The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook by Amy Chung and Emily Chung

Rangoon Sisters

What’s the USP? An introduction to the flavours and dishes that are central to Burmese cooking. Bright, tempting recipes for salads, stews and assorted Burmese treats are balanced with an overview of the nation’s love for food.

Who wrote it? As the title suggests, the book was written by the Rangoon sisters. The siblings made their name running incredibly popular supper clubs for the past seven years (and raising over £10,000 for charity in the process). The book draws on the food they’ve created for these supper clubs over the years, as well as traditional Burmese dishes and the flavours they were raised with in their Anglo-Burmese childhood home in South London.

Is it good bedtime reading? The Rangoons fill their book with engaging and entertaining prose. Alongside personal and family histories, there’s plenty to read on Burmese cooking, the individual flavours and the history and influences behind individual dishes.

Given the in-depth approach that the book has to all the above, it is perhaps a little surprising that the book doesn’t touch upon any of the recent political issues that Myanmar has had. Many UK readers will only really be familiar with the nation through these ongoing events, and though it is wonderful to see and celebrate another side of the region, it is perhaps something of a missed opportunity for the Rangoon sisters not to address this at all.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few ingredients scattered across the recipes that will require access to an Asian supermarket, but for the most part the sisters do a fantastic job of recreating Burmese dishes with relatively easy to find ingredients. For those flavours that aren’t necessarily so familiar, there’s a brilliant (and extensive) rundown at the beginning of the book, with nearly ten pages of detail on different ingredients.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low, all things considered. It’s easy to see why their supper clubs have gone so well – the recipes are all straight-forward and require no exceptional technical skills – but the results are never anything less than tantalising.

How often will I cook from the book? Though the recipes are all simple enough, most are fairly hands-on, and so this isn’t necessarily a school-night cookbook. Still, there’s plenty of variety in here, with more than enough to tempt you back on a regular basis.

Killer recipes: I’m a sucker for an interesting egg dish, and the kyet u hin curry is damn near irresistible. The sisters’ butter bean stew is guaranteed to make it onto the table as an easy-but-impressive side next time you have guests over, too. But the headliner of the Rangoon Sisters cookbook must be their famous mango and lime cheesecake – made with a ginger nut base, and kindly presented here with storage advice (a generous gesture given the likelihood of anything surviving the first call for ‘seconds, anyone?’).

Should I buy it? Absolutely. One of the better trends in cookbooks over the last few years has been the proliferation of titles focusing on cuisines hitherto ignored by the average British palate. When done well, these can be both a brilliant insight into eating habits around the world, and a much-needed injection of new flavours into our own diets.

The Rangoon Sisters is filled with lovingly crafted and surprisingly accessible recipes, and makes for pretty decent bedtime reading to boot. Credit is due also to food stylist Aya Nishimura, who has put together some of the most appetising looking dishes I’ve seen in print. If you’re looking to expand your taste horizons a little, this is an excellent place to start.

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

Cuisine: Burmese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Rangoon Sisters: Recipes from our Burmese family kitchen
£20, Ebury Press

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

What’s the USP? An accessible and practical introduction to pairing wine with food from takeaways to Sunday lunches and everything in between.

Who are the authors? Sommelier Bert Blaize has worked at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Clove Club in Shoreditch. He has won the title of the UK’s Top Young Sommelier, and currently takes care of the wine at Serge et le Phoque in London’s Fitzrovia. Claire Strickett’s has worked in kitchens, then restaurant marketing, publicity and recipe writing for leading chefs and restaurateurs, including Skye Gyngell, Rowley Leigh, Russell Norman, Gail’s Bakery and Byron.

Food and wine matching? That’s all a bit elitist, isn’t it? If you’re in a posh restaurant and the sommelier is pressuring you to have the premium wine flight to go with your already ruinously expensive tasting menu, then it certainly can be. But Blaize and Strickett are coming from a very different angle on the subject. As explained in the introduction, the book ‘doesn’t assume you know much about wine, have a big budget or hang out in trendy wine stores. It just assumes you’re a greedy person who wants to know more about which wine to drink when but doesn’t know where to start.’

So should I take the book along with me when I next go to a fine dining place in order to fend off the sommelier’s advances on my wallet? Not really. There’s a couple of pages dedicated to the authors’ top ten tips for drinking wine in restaurants but this is more for when you’re cooking or ordering-in food at home and want to buy a nice bottle or two to go with your meal.

What can I expect to find in the book then? The ‘wine basics’ chapter is designed for genuine wine newbies, the sort of people who have previously only drunk fruit-flavoured cider, alcopops, tequila slammers and one-armed scissors. For those that know their Viognier from their Vermentino, the book becomes more interesting during the central six short chapters (the book is less than 200 pages long) where all the matching actually happens.

