'Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey'
There have been many other TV chefs who have brought Asian cooking to our screens, most notably Madhur Jaffrey, Ken Hom, and, er, Keith Floyd. But few can have done it as affably, as colourfully or with as much infectious enthusiasm as Rick Stein in his latest BBC TV series. As with the show, the accompanying book is a trip through Southeast Asia, taking in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, as well as the less well known culinary destinations of Cambodia, Bangladesh and Bali. As well as dishes we recognise from restaurant menus, such as pad thai noodles or satay skewers, there are many which will perhaps be unfamiliar to all but the seasoned traveller, such as the rich Bangladeshi beef shatkora or fragrant Cambodian steamed mussels.
'Economy Gastronomy: Eat Better and Spend Less'
Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett
As the world economy collapsed like a cooling soufflé, a wave of ‘economy’ cookery books cashed in. Economy Gastronomy ties in with the BBC TV series of the same name, but – surprisingly for a TV tie-in – it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it. The text avoids the slightly hectoring tone the show takes by focusing solely on the dishes. If you start to feel guilty when reading this book, it can only be because you know you’d benefit from the cooking tips within. In the first section, the authors have developed an approach to meal planning which begins with one major ‘bedrock’ purchase (a whole chicken, for example) which is then made into three or four easy ‘tumbledown’ dishes (chicken pie with tarragon, hot and sour chicken broth), making full use of the freezer. In this respect, it mirrors the TV show. When followed rigorously, this system cuts down profligacy as well as, hopefully, the weekly shopping bill.
'The Modern Vegetarian: Food Adventures for the Contemporary Palate'
Author Maria Elia is currently head chef at London’s Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room, and before that made her name as chef at the Delfina Studio Café in Bermondsey. She’s known for her creative, flavour-packed cooking style that pulls together gutsy flavours and ingredients from around the world. This book is a further expression of this vein, drawing on influences from Thailand, Italy, Japan, North Africa, India, Greece and elsewhere. Elia’s not afraid of a bit of culinary miscegenation, and that’s evident in recipes for watermelon curry with black beans and paneer, or miso-marinated kataifi-wrapped aubergines. The full title of the book pretty much sums it up: this is adventurous stuff, far removed from the usual clichés that are still too frequently served up as ‘the vegetarian option’ in restaurants.
Books on Greek cookery are never top-sellers. Not even landmark books such as Andy Harriss’s excellent ‘Taste of the Aegean’ (1992) or Theodore Kyriakou’s ‘Real Greek Food’ (2000) will shift as many copies as yet another book about Italian food to add the hundreds already out there. So this hefty text from Phaidon – publisher of the much-hyped older sibling volume ‘Silver Spoon’ (2005) – shows they’re confident that this book will be a winner internationally. And they’re not wrong. Author Vefa Alexiadou is a well-known food writer and TV chef in her native Greece, and this book is possibly the most authoritative written in the English language on contemporary Greek food. There are more than 700 recipes, collected, she claims, from all over Greece. It kicks off with an overview of the regionality of Greek food, then goes straight into the recipes. It’s all to the point, and for people who cook: there is no ‘lifestyle’ element of the author pouting, just lots of tested, clear recipes.
'My Cousin Rosa: Rosa Mitchell's Sicilian Kitchen'
This new book by cook and food writer Rosa Mitchell emanates Sicilian warmth. She was born in Catania, in eastern Sicily, migrated to Australia in 1962 and now runs the Journal Café in Melbourne. The book chronicles the recipes and food traditions that Mitchell and her extended Sicilian-Australian family and friends cook in their adopted home – recipes that keep Sicily alive on the plate. ‘Simple and tasty’ is how Mitchell describes Sicilian food, and the recipes are indeed simple to follow. Many of them are based on seasonal vegetables such as artichoke, cardoon, aubergine and fennel. There are deceptively straightforward recipes for classic Sicilian dishes such as tonno agro dolce (sweet and sour tuna) and the summery mixed vegetable dish caponata. Particularly interesting are the farmhouse-style recipes for the likes of home-made ricotta – the sorts of dishes that every rural Sicilian family would rely on, but which few city-dwellers have the time or skills to make. Pasta dishes, including bucatini with sardines flavoured with typically Sicilian ingredients such as saffron, pine nuts and currants, or the inventive ‘something from nothing’ dish of spaghetti with breadcrumbs and spring onions, are a high point too.
'The Foodie Handbook'
Pim Techamuanvivit – usually just called ‘Pim’ – is one of the world’s most successful food bloggers, for her site ‘Chez Pim’ (chezpim.typepad.com). Its success seems down to several factors. She was one of the first, and at the time, one of the best. She uses lush photography – her own. And I suspect most importantly, her blog is very aspirational. Barely a week goes by when she’s not jetting off to a far-off city to dine in the very best restaurants, or court favour with culinary legends. How does she do it? Her blog infers that after moving from Thailand to the US she made a fortune working in Silicon Valley, which then allowed her to pursue a career in food writing. On the back of the perceived glamour of her lifestyle and the traffic to her blog, this British book was commissioned. The style of the writing is didactic: if you want to do it properly, you have to do it her way. Except we’re not talking about baking soufflés; in Pim world, being a ‘foodie’ is a competitive sport (and you’re left in no doubt who number one is). She covers topics such as ‘How not to be a wine geek’ and ‘Fifty things every foodie should do’.
