was your process in whittling them down to your longlist?

Books tend to arrive like summer rain- spots, drizzles then downpour. I am quite sure this is the yearly pattern. The truth is you have to get on top of the reading as soon as possible and you have to keep in mind that this is the sum of people’s YEARS of hard labour, sweat and pain that you hold in your hands. Without being able to meet all the people who make that thing in your hand possible, you have to conjure up their presence, interact with every single book with great reverence. And then decide what adds something unique to the existing cannon, has longevity, distinct gastronomical appeal and would be the choice of the great André Simon who founded the prize in 1965. Who would he give his 100 guineas to?

What makes a book worthy of the André Simon longlist for you?

You come across so many books as you’ve accurately noted- a book worthy of the longlist has got to offer brilliance that distinctly stands out. The index for comparison stretches backwards and forwards, if you see what I mean. If you imagine that the trustees have seen thousands of really great books on food and drink spanning the years, and that the trustees constitute that incredible sentient index that you are presenting your book to for comparison…their responsibility is to make sure a book longlisted or shortlisted is one that you want to own, read, cook from in 10, 20 years from now.

Did you notice any trends in food publishing while reading through the contenders?

The pandemic created a flood of talented home cookery books. And you would imagine that perhaps not much more could come out of there that the vibrant cookbook publishing world hadn’t seen already. It was truly fascinating. Following that, were the goodhearted one-pan books instinctively catering to the anxieties of people that hitherto hadn’t worried too much about churning meals out daily.

Was there anything in terms of voices or subject matter that you either felt was missing in this year’s selection of published books that you read in order to select your longlist or that you would have liked to have seen more of?

I definitely would have loved to see books on Sub-Saharan African food, West-coast Africa, books that come out of wonderful communities like Little Lagos, London – especially as this year had such a wonderful global reach. Also more food memoirs from all kinds of intermingling of life and cooking.

What do you think will be the future of food and cookery writing in the UK in the next 5-10 years?

I believe there will be more food memoirs taking us right into people’s lives, homes, rooms, pots and pans, helping us interpret humanity in broader, more open minded, kinder terms. I think this is welcome because the beauty of food books is they remove the tension of meeting others and knock in place the fact that we are all the same, we all eat, for pleasure, for sustenance…Every single one of us all want basically the same things in life. I believe the UK ‘palate’ will expand for sure especially where it regards migration and the wonderful offerings of delicious niches like supper clubs and underground dining…how they represent the true diversity of culture, taste and eating in the United Kingdom.

Lastly, I believe the pandemic has forced a balance in the nation’s perspective where food writing is concerned. Yes hedonism and escapism and beautiful photographs are necessary because pleasure is its own brand of necessity, but also the reality of budgets, feeding communities and prisons, and making sure children are nurtured will be the themes of books in the next decade. I hope so.

Yemisi Aribisala, is best known for her thematic use of food writing to explore Nigerian culture. Her first book, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups Sex & Nigerian Tastebuds won the 2016 John Avery Prize at the André Simon Awards and was shortlisted for the 2018 Art of Eating awards. Her writing has been published worldwide.

To find out more about the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards click here

Everything I Love to Cook by Neil Perry

Neil Perry Everything I Love to Cook

Neil Perry defined 90s fusion cooking at his Sydney restaurant Rockpool. In 2020, he announced his retirement, selling Rockpool Restaurant Group for A$60million. He wasn’t gone for long; earlier this year he opened what he claims will be his last restaurant, Margaret, a glamorous neighbourhood brasserie, named after his late mother.

Everything I love to cook is not the cookbook of the restaurant, but it does share the same sustainable approach to food. Perry says in his introduction that ‘there’s no Planet B, so we have to do the right thing. Eat more plant-based meals’. So, there’s a chapter on vegetable main courses that, true to Perry’s eclectic, globe-trotting style, includes everything from Italian-style spinach torte to steamed silken tofu with black vinegar and chilli oil.

At over 450 pages long, there is plenty of room for a selection of favourite recipes culled from across Perry’s restaurant empire (he’s still a shareholder and consultant) including Rockpool salad with palm sugar vinaigrette; crudo of tuna with horseradish, coriander and lemon oil (from Rockpool Bar and Grill) and ramen noodle salad with chicken, ginger and spring onion (from Spice Temple Noodle Bar).

In addition to the comprehensive collection of 230 recipes, there’s articles covering kitchen basics like seasoning (‘the difference between a home cook and a professional chef is the amount of salt they use’) pasta (‘best hand made-I find pasta made in a food processor to be of inferior quality’) and desserts, which Perry says ‘can be as simple as a perfectly ripe piece of fruit…there is something sophisticated about being able recognise perfection and then standing behind it’.

With its near-encyclopaedic length and career-spanning content, the book would make a fitting finale to Perry’s 40 years in the professional kitchen. But with so many vibrant, inventive and delicious recipes, it seems that Perry has a lot more yet to share. Let’s hope that, unlike Margaret restaurant, Everything I love to cook is not a full stop but merely a comma in the chef’s influential and inspiring story.

Cuisine: International/Australian
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Everything I Love to Cook: 150 home classics to return to
£30, Murdoch Books

Cook from this book
Barbecued lamb cutlets with lemongrass and ginger by Neil Perry
Crispy pork belly with red onion, coriander, peanuts and sesame seeds by Neil Perry
Flourless chocolate cake by Neil Perry

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.