From books that aim to make food waste a thing of the past to recipes that embrace flexitarian eating, spectacular sugary feats and lessons in frugality, read on for our round-up of some of the year’s best cookbooks.
The Flexible Vegetarian
Jo Pratt (Frances Lincoln)
Most of us know that for the good of the planet and health, we should consume less meat. Yet doing so proves difficult: we shop, cook and eat on autopilot. What this book does is shake things up a little with a welcome injection of plant-based, pulse-orientated inspiration by way of dishes such as American pancakes with tofu bacon; fried pickles with beetroot and dill salad; and sweet potato and chipotle bean tacos. As well as getting those vegetarian juices flowing, the recipes are reliable and versatile, with plenty of suggestions for adding meat or fish if required. With its presentation tips and attainable yet innovative ideas, this is the sort of book that makes the home cook look (and feel) good.
Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi
Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (Ten Speed Press)
Yotam Ottolenghi has contributed much to the culinary world – not least bringing the likes of pomegranate molasses, sumac and orange blossom to wider attention – but it is those beautiful, billowing meringues with their crisp sugar shells, and soft marshmallow centres that still cause people to stop and stare. It is fitting then that his fifth cookbook, written in conjunction with long-time collaborator and pastry chef Helen Goh, is dedicated to all things sweet. It is a stunner of a book. The images are almost intoxicatingly beautiful, the photography and styling is modern and the writing is charming. From cookies and cakes to tarts, pies and showstopper desserts, the recipes are filled with signature Ottolenghi flourishes and flavours. Standout gems include a cinnamon pavlova topped with clouds of praline cream and a crown of fresh figs, a luxurious Middle Eastern millionaire’s shortbread and a rosewater-scented coffee-and-walnut layer cake that will cause all the coffee cakes you make in the future to come up short by comparison. It is a book that celebrates cooking, eating, sugar and everything indulgent, and it is all the better for it.
Kaukasis the Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Through Georgia, Azerbaijan & Beyond
Olia Hercules (Mitchell Beazley)
A cuisine that has really come to global attention in the past year or so is Caucasian food, in particular Georgian food. In Kaukasis The Cookbook, Ukrainian-born Olia Hercules pays a sensitive homage to the earthy flavours, clever ingredient combinations, age-old dishes, fabulous produce and rich cultural history of this region. She is a natural storyteller and, as such, this book isn’t just about cooking – it is a love story to a region and its people told through food. Immerse yourself in its pages by all means, but bring it into your kitchen, too. The likes (and delights) of khinkali, khachapuri and plov plump with dried fruit and nuts are not to be missed and tell a narrative of their own. But be warned: buy Kaukasis The Cookbook and you are likely to be seized by a desire to embark on an exploratory eating tour of Caucasia.
Comfort: Food to Soothe the Soul
John Whaite (Kyle Books)
If there is ever a time of year for UAE residents to embrace cold-weather food, then it is during the next couple of months. By cold-weather food, we mean dishes that warm from within: roasts and simple bakes, satisfying soups and one-pot meals that are best eaten gathered around the table en famille. Courgetti, spiralised noodles and pizza bases made from blitzed cauliflower have their place in the way we cook and eat now, but so too does wholesome food rooted in tradition. And that is exactly what the recipes in this book provide. Simple pleasures, simply executed – no fuss, fads or newfangled techniques required, just reassuring familiarity. That isn’t to say that the food in Comfort is in any way staid or boring. Clever riffs on classic dishes – such as whole chicken simmered in gently spiced milk until the meat is gorgeously moist and tender; or baked beans on toast with butterbeans, Romesco sauce, salty Manchego cheese and a drizzle of honey – make this book well worth purchasing.
Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant)
While we may rhapsodise over sushi, sashimi, seaweed salads and miso-glazed fish, how many of us attempt to cook Japanese food ourselves? There is something about this cuisine that feels intimidating; even beyond the capabilities of the amateur cook. Well, chopsticks at the ready, because with Japaneasy, Tim Anderson is here to put that right. He sets about demystifying dishes and setting readers at ease immediately. Lacking a sushi mat? Don’t let that stop you: cling film and a tea towel will do the job just fine. Worried about sourcing obscure ingredients? Stock up on seven key items – Japanese soy sauce, miso, rice vinegar, dashi et al – and you will be well on your way. Handily, the recipes are all rated according to difficulty level: Japanese potato salad is “less difficult than that other potato salad you make”; quick pickles are “totes not difficult”; and candied sweet potato wedges come with a self-explanatory note that “this dish was invented for college students”. The tone is fun, the recipes work and the book includes a game-changing method for cooking edamame beans – what is not to like about that?
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At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking
Nigella Lawson (Penguin)
Nigella Lawson needs no introduction. Although she tends to divide opinion – for some, she is the doyenne of the particular field, while for others there is something about her that simply grates – there is no denying that when she releases a new book, people pay attention. If you are not a fan, feel free to skip on to the next review, because At My Table offers more of the same from the domestic goddess. Lawson has always been a champion of home cooking and the home cook. Her approach is relaxed, her recipes are unpretentious and her attitude is that cooking and eating should be pleasurable. With her, you can afford to be a little slapdash and make a mess in the kitchen, your presentation doesn’t have to be perfect and the food will still taste good. Quite frankly, it is a welcome antidote to the exacting, tyrannical tone often found in the cookbooks of professional chefs. At My Table is peppered with stories, anecdotes and asides (far more so than the average cookbook), and the recipes are simple, if not entirely ersatz – Lawson recently caused a Twitter storm when she added double cream to spaghetti carbonara, outraging most of Italy in the process. From Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake to a Moroccan vegetable pot; meatballs with orzo to tomato and fried bread hash, the concern here it not with authenticity, but with generous, family-friendly food that anyone can make.
The Art of the Larder
Claire Thomson (Quadrille)
Stock your kitchen cupboards with the basics and the theory goes that you are never far from a meal. And yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that faced with shelves groaning with dried pulses, spices, nuts and seeds inspiration is all that quick to come by. Well, thanks to The Art of the Larder, now it is. This is a book dedicated to practical, everyday cooking that will get you through the slog of weeknight dinners day after day, week after week. Dishes either combine larder and freezer essentials (listed and explained at the beginning of the book), with a few additional fresh ingredients, or rely entirely on those aforementioned staples. It might not be the most glamorous approach on this list, but perhaps that makes it more worthy – it is easy-to-make fabulous food using best-quality, premium products, after all. What is much harder is creating a dish using ingredients that might not have the wow factor on their own, but when matched cleverly with other items, come together in some sort of delicious culinary alchemy. As this book shows, there really is an art to that.
Too Good To Waste: How To Eat Everything
Victoria Glass (Watkins Books)
There is sadly no escaping it: food wastage is a major issue that not only makes a mockery of our individual food budgets, but is also having a hugely detrimental impact on the environment. While careful planning and shopping goes a way towards reducing the amount of food that we throw away, sometimes a little extra help is required. Enter Victoria Glass’s Too Good To Waste. If there is a way to use up an ingredient or get more from it, Glass has thought of it. While we sre probably all au fait with turning stale bread into crumbs or baking banana bread with overripe bananas, the creative suggestions in this book take the notion to a whole new level and will please thrifty eaters and conscientious cooks. Did you know, for example, that pumpkin skin can be used to form the base of a sticky-sweet chutney? And would you think of using the leftover seeds from the same vegetable to make energy balls? In these pages, soups and fritters are conjured up from bean pods that would otherwise have been destined for the bin, and limp lettuce leaves are braised with herbs instead of being discarded. The great thing about all is that, once you start soaking up these ideas, you will begin putting them into practice without even thinking about it: if trimmed carrot tops can be baked to make crisps, then beetroot leaves can, too, and so on.