Restore by Gizzi Erskine

Restore Gizzi Erskine

What’s the USP? ‘A modern guide to sustainable eating’. Restore seeks to debunk myths around ‘good’ food, and take an in-depth look at restorative farming – that is, bringing back greater biodiversity and reinvigorating the planet through mindful food production.

Who wrote it? Gizzi Erskine, who has had a pretty diverse career thus far. Having trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, and worked in such prestigious kitchens as St. Johns, Erskine made her way into TV via the now-problematic Cook Yourself Thin. From there: cookbooks, more TV work, modelling and more.

Over the past year alone Erskine has appeared to juggle four fairly distinct roles: frank sex podcaster for Spotify’s ‘Sex, Lies and DM Slides’, lockdown fakeaway creator with friend Professor Green, Instagram influencer and lux cookbook writer.

I say ‘lux cookbook writer’ because, as with Erskine’s last book, Slow, her new title presents a distinct take on home cooking. They ask for readers to take on a particularly mindful approach to their food – considering how it is sourced, what it means for the planet around us. They also present certain challenges – dishes frequently require a significant amount of time to prepare, or the sourcing of relatively hard to come by ingredients. We’ll get to that.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly. Erskine’s ambition in ‘Restore’ is the championing of a sort of home cooking that seeks to better the planet through the more responsible sourcing of ingredients. In terms of reading, though, this amounts to one distinct theme: a lot of very worthy preaching about the various ways our food habits are damaging our world.

Erskine’s concerns are fair, though hardly new in the cookbook world – and herein lies the issue. Restore is a very drab read. Everything Erskine discusses has been shared with us before, and in a more enjoyable, more readable way. It’s a lot to pile the gloom of contemporary farming issues on cookbook readers, and the best cookbooks balance this out with engaging writing that highlights positives, and offers practical solutions. Restore manages neither. Many of the recipes fail to tempt the reader, and there are issues with those that do.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The problem with writing a sustainable cookbook has always been one of accessibility. There’s a reason that our society has failed to adapt to more planet-friendly approaches to our cooking, and overwhelming it’s a matter of cost.

Introducing her vegetable section, Erskine makes a passing mention to the development of her understanding of ‘social economic’ factors since the release of Slow. She talks about wincing at conversations she’s had in the past and… that’s about it. Onwards to the vegetable chapter that asks for dried Mexican chillies, Lebanese cucumbers, purple potatoes and dehydrated tamarind blocks. Restore remains resolutely middle class, as so many ‘sustainable cookery’ books have been before.

One of the most popular traits amongst these books has long been a call to cut down on meats. Erskine makes this incredibly easy for readers, by including two short chapters on the subject that include almost exclusively meats that the average reader will struggle to get their hands on. It’s just a shame that many of the most interesting recipes on offer here require the tracking down of game birds and meats that I’ve only previously seen on sale in rural butchers, or that one really fancy Budgens in Crouch End.

When Erskine opts for the more readily accessible animals, she seems to go out of her way to choose cuts that are unavailable in the supermarkets that the majority of the British public shop in. Bone-in beef shin, whole lamb neck, rolled pork belly, pig trotters and sheep lungs are all on the shopping list. Is this aversion to the mass meat production of supermarkets very much the point of Restore? Yes, but what is presented here as sustainable for the planet will not be sustainable for the majority of families in Britain today.

Killer recipes: Greenhouse Romesco Sauce with Chargrilled Spring Onions, Guinea Fowl alla ‘Diavolo’, Rabbit à la Moutarde, Wild Garlic Stuffed Mutton, Jamaican Goat Curry Patties, Tepache

Should I buy it? If you’ve an excellent local butcher, and the disposable income that such a thing warrants, there’s plenty to dig into here. Erskine also provides plenty of vegetable options, though these are generously less tempting (and frequently implies the reader has an allotment or greenhouse from which they can sustainably source their food). There are, however, plenty of other titles available that offer the same message as this book in a more accessible and enjoyable way.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