What do I get for my tenner? A total of 79 dishes (including snacks and cheeses) each get a one-page (about 200 words) entry with matching wine. Each is broken down into the same question-led format (not a million miles away from the style of the reviews on this site) that asks and answers ‘What’s The Wine?’, ‘Why This Wine’, ‘If you can’t find this, go for…’, and ‘If all else fails, asks for…’.  For example, in the Home Cooked Classics chapter,  sausage mash and gravy is paired with South African Shiraz for its warm smoky flavours and cracked black pepper notes. A Syrah/Shiraz from the Rhone or Australia or any spicy, medium-bodied red are offered as alternatives. In addition, there are ‘at a glance’ charts covering what wines to drink with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and  Japanese food, pizza, roasts, fish and hot puddings that offer dozens of more food and wine pairings.

What if I’m an experienced wine drinker? Will I get anything out of Which Wine When? Depends. When was the last time you considered drinking Asti Spumante with Goan fish curry, Manzanilla sherry with fried chicken or pairing your lamb doner kebab with a cheeky glass of off-dry Mosel Riesling?

Fair enough. So, I should buy it then? If you like your wine books light-bodied with a well balanced, simple structure and just a little bit fruity, this is for you.

Suitable for: Aspirational drunkards
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Which Wine When: What to drink with the food you love
£9.99, Ebury Press

Chicken Katsu Noodles

Chicken Katsu Noodles

There’s lots of wonderful textures to this recipe from the crunchy strips of crispy chicken katsu to the silky udon noodles. The miso sauce combines nutty sesame seeds, salty soy and miso, plus a dash of mirin for a touch of acidity. Use the Middle Eastern sesame paste, tahini, if you can’t get hold of the Japanese version, neri goma.

Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g (14oz/5 cups) wedge white cabbage, any hard core removed, finely sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
½ red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
4 x 150g (5oz) portions straight-to- wok udon noodles
4 tbsp teriyaki sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE CHICKEN KATSU
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
cornflour, to coat
1 egg
7–8 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
sunflower or vegetable oil, for shallow-frying

FOR THE MISO SAUCE (MAKES DOUBLE)
50g (2oz) white miso
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 tbsp honteri mirin
30g (1¼oz) sesame seeds
15g (½oz) neri goma (black sesame paste)
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
2½ tbsp soy sauce

First make the miso sauce. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together until combined. Set aside.

Next, make the chicken katsu. Put the chicken breasts on a board and slice each one horizontally through the middle into two thin pieces. Lay between two sheets of clingfilm and bash with a rolling pin to flatten until they’re around 1cm (½in) thick.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons cornflour into a shallow dish. Beat the egg in another separate dish and put the breadcrumbs into another. Dip the chicken pieces first in the cornflour (patting off any excess), then in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs until they’re coated all over.

Heat 1–2 tablespoons oil in a large, flat frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, until golden on one side (about 4–5 minutes), then turn over and fry on the other side until golden, about 4–5 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked – it should no longer be pink in the middle. Lift out onto a plate, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm.

Heat the 2 tablespoons oil on the teppan or in a large, flat frying pan. As soon as the oil is hot and looks as though it’s shimmering, add the cabbage, spring onions and red pepper. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes on a high heat, until the veg are starting to turn tender. Lower the heat to medium.

Add the noodles to the cabbage mix, stir to break them up, sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons cold water and season well. Drizzle over half the miso sauce (see tip) and half the teriyaki sauce, then continue to cook, tossing every few minutes until everything is heated through.

Slice each of the cooked chicken breasts on a board into 6 pieces. To serve, divide the noodle mixture between four bowls and top with the chicken, then drizzle over the remaining teriyaki sauce.

TIP
Store the remaining quantity of miso sauce in the fridge and use within five days.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Ramen
Veggie Crunch Rolls

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Chicken Ramen

Chicken-Ramen

The base of this ramen comes from making a simple chicken stock – just simmer the bones of the chicken and some vegetables in water to garner the goodness. You can make the chicken stock up to four days ahead if you need to and keep it stored in the fridge. It freezes well, too, for up to three months.

Serves 4

FOR THE RAMEN
1 x quantity Chicken Chashu (recipe included in book), chilled
2 medium eggs
10g (¼oz) dried black fungus mushrooms
200g (7oz) dried buckwheat noodles (or see tip in book for soba noodles)
1–2 tbsp Mayu garlic oil, or to taste (or see tip in book)
200g (7oz/4 cups) beansprouts
125g (4½oz/1²/³ cups) iceberg
lettuce, shredded
1 carrot, shredded or coarsely grated

FOR THE CHICKEN STOCK
2 chicken carcasses
6 black peppercorns
1 medium carrot
1 garlic clove, smashed
½ leek
1 small onion, halved

Start by making the chicken stock. Put the chicken carcasses into a large pan. Add the peppercorns, carrot, garlic, leek and onion. Pour over 2 litres (3½ pints) cold water, then cover the pan with a lid. Bring to the boil and, as soon as the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook on a very low simmer for 1 hour. Strain into a clean pan – there should be around 1.4 litres (2½ pints) stock. Add a splash more water if it needs topping up.

