x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Top cookbooks for Christmas

The volume of cookbooks on offer can be rather overwhelming. Here is our list of the top cookbooks on the shelves for the festive season.

Rice cakes with roasted onions, red chilli pepper and sesame from Momofuku by David Chang, one of the most in-demand chefs around today.
Rice cakes with roasted onions, red chilli pepper and sesame from Momofuku by David Chang, one of the most in-demand chefs around today.

For the food enthusiast, there are few more welcome presents than a brand-new cookbook to pore over and experiment with. Often though, the sheer volume and variety of glossy tomes on offer can be rather overwhelming. Whether you're treating yourself, or someone else, inside is our pick of the best cookbooks of 2010.

 

Kitchenella

by Rose Prince

Dh163

Kitchenella is a sensible, intelligently written book, intended for the cook who needs to conjure up meals daily, and wants to do so sensibly, nutritiously and without too much fuss.

This book has a real narrative voice to it. Kitchenella reads like a wise meditation on life and food, beginning with Prince lamenting the loss of the oral recipe tradition - where recipes are passed down at the cooker from mothers and grandmothers.

This is a thoughtful cookbook, with a sensible core message. It is an excellent choice for busy parents who still want to feed their children fresh, healthy, interesting fare. The chapters are arranged in a no-nonsense, helpful fashion under headers such as: Thrifty Cooking, Dishes to Tempt Children, Nourishing Lunches and Suppers etc. Refreshingly, Prince doesn't allow herself to be presented as an unrealistic culinary paragon. Instead, she draws on her experience not only as an esteemed cookery writer, but as a working mother with young children to contend with, and the book is all the more useful for this.

 

Food from Many Greek Kitchens

by Tessa Kiros

Dh163

If there was ever a book to evoke memories of hazy summers devoted to island-hopping in Greece, or to make you book your next holiday, then Food from Many Greek Kitchens is it.

Kiros is part Greek and this book is something of an ode to the country. It is filled with sun-drenched photographs: shots of tables with mismatched cutlery, slightly battered boats bobbing away in a harbour, austere elderly Greek women dressed in black and, of course, plenty of good food.

Some of the dishes may take a bit of time to prepare but they are meant to be approached in a relaxed, unhurried fashion and eaten at a similarly leisurely pace. The recipes are traditional for the most part and have often been absorbed from older generations, recommended by friends, or picked up on Kiros's travels.

The only criticism that I have is of the font the book uses. Turquoise blue and curvaceous might well be aesthetically pleasing, but it is difficult to decipher. So be warned, you may have to squint a little when reading the recipes, but the effort is worth it.

 

At Elizabeth David's Table: Her Very Best Everyday Recipes

by Elizabeth David

Dh163

At Elizabeth David's Table was released to celebrate the 60th anniversary of David's first seminal book Mediterranean Cooking. Her long-time editor Jill Norman selected the recipes and the dishes were captured (in colour for the first time) by the esteemed photographer David Loftus. As a result, this book is a fitting tribute to the woman who brought life, and more importantly olive oil, to British cooking in the post-war period.

David's knowledge and passion are quite remarkable. She lived a rather peripatetic life and these experiences obviously shaped her cooking; you not only feel the influence of the Mediterranean here, but also the Middle East. David wrote with passion, honesty and verve - qualities that instantly inspire trust in her reader.

The really impressive thing about this cookbook, though, is that despite some of the recipes being written 60 years ago, they don't feel dated, just reliable.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi Dh163

Plenty is a book to be savoured. It is the follow-up to the bestselling Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, with attention being turned to the humble vegetable. Or the not-so-humble vegetable, if the stylish pictures are anything to go by.

Ottolenghi is renowned for using everyday ingredients, in all manner of imaginative ways, and true to form Plenty provides vegetable recipes to get excited about. The food is vibrant, punchy and packed to the rafters with flavour; even ardent carnivores will find it hard to flick through the book without being tempted by the beautiful, clean photographs and intriguing ideas.

Many of Ottolenghi's dishes have a Middle Eastern influence to them, with recipes for beetroot, yoghurt and preserved lemon relish, watercress, pistachio and orange blossom salad and burnt aubergine with tahini among others. This makes Plenty an especially apt purchase for someone living in the UAE, where we have spices such as sumac and za'atar available in abundance.

 

Leon Book 2: Naturally Fast Food

by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent

Dh130

The first Leon restaurant was founded in 2004, based on the premise that fast food could be both tasty and healthy.

Bursting with bright colours, funky bold designs and even bolder flavours, the second Leon cookbook is divided into two halves. Fast Food provides all manner of recipes that can be prepared in 20 minutes (they can take longer to cook), while Naturally Fast Food offers ideas for dishes that can be cooked in advance and quickly reheated when required, or prepared and then left to bubble away on the stove for a good few hours.

Visually, the book is a fun mishmash of photographs of friends and family, sketches, handwritten notes and food shots. The recipes, meanwhile, are healthy and hearty, fresh and interesting. The book is filled with quirky touches and helpful asides: how to transform a soup with the right choice of "topper", a list of simple things that taste good with pasta, a gentle reminder that we should think of meat as a side dish, rather than the main component of a meal etc.