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

Buy this book
Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

Cook from this book
Bibimbap
Green shakshuka

The Noodle Cookbook by Damien King Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nose Dive by Harold McGee

nose-dive-harold-mcgee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

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

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Curd Cake with Caramelised Apples by Olia Hercules

Curd Cake

Curd cake with caramelised apples

SERVES 8–10

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g apples, cored and sliced 1 tbsp brown sugar
200g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, separated 1 tsp vanilla extract
500g ricotta or good-quality cottage cheese
120g fine semolina or polenta Pinch of salt

My friend Jan once drunkenly asked me to cook for his dad Anton’s seventieth birthday, which I enthusiastically agreed to (also tipsy). Anton, aka Papa Florek or P Flo, grew up in Derby – his Polish father, Alfredo, had settled there after the war, when he was demobbed from the Carpathian Lancers.

Sernyk, a traditional cheesecake eaten across Poland and Ukraine, was one of Anton’s childhood favourites, something that connected him to his Polish heritage, so I decided that’s what I would make. Struggling to find good-quality cottage cheese the day before, I panicked and bought ricotta, adapting my mum’s original recipe to suit the moister texture of ricotta. Happily, it was a huge success, and this cake is now also one of my son’s favourites. I hope someone will make it for him when he is seventy.

Melt 25g of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the apples and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side until they start to turn golden. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and cook the apples for another minute on each side, then transfer the caramelised apples to a bowl and let them cool slightly.

Preheat your oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas Mark 6 and grease a 20cm square or round cake tin with butter. Lay the apples in the base of the cake tin.

If, like me, you left your butter out in the kitchen overnight, but
it was so blooming cold it didn’t soften properly, cut the rest of it into small pieces. Whatever state the butter is in, put it into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, along with 150g of the caster sugar, and whisk until it’s looking fairly fluffy. Break the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, whisking well, then whisk in the vanilla extract and cheese. Transfer the mixture to another bowl, then fold in the semolina or polenta (the latter will result in a cake with more texture).

Wash and dry your mixer bowl and whisk attachment thoroughly, then put in the egg whites and whisk until they start frothing up. Add the remaining 50g of caster sugar and the salt and keep whisking until you have soft peaks. Now take a large spoonful of the egg white mixture and fold it quite vigorously into the butter and cheese mixture to loosen it up. Add the rest of the egg white mixture and fold in gently. Pour the mixture over the apples in the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until it is a little wobbly, but not liquid. Remember it will set more firmly as it cools.

Leave the cake in its tin to rest and cool down, then slice and serve. Some unsweetened tea with lemon goes perfectly with this.

Buy this book
Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Tokhme Banjanromi by by Durkhanai Ayubi

tokhme banjanromi

This recipe is for traditional Afghan-style breakfast eggs, which are cooked in a sauce of onion, tomatoes, and chili, absorbing the complementary flavors. As with most Afghan meals, particularly breakfast, fresh naan breads served on the side are essential. Afghan breakfast spreads also typically include shir chai, a traditional milk tea that, with its dairy base, provides a calorie- and protein-rich start to the day.

My mother recalls having this dish for breakfast during family day trips, such as to Mazar-i-Sharif for the red tulip festival during the spring equinox. It would be made in a beautiful copper karayee, a shallow, heavy-based pan used in Afghan cooking. The karayee would be placed directly over a portable kerosene burner, where the eggs, vegetables, and spices would bubble away. The large karayee was then placed in the middle of the breakfast spread, surrounded by naans and various chais, for everyone to help themselves.

This is an easy dish to scale up, to feed as many guests as you need.

1 cup (250 ml) sunflower oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 ripe tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced
1 moderately hot fresh red chili, thinly sliced
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro Leaves, to serve
Salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat and fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes, or until softened and browned. Add the tomatoes and fresh chili, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened, but are still intact, then mix in 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste.

