The Curry Guy Thai by Dan Toombs

Curry Guy Thai

What’s the USP? An introduction to Thai cooking, The Curry Guy Thai seeks to show readers how to recreate their favourite Thai takeaway recipes at home. 

Who wrote it? Dan Toombs, the self-styled ‘Curry Guy’ of the title. The Californian crossed the Atlantic to settle in the UK way back in 1993, and has been something of an obsessive since discovering our nation’s fabulous curry tradition. After starting a curry recipe blog in 2010, Toombs’ popularity began to rise – and his work ethic no doubt has something to do with that. The Curry Guy Thai is his seventh book. His first, The Curry Guy, came out just four years ago. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Toombs enjoys giving context to each recipe through relatively detailed introductions, but there isn’t much to keep you entertained beyond those. It would have been nice to see some lengthier chapter introductions that explored the different aspects of Thai food. The country’s cuisine has exploded in popularity of the past few years, and whilst it is available on a much wider level than that of other Southeast Asian nations, there is still plenty of education to offered to a nation who still don’t really understand the difference between green and red curries (it is not, Toombs notes, the spice levels). 

What’s the faff factor? This was my first foray into the Curry Guy series and, having seen them all over the cookbook sections for the last few years, I was surprised by certain things. With the mass market publication Toombs’ books have received, their relatively low price (this title has an RRP of £15), and their lack of physical heft (around 150 pages here), I had assumed Toombs was putting out quick recipes that could offer busy families a way to enjoy a semi-authentic takeaway-style dish on a weekday night. 

In reality, The Curry Guy Thai offers an earnest attempt at authenticity wherever possible. This is great, in theory – a genuine way to explore Thai cooking at home and capture the flavour of a good takeaway or even restaurant dish. Unfortunately this also means committing yourself to a little more time and effort. 

Ingredients lists are pretty long, and frequently stretch beyond the local supermarket shelves, asking you to seek out galangal or lime leaves. With the focus more on true replication than home cooking, Toombs offers recipes that require deep frying when perhaps a shallow fry or oven-based alternative might have been more practical for the reader. 

Is it the best way to explore Thai cooking then? The problem quickly becomes that of the competition. It’s been two years since Kay Plunkett-Hogge put out Baan, which has quickly become the benchmark for Thai cookbooks in the UK. That one might have been marketed a little more squarely at enthusiastic hobby cooks, but in truth it outperforms The Curry Guy Thai in every field – more authentic, easier recipes and much more practical for regular weeknight dinners. 

There are options to save your energy – allowances for the use of ready made curry pastes instead of the time-consuming homemade version – but when I tried these within the context of the recipes I found them underwhelming. 

What will I love? The book does a good job at collecting all of your favourite takeaway dishes, meaning you’ll be able to put together a Thai feast of your own if you ever want to. 

What won’t I love? Very few of the recipes are as quick and easy as you’d like, so that Thai feast is going to be quite a bit of work. 

Killer recipes: Prawn Toasts, Duck Jungle Curry, Thai Holy Basil and Chilli Chicken Stir Fry, Red Pork Nugget Curry, Choo Chee Salmon 

Should I buy it? If you’re a fan of the existing Curry Guy books, this will fit in perfectly on your shelf and offer more of the same stylistically whilst expanding the canon into Thailand. Otherwise, maybe take a moment to explore the other options before committing to this fairly middle-of-the-road cookbook. 

