Med by Claudia Roden

Med by Claudia Roden
What’s the USP? An exploration of dishes from across the length of the Mediterranean by one of the most iconic names in food writing today, Claudia Roden. As well as being an instantly recognised figurehead of Middle Eastern cooking, Roden has previously written no less than four books on the wider Mediterranean cuisine (and another two focussing more closely on the food of Italy and Spain). So, not exactly a USP – but given that this is the octogenarian’s first book in a decade, perhaps the words ‘a cookbook from Claudia Roden’ are enough in themselves.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s lots to enjoy here, even if Roden’s written segments won’t occupy more than an evening of light reading. Opening with a section that explores both the theme of the book and the influence Roden’s own life journey has had on her food, Med sets itself up to be both a welcome addition to the shelves of existing fans and a suitable introduction to new fans.

Deeper into the book, both chapter and recipe introductions alike offer a good balance of the practical and the personal: glimpses into Roden’s experiences shimmer alongside useful tips and ideas for ingredients that can be substituted. There has always been a very passionate cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden that looks over the shoulder of the Claudia Roden that cooks the dishes and passes them out to her family for testing, and it’s a pleasure as ever to hear the snippets of history and humanity that are commonplace throughout Med.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Would the grand dame of Mediterranean cooking do that to you? Roden’s recipes are clear, concise and to the point, with coherent instructions and – thanks to the popular awareness the author herself played a significant role in developing across the UK – ingredients that are widely available in supermarkets. Even ingredients like harissa and pomegranate molasses that might not have been so readily available at the time of release for her last Mediterranean cookbook in 2007 have since become staples of Tesco’s aisles.

What’s the faff factor? For the most part, Med offers up relatively simple dishes that are full of flavour. One of the elements that unites the cuisines of the broad range of nations that have the sea in common is the quality of ingredients used. Very often this means that dishes allow those ingredients to speak for themselves, and require very little alchemy from the home cook. The fifteen or so salads in the book are a perfect example of this. Roden’s instructions for the vibrant Citrus Salad with Green Leaves read closer to flower arranging than cooking, and result in an intensely tangy, fresh dish. Even the Store-Cupboard Mediterranean Salad, which calls for piquillo peppers, tinned tuna, black olives and plum tomatoes has only two sentences of actual recipe.

Elsewhere in the book, Roden is a keen champion of ready-made pastry, making even the most complex dishes a good deal more achievable. Nowhere is this more apparent than her Chicken and Onion ‘Pies’ with Moroccan Flavours, which look incredibly elaborate, but should come together with relative ease in forty-five minutes or so.

How often will I cook from the book? There are plenty of options to keep the home cook occupied here, which is bound to happen when a title can draw from the cuisines of around twenty different countries. Roden the cultural anthropologist is excellent at sharing the origins of dishes – or owning up to those few recipes that are more a collection of fine ideas than a replica of anything already in the world.

Killer recipes: Spaghetti with Prawns Provençal, Bullinada, Chicken in a Spicy Honey Sauce Buried in Vermicelli, Yoghurt Cake, Parfait Mocha Praliné

Should I buy it? The only real qualm anyone might be able to muster with Med is that there isn’t much in the book that you couldn’t already find fine versions of elsewhere – either in Roden’s own illustrious back catalogue, or amongst the pages of very many fine Mediterranean cookbooks already in print. But the recipes are consistently very tempting and offer a thorough insight into both the dishes of the sea and the way the different nations have interacted with one another over the centuries. Med will be a welcome addition to the shelves of Roden’s long-term fans, and a useful all-rounder for those who have yet to explore the wealth of flavours on offer across the Mediterranean countries.

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

Buy this book 
Med: A Cookbook
£28, Ebury Press

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

Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier
What’s the USP? Everything you need to know in order to do Christmas the River Cottage way, which roughly translates as sustainable, organic and do-it-yourself. After reading this book you’ll be ready to start knocking up your own homemade mince pies, gifts and decs while necking copious amounts of rumtopf. That sounds like a Merry Christmas to me.

Who wrote it? Lucy Brazier is a writer and course tutor at River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s HQ in Axminster that offers courses in cooking, gardening and artisan skills.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a multi-award-winning writer and broadcaster and environmentalist committed to seasonal, ethically produced food. He is the author of numerous cookbooks and has fronted many TV series including River Cottage for Channel 4, the series that first brought him to the nation’s attention. His campaigning TV programmes have included Hugh’s Fish FightHugh’s War on Waste and Britain’s Fat Fight.