Break the eggs into a bowl then pour evenly over the tomato and onion mixture in the saucepan. Break up the yolks gently, if that’s how you prefer them, then cover the pan with a lid. Reduce the heat to low and cook the eggs slowly, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid sticking, for 5-10 minutes for soft, 10-15 minutes for medium-soft, or until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, the ground red pepper, and cilantro, and serve hot-straight from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Narenj Palaw by Durkhanai Ayubi

Buy this book
Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen
£20, Murdoch Books

Read the review

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Narenj Palaw by Durkhanai Ayubi

narenj palaw image

A delicate and fragrant rice dish topped with a mix of candied citrus peel and nuts, narenj palaw is popular in Afghan cuisine. Like kabuli palaw, it was often reserved for special occasions because of the delicacy of the ingredients and the time taken to prepare them.

In Afghanistan, the citrus peel comes from a fruit called narenj, which is a cross between an orange and a lemon, and more widely known as bitter orange. Here, where narenj isn’t available, it can be substituted with the peel from any orange variety. The peel is blanched to extract any bitterness, and then soaked in syrup with the nuts to create a tangy. sweet, and aesthetically beautiful topping for the palaw.

Serves 4-6

FOR THE PALAW

½ cup (125 ml) sunflower oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
1 lb 2 oz (500 g) diced boneless lamb leg
3 cups (1 lb 5 oz/600 g) sella basmati rice, soaked for 2-3 hours
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

FOR THE TOPPING

3 large navel or other oranges
1¾ cups (11 ½ oz/330 g) white sugar
Heaped 1 tablespoon slivered pistachios
Heaped 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
Salt

The Palaw

To prepare the palaw rice, add the oil and onion to a pressure cooker pan over high heat and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the lamb and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, or until the meat is browned and sealed. Add 4¼ cups (1 liter) hot water and a heaped 1 tablespoon salt, place the lid on the pressure cooker, and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes, then carefully release the pressure to remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon, take out the meat (which should be lovely and tender) and set aside. Reserve the stock to flavor the rice.

Bring 10 cups (2.5 liters) water to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, drain excess water from the rice, add it to the boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt, and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the rice is parboiled and the grains look like they have doubled in length.

Drain the rice in a colander and return to the pot. Pour the meat stock over the rice, then add the cumin, cardamom, and 1 tablespoon salt to the mix. Using a large, flat slotted spoon, known to Afghans as a kafgeer, mix gently. With the kafgeer, create a well in the center of the rice and place the lamb in the well. Cover the meat with rice and place the lid on the pot. Cook over high heat until steam escapes from under the lid, then reduce the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes.

The topping

Using a small sharp knife, cut the peel from the oranges in long strips and slice off any white pith. Layer two or three strips of rind on a cutting board and slice them diagonally into thin strips. Repeat until all the peel is cut.

To remove any bitterness in the rind, bring 4¼ cups (1 liter) cold water, ½ teaspoon salt, and the rind to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the rind and blanch by boiling for 2 minutes, then drain in a colander. Rinse under cold running water, drain again, and return the rind to the saucepan with another 4¼ cups (1 liter) of cold water and ½ teaspoon salt. Repeat the blanching process three more times, and set the rind aside.

In a small saucepan, stir the sugar into 1½ cups (375 ml) water until dissolved. Place the saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring for 6-8 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 200° F (100°C) on a candy thermometer and the syrup thickens slightly. Add the orange rind to the syrup and boil for 5 minutes, or until it is translucent and sweet. Add the pistachios and almonds, and stir gently to combine. Store the topping in the syrup until you’re ready to use it.

To serve, gently layer the rice and lamb pieces onto the center of a large platter using a kafgeer, or large flat slotted spoon, creating a heap. Drain the narenj topping, discarding the syrup, and liberally spread over the rice to serve.

Cook more from this book 

Buy this book
Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen
£20, Murdoch Books 

Read the review

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Salmon by Mark Kurlansky

Salmon Mark Kurlansky

What’s the USP? From the man who brought you Cod, a book about cod, now comes Salmon, a book about the history of the social revolutionary organisation Situationist International. I’m kidding. It’s about salmon.