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

Buy the book 
Curry Guy Thai: Recreate Over 100 Classic Thai Takeaway Dishes at Home
£15, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

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

Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang

20-02-17 - Crispy King Trumpet Mushrooms - 006
Serves 2

This is my vegan version of a famous Sichuan pork dish, Hui guo rou, where the meat is boiled in an aromatic stock, then sliced and fried until crisp, and finally stir-fried with chilli, fermented salted black beans and a host of Chinese seasonings. Instead of pork, I am using meaty king trumpet mushrooms. This dish is perfect served with jasmine rice.

kcal — 410
carbs — 80.3g
protein — 10.0g
fat — 7.6g

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp freshly grated root ginger
300g (10½oz) king trumpet mushrooms, sliced into 1cm (½in) rounds
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tbsp yellow bean paste
1 tbsp fermented salted black beans, rinsed and crushed
1 spring onion, trimmed and sliced on the angle into julienne strips (optional)
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
pinch of golden granulated or caster sugar
pinch of ground white pepper
cooked jasmine rice, to serve (see page 194)

Place a wok over a high heat until smoking, then add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the ginger and cook, tossing, for few seconds, then add the mushrooms. As they start to brown, add the rice wine or sherry, then stir in the chilli bean paste and the yellow bean paste, followed by the fermented salted black beans. Add the spring onions, if using, and stir-fry for less than a minute. Season with the dark soy sauce, tamari or light soy sauce, sugar and ground white pepper and give it all one final toss. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.

Cook more from this book
Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang
Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang

Read the review  

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang

Smoked Tofu & Broccoli Korean Ram-don - 029
Serves 4

kcal — 552
carbs — 57.9g
protein — 30.2g
fat — 21.9g

This is inspired by the beef ram-don in the Korean movie Parasite. I wanted to make a vegan version using chunky smoked tofu, mushrooms and long-stem broccoli. The result is a more-ish, umami-rich, addictively spicy noodle dish. To make the dish speedier, I place the aromatics (garlic, ginger, shallots and chilli) in a food processor and then just add them to the wok.

200g (7oz) dried ramen or udon noodles
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 garlic cloves
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled
3 shallots
2 red chillies, deseeded
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
200g (7oz) smoked tofu, drained, rinsed in cold water and sliced into 2cm (¾in) cubes
400g (14oz) firm tofu, drained and sliced into 2cm (¾in) cubes
200g (7oz) fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
150g (5½oz) long-stem broccoli, florets sliced lengthwise and stalks sliced into 0.5cm (¼in) rounds
2 tbsp vegetarian mushroom sauce
1 tbsp clear rice vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the angle into 1cm (½in) slices

Noodle seasoning (per bowl)
1 tsp dark soy sauce and Chiu Chow chilli oil
1 tbsp each tahini and sweet chilli sauce
sprinkle of shichimi togarashi pepper flakes

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Rinse under cold water and drain well, then drizzle over the toasted sesame oil to prevent them from sticking together. Set aside in the colander until needed.

Place the garlic, ginger, shallots and red chillies in a small food processor and blitz to form a paste. Mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl or cup to make a slurry. Set aside until needed. Heat a wok over a high heat until smoking and add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the aromatic paste and cook, stirring, for a few seconds until fragrant. Add both kinds of tofu and the mushrooms. Season with the rice wine and dark soy sauce and toss together well for 1–2 minutes until all the ingredients are coated.

Add the broccoli and cook, tossing, for 1 minute. Stir in the mushroom sauce, rice vinegar and tamari or light soy sauce. Pour in the cornflour slurry to thicken the cooking juices in the wok, and toss to mix well.

Pour some boiling water over the noodles in the colander to reheat them, then divide them between four bowls.

Place a ladleful of the tofu, mushroom and broccoli mixture on one side of the noodles in each bowl, and top with the sliced spring onion. Dress the noodles by drizzling over the dark soy sauce, Chiu Chow chilli oil, tahini and sweet chilli sauce, followed by a generous sprinkle of shichimi togarashi pepper flakes. Serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang
Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang

Read the review 

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang

Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle - 014

Serves 2

Who doesn’t love sweetcorn soup? This soup brings out my inner child. The chunky sweetcorn kernels are so satisfying, but I like to add shavings of black truffle for a nutty, rich and decadent treat. If you are a die-hard vegan, then omit the truffle. Truffles are a fungus, but sometimes pigs are used to sniff for them. Whether or not you agree with this depends on your own personal stance. Truffle or no truffle, this Chinese-style sweetcorn soup never fails to hit the spot.