Is it good bedtime reading? You’ll want to get comfortably tucked up in bed with Christmas at River Cottage ideally a year ahead so you can put in to action all the advice in the ‘Planning Ahead’ chapter and begin growing your own produce and buying all the preserving kit you’ll need to make your own jams, pickles, booze, non-alcoholic drinks, syrups and cordials and fermented drinks. You’ll be in the perfect place as you’ll be exhausted just reading about all the work in store for you, never mind actually doing it. And that’s before you get to ‘Decking the Halls’ where you’ll learn how to craft your own willow Christmas wreath,  make tree decorations from dried orange and apple slices and how to make your own calendar in the ‘Advent’ chapter.

What’s the faff factor? It depends if you view the planning-ahead required to make things like red cabbage and beetroot pickle which needs to be prepared several weeks in advance, or marrow and chilli relish that needs six months to mature. But there are plenty of do-on-the-day recipes such as quick kedgeree and kale with anchovy cream that are straightforward enough.

How often will I cook from the book? If you take the homemade ethos to heart, then you may be cooking regularly from the book throughout the year making the jams, preserves and pickles in time for the big day, otherwise, it’s going to be mostly useful to you once a year.

What will I love? The book covers everything you need for a homespun festive break, from table decorations and drinks to the Christmas roast with all the trimmings and your own homemade Christmas pudding.

Killer recipes: Lentil salad with herby dressing; midwinter vegan tart; curried potato tart; beef and stout stew; mulled wine; prune and apricot stollen; Yule ham; Christmas Eve pizzas; turkey au vin.

Should I buy it? If you’re no longer satisfied with store-bought decorations and a turkey breast joint from Iceland and you want to get seriously hands-on with Christmas preparations all year round, then this is an essential purchase. Even for the less dedicated, there’s plenty of inspiration to make your Christmas a bit more special and personalised than it might usually be.

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

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Grains for Every Season by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg

Grains for every season by Joshua McFadden
What’s the USP? Intensely nutritious but often overlooked by home cooks who are uncertain how best to cook with them, whole grains have a lot to offer. Grains for Every Season looks to open their world up to the reader, offering a wealth of different dishes that span familiar grains like barley and quinoa, as well as less common offerings such as millet and buckwheat.

Who wrote it? The James Beard Award-winning pair Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg. Their last book (McFadden’s first) was the critically-acclaimed Six Seasons, which offered ‘a new way with vegetables’ – here the pair are determined to give whole grains their due instead, highlighting their desire to put flavour first at every point. The rich nutritional value of their ingredients are highlighted, but frequently seem to be considered no more than a convenient bonus, which is frankly rather nice. Earlier this year Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s solid Eat Better Forever spent entire chapters unpacking the health benefits for using whole grains, but the recipes themselves were less than inspired. McFadden’s book is packed with variety and flavour, whilst also teaching the reader enough about each grain to help them incorporate the food better into their own dishes.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly – the introduction aside, Grains for Every Season isn’t packed with prose. Each grain has a very useful but relatively brief introductory page that covers how it tastes, how it should be prepared, how it is good for you, and why McFadden is such a fan. The recipes themselves are given a brief explanation, but insomniacs aren’t going to find much to occupy them here.

But then, that’s not why we’re here – Grains for Every Season isn’t intended as a grand tome laying out food philosophies. Instead, McFadden and Holmberg are simply keen to make cooking with grains a good deal less intimidating for the average person. And they excel at doing this.

The recipes manage to hit all the homely, comforting notes you’d expect. A Lightly Curried Lamb, Cabbage, and Barley Soup offers exactly the warmth a reader might anticipate, but includes an inspired extra little punch of flavour. This is McFadden’s flavour-first approach peeking through, and over the course of the book these little touches appear time and again, lifting the grains and presenting them anew.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Clarity is always welcome in a cookbook, and the recipes here are thorough and specific – though this can occasionally result in a rather wordy page within which your place can easily be lost as you step away from the book to your prep and back again. Ingredients are listed with both US and metric measurements, and rarely ask for anything too difficult to source. Your biggest sourcing issue if based outside of the US will be kosher salt, though I’ve been buying it in bulk from online retailers ever since Samin Nosrat more or less insisted upon me doing so in Salt Fat Acid Heat.