Who’s the author? Mark Kurlansky is an award winning American writer, journalist and sometime playwright who, according to his website, has also worked as ‘a commerical fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Salmon is not a cookbook but a work of narrative non-fiction that charts the past, present and future of one of the world’s most popular  fish and ‘a barometer for the health of our planet’. Apart from a few recipes the author has collected along the way (see below for more details), it’s all bedtime reading.

Although Kurlansky does have a cookbook to his name (International Night), when writing about food, Kurlansky more usually views it through the lens of a single subject like Milk, or a person such as Clarence Birdseye (Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man) rather than basing his work around recipes.  He has also written numerous books on other subjects including Ready for a Brand New Beat:  How “Dancing in the Street” became an anthem for a changing America and Paper:  Paging Through History and so thankfully, he is not a food writer, per se. We are therefore spared the arch, sub-poetic simpering romanticism that can sometimes besmirch the genre.

Instead Salmon is a factual, historical and journalistic exploration of the subject. From the first page of the book’s prologue, where the author travels to Alaska and goes onboard two very different salmon fishing vessels, Kurlansky uses his not inconsiderable story telling talents to hook the reader like a…(well, you know know what like) and doesn’t let them off until a pensive epilogue ‘It concerns us’ where he contemplates the environmental impact of economic development and asks the question ‘What would it mean to lose a salmon species…that is intimately engaged in the life cycle of tiny insects like a stonefly or large mammals like a brown bear…How many species do we lose when we lost a salmon? And how many others do we lost from losing those.’

It’s not all doom and gloom. Kurlansky wonders at ‘the great mystery’ of the salmon’s return to its place of birth. Anadromous species of salmon are born in rivers then migrate to the sea to mature. They then return to the river to spawn. But not just any old river; they return to their place of birth. ‘The salmon not only finds that river after travelling thousands of miles away, but it returns to the very same stretch of gravel in that same crook in the same stream where it was born some years before’.

That makes sense doesn’t it? You’ve had your wild years out at sea; now it’s time to settle down and have a family. You’re bound to want to go back to the setting for the idyllic days of your youth and where there’s a nice big lake for the kids to swim around in. Except we’re talking about a fish, an animal with a brain approximately one fifteenth the size of a bird. It’s absolutely astonishing. Can Kurlansky explain this jaw dropping phenomenon? You’ll just have to buy the book to find out.  

What about the recipes? Think of them as a nice little side dish to the firm pink flesh of the book; it would be a mistake to buy Salmon expecting to get a lot of new dishes to try out and the recipes seem to have been included more for illustrative purposes than anything else. So we get the beer bread that Hannelore Olsen bakes for her husband Ole and his salmon fishing crew for dinner, and the salmon chowder prepared for Kurlansky by salmon fisherwoman Thea Thomas during a night at sea.

There’s also things like Robert May’s recipe from 1660 for pickled salmon ‘to keep all the year’ (and then throw away because, you know, it’s fish you boiled in wine and vinegar 12 months ago), and salmon al verde written in 1913 by novelist Emilia Pardo Bazán which has stood the test of time about as well as Robert May’s manky old seafood.

There’s a recipe for poached salmon which Kurlansky suggests was served to Jackie Kennedy in the White House, but it’s not clear if it’s the authors version or that of René Verdon, the Kennedy’s private chef  (a White House dinner menu from the time re-produced in the book simply lists ‘medaillons de saumon ‘ which isn’t a lot to go on).

Elsewhere, there’s culinary curiosities including Swedish salmon pudding and Hawaiian lomilomi (flaked salted salmon rubbed together with peeled and de-seeded tomatoes and chopped green onions. It’s the most popular salmon dish in Hawaii. They also love Spam. Let’s all take a culinary holiday in Hawaii after lockdown shall we?). Let’s just say its a curate’s egg of a recipe collection.

Should I buy it? An entire book about one variety of fish might, on the face of it,  appear to have niche appeal. But Kurlansky is such as skilled writer and his scope so wide ranging that anyone interested in food, history, the environment and sustainability will be fascinated.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of a Common Fate
£18.99, Oneworld

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Parwana by Durkhanai Ayubi

parwana

What’s the USP? The story of the Ayubi family’s flight from war-torn Afghanistan and the opening of their Adelaide restaurant Parwana (Farsi for ‘butterfly’), interwoven with traditional Afghan recipes.