kcal — 247
carbs — 32.9g
protein — 6.8g
fat — 10.5g

1 large tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh root ginger, grated
340g (12oz) can sweetcorn, drained
100g (3½oz) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
pinch of sea salt
pinch of ground white pepper
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced into rounds
shavings of black truffle (optional), to garnish

In a small bowl, mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp cold water to form a slurry. Set aside until needed. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the ginger and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, bouillon powder and rice wine or sherry, along with 600ml (20fl oz) water. Bring to the boil, then add the fresh shiitake mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Season with the tamari or light soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, salt and ground white pepper. Pour in the cornflour slurry and stir gently to thicken. Add the spring onions and give the soup one final stir. Divide between two bowls. If using truffles, grate generously over each bowl, then serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang
Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang

Read the review

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

What’s the USP? A user manual for the Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue (referred to from here on as BGE) that’s a big hit with professional chefs, keen home cooks and barbecue enthusiasts alike, with recipes.

Who’s the author? James Whetlor is probably best known as the owner of the Cabrito goat meat business. He is the author of Goat (read our review here) and is a former chef who worked in London and for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage in Devon.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is plenty for the BGE owner to get their teeth into with a meaty introductory chapter that covers everything from lighting and using your egg, to setting up your egg, fuel for your egg, tools and equipment for your egg and a guide to ingredients.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will need to head to Whetlor’s Cabrito website if you want to make goat shoulder with pomegranate raan or whole roast kid; your butcher for ox heart to make pinchos morunos and a specialist shop or online retailer for the ancho and pasilla chilles required to make recipes like pork or ox cheeks with masa harina soft tortilla or mole sauce.  There are other examples but in the main, you should have little trouble tracking down the majority of the ingredients required.

What’s the faff factor? This will depend on your view on BBQ, bearing in mind that you have to prepare your BGE before you get to cook anything on it.  Some will view it as a pleasure, others a pain, although the latter probably wouldn’t have splashed a grand on a sizeable ceramic lump in the first place. In terms of the recipes themselves, they range from a simple seared onglet à l’échalote to a more involved pork shoulder with vindaloo spices. 

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you barbecue? In his introduction, chef Tom Kerridge would have you believe that ‘Big Green Eggs can become a way of life’ and that ‘Once you’ve….tried some recipes in this book, you’ll be barbecuing in February’. For most of us, in the UK at least, barbecuing is very much a summer pastime. That said, if you’ve invested in a BGE then you might well be motivated to make as much use of it as possible.

Killer recipes? At the risk of labouring a point, there are some great recipes in this book, but they will only really be of interest to BGE owners.  Some may work on other BBQ set ups, but I’m not sure why, with so many other more general BBQ books on the market, you would take the risk. That said, whole crown prince squash stuffed with pumpkin seeds and chillies; hispi cabbage with jalapeno buttermilk and ancho dressing; lamb ribs with tamarind glaze; lamb chop bhuna; paratha and orange blossom honey and pistachio pastilla all sound delicous. The short chapter on sauces and condiments including mango ketchup and harissa is extremely handy.

What will I love? The embossed cover that replicates the scaly surface of a real Big Green Egg is just great.

What won’t I like? If you don’t own a BGE, have a guess.

Should I buy it? If you’re paying a minimum of £780 for a Big Green Egg (that will get you a mini version. A basic starter pack of accessories will cost you another £134. You can pay up to £1,665 for an XL egg) you’d think you might get an instruction manual and recipes thrown in for that sort of money. Mind you, if you have that amount of disposable income, what’s another £25?

Although there are some great recipes in the book which feasibly may work on other barbecues (such as the strikingly similar Kamado Joe), the whole affair is so obviously BGE-specific that there is really no point owning this book unless you have splurged on a BGE.

