The Noodle Cookbook by Damien King Lee

What’s the USP? 101 easy, accessible and ‘healthy’ noodle recipes from the makers of Mr Lee’s instant noodle range.

Who’s the author? The late entrepreneur Damien King Lee, founder and CEO of Mr Lee’s Pure Foods which markets a range of ‘healthy and sustainable’ instant noodles available in supermarkets.

What does it look like? Simple, colourful, modern and really rather stylish.

Is it good bedtime reading? The non-recipe text is mostly of the bright and breezy variety and shouldn’t unduly detain you.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The recipes are mostly aimed at the supermarket shopper but you will find the likes of wagyu, crayfish tails, fresh crabmeat and togarashi alongside turkey mince and Monterey Jack cheese.

What’s the faff factor? They say the recipes take 30 minutes or less, although anyone that believes those sort of claims after Jamie’s 30-Minute Meal debacle needs to give their head a wobble. That said, the dishes are mostly very achievable (you are, after all, heating up noodles with bits and bobs) and each one is labeled to indicate the degree of difficulty from ‘doddle’ to ‘showing off’. Generally speaking, the recipes are ideal for mid-week after-work meals when kitchen time may be at a premium.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to eat noodles? Once a week? Once a month? There a good amount of variety in the book with Chinese, Japanese, Thai , Korean and Vietnamese dishes. But they’ve (nearly) all got noodles in them.

Killer recipes? Curry chicken stir fry ramen; lobster laksa curry, Hong Kong Street beef; Korean ‘fried’ sticky chicken’; dan dan noodle soup with lamb.

What will I love? The useful directory of types of noodle and their uses, the handy ‘shopping staples’ section that will help you stock your cupboards for when you really fancy a quick bowl of noodles. The store cupboard recipes will appeal to keen cooks who want to make their own sauces such as hoisin, teriyaki and satay. There’s even a vegan ‘fish’ sauce made with agave, pineapple juice and soy.

What won’t I like? If you’re a miserable old git like me, the overly-matey and ‘humorous’ recipe introductions with exhortations to ‘get your crisp on’ and descriptions of black vinegar as ‘rice vinegar’s chilled out mellow cousin’ may remind you of when corporations try to be your friend.

Should I buy it? If you really, really like noodles and you think you need 101 recipes for them, then, go ahead, get your noodle on!

Cuisine: Pan-Asian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Dan dan noodle soup with lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Nose Dive by Harold McGee

nose-dive-harold-mcgee

What’s the USP? A deep (nose) dive into the world of smell, exploring what creates the smells around us, and what we can learn from them. From the earliest smells in the universe to thoroughly contemporary stenches, Nose Dive opens up every corner of the sensory world, and takes a big old sniff.

Sounds like a Bill Bryson book…  Harold McGee’s initial premise might recall the bold all-encompassing approach Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Body have taken to their respective subjects, but don’t be fooled. Nose Dive is as academic as it is filled with wonder at the world around us. McGee starts at the very beginning, with early chapters on how chemicals formed in space at the very beginning of the universe, and the sulphurous formation of smells on the newly formed Earth. It’s a neatly chronological approach that the author has apparently used to get his head around the science as he took on what must have been a daunting project, but I found myself longing for some more immediately relatable smells.

Who is the book for? It’s a tough question that I asked myself throughout reading. There is no doubt that McGee has put together a remarkable document on an under-appreciated sense, but little compromise is made for the casual reader. Coming in at just over 600 pages, and unrepentantly scientific in its approach, Nose Dive is not an easy read.

What are you looking to get out of a book on smell? If it’s the nuances in the scent of a good blue cheese, you’ll be wading some five hundred pages in. If you’re excited, however, to learn about why some cat piss smells meaty, and other cat piss displays more distinctly fruity characteristics, then you’ll have a much shorter wait. 