Who’s the author? Durkhanai Ayubi helps to run her family’s restaurants Parwana and Kutchi Deli Parwana, both in Adelaide. She is also a freelance writer and is an Atlantic Fellow of the Atlantic Institute. Parwana is her first cookbook.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As Ayubi points out in the book’s ‘prelude’, ‘those who dine on Afghan food for the first time find themselves surprised by the familiarity of the dishes, hinting at a rich and interconnected history untold’. I have to admit that, before reading this book, I had never eaten or cooked Afghan food and I was surprised at how accessible the food and recipes were and how familiar nearly all the ingredients turned out to be.

While you will find the vast majority of them at your local supermarket, there are one or two exceptions. You will need an Afghan or Persian grocer for the dried sour apricots (which Ayubi says is a ‘specific type of Afghan fried apricot) and sinjid (Russian dried olives) required to make Haft Mewa, a compote of dried fruits and nuts steeped in water and eaten at Nowroz, a New Year celebration. The same applies to the dried basil seeds for rose sharbat (syrup).

But you can substitute the gandana (a traditional Afghan leek) that’s used to stuff Ashak dumplings for garlic chives or just plain old leeks. Qaymaq cream for chai can be made at home (but requires simmering milk for hours and skimming off the cream layer by layer) or may be found in Persian or Middle Eastern grocers. Equally, you could simply substitute clotted cream.

What’s the faff factor? In a word, low. Recipes often feature a short ingredients list and simple one-pot cooking methods. The recipes for the very tempting baked goods are probably the most complex but even they pretty straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? With delicious braises, grills, curries, noodle dishes, soups, salads, vegetable dishes, pickles, breads, desserts, sweets and biscuits it might be more a matter of when you’re not cooking from the book.

Killer recipes? There are loads, but a representative sample might include salaateh Afghani, a simple, fresh and bright salad made with red onion, cos lettuce, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers and radishes, flavoured with chilli, coriander, mint and lime;  comforting and gently spicy yoghurt-braised lamb with yellow split peas, and rhot sweet bread topped with white and black poppy seeds. If I got into all the lovely kebabs, curries and dumplings we’d be here all day.

What will I love? The book’s design and photography is full of warm colour, reflecting the turquoise and terracotta interior design of Parwana restaurant. Stylist Deborah Kaloper has done a great job with the food, with every one of photographer Alicia Taylor‘s shots looking incredibly inviting.

Is it good bedtime reading? Ayubi’s text doesn’t limit itself to the story of her family, their restaurants and their food, but is a serious and very well written political, social and culinary history of Afghanistan.

Should I buy it? Unequivocally, yes. Fantastic food, looks amazing and you will almost certainly learn a lot. You will not regret buying this book.

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

Buy this book
Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen

Cook from this book
Coming soon

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules

What’s the USP? A passionate love letter to Ukraine, written in everybody’s favourite love language: good food.

Who wrote it? Olia Hercules, who grew up in Ukraine before moving to Cyprus and eventually settling in the UK, has some chops in this field. Giving up her career in film business reporting after the 2008 financial crisis, she retrained at Leith’s and has worked as chef de partie at Ottolenghi. This is her third book – Mamushka and Kaukasis, her well-loved previous efforts, both drew on the traditions of a number of eastern European countries. Hercules tightens her vision to her homeland here, acknowledging throughout that the ever-shifting borders and populations of the region mean influences seep in from across the continent.