'The Iraqi Cookbook'
The very word ‘Iraq’ is so politically charged that even when it appears in the title of a cookery book it’s an attention-grabber. This is not the first book on the subject to be published in English, but previous works are rare. The author is a Baghdad-trained medical doctor who now lives in London. The book started out as a project to collect cherished recipes for her children, but ended up being collated on a grander scale. Ibrahim says that the book was written for Iraq’s diaspora population, but the recipes are wide-ranging enough to interest food-lovers of all stripes. There are classic Iraqi dishes such as hareesah, a spiced wheat and lamb dish traditionally eaten by Shi’ite Muslims on the tenth day of the sacred month of Muharram, and qoozi, whole roast lamb stuffed with saffron and rosewater-scented rice, which is served at important family celebrations.Recipes for stuffed vegetables recall the cooking of the western Mediterranean, while rice dishes (‘pilaou’), similar to those found throughout the Middle East and beyond, abound, highlighting Iraq’s importance as a long-standing cultural crossroads.
London is home to one of the largest Sri Lankan populations beyond the shores of their country, yet there are few notable restaurants serving the food of what was once Ceylon in the capital. Many Londoners of Sri Lankan heritage agree that restaurant food just can’t approach home cooking for quality, yet there have been few good books in English showing the keen amateur how to create Sri Lankan dishes – until now. The author of this beautifully produced book is chef at the Flying Fish Restaurant in Sydney, but was born in London. The recipes are largely family creations, including dishes from his Sinhalese grandmother’s kitchen, which are some of the best in the book, including a chicken curry thickened with desiccated coconut and ground rice, and the ‘beginners’ curry’ known as kiri hoddy. The ‘On the Road’ chapter includes classic ‘short eats’ such as fish cutlets and mutton rolls.
'An Edible History of Humanity'
Tom Standage is business editor of The Economist. As you’d expect, his writing style is therefore crisp, clear, and... economical. Which is no bad thing when you’re trying to view recorded history through the huge prism of world food history. This has been done before by others, from early luminaries such as Margaret Visser to Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who have all had their particular approaches, yet it seems there is room for yet another. This book is necessarily derivative, but to his credit Standage details his sources carefully. The result is a summary, covering diverse subjects from the well known, such as the shift to agriculture from hunter-gathering, to the topics less documented by food writers. For example, Napoleon’s reliance on fast and light food logistics being responsible for both his military successes and failures was news to me. Along the way Standage covers the disaster ensuing from farm collectivisation under Mao, gives a very succinct and clear explanation of the so-called ‘triangular trade’ and slavery in the Americas, and how the spice trade was responsible for the wealth and decline of the major trading ports of the early modern period.
'River Cottage Handbook No.5: Edible Seashore'
The sheer number of these River Cottage-branded books might suggest they are being churned out, yet they’re all surprisingly good. This volume is particularly notable because it’s small enough to use as a field guide, is easy to use and is engagingly written. We used it on a trip to Norfolk to gather foraged plants we’d not tried before, including alexanders. The necessary caveats are all still there – for example, hemlock (fatally poisonous) is easily mistaken for other umbellifers, including alexanders. With the help of the book, we lived to tell the tale. The many pages on collecting mussels, razor clams, crabs and the like are also eminently practical, and types of net are discussed along with the rules and ethics of foraging. The recipes at the end seem a little superfluous, though they did presumably come in useful when The Guardian printed excerpts a few weeks ago, along with suitably luscious photography. A perfect, and beautiful, book for beginners or intermediate-level shore-foragers.
'Hsa Ba: Burmese Cookbook'
Tin Cho Chaw
Seldom does a book arriving with so little fanfare make such a splash in the kitchen. We’d been on the lookout for a good Burmese cookbook for years and came across this one, published in 2008, on the excellent blog and website www.hsaba.com (‘hsa ba’ is Burmese for ‘please eat’). The author was born in Rangoon and moved to the UK when she was eight years old. The book is the result of remembered dishes from childhood and, more recently, visits to family still in Burma. The 100 clearly-written recipes have been honed and tested so that they work in western kitchens, but retain the taste of Burma. Dishes such as tomato fish curry with fish sauce and red chilli, roasted eggplant salad, wing-bean salad and golden sticky rice had us heading back to the kitchen again and again to satisfy our cravings. The author has a background in graphic design, so this well-presented book doesn’t feel self-published – it’s as professionally put together as any other we’ve reviewed on these pages (and more so than many). As an added bonus, you can watch a selection of the recipes being cooked by the author on the website.
'The Rough Guide to Food'
Not a cookery book or food travel guide, this reference book examines contemporary food issues – what some people call food politics. This paperback is ambitiously broad in its scope, covering every imaginable issue from the already well-documented (the power of supermarkets, food miles, the rise of obesity) to the trivial or even sensational (snippets on recommended ice-cream manufacturers, Delia and a mere two paragraphs on anorexia nervosa). In its favour, the book is bang up to date and impressive in its range of topics; less impressive is the reliance on assertion, with sources not as well attributed as they might be. For example, one graph shows the decrease, over the last century, in the time the British spend cooking, with no footnotes to indicate the source of this difficult-to-gather data (which could prompt the cynic to wonder: did they just make it up?). Some topics are covered too fleetingly to explore the complexities of the issues involved; for example, Jamie’s school dinners is covered in three short paragraphs. But it’s a good book if you just need to brush up on the key issues of the moment.
