Aloo ko tarkari – Potato curry by Santosh Shah

Aloo ko tarkari Potato curry


Aloo Ko Tarkari (potato curry) is so often eaten with puri, that I have combined the two recipes for you here. Puri are also served alongside other dishes, such as Chana Ko Dal (Spicy Chickpeas, see page 93 of the book). The puri here are vegan, but see page 177 of the book for an alternative recipe, with the option of ghee (clarified butter), and if you want to make them without the potato curry.

For the puri (makes 20)
500g (3¾ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour or roti (chapati) flour, or an equal mixture of both
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for working into the dough
1 litre (4 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for rolling

For the potato curry
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon ginger paste
500g (18oz) red-skinned waxy potatoes, unpeeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 dried hot red chillies, crushed
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
½ teaspoon Sakahar Barha Masala (Vegetable Garam Masala, see page 194 of the book)
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock, or water

A kitchen thermometer


First, make the puri dough. Combine the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil and, using your fingers, work the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Make a well in the flour and measure out 250ml (1 cup) of water. Add some of the water into the well and start mixing the dough, gradually adding the remaining water, a little at a time, until a firm dough forms. Knead the dough well with your hands for about 10 minutes until soft and elastic. Cover with a clean damp cloth and set aside for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 20 pieces and keep them covered.

Make the potato curry. Heat the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let them crackle until they turn dark brown.  Add the cumin and nigella seeds. Cook them for a few seconds just until they crackle. Add the garlic and ginger pastes, potato cubes, salt, crushed red chillies and all the ground spices. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until the potatoes are well coated with oil and spices. Add the vegetable stock or water, bring the mixture to the boil, and then turn down the heat to low.

Simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the potatoes are soft. When the potatoes are soft enough, start stirring them while lightly crushing them with a spatula. You want the potatoes to absorb all the liquid and to have some chunkiness and texture. When they are thick and glossy from the juices, they are ready.

While the potatoes are cooking, fry the puri. Heat the oil in a deep sauté pan until it reaches 190°C (375°F). Roll one of the dough pieces in your hand to make a smooth ball. Apply a little oil on the dough ball and roll it out on an oiled surface with a rolling pin to obtain a 10-cm (4-in) disc. Repeat with the other dough balls. Keep the discs covered with a wet cloth. Place a puri in the hot oil. When it rises to the surface, press it down very gently into the oil with a skimmer. The puri will start puffing up. Flip it over and cook for a few seconds. When the puri are crisp and golden brown – this should take a couple of minutes on each side – remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper (paper towels) to drain.

Serve the potato curry hot with the crisp puri on the side.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell


Sea and Shore by Emily Scott

Emily Scott Sea and Shore

Sea and Shore is a collection of recipes by a chef inspired by living and working in Cornwall. As there isn’t really such a thing as ‘Cornish cuisine’, it’s probably best to think of it as one cook’s personal culinary response to the produce and surroundings of the county.

The author is Emily Scott, chef of Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay in north Cornwall and the former owner and chef of St Tudy Inn near Bodmin. She recently hit the headlines as one of the team who catered the G7 conference at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in 2021. Scott also appeared on the BBCs Great British Menu series in 2019.

You should buy Sea and Shore because you’ll want to make Cornish crab linguine with chilli, lemon and parsley; slow roasted lamb shoulder with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme; little gem tart with Keen’s Cheddar, spring onions and flat leaf parsley; meringue roulade with clementine curd, cream and passionfruit and Cornish faring biscuits made with coconut, ginger and golden syrup, plus many of the other 80 simple recipes, making it an ideal book for novice cooks. The food looks colourful and appetising while the Cornish landscape photography will inspire your next English summer holiday.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Sea and Shore by Emily Scott 
£26, Hardie Grant

Kamo Negi – Duck With Grilled Leeks by Brendan Liew


Like bacon and eggs, kamo (duck) and negi (leek) can be listed as just two ingredients on a menu, but the combination is so well known in Japan that people can envisage the dish based only on those two words alone. Kamo negi is usually seared, thinly sliced duck breast accompanied by the whites of leeks that have been slowly pan-fried or roasted to have nicely brown grill marks. It could be served plated
as an okazu (side dish) as part of a larger feast, or made into a delightful noodle soup. I’ve included both versions of the dish here, as you can double the amount of duck breast and turn it into two completely different meals. It is best to start this recipe the day before, to allow the duck breast to cure with the salt and sansho overnight. This draws out water from the meat while seasoning the duck at the same time, resulting in crispier duck skin and more flavoursome meat.