Is it good bedtime reading? The book is filled with evocative and fascinating prose, and is a little reminiscent of James Rebanks’ writing on shepherding – writing in such a way that even hardship is given a silver lining through the emergence of community spirit and creative solutions. The summer kitchens of the title are traditional outbuildings in Ukraine. When a young couple gets married, they share this single room kitchen/bedroom hybrid – often raising their families whilst they save to build a house. That home itself is built through a great community effort – Hercules’ descriptions reminded me of the barn building scene in Witness. Once the end result is completed, often many months later, the old structure becomes a ‘summer kitchen’ – a workshop-esque space for cooking and making the most of the produce grown in the garden. Stories like these permeate the book, making it as much a champion of Ukrainian culture as it is the recipes themselves.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? None at all – these are simple, homely recipes that create filling dinners from a range of ingredients you wouldn’t struggle to pick up from your local Aldi or Lidl. Classic staples make up the overwhelming majority of ingredients required here – vegetables, grains and plenty of eggs.  Occasionally you might need to visit a butcher for some goat, but most calls for meat are catered perfectly to what’s readily available in a supermarket – something that even our biggest celebrity chefs often fail to manage.

What’s the faff factor? Hercules is happy to devote a little time to her dishes, and you’ll need to do so as well. Noodles are made from scratch, and there are plenty of recipes that will require a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen. But nothing will test your skill as a chef – another benefit of the simple home cooking approach.

How often will I cook from the book? The time required for many of the dishes will relegate this to a weekend-only book for many, but there’s variety enough for at least a fortnightly visit.

Killer recipes: The chicken broth with bran kvas, noodles, mushrooms and lovage – a comforting Ukrainian take on the chicken noodle soup – looks set to cure any ailment you might present it with. The yeasted buns with slow-roast pork are irresistible too; crisp and soft rolls stuffed with unctuous belly, prunes and sauerkraut. Hercules also offers up some tempting fish ideas – be they deep-fried Odesan sprats or simple but delicious fishballs in tomato sauce.

Should I buy it? There’s a lot to love here, from the passionate celebration of Ukraine’s melting-pot culture to the extended section dedicated to pickling and fermenting. Olia Hercules has form, clearly, in the bottling of magic – and whether that’s in the form of fatty pork shoulder preserved for the winter months, or a love of her homeland, preserved for all to enjoy, it’s worth taking a bite of whatever she’s offering.

Cuisine: Ukrainian
Suitable for: Beginner and 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
Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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André Simon Awards 2020 interview: Lisa Markwell

AS Shortlist Food Books - Andre Simon assessor Lisa Markwell

Ahead of the announcement  of this year’s prestigious André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards on 3 March 2021, Andy Lynes spoke to Sunday Times Food Editor Lisa Markwell about her first year as Food Book Award Assessor and what it was like reading 140 cookbooks in the space of a few months. 

COMPETITION: For a chance to win a copy of Red Sands by Caroline Eden, one of the shortlisted books, head over to my twitter account @andylynes and check out my recent timeline. Closes 25 February, open to UK readers of Cookbook Review only. 

Andy Lynes: When did you begin the judging process?

Lisa Markwell: Last November was really when everything started happening and publishers started sending their books in. The beginning of December was when I really started looking in earnest. So I suppose there were two months of hard  looking. Halfway through December, I’d whittled it down and then we decided, for the first time I think , to have a long list.

This is the first year I’ve been involved but I think usually it’s quite brutal, it goes from however many there might be (and this year has been a bumper year), so let’s say usually there’s something around 90 books, that’s then cut straight down to six or seven. So we decided to have a longlist in order to acknowledge the books, which perhaps weren’t central to the criteria of the awards but they were nevertheless really worthwhile to talk about. So that was six weeks of ‘tough, tough, tough cut, cut, cut’ down to the middle of December and then after Christmas I picked it back up again. I then worked quite hard on cutting it down to a shortlist which was towards the end of January. 

AL: That first round of culling, what’s your criteria?

LM: Luckily for me, the criteria are quite specific. The book does have to have an educational agenda and a sort of new facet; it can’t be for instance, a collection of recipes that has been done before, so some books you would take away immediately for that. And then the fact that it has to be educational, not in a very sort of nerdy way, but nevertheless, it has to teach you something new, so that meant fun books about, let’s say, cooking with a slow cooker weren’t right for this competition.  So that was the first cut – there’s nice books out there, but they’re not right for this.