When you’re ready to make the ramen, take the chicken chashu out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.

Next, cook the eggs. Carefully lower the eggs into a saucepan of boiling water, reduce the heat a little and simmer for 7 minutes. Lift into a bowl of iced water and leave for 4–5 minutes. Remove and peel off the shells. Set aside.

While the eggs are boiling, put the dried black fungus mushrooms in a bowl of hot water and set aside to rehydrate.

Cook the noodles in a pan of boiling water, according to the instructions on the pack. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water.

Put the chicken on a board, discarding the string, and slice into finger-width strips.

Pour the stock into a large pan and stir in the garlic oil. Add the noodles and the beansprouts, reserving a handful to garnish.

Divide this evenly among four large soup bowls. Divide up the chicken, black mushrooms, reserved beansprouts, lettuce and carrot equally and put on top of each bowl. Finally, slice the eggs in half and put a half on each bowl, then serve.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Katsu Noodles
Veggie Crunch Rolls

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Veggie Crunch Rolls

Veggie_Crunch_Rolls

The combination of crisp vegetables, sweet teriyaki sauce, spicy mayo and crisp fried onions is sublime here.

Serves 4

180g (6oz/scant 1 cup) sushi rice
3 tbsp seasoned vinegar for sushi rice
4 nori half sheets
4 long slices of cucumber
1 small carrot, around 80g (3oz), cut into very fine matchsticks
8 slices avocado
teriyaki sauce, to drizzle
Spicy Mayo (included in the book ), to drizzle
ready-made fried onions, to sprinkle

TO SERVE
soy sauce, wasabi and sushi ginger

Make the rice according to the instructions on page 14, using 220ml (8fl oz/1 cup) water and the seasoned vinegar. Divide the rice roughly into four portions.

Put a sheet of nori on top of the sushi mat, shiny-side down and with the longest edge lying horizontally. Spread a portion of the rice to cover, then flip the nori over. Arrange a length of cucumber in the middle of the nori, followed by the carrot, spreading it out to the ends. Add a couple of slices of avocado and spread out again so it is even. Roll up to make an inside-out roll. Do the same again to make three more rolls.

Slice each into eight pieces, then drizzle with the teriyaki sauce, a little spicy mayo and top with the fried onions. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and sushi ginger.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Ramen
Chicken Katsu Noodles

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

What’s the USP? Environmentally responsible cooking is ostensibly at the centre of Eat Green – a cookbook that looks to create dishes from sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients. The author, Melissa Hemsley, offers up plenty of recipes, all of which will look loosely familiar to fans of her previous cookbooks as one half of Hemsley + Hemsley.

Hemsley + Hemsley? Weren’t they involved in the whole ‘clean eating’ controversy a few years back? Oh no, the Hemsley sisters were very much not involved in the ‘clean eating’ fad. At least, not if you ask them. Back in 2017 the sisters distanced themselves from the movement, just days before being featured in a BBC Horizon documentary on its dangers. At the time, they argued that the term was poorly defined, and they’d never advocated it directly.

“We’re not interested in making anyone feel fearful of food, scared of food, confused about food. We’re the opposite. We never talk about weight, diets, calorie-counting,” Melissa told the press.

So they weren’t part of the fad? Well, not according to them – but the problem with ill-defined movements is that people don’t always agree on where the border falls. Certainly the Hemsley sisters’ books bore many similarities to other titles circling the movement. Their dishes eschewed gluten, grains and refined sugars. Whether mentioned weight and diets or not, there was always a very distinct sense of virtue to the lifestyle their books represented.

Eat Green doesn’t exactly seem free of preachy virtuosity, as titles go. No, and Melissa Hemsley definitely talks up the importance of sustainable eating. She doesn’t spend much time examining why it’s important – but then, that in itself is refreshing. We know the environment is spiralling out control, and Hemsley’s introduction treats our understanding as a given – as it should be.

The recipes themselves do their best to live up to the challenge the title sets. A chart at the beginning provides a helpful map of seasonal fruit and veg, and there are tips scattered throughout for avoiding waste – a really lovely idea that’s executed nicely. Hemsley also offers up suggestions for locally-sourced alternatives where possible. She ignores miso in favour of British-grown fava bean umami paste – which is a bit more of a mouthful than miso on a couple of fronts. 

