Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal

What’s the USP? A ‘proudly inauthentic’ cookbook, that mashes together flavours from across the globe – with particularly heavy influences from South Asian and African cuisines and a whole lot of love for tamarind.

Who wrote it? Jikoni is the passion project of Ravinder Bhogal, the chef and restaurateur behind the Marylebone joint of the same name. Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Bhogal grew up in Britain, and has clearly learnt a joyful irreverence towards the strict cultural boundaries we impose upon food. This, as someone who regularly makes katsu curry schnitzel with spätzle, is an idea worth getting behind. You get the sense that Bhogal would have no qualms adding chorizo to a paella, if she thought the dish called for it.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with here, with short essays to open each chapter, occasional treatises on ingredients or dishes, and vivid descriptions to introduce each recipe. Bhogal’s writing is locked into the language of the contemporary cookbook, which is to say that the heady nostalgia and wide-eyed admiration of the food she grew up with doesn’t necessarily feel new or exciting to read, but will have you salivating over the very concept of a samosa nonetheless.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The short answer is yes, probably. Whilst the majority of ingredients are easy enough to find, many recipes have at least one addition that will stump your local supermarket. Often these are optional, though, allowing you to choose an inauthentic recreation of Bhogal’s inauthentic dishes.

As an added bonus, most elements of the dishes are created from scratch, meaning the number of ingredients frequently tumbles deep into double figures. The Duck and Pistachio Pierogi with Hot Yoghurt Sauce and Pul Biber Butter requires around 30 individual ingredients, including multiple varieties of some: dried and fresh mint, ground allspice, and allspice berries. Stocking up for even two or three of these dishes will be enough to topple most spice racks.

What’s the faff factor? Max faff. All the faff. Here’s the thing: everything in Jikoni looks, and no doubt tastes, absolutely delicious. But my god, is it a lot of effort. Take the Prawn Toast Scotch Eggs with Banana Ketchup. That is, without a doubt, one of the top five most appetising recipe names I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. Prawn toast scotch eggs. Jesus Christ. Even at a conservative estimate, I reckon I could devour six of those right now – and that’s before we even consider that the recipe calls for quail eggs. Did I say six? Let’s double that, easily.

But now take a moment to ruminate on that title. Scotch eggs are a faff at the best of times. But we’re replacing the sausagemeat with raw tiger prawns that need peeling, deveining and processing into a suitable substitute? And then we’re making our banana ketchup from scratch? Don’t get me wrong – it’s all very do-able. But this is not a weeknight dinner cookbook. This isn’t even a weekend treat cookbook, for the most part. This is a dinner party host seeking redemption for all their past sins cookbook.

Killer recipes: Bhogal’s recipes are frequently a little overwhelming at first glance, but when they tempt you, boy do they tempt you. The inspired Duck Rendang looks as tasty as anything I’ve seen this year, and I’m sure I’d have made it multiple times already if I only had an easy source of fresh turmeric and galangal (and dried bird’s eye chillies, and shrimp paste). In fact, the curries are frequently attention grabbing, from Goose Leg Qorma to the Massaman Pork and Peanut Curry with Pineapple Relish. The Oyster Pani Puris, too, look incredible – but also seems like the most complex and stressful dish in the whole book, despite a very reasonable seven ingredients.

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

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

Buy this book
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh
Lemongrass Poussin with Green Mango and Peanut Salad
Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi

Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine

siciliancouscous-1106

If you were being pedantic, you would cook couscous in a couscoussière,
a Moroccan clay pot in which you slowly steam the grains over a bubbling stew. The way I do it is rather less romantic and utterly inauthentic, but it is quick and convenient without compromising either on the flavour or the delightful fluffy texture of the cooked grains.

You could of course serve couscous plain, dressed with a little oil and lemon juice, even a smattering of aromatic spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and so forth – to go with pretty much anything. But, inspired by the way they cook it in Sicily, I throw in salty caper berries, a good tin of oily, almost meaty tuna and sweet aniseedy fennel.This makes for a vibrant centrepiece more than substantial enough to serve on its own.