Then you have to take into consideration how well it’s actually written. I’m lucky that, because I’ve done my chef training, I can look at recipes and think, I’m just not sure that that’s good and well enough written, so there were some books that fell by the wayside because of that. In terms of more narrative books, there were a couple that I really liked the look of but I found them impenetrable or boring.  Like any book they have to look appealing and that’s anything from font – is it easy to read – to the illustrations, what’s the photography like, the layout. 

I quite quickly got it down to about 24 books and then we ended up with the longlist of 15 that was announced in December. The Pie Room by Calum  Franklin was on the longlist which is a book that’s been really successful, much loved, fantastic book, really lovely and deserved to be there. Entangled Life is a book by food nerd (I don’t know if he’d want himself to be called that) Merlin Sheldrake, which is all about mushrooms and fungi which was a really fascinating book, a real deep dive into fungi and everything to do with them, so that definitely needed to be on the long list. There was something a bit more light hearted, like Victory in the Kitchen, which was the story of, Churchill’s cook, the woman who cooked all the food at 10 Downing Street when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, a lovely fun book. So the longlist was a bit more wide ranging, it was a bit more freewheeling, but then it had to be cut back and then it got hard.  

One thing I did feel was that I knew that sometimes an award is given to somebody for their first book and there were a couple of books, which I thought were terrific, but perhaps didn’t quite reach the height of some of the ones that were on the short list but I thought, those people I hope will  possibly get the amplification of getting a special award. 

AL: I was looking at all the past winners of the awards and, although there are a few big names like Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, often the winners will be lesser known writers. Is there any consideration given to getting bigger names on the shortlist that will have media impact and increase the profile of the awards, or is that not an issue?    

LM: I definitely didn’t have that in my mind. I didn’t see it that way. Nigella Lawson had a book out last year, Yotam Ottolenghi had a book out last year, but neither of those books were quite right, I didn’t feel, for the André Simon. You can see, perhaps for some people that it would be great to give it to a big name because then you get lots of hoo-ha around it, but I just don’t think this is that kind of award. Something like the Fortnum and Mason Awards for instance might be more – I don’t want to use mass appeal as a sort of pejorative term – but you know, André Simon is really about a particular kind of book.  Josh Niland who won last year – that is such a fantastic book from someone who’s not a household name, but if you’re interested in fish, I think anyone would love that book. That exemplifies what the André Simon award is all about; is it exciting and is it going to take you somewhere from either reading it or cooking from it or both? That’s one of the things that’s interesting about this year is that the recipe books are a much more than recipe books and the narrative books are much more than factual, they’ve got real spirit to them. 

AL: Over the years, the award has been given to what have turned out to be important and influential books such as On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan among others. Did you have an eye on longevity when drawing up the shortlist? 

LM: That was definitely one thing that Katy Lander, who administrates the awards, did say to keep in mind and that’s definitely in the entry criteria – is this a book that will be around in 10 years and will be on the shelf; is it something that people will refer back to? That’s really the spirit of the prize. Something like The Flavour Thesaurus that won ten years ago, that sort of book that transcends trends, that’s really a book that you pull down time and time again. It was a really unusual book as well and Niki Segnit, I didn’t know much at all at that point, so it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s the content that’s important.

Andre Simon books

AL: Did having the opportunity to see so many books in a short period of time allow you to identify any current trends in cookbook publishing? 

I don’t know how quickly trends move in food books.  In my day job, I get sent books a lot and last year, or maybe the year before, I felt if I got one more ‘easy vegan’ I’d go completely nuts. It felt like the publishers had thought, crikey, we’ve got to get the vegan book out. But that felt like it was quite a long time in coming. A food book is quite complicated, even if for no other reason just to actually cook the food and photograph it, these things take time. So I think the trends probably don’t move that quickly. But one of the biggest and welcome trends, if you can call it that, but perhaps evolutions, has been the rise of the travel-meets-food-meets-culture-meets history-meets-politics -the ‘holistic food book’ if  you want to use a terrible term – that really takes the subject in the round.

