Cookbook 2021 round up: the ones that got away

Crave by Ed Smith

‘Most of the time we simply cook the things we do so that we can eat what we fancy, it’s no more complicated than that,’ claims food writer and food blogger Ed Smith in his introduction to this, his third cookbook. So he’s arranged about 100 recipes under six ‘flavour profiles’ that include fresh and fragrant, tart and sour, chilli and heat, spiced and curried, rich and savoury and cheesy and creamy so that his readers can easily find a dish that suits their current craving. It’s a nice conceit and gives a sense of order to an eclectic collection of recipes that pinballs from curried brisket noodles to haggis wontons with chilli oil, and chicken, sour cream and dill pickle soup to pork belly, butter beans and deli olives. While Smith’s the sense of adventure is invigorating, it somewhat prevents a clear, distinctive and unique voice from emerging. Nevertheless, Crave is a handy book to have around when you want something that bit different.

Defining dish: Scotch bonnet and papaya pork collar steaks with a red pepper fruit salad. 
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars
Buy this book: Crave: Recipes Arranged by Flavour, to Suit Your Mood and Appetite £25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Spicebox by Grace Regan

Entrepreneur and food writer Grace Regan of Spicebox restaurants in Walthamstow and Leytonstone address the elephant in the room in the opening paragraph of her introduction to this collection of ‘vegan curry house favourites’ saying that, ‘As a white British woman who cooks curry for a living I am well aware I tread sensitive ground. It is crucial for me to acknowledge there is a fine line between paying respect to the culinary history of India and cultural appropriation’. Regan’s get of jail free card is her ‘deep love and respect for India’. Whether that argument holds water is up to the individual reader, as too is the decision to search out other sources of Indian vegan (and vegetarian) recipes in books such as Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy Vegetarian or Indian Vegan and Vegetarian by Mridula Baljekar. But if you’re happy to go along for the ride you’ll find lots of dishes familiar from British high street curry houses given a vegan twist including cauli tikka masala, sweet potato and broccoli madras and jackfruit vindaloo.

Defining dish: Tofu veg balti
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars
Buy this book: SpiceBox: 100 curry house favourites made vegan £20, Ebury Press

Vietnamese by Uyen Luu

If you’re new to Vietnamese cooking, I can’t think of a better introduction to the cuisine than this engaging and beautifully designed book from London-based food writer, food stylist, photographer, blogger and supper club owner (phew!) Uyen Luu. Newbies will be instantly put at ease by the introductory chapter that includes a simple explanation of the essential storecupboard ingredients that make up the Vietnamese pantry. Just make sure you have something sweet (sugar, honey, palm sugar), something sour (rice wine vinegar, yuzu), something hot (chilli sauce), something salty (fish sauce), something umamu (miso) and a supply of fresh ingredients such as ginger, shallots, garlic and lemongrass and you are well on your way to your first Vietnamese dish.

The book is crammed full of exciting and enticing dishes (all styled and shot by Luu herself), some that may well be familiar such as banh mi, seafood spring rolls or chicken pho, and others that may be new to readers such as lacy, sizzling crepes made from rice flour and tinted yellow with turmeric that are filled with prawns, beansprouts and coriander. The book covers everything from Vietnamese style salads and noodles soups to quick mid-week meals such as stir fried beef and asparagus with flat rice noodles and desserts including coconut and mango pudding with sago tapioca balls.  An absolute joy from start to finish.

Defining dish: Shaking beef with watercress salad and tomato rice 
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: Vietnamese: Simple Vietnamese food to cook at home £22, Hardie Grant

Afro Vegan by Zoe Alakija

A vegan cookbook like no other, with West African recipes created by British Nigerian cookery writer and art director Zoe Alakija who is also the co-founder and creative director of Roundtable Journal, a print magazine for women. Using a pantry of basic ingredients that includes Nigerian honey beans, cashews, coconut, garri (fermented cassava flour) scotch bonnet peppers and plantains among others, Alakija blasts away any remaining preconceptions people may have that vegan food is boring with imaginative and delicious dishes such as Lebanese-Nigerian roast chickpea sahwarma. Publisher Hoxton Mini Press have maintained their usual high standards of production with a striking  and vividly colourful design (Alakija did her own art direction on the book).

Defining dish: Classic Jollof
West African
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: Afro Vegan: Family recipes from a British-Nigerian kitchen £20, Hoxton Mini Press

Australia: The Cookbook by Ross Dobson

What is Australian food? 350 recipes and 432 pages later, I’m still not entirely sure. There are distinctive ingredients that help define Aboriginal Australian native bushfood (a chapter of the book is dedicated to the subject) such as wattleseed, warrigal greens, desert quandong and of course kangaroo, but otherwise it appears just about anything can be claimed as Australian cuisine. Hence you’ll find recipes for eggs Benedict (‘Eggs Benny’), cauliflower cheese, roasted tomato soup, chicken parmigiana (‘Chicken Parmi’ – if you learn anything from this book its that Aussies love to abbreviate) pad Thai with king prawns and lemon drizzle cake alongside more recognisably Australian items such as Anzac biscuits, Lamingtons, Moreton Bay bugs with aioli and, er, Thai kangaroo salad.

Recipes from three ‘guest chefs’ (Dan Hunter of Brae, Mark Olive from Dapbeto’s Midden and O Tama Carey of Lankan Filling Station) give some small insight into what modern Australian gastronomy is currently up to with dishes such as Hunter’s red flowering eucalyptus ice cream with quandongs stewed with rhubarb and mead, and a meaty introduction throws light on the history of Australian food, but that doesn’t prevent the book being a slightly perplexing read. If everything and anything can be Australian food, is there even such a thing? (the very same question could easily be asked of British food). That said, it’s a decent enough collection of diverse recipes and would make the ideal present for someone who likes to cook but doesn’t want to compile an enormous collection of cookbooks – there’s enough ideas here to keep someone occupied and well fed for a very long time.

Defining dish: Meat pie
Cuisine: Australian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Stars
Buy this book: Australia: The Cookbook £35, Phaidon Press

Rockfish by Mitch Tonks

A concise (at 144 pages, the book is a fair bit slimmer than it appears in the illustration above) introduction to the joys British seafood by chef and restaurateur  Mitch Tonks. In addition to the enticing, sustainable recipes such as crispy fried salt and pepper cuttlefish, the evocative images of the sea and the coast will have you packing your bags for the South West of England to visit one of Tonks’ Rockfish restaurants.
Defining dish: Poole clam chowder with fried bread
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: Rockfish: The Cookbook £23.50, Jon Croft Editions

Home Farm Cooking by Catherine and John Pawson

Welcome to the super-stylish, refined and privileged world of architect John Pawson and wife Catherine where nothing in their beautiful house set on an English country estate is out of place. Mainly because, as Pawson is the most famous minimalist in Britain, there is very little to be out of place.

After you’ve got over being green with envy at their stupendous living arrangements (there’s lot of interior-porn in the book) you can have a look at the collection of recipes which is, well it’s fine in a vaguely healthy ‘Oh, we love the River Cafe and just adore Tuscany, we summer there every year’ sort of way.  The recipes are the type you might find in glossy food mags. Nothing wrong with that of course, but as a collection it feels a bit rootless and lacking any real personality. There’s a ceviche and a wild mushroom risotto; there’s Piedmontese peppers and roast rib of beef, and teriyaki tofu and baked salmon with dill and herb mayonnaise and a fish pie and…lots of other stuff.

It’s a lovely looking thing, perfect for a coffee table and if you cooked from the book you’d certainly eat well, but you’d be far better off going straight to the source rather than settling for this admittedly beguiling facsimile. I’d start with Simon Hopkinson and see where you go from there.

Defining dish: Stir-fried sea bass with soy ginger and vegetables (‘inspired by Alastair Little’s recipe in his cookbook Keep It Simple‘ – see what I mean?) 
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars
Buy this book: Home Farm Cooking £35, Phaidon Press

Leon: Happy Guts by Rebecca Seal and John Vincent

A bright, colourful little book filled with over 100 high-fibre and omega-3 rich recipes designed to promote gut health that authors food writer Rebecca Seal and Leon restaurants CEO John Vincent claim ‘can mean a longer, healthier life’.  Five chapters titled Ways to Eat More Fibre, Eat The Rainbow, Eat Lively, Omega-3 and Lower Sugar contain dishes such as corn cakes with poached eggs and spicy roast tomatoes; cucumber, seaweed and sesame salad, and pear frangipane. Recipes and methods are short and sweet and will provide plenty of inspiration for mid-week meals that will probably do you more good than ordering in a pizza when you’re knackered after work. Come to think of it, the more you cook from this book, the less likely you are to be knackered after work in the first place (don’t hold me to that, I’ve done no research but it sounds plausible).

Defining dish: Roast broccoli and beans with tahini sauce
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Stars
Buy this book: Happy Leons: Leon Happy Guts: Recipes to help you live better £16.99, Conran

The Turkish Cookbook by Ghillie Basan

The food and cooking of Turkey as seen through the eyes and taste buds of food writer and traveller Ghillie Başan.  A lengthy introductory section explores the country and Turkey’s defining ingredients and precedes a comprehensive selection of recipes for meze and salads, soups and hot snacks, vegetable dishes, pulses and pilaffs, seafood, meat and poultry and sweets. The design of the book may be a little dated but its a still a very decent introduction to the subject.
Defining dish: Lamb kebab in puff pastry
Cuisine:  Turkish
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars
Buy this book: The Turkish Cookbook: Exploring the Food of a Timeless Cuisine £20, Lorenz Books

Taste! by Glynn Christian

Encyclopedic advice on how to identify the best ingredients available in British delis and how to use them once you get them home from a legend among food writers, Glyn Christian. An update of his 2005 book Real Flavours, Christian leaves no shelf unexplored with entries covering pulses, breads, charcuterie chocolate, chutney,  grains, herbs, seafood, oils, vinegars, teas; the list goes on and on. There are no recipes and this is not the sort of book you would sit down and read, but it is the perfect reference volume for when you want to ensure you are getting the best ingredients for a particular recipe before you go out shopping, or just when you fancy honing up on a foodie topic like olives or cheese. A must have for every serious foodie. 
Suitable for:
Curious cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five Stars
Buy this book: Taste!: How to Choose the Best Deli Ingredients £25, Grub Street

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Andy Lynes

I'm a food and drink writer and author.

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