Cuisine: Barbecue/International
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Cooking on the Big Green Egg: Everything you need to know from set-up to cooking techniques, with 70 recipes
£25, Hardie Grant/Quadrille

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 10 MINS / COOK ABOUT 4½ HOURS / MARINATE 1 HOUR (BUT NOT ESSENTIAL)

When I was about 12 years old, I was introduced to the food of Algeria, and by strange means. This was during the Algerian War, and in France there were camps for Algerian refugees. One such camp was close to my village and, with my friend René, I would go and visit these intriguing, kind and friendly people. They fed us well. I remember seeing whole lambs roasted on the spit and, as the meat was turned, it was also painted with the spicy juices. For my young palate, it was perhaps a bit too spicy. I was the stranger who was drawn in, and have never forgotten their kindness. This dish does not require a whole lamb. When it comes to slow cooking lamb, the shoulder is the best cut, meltingly tender and incredibly tasty. When harissa is added, this is a wonderful dish, and the chickpeas will only complement it. A shoulder of lamb varies in weight, becoming heavier as the year progresses. A 2.5kg shoulder, like the one in this recipe, will take about 4½ hours; one weighing 3kg will need 5½ hours. Aim to remove it from the fridge 4–5 hours before cooking to come to room temperature.

1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
100g rose harissa
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2.5kg new season’s
shoulder of lamb
300ml water

For the chickpea salad
1 jar (230g) piquillo peppers
2 preserved beldi lemons
a large handful of curly or flat-leaf parsley
2 tins (400g) chickpeas
sea salt and black pepper

TO PREPARE Mix together the salt, cumin and harissa, and then add the extra-virgin olive oil. Place the lamb in a roasting tin. Lightly score the skin of the lamb and rub it all over with the salty harissa mixture. At this point, you can leave the lamb for an hour, allowing the harissa flavours to infuse, but this is not essential.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Roast the lamb for 20 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Cover the lamb shoulder loosely with foil, and return it to the oven to roast for a further 2 hours. Now baste the lamb, add the water and return it to the oven for 2 hours, again loosely covered with foil.
While the lamb is roasting, chop the piquillo peppers, finely chop the preserved lemons (skin and pulp) and coarsely chop the parsley. Put them to one side; you will need them to finish the dish.

Remove the lamb from the oven. Spoon out most of the fat from the tin, leaving the roasting juices. To the warm roasting juices, add the chickpeas, peppers and lemon. Add the parsley too and season with the salt and pepper. Toss together and bring to the boil on the hob. Place the lamb shoulder on a platter with the chickpea salad. Bring the lamb to the table and invite your guests to help themselves. The lamb will be tender enough to fall from the bone with a spoon, though it can be carved if you prefer.

Cook from this book 
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 20 MINS / COOK 40 MINS

Mussels and saffron are united harmoniously in this classic risotto. There’s no need for that constant stirring. Instead, the rice is stirred towards the end of the cooking time to activate the starches, a trick you can use with any risotto you make.

SERVES 4

For the mussels
1kg fresh mussels
1 onion
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
100ml dry white wine

For the risotto
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200g carnaroli rice (or arborio)
2 bay leaves
a couple of pinches of saffron powder or strands
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 pinches of sea salt flakes
100ml dry white wine
300ml water (or fish stock)

To finish
50g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
a handful of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
100g cooked peas (optional)
a handful of baby-leaf spinach (optional)
½ lemon, for squeezing

TO PREPARE First, the mussels. Ensure that all the mussels are tightly closed and not damaged before you begin to cook; any mussels that are damaged or open should be discarded. The preparation can be done in advance. Wash the mussels in a large bowl and under cold running water. Mussels that float at this stage are not very fresh, so discard them. Remove any barnacles and beards, but don’t scrub the shells as this can end up colouring the cooking juices. Drain.