Four of the books on the shortlist do that. Summer Kitchens is about Ukraine; Red Sands, that whole central Asian thing; Parwana is Afghanistan and Falastin is Palestine. They’re all books that look at a geographical cuisine but then they do so much more than that. You can’t have a book about food from Palestine without talking about the politics of Palestine. Similarly Parwana, that’s such a beautiful book that actually doesn’t pull any punches about the politics in that country, but does it through the prism of food and family, which I think is really successful. 

I hesitate to sort of talk about it because it’s such a hot potato, but something that has caused a lot of friction in food writing and food books is the issue of cultural appropriation; who is the right person to write on any subject. The thorny matter of is Jamie Oliver allowed to talk about jerk chicken, or whatever it is. I think that the voice that’s been given to people like Durkhanai who wrote Parwana, that is fantastic. Food books are giving people who have grown up with a cuisine or have something really authentic to say about it – they’re given that voice and opportunity.  I think that can only be a good thing.

AL: Yes, absolutely. Although, over the last three or four years, books have been getting more and more granular in terms of the regions and areas that they’re covering. I just wonder if there’s anywhere left on the planet that hasn’t got a cookbook about it now! 

I haven’t got the full list of submitted books in front of me but I did think that there were some quite specific areas of food and I thought crikey, who’s going to buy this other than the author’s family, it has a very local niche appeal. But you can’t ignore the fact that last year, no one’s been allowed to travel, in fact they’re not going to be able to this year, so that sort of armchair travel and deliciousness you can get through food is a good thing. I wouldn’t want to say anything negative about books that marry travel and food. It’s been a real pleasure for me to read them. 

AL: Having gone through the process of being the André Simon Food Award Assessor for the first time this year, has it put you off – given that you also have your day job as Sunday Times food editor and your work editing and contributing to Code – or, if you were asked, would you do it again?

I would love to do it again. Probably what I would do next time is get to know XL spreadsheets a bit better and plot my time better because I’m probably the quintessential journalist, I can’t do anything without a deadline. No matter how long I’ve got to do something I will always do it at the eleventh hour.

It was definitely an advantage having already seen some of the books. Jikoni, Red Sands and Summer Kitchens I was pretty familiar with and Falastin, having been to Palestine myself, I was very eager to see that as soon as it came out. So having been quite familiar with them and cooked from them, it did give me a bit more time to read things like Harold McGee’s Nose Dive which is a hell of a tome, it’s a big, big book and it covers a huge subject. Hands up, I haven’t read every page of it yet, but I keep going back to it.

I  don’t know if every year is as amazing as this. It does feel like it has been a particularly fantastic year. But yeah, I’d love to do it, but I would be more scientific.

Lisa’s longlist

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal
Summer Kitchens, Olia Hercules 
Falastin: A Cookbook, Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
Nose Dive, Harold McGee 
Parwana, Durkhanai Ayubi
Salmon, Mark Kurlansky 
Red Sands, Caroline Eden 
Eating for Pleasure People and Planet by Tom Hunt 
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Spoon Fed by Tim Spector
The Pie Room by Calum Franklin 
The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke
Victory in the Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook by Annie Gray
The Chicken Soup Manifesto by Jenn Louis
Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking: savoury and sweet by Regula Ysewijn

About the awards

Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

There are two categories: food, and wine, drinks and beverages. For the winner of each category there will be an award of £2,000. In addition, there will be an award of £1,500 in honour of John Avery and the Special Commendation Award of £1,500 – both of these are awarded at the discretion of the judges.

The main criteria against which the works are judged are:

  • The work shall contain a substantial proportion of original research and not simply be a re-arrangement of existing material.
  • Great importance will be attached to the educational value of the work.
  • The books chosen are likely to be ones that are pleasurable to read and not just professional textbooks.
  • The book should be well produced.

When judging the books, the Trustees have the help and advice of two independent assessors. In 2020 Lisa Markwell has kindly agreed to assess the food books and John Hoskins is assessing the drink books. Judging will be in the hands of the Trustees. Their decision will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. The André Simon Food & Drink Book Award Trustees are Nicholas Lander (Chair), Sarah Jane Evans MW, David Gleave MW and Xanthe Clay.