2 duck breasts
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sansho pepper
1 thin leek, cleaned, whites cut into 4 pieces, greens discarded or used for stock
30 ml (1 fl oz) soy sauce
30 ml (1 fl oz) sake
15 g (1/2 oz) zarame or sugar

1 bunch of spring onions

500 ml (2 cups) dashi (see page 32 of book for recipe)
250 g (9 oz) ramen noodles, home-made (see page 130 of book for recipe) or store bought
1 bunch of green vegetables, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
shichimi togarashi, to serve

Using a sharp knife, remove any silver skin from the underside of the duck breasts. Rub 1 teaspoon salt over the skin and meat of each breast, then rub the sansho pepper over only the flesh. (We season only the meat side with the sansho, because the sansho will burn on the skin side, which is pan-fried for a longer time than the meat side.) Place the duck breasts, skin side up, on a rack with a tray underneath. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, but at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook, use a sharp knife to cut lines down the duck skin, along the length of the breast, about 2 mm (1/8 inch) deep and 1 cm (1/2 inch) apart. This creates channels for the duck fat to render out, resulting in a crispier skin.

Place the duck, skin side down, in a cold frying pan and turn the heat to medium–low. When the duck starts sizzling and a thin layer of rendered duck fat coats the bottom of the pan, add the leek to the pan.

Cook for 15 minutes over medium–low heat, skin side down the whole time; there should be a light frying noise. Every 5 minutes, drain the fat from the pan, reserving it for roasted potatoes or stir-fries. Turn the leek over after 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the soy sauce, sake and zarame just enough to dissolve the zarame.  At this point, you can take the recipe in two different directions.

Wash the spring onions, then divide into the green and white parts. Shred the green bits and very thinly julienne the whites, keeping them separate.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, turn it over onto the flesh side and sear all the parts that appear uncooked. After you’ve seared each side, leave the duck on the meat side for a further minute (it should be 2 minutes in total), then transfer the duck and leek from the pan to a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, but do not wash.

After 5 minutes, place the pan back on the heat and turn the heat up to high. Add the spring onion greens and stir-fry until wilted. Add the soy sauce mixture and any accumulated juices under the duck. Allow to bubble until slightly thickened, then remove from the heat. Slice the duck, then place on your serving dish with the leek. Pour the sauce over, garnish with the spring onion whites and serve.

While the duck is cooking, bring the dashi to a simmer and prepare a pot of boiling water for cooking the noodles.

After the duck has finished cooking on the skin side for 15 minutes, very quickly sear the flesh side of the duck just to colour it, then remove from the pan with the leek. Don’t worry if you think it’s still raw; it will cook further in the soup.

Quickly blanch your vegetables in the boiling water; remove with tongs and place in a colander to drain. Boil the noodles in the same water, then pour into the colander to drain, shaking the colander to remove as much excess water as possible.

Divide the noodles and vegetables among bowls. Add 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture to the simmering dashi. Taste and add more of the dashi mixture, or salt, until you are happy with the flavour. Pour it over the noodles and top with the greens. Slice the duck breast and fan it out over the noodles with the leek. Serve with shichimi togarashi for sprinkling over.

Cook more from this book
Salmon Ochazuke by Brendan Liew
Mizu Shingen Mochi – Raindrop Cakes by Brendan Liew

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26,  Smith Street Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Smoky and Spicy Shrimp with Anchovy Butter and Fregola by Colu Henry


It’s all right there for you in the title. Sweet shrimp is sautéed until just cooked through, and fregola (a tiny toasted pasta from Sardinia) is added to the pot to toast in the melted anchovy butter and spices with some cherry tomatoes. I love Calabrian chiles packed in oil and use them here for some punchy heat, but if red pepper flakes are within closer reach feel free to use them instead. Once the fregola finishes cooking, return the shrimp to the pot to warm them through and serve straight from the pan. Serve with many bottles of chilled red wine.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

1 pound (455 g) extra-large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (½ stick/55 g) unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 oil-packed anchovies
3 Calabrian chiles, roughly chopped, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pint (290 g) cherry or Sungold tomatoes
1½ cups (270 g) fregola
3 cups (700 ml) chicken stock
½ cup (20 g) loosely packed basil leaves, torn if large, or roughly chopped parsley or mint, or a combination of all three

Season the shrimp well with salt and black pepper. In a 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove and set aside on a plate.