What’s the faff factor? Try as they might, the authors cannot wholly expel the effort necessary to fully enjoy many of these grains. McFadden champions toasting his grains regularly throughout the book, though he does make an effort to save the reader some time by revealing that he doesn’t tend to soak grains before cooking, finding that the time saved in cooking doesn’t warrant the forward planning. Nevertheless, dishes call for all sorts of different preparatory methods, and some of these can be quite time consuming. Salads are usually a relatively quick dish to knock together, but the Rye Berry and Roasted Cauliflower Salad will take almost two hours to prepare if you haven’t already got some cooked rye berries sitting somewhere in the house.

How often will I cook from the book? There’s plenty of argument for this being a book that finds its way down from your shelf at least once a week. Knowing the many health benefits from eating more whole foods, it’s hard to ignore the value of a cookbook that presents so many varied, flavoursome approaches to cooking grains. There are simple, easy-to-cook ideas that will suit weeknights (Whole Wheat Pasta with Crab, Cream, Olives and Habanero could be readily pulled together in the time it takes to cook the pasta, and is a perfect example of the unexpected-yet-inspired flavour combinations that run throughout the book), and more elaborate dishes that will better suit a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in which you can spare three or so hours in which to simmer the beef for your Beef and Swiss Chard Soup with Spelt.

What will I love? The four seasonal spreads tucked throughout the book are a particular treat. Each one introduces a different dish: pilaf, grain bowls, stir fries and pizza. Presenting a simple method and offering up seasonal adaptations, these spreads are bright moments in an already excellent book.

Killer recipes: Seafood Stew with Hominy and Warm Spices, Super Fudgy Chocolate Oat Layer Cake with Chocolate Oat Milk Frosting, Farotto (a risotto-esque dish that uses farro in place of the rice and comes with several variations), Toasted Rye Cabbage Rolls

Should I buy it? Grains for Every Season is a beautifully written, carefully considered cookbook that is filled with originality and, importantly, flavour. But it is also something far more useful: an accessible and above all else tempting introduction to cooking with one of our most underused sources of nutrition. Anybody keen to explore whole grains in earnest should consider Grains for Every Season their first port of call.

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

Buy this book
Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains
£32, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing

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

Let’s Eat Italy by François-Régis Gaudry and Friends

Lets Eat Italy
What’s the USP? A deep dive on Italian food culture in an ‘oversized, obsessively complete, visual feast of a book’. And the marketing folk at publisher Artisan really do mean over-sized. This is the sort of coffee table book that might be better suited to artful placement on a picnic bench. Never mind doorstop tomes, this book is the size of an actual door. You get the idea: woe betide anyone looking to fit this onto an Ikea bookshelf.

Who wrote it? Credited to ‘François-Régis Gaudry and friends’, this is a collaborative effort from the team behind 2018’s similarly massive Let’s Eat France. A popular restaurant critic across the Channel, Gaudry has compiled a team that includes well over seventy contributors, including pieces by regulars from his radio show On va deguster.

Is it good bedtime reading? In so many ways, Let’s Eat Italy is perfect bedtime reading – each section offers a stand-alone deep dive into a single facet of Italian cooking. They are beautifully designed, as indebted to a Wes Andersonian sense of style as they are Italy’s own innate relationship with design. It makes for a book that one can pore over, page by page, or simply dip into as they like.

There are in-depth looks at different ingredients, from a ‘Spotlight on Capers’ to sumptuous photographic spreads on artichokes, Italian citrus fruits, tomatoes and more. Perhaps you are more interested in exploring the terroir of the nation’s cuisine, exploring the impact Venice’s lagoon has on its food. There are, of course, plenty of recipes too – regional specialties uncovered and offered up for home cooks to discover on their own turf.

All told, it’s rare to open Let’s Eat Italy and not find yourself at least briefly enamoured by its contents. Amongst the three hundred or so topics there are remarkably few duds – an occasional look at Italian food in American pop culture sheds no new light, but elsewhere even those sections without any immediate obvious use (charts of native cattle breeds) or beautiful enough to distract the reader for a moment.

The only real problem, then, is the sheer size of it, which simultaneously renders it readable only on a large table, or propped up on one’s knees whilst sitting on the sofa. But equally with the design so lovingly attended to, it’d be a crime to print it any smaller than it already is.