Finely chop the onion and peeled garlic and grate the cheese. In a large saucepan over a medium heat, sweat half the onion, the bay leaves and thyme in the butter for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, add the mussels, pour in the wine, cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes. Drain in a sieve over a large bowl and discard any mussels that have not opened. Reserve the cooking juices, you will need about 200ml to make the risotto. Once the mussels have cooled, pick the mussels from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for decoration, and put them all aside.

Now, to the risotto … Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the remaining onion, cover with a lid and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir in the rice. Add the bay leaves, saffron and cayenne pepper and lightly season with salt. Stir and continue to cook on a medium heat for 2 minutes, until the grains of rice are shiny. Pour in the wine and let it boil for 30 seconds – bubble, bubble – and stir. Pour in the mussel cooking liquor and the water or fish stock and stir again. Now cook on the gentlest simmer, with just a single bubble breaking the surface. Cover with a lid and leave for 20 minutes, but it mustn’t boil. 4

Now it’s time for 5 minutes of some serious and fast stirring. At full speed, stir the risotto. The grains rub against each other, extracting the starch, and this gives the rice its creaminess. Yet every grain remains whole, unbroken. Taste – the rice should have a slight bite. Add the cheese, butter and parsley to the risotto, along with the cooked peas and spinach, if using, all the cooked mussels and a strong squeeze of lemon. Stir, taste and correct the seasoning just before serving. 

Cook more from this book
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021

It’s rare to find a dessert that is both simple and extraordinarily delicious. Pear Almondine is one of my favourites. You can find some excellent preserved Williams pears in jars or tins, ideal for this recipe. This dessert is a template to accommodate many other fruits and flavours. For baking like this, I like to use a baking stone. However, if you don’t have this, it will still be a winner.

SERVES 6
6 pear halves, tinned or jarred
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for brushing the tin
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium egg (preferably organic or free-range)

To serve
a handful of flaked
almonds (for extra flavour, first toast them in a dry pan)
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Butter (or oil) a tart ring, about 18cm x 2cm. Cut a long strip of greaseproof paper to stick to the inside. Place the lined tart ring on a lined baking tray or baking stone. Drain the pears and slice them in half again if they are large. In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and sugar. Then add ground almonds, cornflour, vanilla and egg, and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the pear halves evenly around the outside of the tart, resting them on top of the almond sponge mixture, and with the tip of each half meeting in the middle. According to size of the pears, you may require the base of half a pear to fill a space in the centre. Scatter with almonds. Bake the tart on the middle shelf of the oven, on the preheated baking stone or baking tray, for 20–25 minutes, or until golden. Leave the cake to cool for a few minutes before removing it from the ring. Before serving, dust with icing sugar.

VARIATION
In a saucepan, reduce the syrup from the jar, let it cool and add a dash of Poire William, the pear liqueur. After baking, puncture the pears with a fork and pour over the syrup. It adds colour and flavour.

Cook more from this book
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

The New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

What’s the USP? Sometimes food doesn’t need to be put together using precise  measurements and exact times – No-Recipe Recipes is all about the big, flavourful ideas and less fussy about what you need to do and when. Every dish here is described in loose and accessible terms so that the home chef can amble carefree through the cooking process. 

Who wrote it? Sam Sifton, the founding editor of The New York Times’ cookery website. His weekly What To Cook This Week column on the site has, since 2015, always featured a No-Recipe Recipe of his own – an easy to throw together sort of a dish that might have been influenced by something he’s eaten in a restaurant, or the passing comment of a chef friend, or simply the desire to combine two flavours and gleefully eat them. 

Is it good bedtime reading? On the one hand, there isn’t an awful lot to read besides the short and enthusiastic introduction to each recipe. On the other hand, though, the recipes read so conversationally that they become a genuine pleasure to read in their own right. This is a book that can be taken to bed and flicked through with hungry eyes as you picture yourself breezily moving around the kitchen – a splash of fish sauce here, a generous pinch of oregano there. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The entire book is annoyingly vague recipes. That’s sort of the point. Thankfully, Sifton’s bright and engaging writing – he clearly loves being in the kitchen almost as much as he loves food – enables the reader to confidently join him on his quest. 