Add the garlic, anchovies, Calabrian chiles, and smoked paprika to the skillet and stir until the garlic is fragrant and the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and toast for a minute or so. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir to coat. Cook until the tomatoes begin to burst, pressing down on them gently to help release their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the fregola to the pan and stir until the pasta is well coated in the spiced butter. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the fregola is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the shrimp back to the pan with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and stir until they are just warmed through. Scatter with herbs and serve.

Cook more 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

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

Read the review
Coming soon

Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali

Baking with fortitude
What’s the USP? Just because we’re not in lockdown any more doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our national sourdough habit, does it? Either way, here’s a collection of sourdough cakes and bakes (and non-fermented recipes too) from cult London bakery Fortitude to keep your (sourdough) mother happy.  The book is the winner of  the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021.

Who wrote it? Irish-born baker Dee Rettali was something of an organic food pioneer, opening Patisserie Organic in London in 1988. She is the former head chef of the London-based cafe chain Fernandez and Wells and opened Fortitude bakery in Bloomsbury in 2018.  This is her first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a six page introduction plus one or two page introductions to each of the seven chapters but that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an online specialist supplier for dried meadowsweet to make the first recipe in the book, a butter loaf cake flavoured with honey and meadowsweet (one of eight butter loaf cakes recipes – the book is organised around base recipes and their variations).

Go anywhere but your local supermarket for the ‘fresh ripe’ fruit Rettali specifies for things like Lavender and Pear Butter Loaf Cake because, well,  when was the last time you bought fruit from Asda et al that was fresh and ripe? If you need overpriced stuff that is rock hard, tasteless and goes bad before it approaches ripeness then you’d be laughing.

You’ll need to buy organic flour of course, including buckwheat flour to make orange, yoghurt and polenta cake, but you should have few issues obtaining the vast majority of ingredients specified in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Although the book is billed as a collection of sourdough bakes which might sound complicated, in fact most of the recipes don’t use a starter but can be fermented if you wish to deepen the resultant flavour which Rettali claims is an innovation in cake baking.  This process takes no additional effort, you just need to plan ahead.  The base recipes, that include the aforementioned butter loaf cake as well as olive oil cake, yoghurt cake and sour milk soda bread are often just a matter of combining the ingredients in a bowl although the brioche and sourdough butter cake mixes are a little more complex.

The complete recipes range from the simple and straightforward Blueberry and Lime Little Buns to the slightly more involved Sticky Cinnamon Buns with Molasses Sugar, but there is nothing off-puttingly complex or too fiddly here. This is good old fashioned baking rather than fancy detailed patisserie work.

What will I love? Rettali has a very clear culinary vision and distinct style so that the recipes never feel over-familiar. There are some classics like Eccles cakes and  hot cross buns (albeit a sourdough-based version mad with candied orange) but also creations you may not have come across before like  turmeric custard and roast pear brioche buns or chocolate and chilli sugar olive oil loaf cake.

What won’t I like so much? Using the base-recipe-and-variations format means there is cross over and similarity among the groups of recipes (there are an awful lot of loaf cakes for example) in what, at 192 pages, is a relatively short book. You will need a food mixer for some of the recipes as alternative methods are not provided. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a keen baker, there is enough variety, from tahini, za’tar and sesame seed biscuits to tomato, garlic and oregano soda bread to keep you busy for many weeks.

Should I buy it? If you are an experienced baker looking to create something that little but different, this is definitely the book for you. Newbies will also appreciate Rettali’s encouraging attitude, ‘By sharing my recipes and approach to baking, I want to take away the fear. Use your hands, get your fingers right into the bottom of the bowl and feel the dough.’ 

Cuisine: British baking
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/beginners/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
£22, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021. Click the image below to find out more.

Food Longlist (3)

Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Rose and Pistachio (1)

At Fortitude, I top these rosewater-flavoured buns with organic dried rose buds from the Merzouga valley in Morocco. I have visited this region on many occasions, where you are always greeted by the heady floral smell of organic roses.