Do I have to read it all in order? Not at all – in fact, McGee claims that the book is intended for dipping into at your leisure. A sprawling index means readers inspired by a particular scent are free and able to selectively read around their curiosities. But that does rather beg the question – how many of us are going to smell the unrelenting stench of manure and then both desire and later remember (as presumably nobody will be carrying a 600 page hardback around on the off-chance that their nose asks a question) to look it up, and learn more about concentrated animal feeding operations?

There are useful lessons to learn here for cooks – which makes sense, given the author’s background in food science writing. But too often it feels as though the average reader might only fall upon them by chance. The book gives roughly the same amount of time to food smells (and those immediately associated with food) as it does to everything else – but the result is unnecessarily unwieldy. Perhaps McGee can take all that he has learnt here and create a second volume, focused more tightly on the smells of the kitchen, and what we can learn from them.

Until then, Nose Dive should be filed under ‘Good Intentions’ – a stunningly researched, occasionally insightful title that will appeal mainly to those who are already in the habit of reading lengthy academically-minded science titles.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book
Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells
£35, John Murray

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
andre simon logo

Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb

071_Mr Lee's Dan Dan Noddle Soup with Lamb_Chinese

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 20 minutes
Showing Off /Vegan Option
Hero ingredients: garlic and ginger

A ‘dan dan’ is the pole that noodle sellers use to carry the baskets of fresh noodles and sauce, with one at either end. The star is Sichuan chilli bean paste, or toban djan (see page 17) but you can use other chilli pastes if you can’t get your hands on it. Combined with the Sichuan peppercorns, you get a lip-tingling intensity. You can also try it as a stir-fry dish by omitting the stock water, and using fresh noodles.

½ tablespoon vegetable oil
230g (8¼oz) minced (ground) lamb (or frozen vegan mince and 1/4 tsp yeast extract for a vegan alternative)
2 teaspoons garlic paste, or 3–4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon ginger paste or 5cm (2in) piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
120g (4¼oz) dried wheat noodles
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced, to garnish

 FOR THE SOUP:
600ml (20fl oz) boiling water, or ready-made fresh vegetable stock
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce, or brown or red miso paste
1 tablespoon chilli bean paste, or 1 teaspoon any hot chilli paste
2 teaspoons crunchy peanut butter
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the soup mixture by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl or jug, then set aside until needed. Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat. Throw in the minced lamb (or vegan mince) and brown for a few seconds. Then add the garlic, ginger, carrot and onion and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Your kitchen should smell amazing at this stage, so take a second, stop and breathe it in. But don’t take all day, we’re on a schedule!

Next pour the soup mixture into the pan and mix well, simmering for another 3 minutes. Now it’s noodle time. Put the noodles in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Divide your hot noodles between 2 serving bowls and pour over the soupy mixture. Sprinkle over the chopped spring onion (scallion). Strap in your taste buds: you’ll never forget your first Dan Dan Noodle Soup.

Cook more from this book
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Hong Kong Street Beef

075_Mr Lee's Hongkong Street Beef_Chinese

Serves 2 Wok to wonderful in
30 minutes
Showing Off
Hero ingredients: ginger and broccoli

Mr Lee’s Hong Kong Street Beef noodle pot is a customer favourite, so we just had to adapt it for our very first cookbook. The richly flavoured and aromatic soup base, combined with the savoury hit of the steak, wraps you in a warm, beefy blanket of contentment. It’s the best kind of comfort food: Tastes like it took hours, but ready in minutes. Winner!