How good is it as a cookbook? Oh, absolutely useless. The recipes are tempting, sure – but who has room on their counter for a cookbook the size of a tabloid newspaper? I have enough difficulty sourcing real estate for the toaster. Recipes also tend to form only a small percentage of the page they are on, with the vibrant photography and elaborate histories of each dish taking priority to Gaudry and his pals. Better, then, to explore the dishes that tempt you most and then seek them out elsewhere – a decent Italian cookbook like Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy or, more recently, Rachel Roddy’s A to Z of Pasta will cover most of the bases here.

Should I buy it? Let’s Eat Italy is surplus to almost any cook’s actual needs – but then, that’s also true of all the best cookbooks. This is a luxury, to be treasured and perhaps even revered a little. The sort of book that sits in a home like an alternative religious text – an illustrated Bible of Italian food culture that will have as many devotees as it does naysayers. But here’s the kicker: the real Bible doesn’t have a three page illustrated spread dedicated to salumi.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks, and hungry folk who have no intention of cooking but do fancy lusting over authentic local specialties.
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Let’s Eat Italy!: Everything You Want to Know About Your Favorite Cuisine
£45, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing

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

Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Chesnut and Chocolate Cake
This is one of my family’s favourite chocolate ‘pudding’ cakes, and I make it at least once every Christmas (and not infrequently for birthdays and other celebrations too). It’s delectably tender, fudgy and chocolatey, and not too sweet or over-rich. You can serve it warm from the oven, with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, but it’s also good made a day or two ahead and served cold or at room temperature.

Serves 10–12
250g peeled cooked chestnuts (vacuum-packed or tinned are fine)
250ml milk
250g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), broken up
250g unsalted butter, roughly cut up
4 medium eggs, separated
100g caster sugar

You will also need:
A 25cm springform cake tin

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3, and grease and line your 25cm springform cake tin.

Put the chestnuts and milk into a pan and heat until just boiling. Take off the heat and mash well with a potato masher – you are aiming for a creamy purée, with just a few crumbly bits of chestnut. Set aside.

Put the chocolate and butter into a second pan and place over a very low heat. Keeping a close eye, to ensure that the chocolate doesn’t get too hot, melt them gently together, stirring now and then. Allow to cool a little.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until blended and creamy (they don’t need to reach a ‘moussey’ stage). Stir in the warm (not hot) chocolate mixture and then the chestnut purée, to create a well- blended batter.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold stiff peaks. Take one spoonful of egg white and mix it into the batter to loosen it, then fold the rest in lightly, trying not to knock out too much air. Carefully transfer the mixture to the prepared tin. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the cake is just set but with a slight wobble still in the centre.
To serve warm, leave to 22, a little then release the cake from the tin. Slice carefully – it will be very soft and moussey. Alternatively, leave the cake to go cold, when it will have set a bit firmer.

Cook more from this book
A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)

Photography © Charlotte Bland


Advent by Anja Dunk

Advent by Anja Dunk

What’s the USP? Oh, brace yourself for this, because it’s been a while. We’re always talking about cookbooks’ USPs around here, but really, how often does a book strike you as truly stand out? Truly unique? So you’ve written a book about vegan Chinese food? How quaint. What’s that? Your book looks at meals that can all be cooked in a single pan? WELL I NEVER.

Not today, my friend. Advent is a cookbook that offers twenty-four chapters (see what they did there?) that are all dedicated specifically to the world of German Christmas baking. Now that – that is a USP.

Who wrote it? Anja Dunk, who is perhaps best known for her 2018 book Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, which dove head first into contemporary German cooking (and had one of the more satisfying titles to say aloud that year).

Germany goes hard on Christmas, from the famous markets that coax pensioners out by the coach-load in non-pandemic times to their over-the-top advent calendars that make even my Lego one seem a little uninspired (though today I got to build a very festive vaccination centre, so it’s not exactly like Lego are pulling their creative weight here either). Baking is a facet of German Christmases that we are perhaps under familiar with here in the UK. Sure, we all know our lebkuchen and stollen, but how many of us can really claim to know what differentiates a spritzgebäck from a gewürzplätzchen? Here comes Dunk, with a seasonal barrage of goodwill (and a wealth of biscuit options).