Makes 12 little buns

12-hole muffin tin or easy-release silicone mould, greased well with oil
170ml pomace oil (or light virgin olive oil)
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
4 eggs
125g fine semolina
50g pistachios, finely ground into a flour
200g ground almonds
1. teaspoons baking powder
25ml rosewater

To decorate
250g icing sugar
25g finely chopped pistachios
12 dried rose buds (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together the pomace oil and caster sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and continue to mix until combined, but do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, combine the semolina, ground pistachios, ground almonds and baking powder.

Fold the semolina mixture into the whipped olive oil mix using a metal spoon. When it is almost combined, add the rosewater and gently fold through. Leave overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6.

Fold any oil that is sitting on the surface back into the mixture to combine again. Making sure that the muffin tin or mould is greased well with oil, divide the mixture equally between the holes of the tin or mould, then place it on a baking tray. Bake in the centre of the hot oven for 22 minutes or until the buns feel set to the touch.

Transfer the buns from the tin or mould to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with just enough warm water to make a thick paste. Spread the top of each bun with the icing using the back of a spoon and sprinkle over the pistachios. If preferred, place a dried rose bud in the middle of each bun.

When stored in an airtight container in the fridge,
these little buns will keep for 7 days.

To ferment

Once mixed, store the cake batter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days to allow it to ferment. Fold any oil sitting on the surface back into the mixture before baking.

Read the review 
Coming soon

Buy this book 

KARAAGE 6.0 by Tim Anderson


I‘m calling this Karaage 6.0 because it is, if memory serves, the sixth karaage recipe I’ve written. And it’s the best one … so far. There are so many variations of making karaage it’s hard to settle on a ‘perfect’ version. For this one, I’ve stripped it back to basics, with a really simple, classic marinade. The only thing unusual about it is that it uses a seasoned flour and white wine rather than sake, which gives a lovely fruity acidity that works perfectly with the chicken – a brilliant idea I heard about from chef Jon Sho of the excellent Knightsbridge sushi bar Kaké, as well as the food
writer and karaage pop-up chef Melissa Thompson.

10 garlic cloves
20 g (¾ oz) ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup)
white wine
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

150 g (5 oz/1¼ cups) cornflour (cornstarch)
100 g (3½ oz/scant 1 cup) potato starch
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
400 g (14 oz) (about 4–6) chicken thighs, boneless and skin on
about 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups) oil, for deep-frying
lemon or ponzu, store-bought or homemade, to serve (optional)

For the marinade, blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor until no big chunks remain; alternatively, you can finely grate the garlic and ginger and just stir everything together. For the seasoned flour, simply stir all ingredients together until well mixed. Cut the chicken thighs into quarters (or thirds, if they’re quite small) and toss through the marinade, then leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

To cook, heat the oil in a deep saucepan to 180ºC (350°F). Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip off, then dredge in the seasoned flour, ensuring that all the nooks and crannies are well coated.

Carefully lower the chicken into the oil in small batches, checking the temperature periodically to ensure it is between 170–180ºC (340–350°F) and fry for about 8 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, use it: the chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of at least 65ºC (150°F). If you don’t have a thermometer, use a knife to cut into the biggest piece of chicken at its thickest point. If it’s still raw, keep cooking for another few minutes until it is cooked through.

Remove the cooked chicken from the oil and drain on paper towels. Karaage is juicy and flavourful enough to be enjoyed without a dip, but it’s also great with ponzu, or just a wedge of lemon.

Cook more from this book
Fish Finger Hand Rolls by Tim Anderson
Pepper Steak with Garlic Soy Sauce Butter by Tim Anderson

Read the review

Buy this book
Your Home Izakaya: Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan
£25, Hardie Grant Books

Fish Finger Hand Rolls by Tim Anderson


フィッシュフィンガー手巻き FISSHU FING  TEMAKI

This dish was inspired by recipes by two cooks that I, and many others, idolise: Ivan Orkin and Nigella Lawson. In Orkin’s excellent The Gaijin Cookbook, he provides a guide for hosting a temaki party, a great way to enjoy sushi at home that requires
no particular skill or technique. You simply bring cooked and seasoned sushi rice, some choice fillings, nori and condiments to the table, and let everybody assemble their own little temaki, or hand rolls. It’s brilliant – we did this a few days after Christmas when I was craving Japanese food but had no fresh fish in the house.