1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
250g (9oz) rib-eye steak, or use sirloin/
porterhouse if you prefer
85g (3oz) sprouting broccoli, or use regular
broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces
120g (4¼oz) dried thin wheat noodles (or use
thin rice noodles for a gluten-free alternative)

FOR THE SOUP:
230g (8¼oz) lean minced (ground) beef, or substitute
900ml (1½ pints) of ready-made fresh beef stock
2 small onions, finely diced
2 whole star anise
1 large black cardamom pod
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ginger paste, or 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste, or 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
900ml (1½ pints) boiling water (if not using stock)

FOR THE GARNISH:
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly torn (optional)
2 tablespoons chilli oil (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan over a medium–high heat and brown the minced beef (if using). Then add all the other soup ingredients except the water or stock.  Keep stirring for 2–3 minutes, then add the water (or stock, if using). Cover the pan with a lid and leave all those lovely flavours to simmer and intensify over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yellow bean sauce and toasted sesame oil on a plate. Now it’s steak time! Put the steak on the plate and really rub the marinade all over, then set it aside for a few minutes. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Pan-fry the steak for about 3 minutes on each side. This will cook it medium – but it’s your steak, so cook it how you like. If you want it a bit pinker, then cook it for up to 2 minutes each side.

The super-high heat will seal the meat and keep it nice and succulent. As soon as the steak is cooked to your liking, put it on a chopping board, cover it with foil and let it rest for a bit. Place another medium saucepan on the hob and half-fill with boiling water. Add the broccoli and boil for 2 minutes, then add the dried noodles and simmer for another minute. Drain and divide the broccoli and noodles between two large, deep soup bowls.

Using a fine sieve, strain the soup broth as you pour it over the noodles in each bowl, discarding the aromatics. Slice the steak into strips, then layer on top of the noodle soup. Garnish with spring onion (scallion) and fresh coriander (cilantro). Serve with
a small pot of red chilli oil on the side for drizzling, and you’re good to go.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

163_Seafood ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper_Korean

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 15 minutes
Doddle / <15 Min
Hero ingredient: shiitake mushrooms

A Korean take on a Japanese favourite. We’re bringing some spicy, pungent gochujang to the party. Gochujang dances to its own tune; it’s unlike any other chilli paste. Sometimes labelled red pepper paste, look out for it in Asian supermarket. When you combine this with the sweet scallops and prawns, the umami-rich mushrooms and the cabbage, it gives ramen a spicy Korean makeover.

140g (5oz) dried ramen noodles, or dried wheat
and/or egg noodles
120g (4¼oz) scallops
120g (4¼oz) raw fresh prawns (shrimp), or any seafood, e.g. squid or cooked mussels
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
60g (2¼oz) fresh shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
60g (2¼oz) savoy cabbage, finely sliced
¼–½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onion (scallion), to serve

Place a small saucepan of boiling water over a high heat and add the noodles. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside. Place the scallops and prawns (shrimp) – or whatever seafood you’re using – in a small bowl. Add ½ tablespoon of the gochujang and mix it all together, using your hands to coat everything really well.

Next heat the vegetable oil in a wok over a very high heat and add the seafood to the pan. Fry for 45 seconds, keeping the heat super high
so the seafood caramelises and gets golden brown around the edges.
Add the mushrooms and cabbage and lightly season with the salt and pepper. Stir everything well, cooking for a further 45 seconds.

Finally add the cooked and drained noodles to the wok, along with the soy sauce, paprika, sesame oil and remaining gochujang. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes, over a high heat, combining everything well. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce.

Divide the noodles between 2 serving bowls and sprinkle with the spring onion (scallion) – cheffy flourish is optional. Serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Wine From Another Galaxy: Noble Rot by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew

Wine from another galaxy

What’s the USP? The none-more-hip guide to the world of upmarket European wine, with an emphasis on the natural wine movement, from the team behind Noble Rot, one of London’s best wine bars/restaurants and an acclaimed wine and food magazine of the same name.

Who are the authors? Noble Rot’s founders, who are Dan Keeling, a former record company executive (whose claim to fame is signing Coldplay, but we won’t hold that against him) and Mark Andrews, a wine retail and hospitality professional. This is their first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? With two highly acclaimed restaurants to their name, food is a very big part of what Noble Rot but, as you will have guessed from the title, this is not the Noble Rot cookbook. It contains just four recipes with wine pairing suggestions, not plucked from their own menus, but recycled from old books: crab and tarragon salad by Ottolenghi, quail and peas by Simon Hopkinson from the excellent Week In, Week Out and Onglet Braised in Pinot Noir by Henry Harris from one of my all time favourite books Harvey Nichols: The Fifth Floor (the cookbook of a restaurant where I did a few work ‘stages’ in the kitchen back in the 90s), plus an uncredited recipe for a dessert of rose-scented strawberries. So, Wine From Another Galaxy is all about bedtime reading. Or preferably, favourite-chair-and-glass-of-what-you-fancy reading.