'The Settler's Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food'
The story of the South Asian community in East Africa is one of the greatest migration stories never told. A story of displacement, adversity, repression and triumph, its appearance in literature has been thin and fractured: until now. In this culinary memoir, journalist and political commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown uses the canvas of food to tell her personal history – and that of her kith and kin in Uganda and Britain. Coming from a fine writer, with a keen interest in cooking, this is in some ways an Indian version of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. Alibhai-Brown intersperses every few pages of narrative with a dish from her personal cookbook that is intrinsically linked to the action. So a recipe for watery dhal is preceded by a description of the dukanwallahs (shopkeepers) who formed the cornerstone of the community; the tale of a formidable local matriarch, Mama Kuba, is hemmed by her recipe for moon dhal bhajia; and an account of Alibhai-Brown’s last, troubled days in Uganda before Idi Amin’s expulsion order forcing Asians to leave Uganda features a recipe for biriyani.
'The National Cookbook'
The National Gallery Company
With its pillarbox-red cover and high-quality, heavy-gauge paper, this book feels almost as substantial as the National Gallery itself. If you’re wondering what the relationship is between the cookery book and the art gallery, it’s The National Dining Rooms, the acclaimed restaurant located in the National Gallery. This restaurant, run by Oliver Peyton (whose name appears on the cover), was the winner of a Time Out Eating & Drinking Award for Best British restaurant in 2007. The National Dining Rooms turns out carefully conceived modern British cooking that doesn’t fall into the usual pies and pasties clichés. The recipes in the book are an enticing read. Most were written by the Dining Rooms’ former chef Shaun Gilmore, who tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 2008. Dishes such as lavender ham, or potted rabbit with perry and prunes flavoured with spices (such as allspice and mace) much-used in medieval times, show the subtlety and artfulness of proper, traditional British cooking. Most of the recipes are short and easily achievable by the average home cook.
'Our Troubles with Food: Fears, Fads and Fallacies'
Nineteen-eighty-eight: few comments from Edwina Currie on the prevalence of salmonella in eggs nearly leads to the collapse of the British egg industry. First century AD: Greek physician Galen claims that ingesting fruit has potentially dangerous consequences, a false belief which remains largely unchallenged until the eighteenth century. The connection? Ill-informed speculation, that’s what. According to social historian Stephen Halliday’s chronicle of the past two millennia’s food fads, having more information doesn’t necessarily make our decisions smarter. Or our population healthier. For our nation’s madcap early nutrition scientists, their experiments were so ill-informed they included restrictive diets that led to fatal malnutrition. And while Halliday acknowledges improvements in the science of modern nutrition through the pioneering twentieth century work of Nobel Prize winner Krebs and biochemist team McCance and Widdowson, he argues that our problems are far from over.
'Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes'
‘Fat’. it’s not a title that’s going to have much appeal for the slimming, calorie-counting masses who assuage their food guilt by tucking into ‘99 per cent fat-free’ biscuits. We suspect the author, an aficionado of all things fatty, wouldn’t be saddened by the loss of fat-averse potential readers. The book sings the praises of all sorts of fat, with specific chapters on butter, poultry fat and beef and lamb fats. The introduction, which aims to argue against the continued nutritional demonisation of fat, is a bit of a polemic, with too little evidence to back up the too many assertions made about heart disease, cholesterol, and health. These subjects alone could fill several volumes. The book is stronger on the individual chapters, which are well researched and competently written. Pull-out boxes contain some fascinating facts on the likes of fat as a medium in Joseph Beuys’s sculptures, or the history of the fat-tailed sheep.
'The Clatter of Forks and Spoons'
When Richard Corrigan talks about poaching salmon, he doesn’t mean cooking it gently in water. His journey from bogland smallholding in County Meath to celebrity chef with restaurants off Park Lane and Piccadilly is a tale as suited to the silver screen as a cookbook. The family ate well but was cash-poor and didn’t have electricity until 1973: they spent weeks turf-cutting every August to provide fuel for cooking and heating. At school – which he left before turning 15 – Corrigan was called Bog Man. Tales of these times and learning to cook in Amsterdam and London are bound up with profiles of favoured food producers, culinary musings and, of course, recipes, which run from Irish rusticity to haute cuisine.
'River Cottage Handbook 3: Bread'
A sweet little bread bible, though more of a handy Gideon version than a whopping-great King James version. Daniel Stevens, a young baker at Hugh FW’s chicken sanctuary in Devon, is passionate when it comes to kneady tasks and has set out his plan for baking simple loaves at home in this handsome volume. It distils many of the more esoteric ideas and methods from other books and bakers into a neat, reassuring guide. The first 70 pages take you through most of the key ingredients and basic techniques you’ll need to bake with, in a smart fog-free manner, aided by Will Webb’s beautiful uncluttered page design. Lovely intimate photography by Gavin Kingcome gives you a sense of the texture in the dough and manages to capture the action when it’s frantic rather than when it’s over. Some recipes might be a wee bit heavy and worthy, but there’s a rugged ethos that's invigorating. If you've got the bread itch then this might soothe it.
'Venezia: Food and Dreams'
Venetians are ‘pensive and elusive’ and not very keen on sharing their recipes, according to Tessa Kiros in her opulent book on the food of Venice. It’s probably because we are wary of visitors who seem too ready to fall for travel-brochure Venice, while ignoring the more prosaic reality of a fragile city left to grapple with tides of tourists, floods, skyrocketing house prices and the loss of the neighbourhood shop to souvenir emporia. Not to mention the impossibility to find a table at one of the few decent restaurants without an advance reservation. Subtitled ‘Food and Dreams’, Kiros’ volume easily falls into the tourist cliché. It’s heavy on dreamy postcard-style jottings and sumptuous pictures, but light on insights about Venetian cooking and its unique character. All too often Kiros lazily writes ‘this is on every menu in Venice’, when introducing a recipe, without explaining the history or context of the dish she is enticing us to cook. But when she doesn’t get too distracted by her reverie, Kiros presents a good mix of traditional dishes along with more ambitious, yet workable dishes inspired by restaurant visits.
