Food writer Nicola Miller takes us on a journey around the world to enjoy a taste of different cultures
There's something particularly vibrant and refreshing about these cookbooks as summer appears; ranging far and wide they allow us to travel vicariously through food from other cultures. In the main, I have chosen books published from March onwards although Ed Smith's Borough Market Cookbook is a notable exception. Published late last year, my copy arrived too late to include in my last cookbook review but it was too good to leave out.
The Borough Market Cookbook by Ed Smith
Those of us who shop in markets know how important they are and the one in Borough Market in London is world class, having been going for well over a thousand years now. Yes, it might be thronged with tourists but what hasn't been lost is its role in gathering together the very best in produce from British growers and artisans whose expertise, author Ed Smith highlights in a series of essays about life at Borough alongside some beautifully written profiles of the traders themselves. Ed is no slouch when it comes to culinary expertise either; his first book 'On the Side' is one of my most consulted and in this, his second, he has devised a series of seasonal recipes showcasing Borough produce (although do not fear, these recipes are easily adapted to your own market's offerings). I'm particularly drawn to air-dried ham with honey butter and radishes, creamed corn with lime and chili squid, a carrot-top pesto served with pot-roast chicken, tomatoes on tahini, and a treble expresso and chocolate tart.
(Hodder & Stoughton £25)
The Vinegar Cupboard by Angela Clutton
I used to drink vinegar as a kid and so did my mother. I don't know what that says about us but it's unsurprising that I read Angela's book in one greedy gulp. Winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award, The Vinegar Cupboard shows us the versatility of vinegar as both ingredient in the cooking process and as a finisher, contributing to the overall balance of a dish. Vinegar flavour and matching wheels, notes on tasting and storing, and guides to the categories of vinegar (fruits, balsamic, sherry, wine, and cider, grain, malt, extracted and infused) are matched with excellent recipes designed to showcase each variety. These recipes reflect the vinegar world map at the start of her book and there's not one I don't want to cook. Roasting tin gravy made with the vinegar of your choice, Sunday cockles with vermouth vinegar (from Catalunya), parched peas with bacon, lemongrass and rocket (using good old malt vinegar!), and a gorgeous elderberry pontac sauce from the eighteenth century for sausages, game or even langoustines all caught my eye though. This is more than a cookbook; it is a kitchen manual that will last a lifetime and beyond.
(Bloomsbury Absolute, £26)
The Island Kitchen by Selina Periampillai
Selina Periampillai is a London-based self-taught chef and her parents came to the UK from Mauritius to train as nurses and, like many people who started new lives in an unfamiliar place, they sought comfort and connection through the meals they ate. The Island Kitchen is the result of this, and of Selina's own travels through the islands of the Indian Ocean. (Madagascar, Mauritius, the Maldives, Rodrigues, the Comores are just some of the places she has visited.) Whilst you might worry that many of the ingredients are out of reach here in the UK, Selina has drawn on her own family's experience of having to adapt and substitute, bringing us incredibly accessible and utterly delicious recipes. I felt quite feverish with longing as I read it. The street food section is particularly strong (spicy bread fritters with chilli and tomato from Madagascar, tuna and coconut flatbreads from the Maldives) as are the salads and sides (tamarind pineapple chilli salt salad from Mauritius, a Seychellois aubergine and chickpea cari, and her mum's spicy mashed potato made with tomatoes and chilli). There's good staying food for our winters too: I love the sound of Mauritian slow-cooked duck with cinnamon and cloves and a spicy sausage casserole from Réunion that is similar to a French cassoulet. I'm so pleased books like this are being published.