What will I love? The book is divided into two parts (ok, I realise that’s nothing to get excited about in itself, but bear with me). The first ‘Shrine to the Vine’ comprises a series of essays that variously tell the story behind the Noble Rot empire (with a contribution from restaurant critic and Noble Rot investor Marina O’Loughlin), explain how to order wine in a restaurant, provide a brief overview of the wine making process and lay out the characteristics of the main grape varieties used in wine making. There’s also a guide on how to serve wine, how to judge wine, how to detect faults in wine and how to talk about it, so you’ll be fully primed to pull out terminology like ‘energy’, ‘texture’, ‘tension’ and ‘originality’ over a glass of Muscadet at your next oh-so-ironic cheese and wine party.

Although it’s all done with a certain style and attitude (which we’ll come back to), there’s much in the book that feels familiar from other introductory wine books such as The Richard and Judy Wine Book , a reference that may fit Noble Rot’s definition of ‘so un-cool, it’s cool’ (a phrase that appears in the book and also as a category on their wine lists) but sadly I’m not cool enough to know. However, whether or not it’s cool to be using the terms ‘un-cool’ and ‘cool’ in 2021 is definitely up for debate.

Part two, ‘Rotters’ Road Trip’ is where things get really interesting. Our intrepid heroes set out a across Europe to visit winemakers in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Greece before returning to England to, very briefly, investigate the sparking wine scene. The first hand reportage adds authority to the writing and, unless you are a serious wine geek, you will encounter producers such as Jonatan Garcia Lima in Tenerife and perhaps even some wine regions like the Gredos Mountains in Spain that may be new to you.

What won’t I like? The insistence on continually drawing comparisons between the worlds of wine and music (wine is the new rock’n’roll man!) becomes a little wearing. By the time you read that Cornas from Northern Rhone has a ‘character so feral it could have its own chapter in Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt’ you may well be rolling your eyes.

Despite O’Loughlin’s claim in the book that ‘exclusionary wine bollocks has never been what Noble Rot is about’ it’s difficult to shake off a sense of elitism about the whole thing. There’s the celebrity associations including Keira Knightly, Marc Ronson, Eno and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and a focus on wines that will require some time, effort and often money for many readers to track down. You certainly won’t find any of these wines at you local supermarket -‘their shelves are mostly full of competent yet bland, industrially made bottles’ we are told. I also struggled to find producers mentioned in the book at my local independent wine merchants. Readers in London will certainly have more luck and the online stores of big merchants such as Berry Brothers and Rudd are the best bet for those outside of the capital.

In the know ‘jokes’ such as including Petrus 1991 in a list of rare ‘unicorn’ wines (1991 was one of the years Petrus didn’t declare a vintage. What? You didn’t know? Oh, OK. Perhaps a bottle of M&S Classic Claret is more your speed?) also don’t help foster a sense of inclusivity.

Should I buy it? Despite the above detailed misgivings, Wines From Another Galaxy is a great introduction to the subject of wine, is an enjoyable read and well designed. Part two of the book also makes it suitable for those who know their subject

Suitable for: Wine newbies and more experienced drinkers.
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd. 

Pizza: A book by Pizza Pilgrims by James and Thom Elliot

Pizza by Pizza Pilgrims

What’s the USP? The ultimate book about pizza! As well as recipes, Pizza offers up interviews with figures central to the pizza-eating world, pop cultural insights, and lessons in etymology and maths.