Enter Nigella. Lately, everybody has been talking about her fish finger bhorta, a recipe she borrowed (with permission) from the journalist and activist Ash Sarkar. Basically, it’s a sort of dry curry made with smashed-up fish fingers; the kind of thing that’s so ingenious yet so simple that it has made us all wonder why we haven’t been making it our whole lives. Indeed, it’s certainly got me thinking why I’ve never utilised fish fingers in anything more interesting than a sandwich before.

This must have been in the back of my mind when I reached for them to use in our temaki party. If you think about it, it makes sense; fried seafood is no stranger to sushi, after all. I texted my friend Yuki (of Bar Yuki fame) a photo of my invention, expecting her to laugh at me. Instead, she simply replied, ‘Yummy, it’s like ebi-fry temaki!’ – referring to the perennial favourite, panko-crusted fried prawns (shrimp). So there you have it: fish fingers are just the poor man’s ebi-fry, and they make a killer temaki.

200 g (7 oz/1 cup) rice
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
40–50 g (2 oz) daikon, peeled, or radishes
iced water
8 fish fingers
Japanese Mayo (see below) or Tartare Sauce (see below)
1 handful of pea shoots
2 sheets nori
soy sauce, as needed
wasabi, as needed

Cook the rice according to the instructions on page 219. While the rice is cooking, stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. Once the rice is cooked, spread it out in a large bowl or tray and sprinkle over the seasoned vinegar. Mix the vinegar through the rice using a rice paddle or spatula with slicing and turning motions. Let the rice cool to room temperature before making the rolls.

Slice the daikon or radishes very thinly – use a mandoline if you have one, and if you don’t, use a very sharp knife and take your time. Cut down the length of the daikon,
rather than across, so you have rectangles rather than circles. Stack the slices of daikon up and cut them again into very thin shreds.  Transfer this to a bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes and leave to soak for about 20 minutes (if you don’t have ice, just put the bowl in the fridge).

Cook the fish fingers according to the manufacturers’ instructions, but I would recommend giving them a few minutes extra to get really crisp. Drain the daikon and dry it well with paper towels. Toast the nori by waving each sheet back and forth 15–20 cm (6–8 in) over an open flame on the hob, for about 30 seconds each. Cut each sheet into four squares.

Bring everything to the table along with chopsticks, side plates and little dip pots. To assemble, hold a piece of nori in your hand, then use the chopsticks to pile in a little mound of rice, then top with the mayo or tartare sauce, then some daikon and pea shoots, then the fish fingers. Wrap it up like something halfway between a taco and a burrito, and eat with your hands. Dip it in the soy sauce and a little wasabi with each bite.

Japanese brown sauce has many variants, such as tonkatsu sauce, yakisoba sauce, okonomiyaki sauce and takoyaki sauce. They all fall under the category of what’s simply called ‘sauce’ in Japan, as they have similar flavours, with slight variations in terms of consistency and balance. Tonkatsu sauce is a good choice if you need something that will work well in a variety of recipes. You can make it at home but I would strongly recommend buying it. The same goes for Japanese mayo, known for its creamier, eggier, deliciously MSG-enhanced flavour. The brand Kewpie seems to be everywhere these days, and while it is expensive, it’s worth it. Normal mayo just doesn’t cut it.

20 g (¾ oz) pickled ginger (any kind), very finely chopped
4 tbsp mayonnaise
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp English mustard
½ tsp dried dill
1 handful of chives, finely sliced

Stir together all the ingredients until well mixed.

Photography: Laura Edwards

Cook more from this book
KARAAGE 6.0 by Tim Anderson
Pepper Steak with Garlic Soy Sauce Butter by Tim Anderson

Read the review

Buy this book
Your Home Izakaya: Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan
£25, Hardie Grant Books

Cookbook 2021 round up: the ones that got away

Crave by Ed Smith

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

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

Spicebox by Grace Regan

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

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

Vietnamese by Uyen Luu

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

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

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

Afro Vegan by Zoe Alakija

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

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

Australia: The Cookbook by Ross Dobson

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

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

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

Rockfish by Mitch Tonks

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

Home Farm Cooking by Catherine and John Pawson

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

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

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

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

Leon: Happy Guts by Rebecca Seal and John Vincent

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

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

The Turkish Cookbook by Ghillie Basan

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

Taste! by Glynn Christian

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

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