H A N D S O N T I M E
15 minutes

H A N D S O F F T I M E
15 minutes, for the couscous to swell

F O R 6
300g couscous
1 vegetable stock cube 400ml boiling water
70ml extra virgin olive oil
20g flaked almonds 10–12 caper berries, halved
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
400g tinned tuna, drained
A handful of rocket juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl. Dissolve the stock cube
in the measured boiling water, then pour the boiling stock over the grains, cover and set aside for 10–15 minutes to swell up.
When all the liquid has been absorbed, use a fork to fluff up the grains, then douse generously with one-third of the oil.

Now add the almonds, caper berries and fennel and toss everything together well. Add the tuna, breaking it up with a fork and mixing it through the salad. This will happily keep for a day in the fridge. Lastly throw in the rocket (if it sits in the dressing, it will wilt). Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and dress with what is left of the oil. Toss again and add salt and pepper to taste.

SERVE WITH…

This is perfect picnic food alongside some good hard cheese, cold ham or salami and a loaf of bread; I favour DAMPER BREAD (see book for recipe), wrapped neatly in a clean tea towel and served with lots of salty butter. I don’t think you’d want for much more.

AND FOR PUDDING…

Strawberries with a pot of clotted cream and a good solid picnic cake such as PISTACHIO BUTTER CAKE WITH MARZIPAN ICING (see book for recipe)… but on this occasion leave it uniced; instead, just dust it with icing sugar.

Cook more from this book
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce
Berry Cloud Cake

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

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

Read the review
Coming soon

Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine

lemon spaghetti

I don’t often trust myself to cook pasta for more than four people, because the timings are too delicate. As they say in Naples: ‘people wait for pasta, not the other way round.’ Overcooked pasta is a cook’s worst nightmare, while pasta eaten cold when it should be hot is not much better. But this recipe – like eating a bowl of sunshine – is so simple that even I can happily chat and bring it together at the same time. I prepare the sauce in advance and leave it covered on the hob, then, while the pasta is bubbling, slice the lemon, shuffle everyone to the table and assemble the dish once they are sitting down, so they eat it hot.

HANDS ON TIME

20–25 minutes

F O R 4

2 lemons
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
220ml single cream
1 egg yolk
350g spaghetti
A small bunch of thyme Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, finely zest both the lemons and toss the zest into a deep frying pan, then add the olive oil and set it over a medium heat. Gently fry the zest for a few minutes until it begins to take on a deep, vibrant yellow colour.

Now pour in the cream and the egg yolk, mix well with a wooden spoon, then reduce the heat and leave to gently cook for 5–10 minutes, giving
it a stir every now and then.

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water, and, when it begins
to gallop, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente according to the packet instructions. Finely slice one-third of a lemon.

When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water (roughly 1⁄4 cup). Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemons into the sauce, add salt and pepper to taste, then toss the pasta into the frying pan. Add the reserved cooking water, throw in the lemon slices and toss everything together so the pasta is well covered with sauce.Tear up the thyme sprigs, sprinkle generously over and serve immediately.

SERVE WITH…

You need little more with this, as it’s pretty much a meal in itself. Perhaps a nice green salad with OLGA’S PEPPERY VINAIGRETTE (see book for recipe).

AND FOR PUDDING…
Something easy-going, such as a LAVENDER HONEY PANNACOTTA (see book for recipe), or STRAWBERRIES IN LEMONY SYRUP (see book for recipe).

Cook more from this book
Berry Cloud Cake
Sicilian couscous salad

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review
Coming soon

Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine

summer berry cloudcake-1403

An ode to the fruits of British summer. If you are catering for friends with dairy intolerance, you can also make this with whipped chilled coconut cream, which is every bit as good.