‘Gennaro’s Italian Home Cooking’
Simplicity is a virtue in Italian home cooking - as is kitchen parsimony, with an emphasis on inexpensive ingredients such as pasta, pulses and seasonal vegetables. This book, by Gennaro Contaldo, the man recognised as Jamie Oliver’s early mentor of Italian cooking, slots right into the current need for budget-conscious cooking. Yes, there are hundreds of Italian cookery books out there, but we were more impressed with the tempting recipes in this tome than with Contaldo’s links with celebrity. Recipes such as savoury escarole and smoked mozzarella pie, or braised oxtail with celery, hold plenty of appeal. Yet it’s the recipes that can be whipped up from a few tins and packets from the store cupboard that we’ll be experimenting with this winter: dishes such as chickpeas in anchovy sauce; cannellini bean and polenta bake; or risotto with chestnuts, sausage and porcini. This is the kind of food that’s served in Italian families but all too rarely in Italian restaurants in the UK. There’s also a great recipe for tuna preserved under oil that dates from the time before tinned tuna was available on every supermarket shelf.
‘John Torode’s Beef’
Australian-born chef John Torode has made British beef his business. His restaurant – Smith’s of Smithfield, near the famed meat market, is renowned for its well-presented good steaks, and this nicely-designed book follows suit. It starts out with the basics: a few words about sourcing beef, then a round-up of cattle breeds with cartoon-like drawings of each type before moving on to cuts of beef, with brief descriptions. Rather ingeniously, the book jacket can be unfolded into a full-size poster of a ‘meat map’ showing the part of the animal from which the various cuts come. This is not a butchery manual: the focus is on cooking and recipes and the tone is much more light-hearted than, say, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Meat Book’. Recipe-wise, there are a few Asian-inspired ones such as grilled beef with Thai flavours in rice paper, beef rendang with lemongrass and ginger, and Japanese style beef with tobiko (flying-fish roe). There are a few stocks, gravies and accompaniments too, but the recipes concentrate on hearty, meaty mains such as bollito misto, pies and pasties, and braised ox cheeks. And, of course, plenty on steaks, from clear instructions on how to fry, griddle or barbecue a steak properly, to recipes for carpet bag steak, the rarely seen double-cut porterhouse steak with béarnaise sauce, and T-bone steak as well as burgers and roasts.
‘Balance & Harmony: Asian Food’
This book wins full marks for presentation. It’s beautifully designed and made, with a padded cover, sumptuous photography by Earl Carter and striking imagery that conjures up 1930s Shanghai. Author Neil Perry is a respected chef, the owner of the Rockpool restaurant in Sydney, which is known for its Australia-meets-Asia style of cooking. We question the validity of an ‘Asian’ cookery book containing recipes from countries as gastronomically diverse as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea (as well as some recipes that seem to blur national boundaries). Imagine a similar book on ‘European’ cookery that presented recipes from Norway, through Scandinavia and the Baltic and from Portugal across the Mediterranean to Bulgaria. Asian food is such a vast and complex subject that it can’t help but seem oversimplified and somewhat diminished by such an approach. That said, the book is presented with some semblance of logic. It starts off with basic techniques and recipes for steaming rice, making stocks and sauces, making salads, steaming, stir-frying and braising, etc.
‘Sri Owen’s Indonesian Food’
Sri Owen is the renowned author of numerous cookery books, but this one is her most personal, with autobiographical detail about her early life in her native west Sumatra, her childhood and student years in Java, and her move to the UK after marrying Englishman Roger Owen. The first half of the book comprises personal stories and recipes: remembered dishes that her grandmother cooked, interpretations of the international food she ate as a student in Jakarta and some excellent recipes from central Java in the 1950s, brought up to date for the contemporary kitchen. The second half of the book deals more generally with Indonesian ingredients, including staples such as tempeh, rice and sago, plus cooking methods and techniques. There are lengthy explanations about each recipe but Owen is a great simplifier – ingredients lists are short and cooking methods are well explained and easy to follow.
'Recipes to Know by Heart'
There are hundreds of cookery books published in the UK each year, but very few of them actually tell readers how to conquer the fundamentals of cooking. This book is different. With an approach that is like a modern-day cross between Delia Smith and Mrs Beeton, author Xanthe Clay - cookery writer for the Saturday Telegraph – aims to set her readers free from the shackles of slavishly having to follow recipes without understanding the underlying principles. There are recipes, of course - about 40 of them, including the likes of basic white sauce, white bread, batter pancakes, sweet and savoury pies, gratins, Sunday roasts, noodle soups, chocolate mousse and basic cakes, plus plenty of themes and variations. It’s not just recipes though. Clay is a reliable teacher who ably explains the science of soufflés, or the proportions of flour, butter and sugar needed to make cakes, biscuits and crumble toppings. The idea is that, once you know a dozen or so common-sense recipes by heart ‘kitchen life will become immeasurably simpler’. It is precisely the sort of book that Delia used to write, before she disappointed us all by cheating.
‘Today's Special: A New Take on Bistro Food'
Prescient publishers are engaging with the economic downturn, with titles that encourage home cooks to get creative with cheaper cuts of meat and lesser-known fish. The author, chef Anthony Demetre, is a champion of the less revered bits of beast, which frequently play starring roles in the dishes he serves at his two restaurants, Arbutus and Wild Honey – both recipients of Time Out’s Best New Restaurant Award, in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Affordable meats such as rabbit, beef short ribs, oxtail, gurnard and chicken wings figure large in many of the book’s recipes, and look suitably glamorous in Simon Wheeler’s photography. Many of the recipes have the French touches for which Demetre is known (such as navarin of lamb with spring vegetables), but most are in traditional English territory, such as shepherd’s pie. Refreshingly for a cookery book by a professional chef, the majority of the recipes are well within the grasp of the keen home cook.
'My Favourite Ingredients'
This is the second cookery book by Skye Gyngell, chef of Petersham Nurseries café and cookery writer for The Independent. And it’s every bit as beautiful and inspiring as her first, ‘A Year in My Kitchen’ (2006). Gyngell has a real talent for putting together ingredients and here she focuses on her favourites – ostensibly 16 of them, but some, such as ‘fish and shellfish’, ‘pulses and grains’ and ‘cheese’ are very broad, so the recipes aren’t as limited as you might at first think. Other (more specific) ingredients include cherries, chocolate, asparagus among others, with the text preceding chapters on honey and olive oil being particularly well written. The range of recipes is admirably broad and palate-grabbingly enticing (we found the autumnal ones particularly so). Some ingredients, such as agretti (a kind of edible marsh grass) and Malenca (a cured meat from Lombardy) aren’t easy to find during the average supermarket grab, but then this book is probably more suited to the experienced cook who is after inspiration, advice on ingredients and brilliant recipe ideas, rather than the cook looking for quick and easy after-work suppers.
‘The Kitchen Revolution’
Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron
This cookery book is written by chef and former Guardian food columnist Rosie Sykes, documentary producer Polly Russell and kitchen-phobe Zoe Heron. The book’s concept is straightforward but ingenious: for each week of the year, there’s a plan of seven meals, based on seasonal ingredients and storecupboard stand-bys, complete with a weekly shopping list of fresh ingredients and essentials. The shopping list and recipes can be downloaded and printed from the dedicated website, thekitchenrevolution.co.uk . Book publishing can often seem as though it’s caught in a pre-digital age; this combination of book and website therefore marks a brave foray into multiplatform territory – a move that other publishers are certain to follow. Each week there’s a big meal from scratch, a ‘seasonal supper’ based on what’s best at that time of year, two meals based on leftovers and storecupboard ingredients, a larder feast (made mainly from storecupboard ingredients) and a ‘two for one’, half of which can be frozen to eat later in the week.
‘Anjum's New Indian’
Anjum Anand, the pop priestess of easy Indian cooking in the UK, continues her testament in this second book. It’s a follow-up to ‘Indian Food Made Easy’, a TV tie-in to her six-part BBC2 series of the same name in 2007. This sequel features more recipes from the BBC series, which have been scrumptiously styled and simply spelled out. Her cooking tends to be a blend of traditional and fusion, though some dishes, such as Indian shepherd’s pie or Keralan salmon wrap, are figments of a particularly British imagination. However, the book does do some justice to the diversity of Indian cuisine. She covers all bases from light snacks such as the Parsi dish taamota per eeda (which she calls tomato-poached eggs) or Maharashtrian ussal pav (spicy sprouted bean salad in bread roll) to mains such as Gujarati undhiyo (a vegetable stew). Anand tries hard to pepper her concoctions with personal experiences in the kitchen for an intimate culinary journey. Her inherited nostalgia from the days of the Raj manifests itself between the lines, particularly when she describes the way in which British memsahibs taught their cooks dishes from the West and in the process ‘enriched’ Indian cuisine.
Watching Richard Bertinet knead his brioche dough on the DVD that accompanies this excellent book is mesmerising. The French-born, Bath-based baker has an appealingly quiet authority you just don’t see in today’s TV chefs, and his unusual flourless grab-and-slam technique transforms a sticky puddle of yellow goo into a smooth cohesive ball. ‘Crust’ is the follow-up to Bertinet’s classy first book, ‘Dough’, which won him several prizes in the UK and USA. Working with Times food writer Sheila Keating, Bertinet has a clear, thorough and highly practical way of explaining things – from which bits of equipment are best to how to shape viennoiserie like a pro – all helped by some good, simple art direction and photography.
'The Acorn House Cookbook'
Arthur Potts Dawson
The metaphoric lovechild of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, the heavily PR’d Arthur Potts Dawson, chef and co-founder of ‘eco restaurant’ Acorn House , was naturally snapped up by a publisher and the spin-off cookbook has appeared less than 18 months after the restaurant opening. Pity they didn’t take more time to think it through.
Potts Dawson is no doubt well-intentioned but, for someone who purports to favour local foods, there are a hell of a lot of Mediterranean ingredients featured in this book – and at the restaurant. How’s that fresh, hours-old buffalo mozzarella travelling to his King’s Cross eatery then – Eurostar?
‘Viva la Revolución!’
Following ‘New Tapas’ and ‘Medina Kitchen’, Fiona Dunlop’s third cook book makes for a Mexico that’s a world away from packet taco mixes and pub servings of microwaved nachos. Divided into six of the central or southern states – the capital México DF, south central Puebla, west coastal Michoacán, sourthern Oaxaca and Veracruz, and the far easterly Yucatán – it’s evident that Dunlop travelled extensively while researching this book. Dunlop presents two local chefs for each area, such as DF’s Martha Ortiz and Oaxacan housewife Abigail Mendoza, thereby offering firsthand insights into the traditions and realities of modern Mexican cuisine. Recipes? Plenty of those, ranging from street food through to first class restaurant fare.