Is it good bedtime reading? Dunk opens her book with a festive introduction filled with personal anecdotes and cultural insights, painting a vivid picture of a Christmas that runs in close parallel to our own British traditions. Recipe introductions vary, and though many tend towards the short and sweet, others take a moment to expand on unfamiliar ideas or offer a peek into German homes. It’s all very cosy, and whilst it may not keep you occupied for long, Advent begs to be read whilst tucked in under a duvet, plotting the treats that will see you through to the new year.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Books about baking need a lot of specificity, and Dunk doubles down on this, offering measurements for both European and US readers. She also makes sure to give tactile advice that will reassure infrequent bakers that they aren’t totally off-track (“the dough is pretty tacky and so won’t look all that neat,” she kindly informs us of her Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti, confirming that it will all even out in the oven).

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? No big asks here – in fact, the nature of cosy festive baking means that should you struggle to source ingredients from the shops, you can likely find some knocking about at the back of your Nan’s kitchen cupboard.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s about Christmas baking, so in all honesty you’re unlikely to get much use out of Advent from January through mid-November. Nevertheless, there are a few recipes that will be welcome year-round, from ‘German pizza’ Flammkuchen to the aforementioned biscotti coverage. Those with a particular fondness for home baked biscuits may consider this a vital purchase, though.

What will I love? The sheer coverage of the relatively niche corner of German cooking that Dunk has dedicated her book to. Beautifully presented and smartly organised, this is a title that does everything it claims to, and does so with elegance that few other cookbooks offer. There’s also a pair of exceptionally thoughtful contents pages at the back, listing all the vegan and gluten-free recipes respectively.

What won’t I love? Because the book clings so tightly to the Germanic Christmas tradition, with only a few recipes drawing on immediate neighbours, it can feel a little bit repetitive. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have replaced one of the marzipan chapters with other European festive bakes.

Killer recipes: Jam-filled Lebkuchen Hearts, Cherry and Almond Florentines, Dried Pear Fruit Loaf, Spiced Chocolate and Prune Fudge Pake, Linzer Biscuits, ‘Fire Tongs’ Punch

Should I buy it? A lovely addition to the bookshelf for fans of baking and Christmas treats, this is an excellent book that you will only use for one month a year. But what a month it’ll be.

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

Cook from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk
Christmas Wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

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

Winter Fattoush and Tamarind-Glazed Short Rib by Selin Kiazim

This dish is a real feast of contrast. If you have time, cook the ribs low and slow on a barbecue for an extra level of smoky flavour. I first made this dish for Cook for Syria, to raise funds for Unicef, back in 2016. It is by no means a traditional fattoush, and I encourage you to go out and try the real thing if you get the chance (or prepare the original at home).

Serves 4

4–5 Tbsp sumac dressing (see below)
3–4 Tbsp parsley oil (see below)
4–5 Tbsp tamarind glaze (see below)
100g (3½oz) croutons (see below)
4 beef short ribs
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 pears, cut in half, core removed
80g (2¾oz) cavolo nero, stalks removed and the leaves torn into pieces
extra-virgin olive oil
½ cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed, thinly sliced
8 breakfast radishes, finely sliced and placed into iced water
4 spring onions (scallions), sliced
¼ head radicchio, roughly chopped
8 leaves yellow chicory (endive), roughly chopped
1 small handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
4 Tbsp mint, leaves picked
sea salt flakes (kosher salt)
4 Tbsp thick yoghurt
4 Tbsp pistachios, toasted and chopped

Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/gas mark 5. Prepare the sumac dressing (page 81), parsley oil (page 55), tamarind glaze (page 40) and croutons (page 46). Season the short ribs with fine salt, place into a roasting tin and into the oven for 3–4 hours or until the meat is falling away from the bone. Pick the meat off the bone into large chunks, once cool enough to handle.

Heat a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat, add the tamarind glaze and short rib pieces along with 2 Tbsp of the butter. Cook until all of the meat is coated in the glossy glaze. Keep warm. Put the remaining 2 Tbsp of the butter into a large, ovenproof frying pan, gently melt and add in the pears, cut-side down, and brown for 1 minute. Place into the oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Allow to cool. Cut into large chunks.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little fine salt. Add in the cavolo nero and boil for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Drain, and allow to cool slightly before dressing with a little salt and olive oil while still warm.

To assemble the salad, in a large bowl, mix together the cucumber, cavolo nero, radishes, spring onions (scallions), radicchio, chicory (endive), herbs, croutons and pears. Season with sea salt flakes (kosher salt) and sumac dressing, to your liking.