If you can cope with the envy incited by all the pictures of Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent's brood of children and wonderfully eclectic bunch of friends (all growing their own vegetables and offering recipes from travels across the globe), then the Leon cookbook is a an excellent buy.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by Rene Redzepi, Dh228

The cookbook, featuring food from what is regarded by many as the best restaurant in the world, was always set to be an impressive one. Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine doesn't disappoint. This is a special, sumptuous, weighty book with page after page of awe-inspiring photographs of stunning food and haunting shots of the sparse Danish landscape.

The recipes are, of course, wildly innovative. Rene Redzepi is renowned for his cutting-edge cooking and dedication to using seasonal, local ingredients, which his chefs often forage for themselves.

Unless your kitchen is kitted out with Paco Jet and Thermomix machines, you probably won't be doing all that much cooking from this book, though. Some of the recipes look deceptively short, but a brief scan through them will reveal that they require a number of processes and some rather difficult-to-source ingredients (bleak roe from Sweden, xanthan gum and birch water to name a few). Nevertheless, this books provides a detailed history of the Noma restaurant, explains Redzepi's philosophy and is lovely to leaf through and gain inspiration from. The perfect coffee table purchase.

 

Keys to Good Cooking

by Harold McGee

Dh163

McGee is one of the masters of kitchen science; this is the man who got Heston Blumenthal interested in the subject after all. While his encyclopaedic tome McGee On Food and Cooking will remain a classic, this is a smaller, more manageable offering and it is no less informative. If most cookbooks teach you how to achieve something, then Keys to Good Cooking (which incidentally doesn't contain any recipes), enlightens you as to why things happen.

This book is important for cooks because once you understand the reason why a sauce splits or a cake fails to rise, it is infinitely easier to prevent. Thankfully, McGee is also able to distill scientific facts into manageable, reader-friendly prose. Both the inexperienced and the more confident cook will benefit from this book; read it through once and then refer back to it when necessary.

Don't be put off by the stern design; the white pages and lack of illustrations might seem unusual, but it still contains some gems of information.

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver, Dh169

Currently riding high at the top of the UK bestseller list, Oliver's latest offering looks set to become the biggest-selling non-fiction book since records began. So, does it live up to expectations?

Oliver says that 30 Minute Meals is designed to get us cooking in a whole new way. The recipes are divided into a number of "set menus"and he promises that you can produce not just one, but several dishes (most often main course, side dish and dessert) in just half an hour.

The ideas in this book are excellent. Oliver sources from a number of different cuisines and while the recipes aren't authentic, they are interesting and taste great.

But - and I say this as someone who is relatively competent with a chopping knife - abandon all hope of getting the whole meal on the table in half an hour. Follow the organisational tips, just don't set the stop clock. When experimenting with this book, I found myself becoming increasingly stressed as the seconds slipped by and the 30-minute mark loomed. I also made silly mistakes because I was rushing. Far better to take your time and do things properly; even if it takes you 45 minutes or an hour to get the food on the table, it's still an impressive feat.

 

Momofuko

by David Chang and Peter Meehan

Dh163

The Momofuko cookbook, and indeed David Chang himself, may not be to everyone's taste: he is apparently the new bad boy of cooking, after all. One thing is for sure though, Chang is one of the hottest, most in-demand chefs around at the moment.

This is a man who challenged the notion that to eat the best food, you need to do so in an old-fashioned, fine-dining environment. Chang didn't chase Michelin stars or fancy culinary accolades, instead they found him; notably at his 12-stool restaurant Momofuku Ko.

This energetic book contains 50 of the most popular recipes from his various Korean-style kitchens. Make no mistake, they are ambitious; perfect for the devoted, experienced home cook who dreams of pulling up a chair at one of Chang's eateries, or has done so before and is tormented by a desire to emulate the food. The introductions to various recipes are written in Chang's trademark candid, creative manner and although they are lengthy, and sometimes complicated, they offer a great insight into both his mind and his kitchen.

 

The Flavour Thesaurus

by Niki Segnit

Dh124

This is a brilliant book: amusing, informative and unique. Segnit has taken 99 ingredients, divided them into 16 sections (under flavour descriptions such as "mustardy", "earthy", "floral fruity"), and then cross-referenced them with each other. The result is a thesaurus of flavours, packed with pairings that work well together.

Obviously it is not exhaustive, but it is nonetheless extensive. To give an example, when the focus is on coffee, she discusses why the roasted brown beans are so well-matched with hazelnuts, explains that in Norway, coffee and goat's cheese are enjoyed in a successful dessert symphony, and proposes that matching caffeine and red meat is best left to the professional chefs.

Each entry is accompanied by a few informative lines of text, offering a piece of history, a short recipe or observation. Segnit has a lovely talent for figurative language; truffles and mushrooms are described as "kissing cousins", she credits capers with being able to "revitalise a bland meat dish or an old-fashioned seafood cocktail like a new accessory perks up an old dress", and you can't help but smile when she muses that together chocolate and almonds taste like parental guilt: "The ingredients in the Toblerone your Dad grabbed at the airport instead of a pair of maracas or a genuine bear's paw."