Who wrote it? Brothers James and Thom Elliot, who are best known as the founders of Pizza Pilgrims – a small chain of restaurants that evolved out of a single street food stand in London. Named after a toe-to-top journey through Italy that the brothers undertook in 2011 as an attempt to discover the secrets of great pizza, the brand has since become one of the most celebrated names to hoist a margherita upon the British people.

Is it good bedtime reading? Look, this is nothing if not filled with bedtime reading. In fact, it’s probably better not to think of Pizza as a cookbook, but rather food writing with added recipes. The book comes in just shy of 270 pages, and yet features only 26 pizza recipes, plus some pizza-adjacent ideas that bring the total recipe count to 30.

It’s hard to know exactly how to feel about this number. Pizzas are relatively intuitive things once the dough is made, and the overwhelming majority of the recipes that make the cut are both innovative and enticing. There are only so many pizzas one needs to be told how to make, after all. I’m not convinced there is much need to spell out how to put together a Hawaiian, for example, so it’s hard to fault the brothers for excluding it.

The rest of the content falls broadly into one of three categories. Firstly, there’s the genuinely interesting stuff, like a deep dive on the perfect pizza dough, and the city guides that champion the best pizzerias in Naples, Rome, and a smattering of other cities across the world.

Secondly, there’s the missed opportunities. Chief amongst these is the four-page section that looks at collaborative pizzas the Pilgrims have created with other restaurants over the years. Given the relative lack of actual pizza recipes in the book, it seems a tremendous waste to list twelve delicious sounding hybrids like the Dishoom-inspired Bacon & Egg Naan Pizza and not provide the means to create them at home.

Finally, there’s the filler – and, frustratingly, much of the book falls under this category. In an attempt to create a definitive text on pizza, the Elliots have included some genuinely useless sections. A two-page spread entitled ‘Pizza-Loving Celebrities’ lists thirteen famous people who have publicly professed to liking one of the most popular foods on the planet. There are four pages on the best fictional pizzerias and, later on, a further four pages on pop culture moments for the dish. Both of these amount to little more than a slightly wordy Buzzfeed list. Home Alone gets significant coverage in each.

Occasionally, the book gets really desperate – a gallery of pizza box designs customers have drawn up over the years, an advert for their ‘pizza in the post’ DIY delivery service and, most bafflingly, one-dimensional interviews with corporate figures from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. There might be some interesting insights to be found in the development kitchens of these brands, but half a page with the UK operations director of Domino’s ultimately amounts to nothing but empty calories.

Oof. So you’re not a fan, then? Well, see this is the problem. Perhaps eighty percent of this book is useless to a serious home chef – but the twenty percent that remains is brilliant. The recipes frequently show the value of the brothers’ initial pilgrimage through Italy, demonstrating a depth of knowledge and understanding that results in genuine learning opportunities.

My favourite choice at my local takeaway is a light ham and sweetcorn affair that is revealed here to be a version of the Mimosa pizza. I had no idea that it was something of a nostalgic favourite in Naples, where children think of it in much the same way that Brits might think of fish fingers and chips.

The Elliots also champion the frying pan as their preferred method for cooking pizzas at home – an idea I might have been unconvinced by before, but will likely be my standard going forward. These sorts of revelations are worth the price of admission by themselves.

I’m not going to deny, either, that there will be audiences who lap this up. The style of the book reminds me of cash-in influencer titles at times, and for better or worse, it will appeal to plenty of people as a result. It might also offer an excellent entry point for pizza lovers who perhaps haven’t previously considered making their own at home. 

What will I love? The recipes are faultless, even if there aren’t all that many of them. Alongside those inexplicable big brand takeaway interviews, there’s also a lovely conversation with Antimo Caputo, who makes flour that enjoys a cult status in pizza circles. It’s worth taking a moment, too, to celebrate the inspired cover design, which mocks up a takeaway pizza box with joyful, tactile precision.

