Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy this book
Ottolenghi, Flavour
£27, Ebury Press

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

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia by Ben Tish

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

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

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

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

Buy this book
Sicilia by Ben Tish
£26, Absolute

A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens Sophie Grigson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan

Ripe Figs
Ripe Figs is a culinary journey through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus documented by recipes and the stories of the people the author encountered on their travels.

The author is food writer Yasmin Khan, a former human rights campaigner. She is the author of two other books, The Saffron Tales and Zaitoun.

You should buy Ripe Figs for the knock out food of course, but it’s so much more than a recipe book. Khan brings the Eastern Mediterranean to vivid life with tales from her journey through the region. She meets Lena Altinoglou, one of four female founders of Nan restaurant in Mytilene in the Greek island of Lesvos, a social enterprise established so that Greek nationals and refugees to the area could work side by side and help bring the two communities together, while in Istanbul, she visits the apartment of Berrak Gocer to learn how to cook yoghurt soup and lamb meatballs with orzo pilaf. The book contains classics such as skordalia, kleftiko and halva as well as Khan’s own creations that include sweet potato, chickpea and tahini salad.

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

Buy this book
Ripe Figs by Yasmin Khan
£26, Bloomsbury

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

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The Modern Preserver’s Kitchen by Kylee Newton

THE MODERN PRESERVER'S KITCHEN - Kylee Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colu Cooks by Colu Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4
Time: 35 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the review
Coming soon

Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry

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

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

SERVES 4
TIME 35 minutes

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

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

Serve with some grated cheese.

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

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

Read the review
Coming soon

The Nutmeg Trail by Eleanor Ford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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