To serve, spoon a dollop of yoghurt on the plate and place a pile of salad to one side. Scatter over some pieces of short rib, drizzle around the parsley oil and sprinkle the pistachios over the top.

Sumac Dressing
Zingy and light, this dressing is perfect tossed through salad leaves but also works well with chilli-spiked dishes thanks to its almost cooling effect.

Makes 150ml (5fl oz) VG

125ml (4fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic, finely grated
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp sumac

Whisk, blend or shake the whole lot in a jar. Season to taste. It will store well in the fridge for 2–3 weeks.

Parsley Oil
Basil and parsley, thanks to their full-on flavour, make my favourite herb oil. They also provide a sexy finish to a plate. If you want to make a straight parsley oil, then just use one big bunch of parsley and omit the basil. If you would prefer chive oil, then replace the basil with one big bunch of chives.

Makes 85ml (2¾fl oz) VG

25g (1oz) parsley, big stalks
removed, roughly chopped
200ml (7fl oz) grapeseed oil

Prepare a bowl of iced water. Bring a pan of water up to a rapid boil, add the herbs and cook for 15 seconds. Take the herbs out and immediately dunk them in the iced water. Squeeze all the excess water from the herbs and roughly chop (reserve the
iced water). Make sure you have really squeezed them and they are as dry as they can be.

Place the herbs into a high-speed blender with the oil and blitz, starting on the lowest setting for 30 seconds and then on to the fastest setting for 2–3 minutes, or until the herbs are as fine as they will go. Don’t worry if the oil heats up through blending – this is a normal part of the process and helps the colour of the herbs release into the oil.

At this point you need to decide on whether to leave herby bits in the oil or strain them off. If straining, line a fine sieve (strainer) with muslin (cheesecloth) and place over a bowl that fits within the iced water bowl. Pour the oil mix into the lined sieve and leave to drip for 1–2 hours. If you are leaving the bits in, then simply place the oil into a bowl over the iced water to cool. Store in a squeezy bottle or container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Tamarind Glaze
Tamarind is one of my favourite ways to bring acidity to a dish. In fact, it is probably
more sour than acidic but acts in that same lip-puckering way a good acid does. Making your own tamarind pulp is very easy. Simply take 2 blocks (400g/14oz) of tamarind, break them up into a pan and cover with water. Place over a low–medium heat and cook for 30 minutes or until you see the seeds have all separated and the pulp is a purée consistency.

Makes 200g (7oz) VG

150g (5½oz) tamarind pulp
50g (1¾oz) dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar

Place the ingredients in a pan over a medium–high heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While still hot, push the mix through a fine sieve (strainer) – this will take a bit of effort. Discard the seeds and scrape every last bit of the remaining pulp into a container. Store in the fridge (for up to six weeks), or pour into
ice-cube trays and freeze.

The idea behind a crouton is to preserve stale bread – any bread for that matter, from sourdough, pitta and ciabatta, right through to focaccia and rye. Croutons that soak up the juices from a plate of food are the dream. There are two methods I like to use to make croutons:

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Take your stale bread and cut or tear into 2–3cm (1in) pieces, drizzle with a little olive oil and sea salt flakes (kosher salt) and scatter in one even layer over a baking sheet. Place into the oven for 15–20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Check the progress of the croutons every 5 minutes – the ones on the outside might be ready sooner than those in the centre.

Fill a large frying pan (skillet) around a quarter of the way up with fat (clarified butter, ghee, duck, beef or whatever you’d prefer) and place over a medium-low heat. Cut or tear the stale bread into 1–2cm (½–¾in) pieces and place into the hot fat, ensuring the bread is all in one layer. If you like, at this point you could add in a crushed clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Cook the croutons for 10–15 minutes, stirring every so often, until they are golden and crisp. Drain through a sieve (strainer) and then onto paper towels to absorb excess fat. Season with sea salt flakes (kosher salt).

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

Buy this book
Three: Acid, Texture, Contrast – The Essential Foundations to Redefine Everyday Cooking
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Three by Selin Kiazim

Selin Kiazim

For her second book, Selin Kiazim of modern Turkish-Cypriot restaurant Oklava in London offers her readers no less than ‘the essential foundations to redefine everyday cooking’; the three building blocks of acid, texture and contrast that ‘turn good dishes into knockout dishes’. Mimicking its title, the book is divided into three sections. Part one covers ‘know how’ including sourcing ingredients, the importance of tasting and basics such as herbs, oils, and vinegars. It also discusses those essential foundations of acid (to brighten and balance flavours); texture (adding mouthfeel and interest, provided for example by croutons, dried fruit or cured meat), and contrast, personified for Kiazim by the cool crunch of a winter fattoush salad against the sweet and sour warmth of a tamarind glazed short ribs.

In the second part, Kiazim offers ideas and inspirations; short recipes for glazes, toppings, spice mixes, marinades, condiments, dressings and pickles that can add acid, texture and contrast to any number of preparations. They are also referred back to in the full recipes that form part three, so that a dish of smoked haddock and leeks is served with citrus dressing and sherry caramel, the recipes for which appear in part two, as does the alternative serving suggestion of spiced mayonnaise.

The structure of the book encourages the reader to think about how dishes are built and how easily, with a little consideration, elements can be swapped in and out while maintaining those essentials of acid, texture and contrast. That said, you will almost certainly want to cook Kiazim’s original versions. Who could resist steamed aubergines with beef scratchings and chilli dressing; verjus cabbage with kapuska (a fragrant Turkish beef and cabbage stew) and sea vegetables, or seared bavette with smoked anchovy and gem lettuce with miso and crispy shallots?

Kiazim has a distinctive culinary voice all her own which would be enough to make Three an enticing prospect. The fact that she is generous enough to want to help her readers develop their own style makes it a must by for both young novice cooks and those who are more experienced but in search of some new inspiration.

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

Buy this book
Three: Acid, Texture, Contrast – The Essential Foundations to Redefine Everyday Cooking
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Cook from this book
Winter Fattoush and Tamarind-Glazed Short Rib by Selin Kiazim

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine. 

Indian Vegan and Vegetarian by Mridula Baljekar

Indian Vegan and Vegetarian
What’s the USP? Why, it’s a big old book of vegan and vegetarian dishes drawn from the eternally diverse world of Indian food. Two hundred of them, in fact, organised by region.

I think you’ve misunderstood the concept of ‘USP’. It is true that this is far from the first Indian cookbook to hone in on the plant-based cookbook trend. There are already much-loved offerings from the likes of Madhur Jaffrey, Meera Sodha and Romy Gill.

This new title comes from Mridula Baljekar, an award-winning cookbook writer who has sold over a million copies of her titles, which frequently focus on the regional cuisines of India. This latest volume has a pretty flashy look by her usual standards – the vibrant cover art echoing the style of Gill’s recent Zaika, as well as Yasmin Khan’s Palestinian doppelgänger Zaitoun.

So a contemporary new look for Baljekar’s books? Well, not quite. The insides of the cookbook feel curiously dated. From the writing to the design, and even the glossy paper of the pages, Indian Vegan & Vegetarian has a distinctly textbook-esque vibe. The lengthy introductory section is filled with sub-headings and stock photos. Regional maps could be drawn straight from a Year 8 Geography lesson.

Textbooks do tend to be rather useful though, don’t they? They do! And Baljekar’s book is no different. Though it lacks stylistic pizazz, it is packed tightly with excellent recipes, pairing suggestions, practical advice and cultural insights. There are tips for variations and techniques that will aid the home cook, and the tremendous range of delicious and varied dishes manage to almost exclusively use readily accessible ingredients.

How often will I cook from the book? For those living their lives out of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, this could prove a definitive volume on their shelves. The sheer breadth of ideas on offer here mean that you could easily draw from this a couple of times a week without getting bored. The regional chapters allow readers to build up culturally-connected menus with ease too – Baljekar’s recipe introductions frequently include directions to appropriate accompaniments.

Very few of the dishes leap out as being genuinely innovative or even particularly exciting, though. Baljekar offers up plenty of authentic dishes, but those looking for dinner party show-stoppers or even something to brighten up a weekend dinner would be better served exploring other recent releases. Though the design of this book might allude to an era where bold ideas for vegan meals were a rarity, these days few major cookbooks are released where there are not at least a few delicious options.

Killer recipes: Baljekar’s Crushed Parsnips in Mustard Oil represent one of the few occasions where the book rears away from traditional Indian ingredients, and as such comes across not only as one of the most tempting recipes present, but also a potential way to inject some imagination into the sides at Christmas dinner.

Elsewhere the Batter-fried Spinach Leaves bring an echo of tempura to proceedings, and the Cinnamon and Clove Cheese Curry is a stand-out that combines some unexpected flavours in a very satisfying way.

Should I buy it? Baljekar is not offering anything new in Vegan & Vegetarian Indian. In fact, she’s continuing her long-standing tendency towards producing modest but thorough Indian cookbooks that forgo showmanship in favour of authentic regional expertise. This isn’t a must-buy volume, but it’ll be a rare home cook who can’t draw regular inspiration from it nonetheless.

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

Buy this book
Indian Vegan & Vegetarian: 200 traditional plant-based recipes
£20, Lorenz Books

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

At Home by Rick Stein

Rick Stein at Home
What’s the USP? Lovably grumpy old German sausage Rick Stein returns with his ‘what I did in lockdown’ opus. Prevented from his usual globetrotting tendancies by the worldwide lurgy, Rick regals us with ‘recipes, memories and stories from a food lover’s kitchen’.

Who wrote it? After more then a quarter of a century years on British TV screens and getting on for 50 years (!) of running his world famous The Seafood restaurant in Padstow Cornwall, Stein is something of a British national treasure. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) about his world travels that include France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, and Mexico.

Is it good bedtime reading? The clue is in the ‘memories and stories’ part of the subtitle. If you’ve seen Rick on the telly, you’ll know he loves an anecdote and to generally bang on about stuff and he’s in his element in this book. He pontificates about the joys of cooking in lockdown in the book’s main introduction (a subject we can only pray will soon be purely historical in nature) and provides substantial  introductions to each of seven chapters which cover bar snacks, first courses, fish and shellfish (of course; Stein is still the English culinary Poseidon), poultry, meat, vegetarian and desserts and drinks.

In addition, there are short, chatty essays on the subject of sourdough, gadgets, the art of stocking making, low calorie cooking for a quiet night in, Christmas, avoiding food waste (Stein is somewhat obsessive about this subject and keen to use ‘wrinkly shrivelled mushrooms, yoghurt that’s so out of date it nearly catching up with itself next year, little blocks of rock hard cheese, garlic clovres and ginger almost dried out, excessively bendy carrots, squishy tomatoes and red peppers’ and even dumps chopped up left over pizza into his nasi goreng), recipes that helped him get through lockdown, recipe testing, store cupboard ingredients, foraging and preserving.  With most of the 100 recipes coming with substantial introductions, this could serve as your cookbook at bedtime for at least a week.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The very first recipe in the book, feta and spainach filo ‘cigars’, calls for a ‘big pinch’ of chilli flakes. Elsewhere, there’s a ‘small handful’ and ‘handful’ of coriander and a ‘good handful’ of parsely (what might be the exact differences I wonder?). More annoyingly, the recipe for slow-cooked pork carnitas tacos needs a ‘handful’ of radishes, yet Rick is able to weigh out 150g of pitted green olives to go into his beef and pork meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce. Generally speaking however, ingredient list and methods are well written and detailed enough so that you shouldn’t  have trouble following the recipes, especially  if you are a confident cook.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Although Stein draws inspiration from around the globe, the vast majority of ingredients will be stocked by large supermarkets. Exceptions may include Arbroath smokies, oysters, scallops, gurnard, grey mullet, sea bream, John Dory, red mullet, espelette pepper, Chinese salted black beans, pandan leaf, goose, sea buckthorn berries and sloes.

How often will I cook from the book? As indicated by the chapters listed above and Stein’s well known freewheeling global cooking style, there is a lot of variety to the recipes and you will find something appropriate for any day of the week and pretty much any occasion, from an easy mid-week meal of chicken and prawn stir fry to a roast goose with sage and onion stuffing and apple sauce fit for Chritmas Day.

Killer recipes: Deep fried coconut prawns; stir fried salt and pepper squid with red chilli and spring onion; hot smoked salmon kedgeree; tarka dal, chicken fricassee with morels; crisp Chinese roast pork; apple tarte tatin and much else besides.

Should I buy it? If you are an avid Stein cookbook collector you may recognise a few of these recipes, but apprently every one has been re-cooked and slightly tweaked so don’t let that put you off. If you are new to Stein, this is a great place to start with a wide ranging collection of accessible and delicous recipes that you will want to cook again and again.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein at Home: Recipes, Memories and Stories from a Food Lover’s Kitchen
£26, BBC Books