The book’s brief introductory section convincingly champions Sifton’s approach. Cooking without recipes is a valuable kitchen skill, we are told: ‘It’s a proficiency to develop, a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen and makes the act of cooking fun when it sometimes seems like a chore’. 

The no-recipe recipes themselves certainly echo the ‘cooking is fun’ mentality. It’s impossible to resent vague instructions when they are written with as much relish as Sifton’s. The frankly obscene Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce calls for a ‘huge amount of unsalted butter’, whilst his Roasted Shrimp Tacos with Cumin and Chile demands ‘a whole mess of peeled and deveined shrimp’. 

What’s the faff factor? It would be a bold move to expect readers to create lavish and complex dishes with only the loosest of instructions, so perhaps unsurprisingly the book is filled with nothing but the simplest dishes. The Tomato Sandwich recipe is four sentences long, and calls for only bread, butter, mayonnaise and tomato – but Sifton still manages to make it seem like an unmissable addition to a hot summer’s day. Even the most complex of dishes will come together in under half an hour and create only the most minimal of washing up. 

How often will I cook from the book? I have had this book for about a month now and can confidently say that I am cooking from it at least twice a week. It has already become the first book I pull from the shelf when I’m planning my weekly shop, despite being the title that arguably requires the least planning of the lot. 

Every one of Sifton’s No-Recipe Recipes is a temptation. They are easy to buy for and fun to cook. Above all else, the gentle thrill of cooking off-book, of trusting your own instincts and finishing, every time, with something genuinely delicious is a real confidence boost for new and old home cooks alike. 

What will I love? Though the book is designed to be minimalist and simple, it is still filled with useful information. Dishes frequently come with easy modifications that can be made – either to replace more obscure ingredients, or to offer a different flavour profile. Separate ‘Tips’ sections will help beginner cooks learn key kitchen lessons, or occasionally share Sifton’s own tasting notes (he recommends avoiding chicken or vegetable gyoza for his blasphemous yet irresistible Pot Stickers with Tomato Sauce). 

What won’t I love? It’s a small complaint, but the cloth-bound cover isn’t ideal for a book that will see as much use as this one. It picks up all sorts of filth, and thanks to some spilt flour and the eager attention of two cats, my copy already looks a fair bit older than it should one month in. 

Killer recipes: It would be impossible to make enough noise about the aforementioned Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce, which must be the most outrageously indulgent dish it’s possible to compile in under twenty minutes. But pretty much every dish in here will inspire at least some level of food lust. 

Highlights include Crab Rangoon Burgers, Quick-Broiled Pork Chops with Peanuts and Gochujang, Ham and Radicchio Toast, and Asparagus and Boursin Tart. 

Should I buy it? Of course you should. Sam Sifton’s book is not a book about the joy of cooking – it’s an instruction manual that will help you discover it for yourself. This would be a brilliant gift for someone who is just discovering the world of cooking, with bright and easy recipes that feel like an accomplishment once finished. Student cookbooks are so often drab and patronising affairs that, at best, will help someone make a competent but uninspiring lasagne. From now on, let’s send our freshers off with No-Recipe Recipes tucked in their suitcase – I would have eaten a lot less £5 pizza delivery deals if I’d known how easy it was to knock-up Sifton’s Black Bean Tacos or Sloppy Joes. 

At the same time, confident cooks who have long since found their footing in the kitchen will still find a wealth of inspiration here – fresh new flavour combinations and easy dishes that can be pulled together quickly when you’re tired after work.

No-Recipe Recipes everything you want from a cookbook – it is simple, irresistible and innovative. But above all else, it reminds you exactly how fun cooking can be.

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

Buy this book
New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes
£20, Ebury Press

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

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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