What won’t I love? The recurring feeling that the publishers are trying to make the book thick enough to charge twenty quid for. The frustration that instead of achieving this by including more recipes, they threw in filler pages with titles like ‘Pizza Facts’. The sheer incredulity you feel when the first fact on the ‘Pizza Facts’ page – that the pepperoni pizza emoji is the most used emoji in the US – is so obviously, quantifiably not true that it renders the entire page pointless. It’s the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji, by the way, and you (or the publisher’s fact checkers) can confirm that with one four word Google search.

Killer recipes: There are no duds amongst the recipes, but the Mimosa, Datterini Filetti and Mortadella & Pistachio pizzas are particular highlights.

Should I buy it? This is definitely a browse-in-the-shop-first book. Anyone really passionate about homemade pizzas will benefit from the advice here, and I suspect this would be a great book for a young person who is getting increasingly ambitious in the kitchen. More confident cooks might want to consider if they can really afford to give up valuable space on their cookbook shelf to a title that barely fits the description of ‘cookbook’ in the first place, though.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book
Pizza: History, recipes, stories, people, places, love (A book by Pizza Pilgrims)
£20, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Vegetarian round up: The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year and Italy: The World Vegetarian

What’s the USP? Two USPs, actually! Having explored meat-free options from India and Japan with their initial installments earlier this year, Bloomsbury’s ‘World Vegetarian’ series takes its first step into Europe with Christine Smallwood’s volume on the food of Italy. Meanwhile, Nicola Graimes follows up 2015’s The Part-Time Vegetarian with a seasonal take on her flexitarian cooking.

Are they good bedtime reading? Once the recipes are out of the way, there’s not a lot of extra-curricular writing in Smallwood’s book on Italy. Like many cookbooks that form part of a larger series, this is a fairly utilitarian affair. This isn’t a book for reading over cosy winter evenings, but rather a practical volume you can take down from the shelf when you need dinner on the table in forty minutes.

The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year has a lot more to offer on this front – the division of a cookbook by seasonal availability has been something of a trend in the last couple of years, and lends itself brilliantly to vegetarian cooking (as Nigel Slater demonstrated with his brilliant Greenfeast books). So here we have practical advice about how best to utilise your freezer, how to minimise your food waste and, of course, handy lists of which vegetables are in season when.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? One of the most underrated elements of vegetarian cooking, I think, is that recipes are usually incredibly easy to source. Dishes rely on the flavours of the vegetables and the method of cooking to extract as much flavour as possible out, and as such rarely call upon more hard-to-source ingredients. Smallwood’s book, drawing as it does from a cuisine that has been so warmly taken in and appropriated by Britons, features nothing but instantly recognisable ingredients that can be found most anywhere you care to shop. Graimes might send you out into the world for hoisin sauce or silken tofu, but you’re not going to consider that much of a challenge, are you?

How often will I cook from the books? Both titles are filled with interesting and vibrant dishes – though Italy: The World Vegetarian probably has the upper hand on this front. Smallwood’s dishes are ready made for weeknight cooking, and you could easily find yourself picking out a simple but effective recipe from this book once or twice a week.

Graimes’ Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year asks a little more from the reader – both in terms of culinary skills and commitment of time to the dishes. The results are equally as tempting, though, so will likely find their way onto your dinner table a couple of times a month without any trouble.

What will I love and what won’t I love? For all of The World Vegetarian’s positives, the book is just a bit, well, drab. It’s hard to really put your personality into a pre-existing format – and in terms of Smallwood’s involvement this is much more ‘Gary Barlow takes over X-Factor’ than ‘Taika Waititi shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’. We’re spoiled for vegetarian cookbooks at the moment, and sheer practicality isn’t necessarily enough of a selling point to really make a mark. This is something The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year understands – it’s significantly more vibrant, and the reader gets a much stronger sense of Nicola Graimes’ voice and personality. It’s also, dare I say it, more fun. The flexitarian options allow for the entire thing to feel more interactive, more of a loose guide than the overt instruction manual vibes of Smallwood’s book.