‘Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book’
‘A must for any serious cookbook collection’, runs the breathless blurb on the book’s jacket. This is not a new release, but a re-issued hardback of a book first published in 1970, written by a very well regarded author (but one that many readers may not be familiar with). It’s attractively packaged, though there are no pictures of the finished dishes, which may make it one for serious food-lovers rather than the sort who insist on full-colour plates and carefully numbered steps in their recipes. Several things are striking about the book. One is that, whether she’s writing about olives or recalling an English child’s first summer in France, Costa’s prose seems as fresh today as when it was first written, proving that really good food-writing never goes out of fashion. Like Elizabeth David, her main points of reference are France and Italy, so it’s recipes from the Mediterranean, as well as British classics, that are most strongly represented. Equally contemporary is the book’s approach: the focus is on seasonal eating and so it’s divided up into four seasonal chapters, with shorter sections on the likes of asparagus, strawberries, nuts, mussels, etc.
‘Delizia!: The epic history of the Italians and their food’
John Dickie is an academic specialising in Italian studies at University College, London. His previous book was ‘Cosa Nostra’, a history of the Sicilian Mafia. In Delizia he turns his critical, journalistic eye to Italian food – near-inevitable for anyone with a serious interest in Italy, it seems. Dickie has a highly readable style that keeps the pages turning but, being an academic, this book is made of far sturdier stuff than some of the recent lightweight works that have been written about Italian food after a whirlwind three-week trip. Dickie unravels the history of pasta, discrediting the theory that Marco Polo brought noodles back with him from China, ponders the importance of (and misconceptions about) regional Italian food, and recounts that Englishmen travelling to Italy on a Grand Tour found the food in the Italian countryside so vile that they actually sought ought inns run by other English people to avoid the local fare. An informative and fun read, recommended for anyone who wants to get beyond the clichés and find out more about Italian food. Susan Low
Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, chefs at Ottolenghi, are purveyors of some of the city’s most beautiful food . The window displays at their four London cafés, which often feature their trademark cloud-like giant meringues, can set mouths watering at 20 paces. In this sleek, good-looking volume they spill the beans on some of their best-known dishes. Tamimi and Ottolenghi are both from Jerusalem, Tamimi of Palestinian heritage and Ottolenghi with grandparents who hailed from Germany and Italy. The recipes are a glorious mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Californian influences, with a smattering of northern Europe (particularly in the baking department). It’s simple but intriguing food, and often features unusual ingredients or combinations, such as sour cherries with Gorgonzola or Camargue red rice with quinoa.
Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History
By now the 'Animal/Vegetable/Mineral That Changed the World’ format is a well-known construct for authors and publishers. This not the first book published about the spud’s place in history, yet Reader’s book is a good read. The book traces the tuber’s rise from its humble home in the South American altiplano to world vegetable-patch domination.Reader has a breadth of knowledge in subjects as diverse as botany, anthropology, ecology, history and political sociology, so this book goes well beyond the scope of kitchen book. He writes cogently about the post-revolution potato famine of the nascent Soviet Union and about the manner in which science was sacrificed to political doctrine in both the Soviet Union and Mao-era China, resulting in the deaths of millions through famine.
Chitrita Banerji moved from Bengal to the United States as a student, but too late: she had already caught the Bengali obsession with food. This stood her in good stead as she has since become one of the acknowledged experts, and certainly the best writer, on Bengali food. This latest book is a departure for her. For the first time, she ventures beyond her familiar West Bengal, to other areas of India with different culinary and social customs. It is a real anthropological exploration of where regional Indian food is today, but it’s also autobiographical, and describes her personal journey too. Some themes recur: that Indian food, like all cuisines, is in constant flux; and that there is no such thing as ‘Indian food’, as the sub-continent is so vast, and ethnically and religiously diverse. Anyone who has read Salman Rushdie or William Dalrymple will already know that much. But Banerji has a special gift for making the cuisines and the dishes come to life: she puts them into the contexts you find them in today, and also makes the dishes sound mouthwatering. This is a rare gift.
The Oxford Companion to Italian Food
This is the first in a series of regional reference guides from OUP, and this Italian guide is written by food historian Gillian Riley. As you’d expect from the stable mate of the food-lovers’ bible ‘The Oxford Companion to Food’ by Alan Davidson, the research is meticulous, the scholarship exacting, and the writing pure pleasure. Riley’s wry, unstuffy sense of humour glints brightly through lengthy entries for ingredients, regions, produce, dishes, practices and concepts and contexts that define ‘Italian’ food. Ever wondered what the difference is between ‘cucina delle nonne’ (‘granny food’) and ‘cucina povera’ (‘poor food’)? You’ll find out in glorious detail here, along with the advice that the concept of granny food ‘needs to be taken with a generous pinch of peperoncino’ – because Riley’s quite a one for debunking myths. Alphabetical entries make for intriguing juxtapositions: ‘meatballs’ are followed by ‘Medici, Caterina de’ – who the author describes as having ‘pop-eyed, jowly, Medici looks’ – no hero-worship there, then.
In Defence of Food
Michael Pollan’s 2006 book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ is one of the best-researched and most thought-provoking food books of our time: a well-constructed argument against agribusiness in the US, and explanation of how the current situation arose. Pollan’s follow-up, ‘In Defence of Food’ – recently excerpted in the The Guardian – is this time an attack on the nutrition industry. Part of the problem with this subject is that he tries to marshal hard facts and figures about what little we know about nutrition and the Western diet – a task as hopeless as herding cats. ‘Defence’ also reads like a response to the question raised by his earlier book, ‘So what should we eat?’ To which his answer is: ‘Eat Food. Mostly plants. Not too much.’ To back up his assertions he chooses facts that fit his arguments, mostly against what he calls ‘nutritionism’. He argues that the dietary diseases of our modern age are caused by a combination of factors including reductionist nutritional ‘science’, the sensational reporting of these nutritional studies, and the industry’s desire to sell us more junk food.
Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper
Author Fuchsia Dunlop is a young Englishwoman who bridges East and West. She is already the leading writer on Chinese food in the English language, and her previous books – ‘Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook’, and especially ‘Sichuan Cookery’ – have helped rank her as one of the UK’s top Chinese food experts. But this latest book is not an ode to China’s regional cooking – it’s the story of how Dunlop fell in love with China, and illuminates the complexities of both Chinese food and Chinese culture. Although not unique, Dunlop’s story is nevertheless very unusual, and the early chapters detail how she ended up living in Chengdu in the south-western province of Sichuan, learning Mandarin, and training to be a chef in the city’s chef training college – she became the first westerner to successfully graduate. But the real journey is allowing herself to eat and think like a Chinese person, and discard her Western prejudices and squeamishness about the very different Chinese approach to food. We travel with her as she learns to relish eating roasted rabbit heads, a late-night snack in Chengdu; as she adjusts to the appreciation of gristly and rubbery textures; and to the unsentimental treatment of animals that in the West we consider cruel.
The River Cottage Fish Book
‘What kinds of fish are okay to eat?’ is a question that many people pose and few are qualified to answer. Environmentally aware shoppers know that stocks are dwindling and that ‘solutions’ to overfishing, such as fish farming, also cause problems for the environment. So what’s a piscivore to do? You could do worse that arm yourself with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest book. Written with angler and journalist Nick Fisher, it follows in the same vein as Mr River Cottage’s excellent ‘Meat’ book. This new work doesn’t shy away from the complex issues surrounding the fishing industry, such as declining fish stocks, pollution, fishing quotas, and fish and human health. It’s assuredly written and enlightening, even if it makes for depressing and angering reading in some places.
Sam and Sam Clark
The ‘East’ of the title could denote the eastern Mediterranean, from where many of the recipes in this book hail, but it’s more likely that this ‘east’ refers to the former site of the Manor Garden allotments in east London, the source of inspiration – and much of the photography – for this book by the chef-proprietors of Moro. For followers of the Sams, whose two previous cookery books have been critically well received, there’s more in the same vein – mouthwatering, gloriously spiced recipes from the eastern Med and Moorish-influenced Iberia, with a seasoning of food history adding a certain erudition. This time, foraged foods and unusual veg such as artichoke leaves, onion tops, wild poppy leaves and vine leaves figure large, giving a creative, waste-not-want-not edge to the dishes. The vegetable dishes are the most inspiring, although there are fish and meat starters and mains, plus soups, sauces and dessert recipes. Some of the recipes may seem familiar, but that’s to be expected in the Clark’s cooking, which has a very strong identity. A Moro book without, say, a tahini sauce recipe just wouldn’t do.
Think the food we eat today is adulterated and unsafe to eat? Read this book and be amazed our ancestors ever survived to their next meal. Food cheating and counterfeiting has been around as long as agriculture (and probably longer), and in this book author Bee Wilson picks out some of the more recent and better documented examples to amaze and inform. Wilson’s food writing is among the best in Britain, as readers of her column ‘The Kitchen Thinker’ in Stella magazine can testify. A former research fellow in the history of ideas at Cambridge University, her intellectual rigour and disciplined research skills prove a great match with her seamless and engaging writing – she manages to bring history alive, and leaves you wanting more. From lead and arsenic in Victorian sweets to the perils of food scares which can paradoxically change the diet the nation for the worse, Wilson manages to uncover new material, and, more importantly, present it in an entertaining way.
Regular Time Out food writer Roopa Gulati grew up in Cumbria, but learned to cook Indian food from her Punjabi mother – then fine-tuned the recipes while working in India for 18 years as a cook and TV chef. This small hardback is the pick of her favourite recipes, from classics such as a stunning version of lamb biriani to novelties such as okra stir-fried with dried mango powder (a taste and texture sensation). It doesn’t have the scope of Madhur Jaffrey’s books, but beautiful photography and very clear recipes make it easy to achieve the correct result. Few recent Brit-Asian cookery books have recipes that work as well as these; it’s easy to grasp the most complex recipes and get gasps of admiration for the results.
Wild Garlic, Gooseberries… and me
What more can be said on the subject of growing, cooking and eating vegetables? Quite a lot, it seems. The author is chef-owner of Café Paradiso, a vegetarian restaurant in Cork, Ireland, and he has previously published two other well-received cookery books: ‘Café Paradiso’ and ‘Paradiso Seasons’. A natural story-teller, Cotter doesn’t believe in writing a single paragraph when ten would be more fun. Unusually, there’s far more prose than recipes in this book, so it’s just as well that he (unlike many chefs) can actually write. This is a quirky, personal book, one that defies a structure that most book publishers would insist on, such as chapters divided ‘logically’ – alphabetically, say, or by seasons. Here the four chapters, arranged rather whimsically, cover green vegetables, foraged foods, garden-cultivated vegetables, and foods grown in the dark. Great for telling a tale, perhaps, but not so helpful when you want a recipe for courgettes (‘green’ or ‘cultivated’?) or mushrooms (‘foraged’ or ‘dark-grown’?) Arbitrariness aside, the author’s love of all things live and edible comes through clearly and there’s plenty to capture the cook’s, as well as the reader’s, attention.
Persia in Peckham: Recipes from Persepolis
This is a Londoner’s cookbook if ever there was one. The ‘Persepolis’ in the subtitle is a Peckham-based purveyor of Iranian foodstuffs and handicrafts. The owner, Sally Butcher – beat that for an east London surname – is the owner of the shop. She’s a one-time chef who married into an Iranian family and learned ‘by osmosis’ the language, culture and recipes of ancient Persia and modern-day Iran. Butcher says that the book aims to be a ‘kitchen-table book, rather than a coffee-table book’, and it is. There are no lusty food- images (though there are some nice line drawings) and the author has a writing style that’s witty and charmingly irreverent - so too with the recipes. From kebabs and khoreshes (stews) and kuftehs (stuffed rissoles or meatballs) to pulaos (rice dishes), classic Persian recipes make up the bulk of the book. Yet the recipes aren’t precious or overinvolved, and are written in a way that’s likely to encourage neophytes.
Francesco da Mosto
Following his artistic journeys through Venice and Italy, Venetian architect and author Francesco da Mosto has turned his attention to the food of his home town. His latest book features a good selection of classic recipes from Venice and its surrounding region, the Veneto, while the accompanying anecdotes provide an entertaining insight into this lesser-known Italian regional cuisine. However, da Mosto can be so entrenched in the comfort of his own kitchen that he often forgets that he’s writing for an audience unfortunate enough not to have the abundant, relatively inexpensive fresh seafood and produce of Rialto market at their doorstep. As a result, a few recipes feature ingredients that are either impossible to find outside Venice or are extremely costly, if they can be tracked down. After all, even Venetian expats have resorted to timing visits home to quell their cravings for local cuisine highlights such as moeche, deep-fried soft-shell crabs that are caught during a brief moulting season in spring and autumn.
Babette de Rozières
Caribbean food lovers often complain about the paucity of good books on the cuisine, and nowhere are the complaints louder than from the Caribbean diaspora where the need to reproduce the taste of home is strongly felt. ‘Creole’, by Guadeloupe-born chef Babette de Rozières should go some way to redressing the balance. This is not is a clichéd jerk chicken and ackee cookbook but a successful exploration of some the region’s strongest ethnic and cultural influences through the food. De Rozières, owner of the popular La Table de Babette in Paris, has compiled an amazing collection of Caribbean-inspired dishes. The 120-page fish chapter for example, is so comprehensive that it could have been a book on its own. One of this book’s strong points is that most, if not all of the recipes can be easily reproduced in the UK, as many of the ingredients are either found in good supermarkets or easily substituted. Creole food, De Rozières says, ‘awakens the senses and never leaves you indifferent’ – and neither does this book, with its vibrant and mouthwatering photos that truly capture the colour and excitement of Caribbean food.
If you’re dreading the long, cold, and oh-so-dark evenings of winter, Bill Granger’s new book will prove as essential as a large bottle of St John’s Wort. Thought by industry pundits to be ‘the next Jamie Oliver’, Granger’s last book ‘Everyday’ was a hit, even though his TV shows have not been televised in the primetime evening slots. This book proffers more of the same; it’s themed around holiday cooking but Granger’s food is always so breezily uncomplicated there’s not much to pare back for lazy days. (He does tackle Christmas, but it’s Aussie-style glazed ham and salads, not the innovative ways with turkey and Brussels sprouts you may be seeking.) Ideas we love: chicken burgers with lemongrass and lime (from the barbie, mate); sweet potatoes with coriander and preserved lemon; green ratatouille; hazelnut and fig cake, and a coconut ice cream that demands only three ingredients. Winter gets a look-in with chapters called ‘Rug-Up-Warm Soups’ and ‘Fireside’, but Aussie expats be warned: the beachside photography may induce homesickness.
No ifs, no buts, no qualifications – this is a great cookery book. Being book-sized, not cookbook-sized, with pretty etchings on the cover, it looks somewhat like a trendy reprint of a Jane Austen novel. Inside, food writer Joanna Weinberg introduces her love affair with food and recipes. So far, so Stinking Bishop. However, Weinberg soon gets to the point – how to entertain your loved ones at home without reaching for a Valium sandwich. No matter how busy your life gets, she begs, don’t give up cooking for your friends, and she offers her favourite roast chicken recipe as an easy fall-back. Around 50 of the book’s 288 pages are given over to tips and etiquette, which sounds dreary but is actually helpful; from entertaining in very small spaces (she once lived in NYC) to ‘who sits where and why it matters’, for instance. Recipes are broken into categories (supper, parties, comfort cooking, barbecues…). Her gorgeous slow-roast lamb with melting vegetables proved too tempting for the nominally veggie member of our party, and ‘Sex and the City’ fans will appreciate having the Magnolia Bakery cupcake recipe within easy reach. ‘How to Feed Your Friends with Relish’, to give the book its full title, will go a long way in helping you successfully do just that. Simone Baird
Dinner in a Dash
Lindsey Bareham’s ‘Dinner in a Dash’ shows how to put a three-course dinner party for six together in under an hour. But this isn’t about seeing how much culinary activity you can squeeze into 60 minutes (a common mistake with time-focused cookbooks). Bareham – a former food editor of Time Out – has an original and highly experienced take on when it’s worth putting in the effort and when it’s not. She shows how to make chicken liver pâté from scratch in 15 minutes, but includes the likes of canned cream rice (jazzed up with pistachios, fresh cream and orange flower water), Doritos hot salsa dip and frozen broccoli florets on her sensibly organised shopping lists. A great choice if you’d like to have people round after work more often, and keenly priced too.