New Kitchen Basics by Claire Thomson
When I remember those years of cooking for a younger family, coming home from work, tired (back in that pre-online food shopping and 24-hour 'get what you want when you want it' time) I wonder how I did it. I know that I would have found Claire's book such a help. I don't think I am the only person who looks back on those times and thinks 'twenty ways with mince' would be a good way of describing them although I adored the minced beef section in New Kitchen Basics because like all good food writers, Claire makes you look afresh at this stalwart of the domestic kitchen. There are twelve new things to do with it from South African bobotie to Algerian meatballs with chickpeas and turmeric, and a black bean meatloaf, many of them using less expensive ingredients to help the family food budget stretch a little more. There's more in this vein too: chapters on eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, pasta, chocolate, and salad and vegetables there are ten in all) show us how a few extra recipes in our arsenal are the equivalent of a bright new pair of shoes, jazzing up our existing wardrobe. I want to cook the tomatoes with cracked wheat and brown butter, a malted chocolate bread and butter pudding, hoppel poppel (German farmers' eggs), and a Mumbai street food classic called batata vada pav where mashed and spiced potato is battered in gram flour then stuffed into a bun.
Ethiopia: Recipes and traditions from the Horn of Africa by Yohanis Gebreyesus
This is another development in food publishing that I am grateful for: it's a vast improvement on generic 'African food' books which cannot ever do justice to the many regions and nations that make up this continent. The fact that Ethiopia has never been colonized has resulted in its distinct cuisine with many religious influences nonetheless. Judaic, Christian and Islamic culture are all represented in its food which runs the gamut from vegetarian (a freshly made Berbere dele paste to add spice and mellow heat to all manner of ingredients, breakfast broad beans served with egg and jalapeno, and Dinich Alicha; potatoes and carrots in an onion turmeric sauce) to the meaty stuff. I particularly like a fabulous tenderloin with coffee sauce, and a scalloped potato dish made with smoked milk. Like all the best cookbooks, it is steeped in storied accounts of the nation's history and has sumptuous photographs of not only the food but landscapes both ancient and modern too. Chef Yohanis Gebreyesus is well known in his hometown of Addis Ababa for his healthy Ethiopian cooking and I hope this happens here too.
(Octopus Pub Group, £30)
Cocoa: An exploration of chocolate, with recipes by Sue Quinn
This is one of the books I have most looked forward to and it did not disappoint. Sue Quinn is a great food and recipe writer and she has seized the opportunity to explore the world of cocoa in the way its fascinating- and difficult-history deserves. There's no escaping the fact that the discovery, production, and commodification of cocoa has involved the enslavement and exploitation of people, and that its sale has a history of sexualising women and objectifying men. Sue leads us all through this sensitively and decisively. The chapter on chocolate in literature adds poignancy to her reminder, earlier in the book, that many of the people involved in the production of cocoa have never tasted chocolate; she starts it by quoting Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' about a young boy for whom chocolate is a rare and costly treat. Excellent notes on cocoa varietals and their origins, what to look for when you taste good chocolate, and ideas for pairings underpin the recipes which reflect Sue's depth of knowledge. Her trips to Mexico result in a stellar whipped hot chocolate with almond, spiced with cinnamon, and a chocolate, chili, and lime cornbread, whilst the Internet has been going crazy about her brown butter, banana, and tahini chocolate chunk cookies. I particularly like the way she uses chocolate in savoury meals too. I made- and loved- the rich and spicy tomato soup enriched with dark chocolate.
Smoke, Roots, Mountain Harvest by Lauren Angelucci McDuffie
This is an American book, firmly rooted in the author's Appalachian home, a region I have visited-and love. However, measurements are offered in both American cups and English metric and although some of her ingredients are regionally specific, there's more than enough to keep the home cook occupied, and substitutions are not hard to make. (Use molasses instead of sorghum syrup in the earthquake bread, for example.) Each chapter opens with Lauren's stories about her Appalachian family and home; her writing is evocative, perfectly setting the stage for these (often homely) meals with fabulous names such as blackberry betty or buckle, cathead biscuits with buttermilk fried chicken and hot honey, a mad dog moon cocktail for hot evenings, sweet pea and sun butter hummus, hummingbird pancakes with roasted banana cream, and honey honey; a toasted milk and honey margarita. If you liked Ronni Lundy's book 'Victuals' about the food of Appalachia, you will love this.
(Chronicle Books, £21.99. Out May 14, 2019)
Taverna: Recipes from a Cypriot Kitchen by Georgina Hayden
Perfectly timed for those of you travelling to Cyprus or Greece this summer, Taverna arrived just before we headed for the Peloponnese and it made our trip, adding context and familiarity to a lot of the food we ate. This is a truly joyous book about love, life and Georgiana's Greek-Cypriot family who owned a taverna in North London for many years. This clearly influenced the author in her career choice; she was a food stylist for Jamie Oliver for many years and this, her second book is the book she was born to write. Like all of Georgina's work, it is exquisite to look at but this is not style over substance. I have cooked her recipes for years (she now has a column in Delicious Magazine) and am now working my way through this book: its combination of thorough testing, a bedrock of knowledge and zingy flavours make it an exhilarating journey through a part of the world many of us feel we know well. The halloumi and freshly-made apricot jam toasted sandwiches are a revelation, there's a fennel stuffed flatbread redolent with the scents of Greek and Cypriot mountainsides in spring where wild fennel proliferates, a fave, pickled onion and caper dip which I could eat by the bowlful (it's actually made with yellow split peas), a pomegranate and thyme swordfish souvlaki, portokalopita (orange, filo, and yoghurt cake), and all the classics- stifado, moussaka, and pastitsio.
(Square Peg, £25)
Charred: The complete guide to vegetables and grilling by Genevieve Taylor
Another timely book as we haul out and dust off our barbecues (although many of its recipes are suitable for winter cooking too). Genevieve is an expert in cooking with fire and a breath of fresh air in what is a field over-populated by testosterone-heavy, bearded chaps clutching lumps of meat to their chests. Tips and hints on the practicalities of equipment and technique will empower you to become a firemaster- or mistress- whilst Genevieve's recipes ensure that If you are vegetarian, you will no longer have to settle for endless, under-seasoned halloumi burgers (although there is an excellent one in the book!) Yakitori tofu, red pepper and pineapple skewers, smoked cauliflower in spiced garlic butter, smoky sweetcorn and polenta cakes with green tomato salsa, oyster mushrooms and baby corn with satay sauce, charred asparagus and cambozola toasties and corn on the cob basted with Cambodian coconut, lime and chilli hit the spot. These recipes can just as easily be cooked in a grill pan or conventional oven, year-round; it's not just for those of us with space to cook outdoors.
Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian kitchen by Alissa Timoshkina
Alissa Timoshkina was born in Siberia and in this, her first book, she draws a more authentic portrait of Russian and Siberian cuisine which in the past has suffered from stereotyping. Alissa has a Ph.D. in Soviet Holocaust and Film History and a rich family history (her great-grandmother witnessed the Russian Revolution) and her scholarly yet accessible approach and sense of history and place make this a very special book. "We often need distance and time both to see things better and to feel closer to them," she writes in her introduction, kicking off an atmospheric exploration of a vast region where climate and geography plus a history of forced resettlement, exile, and migration has melded many culinary traditions, stretching from the Caucasus to Ukraine, central Asia, Mongolia, and even Korea. Alissa's experience hosting supper clubs results in well-tested and reliable recipes and this is especially important if you're cooking a cuisine new to you although a lot of her meals will strike a familiar chord: a crayfish and spinach savoury rice pudding is not dissimilar to risotto even though it comes from the pre-Soviet era of Russian culinary history. Pancake-lovers will enjoy making blini with curd cheese and apricot, glazed cookie sandwiches sound like Russian Jammie Dodgers, and the crab salad with charred corn makes a perfect spring and summer dish. For winter, I have earmarked a kurnik chicken pie fashioned in the shape of a dome, akin to an "ancient Russian wooden hut" and a magnificent goose with apple, fennel, and dill sauerkraut.
(Mitchell Beazley, £25)
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