Killer recipes: Italy: The World Vegetarian’s highlights include Sciatt with Cicoria, Spicy Farro Soup and Assassin’s Spaghetti. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year travels a little further afield to offer Sesame Empanada Pie, Mushroom Noodle Larb and Spiced Leek Flatbreads with Mint Aioli.

Should I buy it? Both will find a place on any vegetarian’s shelf. Smallwood’s entry to the World Vegetarian series is perhaps better suited for cooks seeking to expand on their own repertoire of dishes – though it’s probably the more useful of the two offerings, it lacks the pizazz we tend to seek in the books we give to others. The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year, however, has exactly that. It’s accessible and fun – and the flexitarian element means it will be equally loved by both vegetarians and those looking to cut their meat-consumption down in the future.

Cuisine: Italian/Global
Suitable for: Beginners/Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars/Three stars

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

Buy the books
The Part-Time Vegetarian’s Year: Four Seasons of Flexitarian Recipes
£25, Nourish Books 

Italy: The World Vegetarian
£20, Bloomsbury Absolute

Japanese Cooking for the Soul

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

What’s the USP? A collection of 70 Japanese dishes ‘inspired by’ chefs from the Hana Group (the name behind 14 Asian food concepts that’ll you’ll find in supermarkets and other retailers around the globe including Sushi Gourmet, Wok St and Poke-Lele) that celebrate the Itadakimasu ritual of gratitude and reflection.

So, spirituality meets global commerce? Sounds grim. Yeah, probably best to ignore the veneer of mindfulness that’s been applied to the faceless, corporate behemoth that’s behind Japanese Cooking for the Soul to try and make it look more human (spoiler altert: they failed) and stick to the meat of the book which is the rather good recipes.

They’re authentic then? I think we’ve all agreed authenticity is a problematic and nebulous concept when applied to food in the modern global age haven’t we? Or maybe we’re about to roll all of that back and enter a new age of puritanism. In any event, some may raise an eyebrow when they discover that the recipes have been written by former Good Housekeeping Cookery Editor Emma Marsden. If you insist on your Japanese recipes being written by a chef or food writer from Japan or of Japanese heritage, then this book is not for you. If however you’re in the market for an approachable selection of dishes that include sushi and maki; teppanyaki and noodles; poke and Japanese salads; gyoza and dim sum; robata, ramen and tempura, as well as some desserts, then you can’t go far wrong.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? You will need to find a fishmonger who deals in sushi-grade fish if you want to tackle salmon and tuna sushi or cristal salmon rolls, but you’ll find most, if not all of what you need at the supermarket. Online stores like Sous Chef will be able to fill in any gaps.

What’s the faff factor? By their very nature, things like sushi or shumai dumplings will take a bit of care and attention and the assembly of various elements, but there are plenty of straightforward dishes like grilled salmon in balsamic onion glaze and stir fried rice with chicken that you can knock up on a work night without too much sweat.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s easy to imagine the book becoming well thumbed and food splattered in no time at all. It’s full of delicious and achievable dishes suitable for quick mid-week diners, and for when you want to spend a bit of hobby-time (is that a thing? Lets assume it is) in the kitchen and prepare a feast.

Killer dishes: Pork and cabbage gyoza; yakitori chicken skewers; beef ramen; prawn tempura with spring onions; teppanyaki duck and many more.

Should I buy the book? If you don’t have any other Japanese cookbooks in your collection, this will serve as a fine introduction to the subject. If you want to delve much further into the cuisine, try Japan:The Cookbook. But at fifteen quid, or less if you click on the link below, this is something of a bargain and a purchase you won’t regret.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

What’s the USP? A celebration of communal eating, offering up advice and recipes that will allow you to host the perfect dinner party!

Wait a moment. Are we supposed to be having dinner parties at the moment? Oh, Christ. It’s complicated, isn’t it? I think so. I think we can host dinner parties as long as only one other household is invited.