So Melissa has moved on from clean eating in favour of something that’s more objectively a good idea? Well, yes and no. The central focus of the book is definitely sustainable, ‘green’ eating. But as far as the recipes go, nothing much has changed at all. Nothing here would have looked particularly out of place in either of the Hemsley + Hemsley books.  The whole collection clings closely to what you’d expect from ‘clean eating’ at every possible opportunity.

How do you mean? The ‘Celebrations’ section of the book features such extravagant dishes as chickpea caprese salad and ‘mushroom mince’ lettuce cups.

Ah, gotcha. In fact, there’s a remarkable lack of excitement and variety to the recipes on display. There are multiple pancake and galette recipes, and at least a dozen salads that look more or less the same in their photos – piles of loose leaves and chickpeas, etc, that you can tell will be fighting to roll off your cutlery every bit as hard as you are fighting to get them in your mouth.

It feels as if Hemsley was so eager to present green eating that she neglected to include any imagination. The goal, though worthy, should allow much more varied and interesting dishes than are on show here. As a guide, Tim Anderson’s Vegan JapanEasy, reviewed earlier this year, was overflowing with hugely exciting and endlessly appetising ideas – even though its remit was much tighter.

Alright, alright. Calm down, you’ll have a seizure. After this and that Gill Meller review last week, I’m getting the idea you might not have much room in your heart for the sustainable cooking movement. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly obvious that we all need to spend a lot more time thinking about our food habits and doing our best to limit their impact on the world we live in. It’s just…

Yes? Well, why is nobody fun writing a cookbook on sustainable cooking? Why is it always left to people who think a chai parsnip and carrot cake is the best dessert we can manage in our new, environmentally-conscious world?

Killer recipes? The Bubble and Squeak with a Japanese-Inspired Dipping Sauce is a stand-out anomaly, as is the Braised Chicken with Lettuce, Peas and Radish Greens and Mash in a Flash. The one bit of the book that is genuinely brilliant, though, isn’t even a recipe: just before the index Hemsley includes an ‘A-Z of Odds, Ends and Leftovers’ that offers plenty of excellent ideas on how to use those annoying bits and bobs that sit about in the fridge unloved – the tired old fennel, the spare carrot, and so on.

Should I buy it? Look, if you have the Hemsley + Hemsley books, or enjoy any of their contemporaries, you’ll likely get some use out of this too. But this isn’t anywhere close to what I’d call an insightful or particularly useful guide for the average home cook.

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

Cuisine: English
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy this book
Eat Green: Delicious flexitarian recipes for planet-friendly eating
£22, Ebury Press

root, stem, leaf, flower by Gill Meller

root stem leaf flower

What’s the USP? Go wild (go wild!) go wild in the country, where nettles in a bush are absolutely free. It’s time to eschew meat and fish for all that lovely fruit and veg that you know will do you good. And here’s Gill Mellor with dirt on his hands and love in his heart to show you ‘how to cook with vegetables and other plants’.

Who is the author? You’ll know Gill Mellor from such books as Outdoor Cooking: River Cottage Handbook No.17 and Time by Gill Meller previously reviewed on this site and awarded a whopping 4 stars (I must have been feeling generous that day. I’m kidding. Or am I?). As I mentioned in that review, Meller is an alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and is a chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a fairly chunky introduction to the book and the recipe introductions are interesting and informative, but this is a cookbook for the kitchen rather than one for the bedside table. If you actually enjoy what there is to read will depend on your tolerance for Food Writing with a captial F and capital W; the stuff that usually results from an English degree and a lifetime reading Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and Nigel Slater. It’s the sort of adjective-heavy prose where radishes have a ‘tussle of coarse green leaves on top’ and you find ‘lucent green’ gooseberries among a ‘burr and wrangle of thorns’.

It will also depend on your tolerance for being told how to shop and cook. There is nothing particularly radical in Meller’s suggestion to eat organic, local and seasonal, or in his assertion that ‘we need to be eating less meat and fish’ and that what we do eat should come from ‘ethical and sustainable sources’ and from ‘animals that have led natural, happy lives’. But it’s easy for him as a professional food writer to say that and less easy for those working full time with a family to feed and limited time and financial resources to live up to those lofty ideals. Meller places all the onus on the individual to do the right thing and makes no suggestion that changes should be made at the food supply chain level in order to make produce that meets his stringent criteria easily available and affordable to all. Instead, there is the implication that you are falling short as a human being if you don’t buy organic, sustainable, ethically produced goods. And frankly, fuck that.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? If you are going to adhere to the Meller mantra of organic, sustainable, ethically produced stuff, then you will be narrowing the field substantially. However, most of the actual ingredients are not that obscure and you should be able to track them down without too much effort, especially if you are willing to eat ordinary people’s food. You’ll die sooner and be killing the planet with every single bite, but at least you’re not a serial killer with someone chained up in your cellar. Are you? I mean, if you are, I don’t approve obviously, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? I know lots of people are bored with serial killers but I think there’s an enduring fascination. Drop me a line, there’s a contact widget somewhere on this site, tell me about your sickness.

What’s the faff factor? Have we stopped talking about serial killers already? Oh well. WHAT’S THE FAFF FACTOR? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW? IS THAT REALLY WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU RIGHT AT THIS PRESENT MOMENT IN TIME? Sorry, I don’t know why I’m shouting. I haven’t had my meds today and lockdown is really starting to get to me. Faff factor, yes, good point. You should know about that before you buy a book. You work hard for your money, you don’t want to waste it on something you’re never going to use. It’s a reasonable question. I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal about it. I mean, I write the bloody questions myself, it’s not as though someone is dictating to me what I need to tell you. So, faff factor. Faaaaaaaaf faaaaaactor. Try saying that out loud. It’s funny. Like the Shadrack scene in Billy Liar.You know the bit. Actually, you’re probably too young. Or from a country where they never showed the film on the telly. You should stream it. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, faffing about. No, the recipes are fine really, they’re mostly short and straightforward. You can judge for yourself; I’ve posted a couple of recipes for you to try (the publisher only allowed two instead of the usual three for some reason. Gill’s special. So special.) The links are at the bottom of the page because this is such a well-designed site.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You will find the odd ‘small pinch of sea salt’ which is fine, and a ‘small handful’ of this and that which is OK if you’ve got small hands or know someone who has that could come to your house and grab a handful of herbs for you, although exactly how small their hands need to be isn’t really clear. Just be sensible about it. Perhaps ask a child. No, don’t do that. Unless you’re related to them, then it’s OK.

More annoying is ‘the juice of half a lemon’. Why do recipes rarely give ml measures for lemon juice? I mean, it’s a liquid just like any other isn’t it? And the amount you put in a recipe will affect the final result. I don’t know if you’ve bought a lemon recently, but the amount of juice that you get out of them varies massively from a meager teaspoon to a flood. They are as unpredictable as, erm, something that it’s politically correct to describe as unpredictable. I’m not sure what that might be. Me. I’m unpredictable. The amount of juice you get out of a lemon is as unpredictable as the mood I’ll be in when I wake up on any given day. And that’s pretty unpredictable. Imagine the mood I’m in now, writing this. You don’t want to know.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you imagine you might fancy ‘tomatoes in the hole’ instead of toad? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. Ultimately, the amount you use this book will depend on precisely how middle class you are. That’s just the truth. Take this stupid quiz and find out. When you discover that the stupid quiz appeared in the Mirror and you decide you don’t want to take it because you don’t want anything to do with that disgusting rag, congratulations, you are middle class and you will cook from this book a lot. If you do decide to take the quiz, it doesn’t matter what your score is, you have read something in the Mirror and are by default not middle class and the book will collect dust languorously on your shelf. Power to the people.

Killer recipes: Do we have to do this? OK (sighs) they include: sweetcorn, rosemary and smoked cheddar soufflé; squash, lentil, tomato and rosemary pie; salted chocolate pumpkin tart; asparagus and quinoa salad with peas and broad beans.

What will I love? The photography by Andrew Montgomery is up to his usual very high standards and there’s a good amount of variety in the recipes, given the relatively narrow subject matter. That was sensible wasn’t it?

What won’t I like so much? Meller’s editors have failed to dissuade him from writing poems. I love poetry. I read lots of it, from Renaissance to 21st Century (give Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough a go) and I even write some myself. I’m just not convinced a cookbook is the right platform for it. Or maybe I just don’t like Meller’s poems. Sorry Gill.

Should I buy it? This book isn’t really for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. There’s nothing really wrong with it, so if you need some inspiration in the fruit and veg department and you feel the stylistic issues I’ve outlined above won’t be problematic for you, then go ahead. Oh, I forgot to mention the recipe titles. 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 (the same goes for the book’s title and the lack of capitals). But most of them aren’t like that, they’re just normal so it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it put you off. I know it probably wouldn’t but I’m just saying. It’s honestly more about my odd sensitivities to certain tropes of Food Writing, which I think far too much about, than anything else. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s fine, really.

(Have you had enough of this yet? I could go on all day like this. Once I get on a roll it’s difficult to stop me. What shall we talk about next? No, maybe you’re right, let’s leave it there. Till next time then.)

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

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants

£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Cook from this book
Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble

Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese by Gill Meller

Courgette flatbreads Gill Meller

Cooking courgettes slowly with garlic and olive oil has to be one of my favourite ways to deal with this summer vegetable. Fistfuls of herbs go in at the end, then you could simply pile the courgettes on to warm bruschetta, but these flatbreads are infinitely better.

MAKES 3

FOR THE FLATBREADS
500G (1LB 2OZ) STRONG WHITE BREAD FLOUR,PLUS EXTRA FOR DUSTING
1 TSP FINE SEA SALT
1 TSP FAST-ACTION DRIED YEAST
2 TSP CRUSHED FENNEL SEEDS
FINELY GRATED ZEST OF 1 LEMON
2 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, PLUS EXTRA FOR GREASING
4 TBSP NATURAL YOGHURT

FOR THE TOPPING
4 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
2 GARLIC CLOVES, THINLY SLICED
1.2KG (2LB 10OZ)COURGETTES, SLICED INTO 5MM (¼IN) ROUNDS
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF DILL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF MINT,LEAVES PICKED AND THINLY RIBBONED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF BASIL, CHOPPED
1 SMALL HANDFUL OF CHIVES, CHOPPED
150G (5½OZ) SOFT GOAT’S CHEESE
PINCH OF CHILLI FLAKES (OPTIONAL)
SEA SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Make the flatbreads. Place the flour, salt, yeast, fennel seeds and lemon est in a large bowl. Add the oil, yoghurt and 275ml (9½fl oz) of water and mix everything thoroughly until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth. (You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this part.) Shape the dough into a rough round and place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to make the flatbreads, start the topping. Place a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add half the olive oil and when it’s hot add the garlic and sizzle for a few seconds, then add the courgettes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the courgettes slowly over a gentle heat,stirring regularly, for about 25 minutes or so, until they break down but still retain a little of their shape. They should be soft without colouring too much and almost spoonable in texture.

Take the pan off the heat, stir all but a handful of the herbs into the courgettes, then season again to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. Place 3 baking sheets in the oven (alternatively, bake one at a time if you have limited oven space) and heat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan/475°F/ gas mark 8.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then cut it into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a nice neat round and leave to rest for 20 minutes or so. When you’re ready to bake the flatbreads, roll out the pieces of dough. They want to be quite thin, but don’t worry if they’re not especially round, that doesn’t matter.

Take the hot baking sheets out of the oven and place a rolled-out dough on each. Spread the courgette mixture evenly over the top of each. Dot the goat’s cheese over the top of the courgette mixture and trickle all over with some of the remaining olive oil. Add the chilli flakes, if using, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, too.

Place the trays in the oven for 12–14 minutes, or until the dough is puffed up and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and slide onto a board. Sprinkle with a few reserved herbs and serve.

Cook more from this book
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

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Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

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Raspberry and rhubarb crumble by Gill Meller

Raspberry and rhubarb crumble Gill Meller

When you sit down to a bowl of warm raspberry and rhubarb crumble, it’s easy to forget that the apple ever existed at all. In fact, you forget anything that begins with A, or anything green. For in that moment, your world literally crumbles away, leaving you with reds and gentle, sugary pinks and the magic that happens when these two ingredients are cooked together. I like to pack my crumble topping full of oats and bake it separately from the fruit, at least for a while. It becomes remarkably crunchy this way.

SERVES 4

FOR THE OAT CRUMBLE
100G (3½OZ) PLAIN FLOUR
PINCH OF FINE SEA SALT
100G (3½OZ) UNSALTED BUTTER, CUBED AND CHILLED
75G (2½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
75G (2½OZ) JUMBO OATS

FOR THE FILLING
ABOUT 400G (14OZ)RHUBARB STALKS, TRIMMED AND CUT INTO 2–3CM (¾–1¼IN) PIECES
ABOUT 200G (7OZ)RASPBERRIES
100G (3½OZ) UNREFINED CASTER SUGAR
1 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT

First, make the oat crumble. Heat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/335°F/gas mark 3–4. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and rub them thoroughly together until you have formed clumps and lumps. Line a large baking tray with a piece of baking parchment. Tip out the mixture onto the tray and distribute evenly. Set aside.

Make the filling. Place the rhubarb in a 25cm (10in) baking dish. Add the raspberries, sugar and vanilla along with a couple of tablespoons of water and tumble everything together. Place the dish of fruit in the oven as well as the tray of crumble and bake for 20 minutes, turning the crumble mixture over three or four times during baking, until clumped together, biscuity and golden. Spoon the crumble mixture onto the fruit and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb and raspberries are soft, the juices are bubbling away and the crumble is
golden brown.

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Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants
£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

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‘Triple Threat’ Chocolate Brownies by Jessie and Lennie Ware

271_Brownie_1 cropped

People have requested this recipe the most after hearing about it in the Ed Sheeran episode. A triple shot of chocolatey goodness, my doctor brother Alex says that it’s more like a ‘triple threat’ to your cholesterol levels, but don’t let that stop you from making them.

Get creative! Add whatever you like to your brownie batter. Generous chunks of white, milk or dark chocolate will all work well, as will roughly broken-up Oreos or any other chocolate confectionery. I generally add three things to mine, hence the triple threat. Experiment. Ultimately, whatever you choose will be delicious. 7

These brownies are best if slightly undercooked, so they still retain their gooeyness. What you want is a brownie that gets stuck to your teeth when eating it.

Makes 9–18 (depending on levels of greediness)

200g unsalted butter, cubed
200g dark chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
275g caster sugar
90g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
250–300g ingredients of your choice to add to the mix (white, dark or milk chocolate, chocolate biscuits, your favourite chocolate bar), chopped

Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas 5. Line a 23cm square baking tin with baking parchment. Put the butter and chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and leave until they start to melt. Stir regularly, taking care not to burn the chocolate. Once completely melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

In a large bowl, using an electric whisk on high power, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale and almost doubled in volume. Add the cooled chocolate and butter mix and gently combine, using a figure-of-eight motion to fold the 2 mixtures into one another.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder together and then fold into the chocolate and egg mixture. Again, fold gently using a figure-of-eight motion until all is combined. It will appear dusty at first, but be patient and it will come together. Take care not to overdo the mixing: as soon as you cannot see any dusty flour mix, you are there.

Now add your extra ingredients and gently fold in, reserving a few to scatter over the top if you like. Transfer the mixture to the lined baking tin, levelling it out and pressing any reserved ingredients into the top of the mixture. Bake for around 35 minutes. The top should be just firm, but the middle should be slightly undercooked and gooey: it will continue to cook in the tin once removed from the oven. Leave the tin on a wire rack to cool before cutting into squares.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Soup
Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

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Table Manners: The Cookbook
£22, Ebury Press

Chicken Soup by Jessie and Lennie Ware

135_Chicken_Soup_Matzo_Balls

Every Jewish family thinks their mother’s chicken soup is the best. In emergencies, I have been known to send my soup across London in a taxi, because this ‘Jewish penicillin’ most definitely has healing qualities. Reminiscent of Friday nights spent with family when I was a girl, the fragrance of the simmering soup is delicious. Chicken soup is synonymous with every Jewish household, and is one of the things that makes me most proud to be Jewish.

Serve with matzo crackers and challah bread.

Serves 6 (makes about 2 litres)

2kg chicken thighs and legs
5 large onions, skins left on, halved, cutting off the rooty bit
8 carrots, sliced about 2–3cm thick
4 celery sticks, with leaves, halved
1 leek, halved
½ swede
2 tbsp Telma Chicken Soup Mix (available from a kosher shop or online), or 2 good quality chicken stock cubes
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
Matzo Balls (see below), to serve

Put the chicken and all the vegetables in a stockpot or very large pan (about 4 litres capacity) with enough cold water to cover everything by about 5cm (about 3 litres) and bring to the boil. When boiling, skim off all the frothy scum until there is none left. Add the soup mix or stock cubes, the peppercorns and salt, bring back to the boil and then reduce the heat and gently simmer for 2–3 hours. Season the soup to taste, then leave to cool.

Pour the soup through a colander into a large bowl. Carefully retrieve the carrots from the colander and add back to the soup. Give everything else a good squeeze to release the juices. Some people put a little of the chicken into the soup, but I’m not sure it has much taste after being boiled for so long – and you will make your cat/dog very happy if you give them the bone-free chicken meat.

Put the clear soup and carrots into the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight. When it’s well chilled the fat will rise to the top and you can easily skim it off. To serve, bring the soup to the boil over a medium heat and add your cooked matzo balls just before serving.

Tip The soup may not be completely clear (and it doesn’t really matter), but if you want to make it as clear as a consommé then you can either put it all through a tea strainer (as I did when Jay Rayner was our guest) or you can use one or two egg shells from the matzo balls and put them in the soup as you bring it back to the boil – fish out the egg shells before you put the matzo balls in.

Matzo Balls

In the words of Marilyn Monroe: ‘Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?’ It has taken me ages to achieve light fluffy matzo balls, but I think after 40-odd years of making them I have finally managed it. Of course, you can cheat and use the ready-made packets, which are sometimes sold under the name ‘kneidl’. Matzo balls are very divisive: some prefer them fluffy like clouds, some prefer them dense like bullets. Some have them in the soup, others save them till after. But if you start by saying ‘I’ll only have one’ you will always submit to the second. Delicious and crucial to Chicken Soup.

Makes about 15 balls

100g medium matzo meal
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
4 tbsp hot Chicken Soup or boiling water

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, gradually stir in the eggs and oil and then gradually add the chicken soup, mixing until smooth. Cover the bowl and chill for 30 minutes – it will firm up slightly.

Line a tray with baking parchment. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Wet your fingers and take small pieces of the mixture to make soft balls, about 2cm in diameter, placing them on the lined tray until you have used up all the mixture.

Drop the balls into the boiling water, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about 20–25 minutes until they are soft. They should swell up slightly, rise to the surface and look like little clouds. Lift out using a slotted spoon and serve them in chicken soup.

Cook more from this book
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‘Triple threat’ chocolate brownies

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Table Manners: The Cookbook
£22, Ebury Press

Cooking in Marfa by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette

Cooking in Marfa

Set in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Texan town of Marfa boasts a population of two thousand and occupies just over one and half square miles. Despite being 200 miles from the nearest commercial airport, its premier restaurant, the Capri has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times and Conde Nast Traveller magazine, which included the converted army airfield hangar in a list of the 34 most beautiful restaurants in the world.

Marfa was first put on the map by its thriving arts scene and Capri co-owner Virginia Lebermann initially intended it to be a cultural arts project, launching in 2007 with a gig by Sonic Youth. However, the arrival in Marfa of Inn at Little Washington-trained chef Rocky Barnette in 2008 led to the Capri’s rebirth as a restaurant focusing on the region’s distinctive natural larder.

Barnette’s cooking is the ultimate expression of contemporary Tex-Mex (a style that Lebermann says was created in Marfa in 1887 when Tula Borunda Gutierrez opened a restaurant using Mexican ingredients and ‘added to them to suit the taste of ranchers’) incorporating ingredients grown or cultivated in the local region including cacti, mesquite beans and dessert flowers as well as Mexican produce such as dried grasshoppers (chapulines) from Oaxaca and huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn.

Although many of the 80 recipes in the book reflect the site-specific nature of the Capri’s menu, it doesn’t mean they are unachievable for UK-based cooks. You may have trouble finding fresh yucca blossoms to tempura, but online resources such as coolchile.co.uk means you should find nearly everything you need for dishes such as masa pasta ravioli with cured egg yolks and bottarga or tostados al carbon, made with activated charcoal and served with razor clams and chorizo.

The story of the Capri and the people behind it (who are as extraordinary as the restaurant itself) makes for fascinating and inspiring reading. In his introduction, three Michelin starred chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park calls the book, ‘a window into [Rocky and Virginia’s] creativity and passion’; it’s one that every curious cook will want to look through.

This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine

Cuisine: Mexican
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four Stars

Buy the book
Cooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (FOOD COOK)
Phaidon, £35

Sun and Rain by Ana Roš

9780714879307

Self-taught Slovenian chef Ana Roš highly unusual path to the professional kitchen is set out in the biographical section of this fascinating and visually stunning book. She trained as a professional dancer and was a member of the Yugoslav national ski team before going on to study international science and diplomacy. Her plans for a career in international diplomacy changed when she met her future husband and natural wine expert Valter Kramar. The couple decided to work in Kramar’s family countryside restaurant Hiša Franko in the remote Soča Valley where Roš eventually took over the running of the kitchen. International acclaim followed with Roš taking part in culinary events like Cook IT Raw and being featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table documentary series.

Roš‘s lack of any formal culinary training has led to a highly individual style based on the abundant natural larder of the extreme north-west of Slovenia. A community of local foragers, shepherds, cheese makers, hunters and fishermen (some of which are profiled in the book) supply Roš with trout, deer, goats, dairy produce and fruits which she transforms into eye-catchingly plated dishes such as marble trout roe with rosa di Gorizia chicory and yeast; veal consommé, celeriac and young linden leaves, and beeswax peaches and elderflower.

The majestic natural glory of the Soča Valley is well represented in the photography of Suzan Gabrijan who has also captured the rugged elegance of Roš’s food. Even by publisher Phaidon’s consistently high standards, this is an exceptionally beautiful book. Disappointingly, however, apart from two photographs taken in the kitchen, there are no shots of the restaurant interior or exterior which is a puzzling and frustrating omission.  The recipes are hived off into a separate chapter at the end of the book so that it’s necessary to flick back and forth to the images of the finished dishes if you want to understand exactly what you are looking at.  These minor niggles criticisms aside, Sun and Rain is a comprehensive look at the life, culinary philosophy, and cooking of a remarkable figure in the modern culinary scene that will inspire any progressive thinking chef or very keen home cook.

Cuisine: Slovenian/Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

This review was first published in The Caterer

Buy the book
Ana Ros: Sun and Rain (Food Cook)
£39.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Summer Pear by Ana Roš
Bread by Ana Roš
Goat cottage cheese ravioli by Ana Roš