HANDS ON TIME
25 minutes

HANDS OFF TIME
1 hour baking
1 hour cooling

FOR 8–10
Flavourless oil, for the trays
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar, plus 2 tbsp
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
850ml double cream
150g blackberries
300g raspberries
300g blueberries
30g flaked almonds
Thyme sprigs, redcurrants and flowers, for decoration (optional)

Heat the oven to 150 ̊C/fan 130 ̊C/Gas 2. Oil 3 baking trays and line with baking parchment. Draw a circle on each roughly 23cm in diameter (I trace around a cake tin).

In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to peak, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking all the while.When all the sugar has been added and the mixture is glossy, gently fold in the cornflour and the vinegar. Spoon the meringue on to the baking trays, spreading it out to make 3 discs. Bake for 1 hour, then switch the oven off and leave the meringues in there to harden for another hour.You want the meringue to be crisp so that it can support the weight of the cream. You can make the meringue up to 3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container.

To make the filling, whip the cream with an electric whisk until peaks form, but take care not to over-whip it, or it will lose that silky quality.

Take the first meringue disc and spoon roughly one-third of the cream on top, then sprinkle with one-third of the berries, half the flaked almonds and 1 tbsp caster sugar. Top with the second layer of meringue and repeat. Top with the third meringue, spoon on the last one-third of the cream and decorate with berries, thyme sprigs and flowers (just make sure they’re not noxious), if you like.

SERVE WITH…
Everyone loves BUTTERY LEMON ROAST CHICKEN (see book for recipe), cooked so the skin is golden and crisp and the meat succulent, almost sweet. To go with it, THE SIMPLEST ROAST POTATOES (see book for recipe), A REALLY GOOD GREEN SALAD (see book for recipe) and plenty of good bread (I love WALNUT SODA BREAD, see book for recipe, but good bread from the bakery will do just as well). You literally can’t go wrong. Follow with this dreamy, creamy concoction and strong espresso or mint tea (just mint leaves in a pot of boiling water). If you’re cooking for a crowd, this works every bit as well: just scale up to two (or three) birds and perhaps make a second cake.

Cook more from this book
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce
Sicilian couscous salad

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

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

Read the review
Coming soon

Lemongrass Poussin with Green Mango and Peanut Salad by Ravinder Bhogal

SpatchcockLemongrassPoussin_206

This wildly flavourful roast poussin is inspired by the fragrant and punchy flavours of Thailand. If the weather permits, throw it on the barbecue and cook it in the seductive plumes of its smoke. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

SERVES 6

6 poussins, spatchcocked 3 tbsp rapeseed oil

For the marinade
Large thumb of ginger, grated
5 garlic cloves
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
Large handful of roughly chopped coriander, leaves and stalks
50g light brown sugar or palm sugar
250ml light soy sauce

For the dressing
1⁄2 red chilli, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
Small thumb of ginger, finely grated
1 tbsp clear honey
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp groundnut or rapeseed oil
A few drops of sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 small shallot or 1⁄2 red onion, finely chopped

For the salad
2 red bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
3 green (unripe) mangoes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
100g mixed cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
Handful of Thai basil leaves
Handful of coriander leaves
Handful of mint leaves, torn
75g peanuts, roughly crushed

To make the marinade, put the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander and sugar in a food processor and blitz to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the soy sauce. Add the poussins and massage well, using your fingers to gently loosen the skin so you can get some of the marinade underneath it. Cover and leave in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.

Take the poussins out of the marinade and set aside. Strain the marinade into a saucepan and bring it to the boil, then let it bubble and reduce for about 10 minutes until you have a lovely glaze.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas Mark 6.
Pour the oil into a large ovenproof frying pan over medium–high heat, add the poussins and fry, skin side down, until crisp and well browned. Brush over the glaze, then transfer to the oven and roast for 30–45 minutes, glazing again halfway through the cooking time.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by shaking together all the ingredients
in a screwtop jar. For the salad, use a mortar and pestle to pound the chillies, garlic and sugar to a smooth paste. Stir in the fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice and 2 tablespoons of warm water. Taste and adjust the flavours as necessary with more sugar, fish sauce, vinegar or lime juice until you have that classic Thai balance of hot, sweet, salty and sour, then transfer to a large bowl. Lightly pound the mango with the pestle and mortar to tenderise, then add to the bowl and pour in the dressing. Crush the tomatoes with the mortar and pestle, then add to the bowl, along with the red onion. Just before serving, add the herbs, toss to combine and scatter with the peanuts. Serve the poussins with the salad on the side.

Cook more from this book
Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi
Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh

Read the review

Buy this book
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook by Amy Chung and Emily Chung

Rangoon Sisters

What’s the USP? An introduction to the flavours and dishes that are central to Burmese cooking. Bright, tempting recipes for salads, stews and assorted Burmese treats are balanced with an overview of the nation’s love for food.

Who wrote it? As the title suggests, the book was written by the Rangoon sisters. The siblings made their name running incredibly popular supper clubs for the past seven years (and raising over £10,000 for charity in the process). The book draws on the food they’ve created for these supper clubs over the years, as well as traditional Burmese dishes and the flavours they were raised with in their Anglo-Burmese childhood home in South London.

Is it good bedtime reading? The Rangoons fill their book with engaging and entertaining prose. Alongside personal and family histories, there’s plenty to read on Burmese cooking, the individual flavours and the history and influences behind individual dishes.

Given the in-depth approach that the book has to all the above, it is perhaps a little surprising that the book doesn’t touch upon any of the recent political issues that Myanmar has had. Many UK readers will only really be familiar with the nation through these ongoing events, and though it is wonderful to see and celebrate another side of the region, it is perhaps something of a missed opportunity for the Rangoon sisters not to address this at all.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few ingredients scattered across the recipes that will require access to an Asian supermarket, but for the most part the sisters do a fantastic job of recreating Burmese dishes with relatively easy to find ingredients. For those flavours that aren’t necessarily so familiar, there’s a brilliant (and extensive) rundown at the beginning of the book, with nearly ten pages of detail on different ingredients.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low, all things considered. It’s easy to see why their supper clubs have gone so well – the recipes are all straight-forward and require no exceptional technical skills – but the results are never anything less than tantalising.

How often will I cook from the book? Though the recipes are all simple enough, most are fairly hands-on, and so this isn’t necessarily a school-night cookbook. Still, there’s plenty of variety in here, with more than enough to tempt you back on a regular basis.

Killer recipes: I’m a sucker for an interesting egg dish, and the kyet u hin curry is damn near irresistible. The sisters’ butter bean stew is guaranteed to make it onto the table as an easy-but-impressive side next time you have guests over, too. But the headliner of the Rangoon Sisters cookbook must be their famous mango and lime cheesecake – made with a ginger nut base, and kindly presented here with storage advice (a generous gesture given the likelihood of anything surviving the first call for ‘seconds, anyone?’).

Should I buy it? Absolutely. One of the better trends in cookbooks over the last few years has been the proliferation of titles focusing on cuisines hitherto ignored by the average British palate. When done well, these can be both a brilliant insight into eating habits around the world, and a much-needed injection of new flavours into our own diets.

The Rangoon Sisters is filled with lovingly crafted and surprisingly accessible recipes, and makes for pretty decent bedtime reading to boot. Credit is due also to food stylist Aya Nishimura, who has put together some of the most appetising looking dishes I’ve seen in print. If you’re looking to expand your taste horizons a little, this is an excellent place to start.

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

Cuisine: Burmese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Rangoon Sisters: Recipes from our Burmese family kitchen
£20, Ebury Press

Chicken Katsu Noodles

Chicken Katsu Noodles

There’s lots of wonderful textures to this recipe from the crunchy strips of crispy chicken katsu to the silky udon noodles. The miso sauce combines nutty sesame seeds, salty soy and miso, plus a dash of mirin for a touch of acidity. Use the Middle Eastern sesame paste, tahini, if you can’t get hold of the Japanese version, neri goma.

Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g (14oz/5 cups) wedge white cabbage, any hard core removed, finely sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
½ red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
4 x 150g (5oz) portions straight-to- wok udon noodles
4 tbsp teriyaki sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE CHICKEN KATSU
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
cornflour, to coat
1 egg
7–8 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
sunflower or vegetable oil, for shallow-frying

FOR THE MISO SAUCE (MAKES DOUBLE)
50g (2oz) white miso
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 tbsp honteri mirin
30g (1¼oz) sesame seeds
15g (½oz) neri goma (black sesame paste)
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
2½ tbsp soy sauce

First make the miso sauce. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together until combined. Set aside.

Next, make the chicken katsu. Put the chicken breasts on a board and slice each one horizontally through the middle into two thin pieces. Lay between two sheets of clingfilm and bash with a rolling pin to flatten until they’re around 1cm (½in) thick.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons cornflour into a shallow dish. Beat the egg in another separate dish and put the breadcrumbs into another. Dip the chicken pieces first in the cornflour (patting off any excess), then in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs until they’re coated all over.

Heat 1–2 tablespoons oil in a large, flat frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, until golden on one side (about 4–5 minutes), then turn over and fry on the other side until golden, about 4–5 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked – it should no longer be pink in the middle. Lift out onto a plate, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm.

Heat the 2 tablespoons oil on the teppan or in a large, flat frying pan. As soon as the oil is hot and looks as though it’s shimmering, add the cabbage, spring onions and red pepper. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes on a high heat, until the veg are starting to turn tender. Lower the heat to medium.

Add the noodles to the cabbage mix, stir to break them up, sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons cold water and season well. Drizzle over half the miso sauce (see tip) and half the teriyaki sauce, then continue to cook, tossing every few minutes until everything is heated through.

Slice each of the cooked chicken breasts on a board into 6 pieces. To serve, divide the noodle mixture between four bowls and top with the chicken, then drizzle over the remaining teriyaki sauce.

TIP
Store the remaining quantity of miso sauce in the fridge and use within five days.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Ramen
Veggie Crunch Rolls

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

Read the review 
Coming soon

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

Chicken Ramen

Chicken-Ramen

The base of this ramen comes from making a simple chicken stock – just simmer the bones of the chicken and some vegetables in water to garner the goodness. You can make the chicken stock up to four days ahead if you need to and keep it stored in the fridge. It freezes well, too, for up to three months.

Serves 4

FOR THE RAMEN
1 x quantity Chicken Chashu (recipe included in book), chilled
2 medium eggs
10g (¼oz) dried black fungus mushrooms
200g (7oz) dried buckwheat noodles (or see tip in book for soba noodles)
1–2 tbsp Mayu garlic oil, or to taste (or see tip in book)
200g (7oz/4 cups) beansprouts
125g (4½oz/1²/³ cups) iceberg
lettuce, shredded
1 carrot, shredded or coarsely grated

FOR THE CHICKEN STOCK
2 chicken carcasses
6 black peppercorns
1 medium carrot
1 garlic clove, smashed
½ leek
1 small onion, halved

Start by making the chicken stock. Put the chicken carcasses into a large pan. Add the peppercorns, carrot, garlic, leek and onion. Pour over 2 litres (3½ pints) cold water, then cover the pan with a lid. Bring to the boil and, as soon as the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook on a very low simmer for 1 hour. Strain into a clean pan – there should be around 1.4 litres (2½ pints) stock. Add a splash more water if it needs topping up.

When you’re ready to make the ramen, take the chicken chashu out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.

Next, cook the eggs. Carefully lower the eggs into a saucepan of boiling water, reduce the heat a little and simmer for 7 minutes. Lift into a bowl of iced water and leave for 4–5 minutes. Remove and peel off the shells. Set aside.

While the eggs are boiling, put the dried black fungus mushrooms in a bowl of hot water and set aside to rehydrate.

Cook the noodles in a pan of boiling water, according to the instructions on the pack. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water.

Put the chicken on a board, discarding the string, and slice into finger-width strips.

Pour the stock into a large pan and stir in the garlic oil. Add the noodles and the beansprouts, reserving a handful to garnish.

Divide this evenly among four large soup bowls. Divide up the chicken, black mushrooms, reserved beansprouts, lettuce and carrot equally and put on top of each bowl. Finally, slice the eggs in half and put a half on each bowl, then serve.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Katsu Noodles
Veggie Crunch Rolls

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

Read the review 
Coming soon

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

What’s the USP? Environmentally responsible cooking is ostensibly at the centre of Eat Green – a cookbook that looks to create dishes from sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients. The author, Melissa Hemsley, offers up plenty of recipes, all of which will look loosely familiar to fans of her previous cookbooks as one half of Hemsley + Hemsley.

Hemsley + Hemsley? Weren’t they involved in the whole ‘clean eating’ controversy a few years back? Oh no, the Hemsley sisters were very much not involved in the ‘clean eating’ fad. At least, not if you ask them. Back in 2017 the sisters distanced themselves from the movement, just days before being featured in a BBC Horizon documentary on its dangers. At the time, they argued that the term was poorly defined, and they’d never advocated it directly.

“We’re not interested in making anyone feel fearful of food, scared of food, confused about food. We’re the opposite. We never talk about weight, diets, calorie-counting,” Melissa told the press.

So they weren’t part of the fad? Well, not according to them – but the problem with ill-defined movements is that people don’t always agree on where the border falls. Certainly the Hemsley sisters’ books bore many similarities to other titles circling the movement. Their dishes eschewed gluten, grains and refined sugars. Whether mentioned weight and diets or not, there was always a very distinct sense of virtue to the lifestyle their books represented.

Eat Green doesn’t exactly seem free of preachy virtuosity, as titles go. No, and Melissa Hemsley definitely talks up the importance of sustainable eating. She doesn’t spend much time examining why it’s important – but then, that in itself is refreshing. We know the environment is spiralling out control, and Hemsley’s introduction treats our understanding as a given – as it should be.

The recipes themselves do their best to live up to the challenge the title sets. A chart at the beginning provides a helpful map of seasonal fruit and veg, and there are tips scattered throughout for avoiding waste – a really lovely idea that’s executed nicely. Hemsley also offers up suggestions for locally-sourced alternatives where possible. She ignores miso in favour of British-grown fava bean umami paste – which is a bit more of a mouthful than miso on a couple of fronts. 

So Melissa has moved on from clean eating in favour of something that’s more objectively a good idea? Well, yes and no. The central focus of the book is definitely sustainable, ‘green’ eating. But as far as the recipes go, nothing much has changed at all. Nothing here would have looked particularly out of place in either of the Hemsley + Hemsley books.  The whole collection clings closely to what you’d expect from ‘clean eating’ at every possible opportunity.

How do you mean? The ‘Celebrations’ section of the book features such extravagant dishes as chickpea caprese salad and ‘mushroom mince’ lettuce cups.

Ah, gotcha. In fact, there’s a remarkable lack of excitement and variety to the recipes on display. There are multiple pancake and galette recipes, and at least a dozen salads that look more or less the same in their photos – piles of loose leaves and chickpeas, etc, that you can tell will be fighting to roll off your cutlery every bit as hard as you are fighting to get them in your mouth.

It feels as if Hemsley was so eager to present green eating that she neglected to include any imagination. The goal, though worthy, should allow much more varied and interesting dishes than are on show here. As a guide, Tim Anderson’s Vegan JapanEasy, reviewed earlier this year, was overflowing with hugely exciting and endlessly appetising ideas – even though its remit was much tighter.

Alright, alright. Calm down, you’ll have a seizure. After this and that Gill Meller review last week, I’m getting the idea you might not have much room in your heart for the sustainable cooking movement. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly obvious that we all need to spend a lot more time thinking about our food habits and doing our best to limit their impact on the world we live in. It’s just…

Yes? Well, why is nobody fun writing a cookbook on sustainable cooking? Why is it always left to people who think a chai parsnip and carrot cake is the best dessert we can manage in our new, environmentally-conscious world?

Killer recipes? The Bubble and Squeak with a Japanese-Inspired Dipping Sauce is a stand-out anomaly, as is the Braised Chicken with Lettuce, Peas and Radish Greens and Mash in a Flash. The one bit of the book that is genuinely brilliant, though, isn’t even a recipe: just before the index Hemsley includes an ‘A-Z of Odds, Ends and Leftovers’ that offers plenty of excellent ideas on how to use those annoying bits and bobs that sit about in the fridge unloved – the tired old fennel, the spare carrot, and so on.

Should I buy it? Look, if you have the Hemsley + Hemsley books, or enjoy any of their contemporaries, you’ll likely get some use out of this too. But this isn’t anywhere close to what I’d call an insightful or particularly useful guide for the average home cook.

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

Cuisine: English
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy this book
Eat Green: Delicious flexitarian recipes for planet-friendly eating
£22, Ebury Press

root, stem, leaf, flower by Gill Meller

root stem leaf flower

What’s the USP? Go wild (go wild!) go wild in the country, where nettles in a bush are absolutely free. It’s time to eschew meat and fish for all that lovely fruit and veg that you know will do you good. And here’s Gill Mellor with dirt on his hands and love in his heart to show you ‘how to cook with vegetables and other plants’.

Who is the author? You’ll know Gill Mellor from such books as Outdoor Cooking: River Cottage Handbook No.17 and Time by Gill Meller previously reviewed on this site and awarded a whopping 4 stars (I must have been feeling generous that day. I’m kidding. Or am I?). As I mentioned in that review, Meller is an alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and is a chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a fairly chunky introduction to the book and the recipe introductions are interesting and informative, but this is a cookbook for the kitchen rather than one for the bedside table. If you actually enjoy what there is to read will depend on your tolerance for Food Writing with a captial F and capital W; the stuff that usually results from an English degree and a lifetime reading Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and Nigel Slater. It’s the sort of adjective-heavy prose where radishes have a ‘tussle of coarse green leaves on top’ and you find ‘lucent green’ gooseberries among a ‘burr and wrangle of thorns’.

It will also depend on your tolerance for being told how to shop and cook. There is nothing particularly radical in Meller’s suggestion to eat organic, local and seasonal, or in his assertion that ‘we need to be eating less meat and fish’ and that what we do eat should come from ‘ethical and sustainable sources’ and from ‘animals that have led natural, happy lives’. But it’s easy for him as a professional food writer to say that and less easy for those working full time with a family to feed and limited time and financial resources to live up to those lofty ideals. Meller places all the onus on the individual to do the right thing and makes no suggestion that changes should be made at the food supply chain level in order to make produce that meets his stringent criteria easily available and affordable to all. Instead, there is the implication that you are falling short as a human being if you don’t buy organic, sustainable, ethically produced goods. And frankly, fuck that.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? If you are going to adhere to the Meller mantra of organic, sustainable, ethically produced stuff, then you will be narrowing the field substantially. However, most of the actual ingredients are not that obscure and you should be able to track them down without too much effort, especially if you are willing to eat ordinary people’s food. You’ll die sooner and be killing the planet with every single bite, but at least you’re not a serial killer with someone chained up in your cellar. Are you? I mean, if you are, I don’t approve obviously, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? I know lots of people are bored with serial killers but I think there’s an enduring fascination. Drop me a line, there’s a contact widget somewhere on this site, tell me about your sickness.

What’s the faff factor? Have we stopped talking about serial killers already? Oh well. WHAT’S THE FAFF FACTOR? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW? IS THAT REALLY WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU RIGHT AT THIS PRESENT MOMENT IN TIME? Sorry, I don’t know why I’m shouting. I haven’t had my meds today and lockdown is really starting to get to me. Faff factor, yes, good point. You should know about that before you buy a book. You work hard for your money, you don’t want to waste it on something you’re never going to use. It’s a reasonable question. I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal about it. I mean, I write the bloody questions myself, it’s not as though someone is dictating to me what I need to tell you. So, faff factor. Faaaaaaaaf faaaaaactor. Try saying that out loud. It’s funny. Like the Shadrack scene in Billy Liar.You know the bit. Actually, you’re probably too young. Or from a country where they never showed the film on the telly. You should stream it. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, faffing about. No, the recipes are fine really, they’re mostly short and straightforward. You can judge for yourself; I’ve posted a couple of recipes for you to try (the publisher only allowed two instead of the usual three for some reason. Gill’s special. So special.) The links are at the bottom of the page because this is such a well-designed site.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You will find the odd ‘small pinch of sea salt’ which is fine, and a ‘small handful’ of this and that which is OK if you’ve got small hands or know someone who has that could come to your house and grab a handful of herbs for you, although exactly how small their hands need to be isn’t really clear. Just be sensible about it. Perhaps ask a child. No, don’t do that. Unless you’re related to them, then it’s OK.

More annoying is ‘the juice of half a lemon’. Why do recipes rarely give ml measures for lemon juice? I mean, it’s a liquid just like any other isn’t it? And the amount you put in a recipe will affect the final result. I don’t know if you’ve bought a lemon recently, but the amount of juice that you get out of them varies massively from a meager teaspoon to a flood. They are as unpredictable as, erm, something that it’s politically correct to describe as unpredictable. I’m not sure what that might be. Me. I’m unpredictable. The amount of juice you get out of a lemon is as unpredictable as the mood I’ll be in when I wake up on any given day. And that’s pretty unpredictable. Imagine the mood I’m in now, writing this. You don’t want to know.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you imagine you might fancy ‘tomatoes in the hole’ instead of toad? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. Ultimately, the amount you use this book will depend on precisely how middle class you are. That’s just the truth. Take this stupid quiz and find out. When you discover that the stupid quiz appeared in the Mirror and you decide you don’t want to take it because you don’t want anything to do with that disgusting rag, congratulations, you are middle class and you will cook from this book a lot. If you do decide to take the quiz, it doesn’t matter what your score is, you have read something in the Mirror and are by default not middle class and the book will collect dust languorously on your shelf. Power to the people.

Killer recipes: Do we have to do this? OK (sighs) they include: sweetcorn, rosemary and smoked cheddar soufflé; squash, lentil, tomato and rosemary pie; salted chocolate pumpkin tart; asparagus and quinoa salad with peas and broad beans.

What will I love? The photography by Andrew Montgomery is up to his usual very high standards and there’s a good amount of variety in the recipes, given the relatively narrow subject matter. That was sensible wasn’t it?

What won’t I like so much? Meller’s editors have failed to dissuade him from writing poems. I love poetry. I read lots of it, from Renaissance to 21st Century (give Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough a go) and I even write some myself. I’m just not convinced a cookbook is the right platform for it. Or maybe I just don’t like Meller’s poems. Sorry Gill.

Should I buy it? This book isn’t really for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. There’s nothing really wrong with it, so if you need some inspiration in the fruit and veg department and you feel the stylistic issues I’ve outlined above won’t be problematic for you, then go ahead. Oh, I forgot to mention the recipe titles. Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me (the same goes for the book’s title and the lack of capitals). But most of them aren’t like that, they’re just normal so it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it put you off. I know it probably wouldn’t but I’m just saying. It’s honestly more about my odd sensitivities to certain tropes of Food Writing, which I think far too much about, than anything else. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s fine, really.

(Have you had enough of this yet? I could go on all day like this. Once I get on a roll it’s difficult to stop me. What shall we talk about next? No, maybe you’re right, let’s leave it there. Till next time then.)

Cuisine: English
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower: How to Cook with Vegetables and Other Plants

£27, Quadrille Publishing Ltd.

Cook from this book
Courgette flatbreads with lots of herbs and goat’s cheese
Raspberry and rhubarb crumble