What if I make everyone sit in the garden? Well, given we’re in September now, so you’d look like a bit of a tyrant. 

I’m lost. Yes, we’re all a bit lost here. Look, the general vibe is yes, you can host a dinner party, but no, you probably shouldn’t. I doubt Bloomsbury were planning for a global pandemic when they commissioned Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook though.

Skye McAlpine? The Times columnist and daughter of the late Baron McAlpine of West Green, yes. Real salt-of-the-earth type. This book reads, funnily enough, a little like a modern take on the society handbooks of old. No etiquette guidelines, thankfully – but plenty of ideas on table setting, menu planning and why you should skip on starters (too formal, apparently). 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with in the opening chapter, where McAlpine runs through all of the above, champions the napkin, and encourages us to place bowls of fruit and veg on our table for decorative purposes (‘gnarly lemons’, red onions and – in a move that was also popular with colonial Britons – pineapples). Beyond here, though, we’re in standard cookbook territory: chapter and recipe introductions, and idyllic claims about the ‘wonderfully renaissant quality’ of a potato dish, or the ‘virtues of a good Tuscan bread salad’.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nope – McAlpine does do a fantastic job of making sure almost every ingredient you could possibly need will be readily available at your average supermarket. Occasionally you might want to try a butcher instead, but for the most part you’ll get by just fine with off-the-shelf cuts.

What will I love? The way the book is split up is rather brilliant, with sections for mains (rather gratingly referred to as ‘stars’ because they ‘look and taste extravagant and impressive’), sides, sweets and extras. The first three of these chapters are then divided based upon the mode of preparation – ‘throw together’, ‘on the hob’ or ‘in the oven’.

McAlpine also puts a lot of work into helping you to create a cohesive menu for your socially-distanced/morally-inadvisable/maybe-just-happening-in-the-distant-future dinner party. Most recipes finish with suggestions for possible accompanying dishes, and an extensive section at the end of the book suggests set menus based on loose themes, seasons, the number of people attending, or how long you have spare for prep. It makes a book that might otherwise seem a little overwhelming a great deal more accessible.

What won’t I love? McAlpine’s decision to skip out on starters makes sense once you realise that the section would have nabbed many of its dishes from the mains anyway. Several of the salads and soups here feel like they’d have been a better fit as a starter than a ‘star’ course, and the Carpaccio of Figs with Lardo, Honey & Rosemary is clearly better suited to being a side, or perhaps even finger food for when your guests first arrive. Also, and this is a very personal thing, the fennel and parmesan puree is no doubt delicious, but looks like a giant platter of baby food.

Killer recipes: It’s all very Italian here, continuing McAlpine’s love for the food she grew up with in Venice. Highlights include the Tagliatelle Gratin, which looks like a cross of carbonara and macaroni cheese, and the Salted Honey Ice Cream – four words I am very happy to see together.

Should I buy it? This is by no means an essential cookbook – but it will be very welcome for a select demographic. In a lot of ways, A Table For Friends covers the same ground as Diana Henry’s popular How to Eat a Peach from a couple of years back. Whilst Henry’s title arguable offered a more varied and interesting selection of dishes, McAlpine’s is much more practical a tool for the dinner party host, and offers myriad mix-and-match options for dishes (where Henry instead presented a collection of pre-curated set menus).

If you are one to regularly host dinner parties, and are looking to serve light Italian-influenced dishes, you can do no wrong here. If you’re looking to cook for two, frankly, there’s still plenty of adaptable recipes that would more than work for a Tuesday night (and that handy index-by-time at the back will help you find which ones fit the bill). Ultimately, though, I’d have liked a wider catalogue of influences to draw ideas from. There are three recipes for roasted potatoes, two roast chickens (and a roast poussin to boot) and three or four tomato salads, depending on how you’d like to call it. There’s a lot here to like, but this is definitely a cookbook that requires a quick browse in the shop to determine whether it’ll fit your needs, your tastes, and your personality.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book 
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine
Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine