People hate London and Londoners. Neglected parts of Britain resent the capital and I completely understand why. But it remains the case that London is a thriving multi-cultural city that attracts the best, most creative minds (and let’s face it, the most ambitious hustlers). Food and cookbook authors are no exception as this following list will prove.
Disclosure: links to buy the books give me a teeny commission which helps continue to finance my blog. All the books were sent to me by publishers. (There are obviously other good books, but I can’t afford to buy them all.)
Modern Sourdough by Michelle Eshkeri (East Finchley) White Lion Publishing
This is the book of the East Finchley bakery that is possibly the best in London. The endsheets (inner papers) are embossed with the encaustic tiles of the shop, the photography simple yet clear and the writing personal, friendly and experienced. We are in the floury universe of Michelle: how to make basic sourdough, then diverse bakes such as challah, babka, bagels, jachnun, inspired by her Judaism; Lamington biscuits, from her Australian ancestry and hot cross buns from her life in England, and, closer to home: the ‘Finchley sticks’ baguettes from her years in North London. Most importantly, her recipes work.
From the oven to the table by Diana Henry (Highgate) Mitchell Beazley
The doyenne of cookery books Diana Henry’s latest tome is about oven cooking. As the owner of an Aga, I’m her target audience (80% of all Aga cooking should take place in the oven and only 20% on top) but meals in a baking tin are some of the easiest and quickest to cook. This collection of recipes is a little too meat-heavy for my taste but Diana writes so well, has great food instincts, and develops recipes that are both original and yet approachable. Only she would think of pairing blackberries with sausages, aubergines with black cardamom and saffron, tamarind with mackerel.
Debora’s second book in the series of cooking for pets contains not only food recipes (no you can’t have a vegetarian cat, you’ll make them ill) but also handicraft projects (how to make a cat pillow). Beautifully illustrated, written with Debora’s dry wit, a perfect gift for cat lovers.
Author of the ‘How to make the perfect…’ column series in the Guardian, Felicity’s travelogue of cycling and eating around France is honest, humorous and interesting. Up mountains and down valleys, her tour de France is a gastronomic tour de force.
Infused by Henrietta Lovell (Highbury) Faber and Faber
Known also as the Rare Tea Lady, Henrietta’s green and gold bound memoir is another travelogue. It starts like a children’s book, rattling porcelain in a Scottish drawing room. Then inspired journeys afar: China the motherland, India, Taiwan, Nepal, South Africa (for rooibos), Japan (encounters with a buddhist monk over matcha), then selling her tea around the world to ordinary customers and famous chefs such as Dan Barber in the USA, Rene Redzepi of Noma in Denmark, and Fergus Henderson in London. There are tea recipes, tea tips (boil a fresh kettle of water every time you make tea to preserve the oxygen content) and how to make the perfect cup. A beautiful read, an adventure and a must for any tea lover.
The Modern Cheesemaker by Morgan McGlynn (Muswell Hill) White Lion Publishing
You know this lady, she runs Cheeses of Muswell Hill and appears frequently on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Her first book combines recipes and quick pen portraits of famous cheesemakers. But for me the main reason to buy is that she gives clear instructions on how to make basic cheeses at home: halloumi, mozzarella, cottage cheese, ricotta. Have a go! It’s not as hard as you think.
The Vinegar Cupboard by Angela Clutton (Palmer’s Green) Bloomsbury Absolute
Sour foods are on trend. My philosophy is if a dish tastes like there is something missing, it’s often a dash of something acidic. Food historian Angela Clutton, who runs the cookbook club at Borough Market, has written an award-winning tome on vinegar. The history of vinegar is as old as the history of wine (!) dating from 4000 BC descriptions on Mesopotamanian tablets. From aged balsamic to the grapes for wine vinegar, fruit (apple cider) and grain (malt) vinegars, differing acidity levels and matching flavours, this book is a thorough guide. In the UK there is a burgeoning craft vinegar maker scene. I’d like to try recipes like salt and vinegar roast potatoes, boquerones in vinegar, pickled pearl onions.
The Food of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop (Highbury) Bloomsbury
This reissued 2001 volume on Sichuan cooking, now with a cloth-bound cover in lucky red, is humbling. The chef and author Fuchsia Dunlop speaks and writes fluent Mandarin, is the first westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and is clever with a cleaver. She discusses key ingredients such as the tongue tingling Sichuan pepper, the history, the kitchen tools and most importantly thoroughly tested recipes for MaPo tofu, hotpot, steamed buns and pumpkin dumplings.
Baan, recipes and stories from my Thai home by Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Putney) Pavilion
Kay is well known as a ghost writer in the food publishing business, penning award-winning books but remaining anonymous. Although she’s British, living in South London, she was brought up in Thailand and has Thai as a first language. This is her story, her book under her own name. A gorgeous brightly coloured illustrated cover opens to reveal a witty book of recipes of Thai home cooking. Kay tells us how to cook sticky rice, how to make our own coconut milk but will also, somewhat reluctantly, offer up tourist favourites such as Phad Thai. Mostly though, this book is the food that Thais eat at home, not restaurant food.
My only ‘beef’ with the book is too much meat and horrible food photography by Louise Hagger, done in that awful Haraala Hamilton style of full-on flash (although they seem to have moved on from that now). No food can look good when photographed in that way. It’s as if the food has been caught in flagrante by a paparazzi for a gossip rag, doing something tacky.
Vegan London by Hoxton Mini Press (Hackney)
A cute little guide to Vegan London, it came in gorgeous ‘East London’ map wrapping paper. The book is nicely designed and well photographed, in a size which can easily be popped into a handbag or pocket. London now has 53 different vegan or vegan friendly. restaurants, 17 in East London, ground zero for meat-free healthy eating. There are several places I didn’t know about and plan to visit. They didn’t mention my supper club! Obviously a perfect gift for vegans who either live or work in London.
Fermentation by Asa Simonsson (Hackney) Lorenz Books
We’ve had quite a few fermentation books now from the UK, in the wake of the pioneering work of American food activist and author Sandor Ellix Katz. I’ve been writing about fermentation for the last decade. This book is by Made in Hackney fermentation workshop teacher and registered nurse Asa Simonsson. From a Scandinavian background originally and trained as a nutritionist, her book is the culmination of years of research. It’s perhaps an easier, more recipe driven approach to providing a guide to fermentation than Sandor’s work. She references the work of Professor Tim Spector (without naming him) on the gut microbiome as an indicator of health and how fermented foods can improve this. There are recipes for sourdough, sprouting grains, kefir (milk, water and coconut), krauts, Kombucha, kimchi, kvass, and pickles (lacto-fermented rather than vinegar).
She provides a trouble-shooting guide at the back of the book, very useful for beginners who start to lose their nerve when coming across mould (white is fine, green or blue isn’t). There is detailed nutritional breakdown of all the recipes and guidance on storage and containers. All in all a very useful book which I’m sure I’ll be referring to frequently.
The Flexible Pescetarian by Jo Pratt (Acton)White Lion Publishing
This book is a good idea because so many vegetarians, on occasion, eat fish. Ask my guests! My supper club is pescatarian. It’s a larger category than you might think.
I mostly eat vegetarian/vegan but when you are travelling or going to restaurants that only have the usual yesterday’s vegetables in puff pastry option, sometimes you choose fish. I try not to think about it too much. If I think about it, I’ll get the ‘ick’ factor and that’ll be another thing I can’t eat. Even so I still won’t eat prawns or lobster or octopus – basically anything that has insect or, in the latter case, alien DNA.
Back to Jo’s book: her reasoning behind a pescatarian diet is that even if you aren’t a purist, eating mostly plants is still improving the environment and your health. Plus there is ample evidence to show that the big brained human came about of the nutritional benefits of a fish-heavy diet. The recipes are simple yet clear with sober but stylish photography by Susan Bell (no extravagant forays into over-the-top accessorising). I like that Jo has options at the bottom of the page: for instance, a hot smoked salmon paté can transform into a smoked mushroom paté; teriyaki tuna steaks can be veganised into firm tofu steaks.
Vegan Cookbook by Tony and Yvonne Bishop-Weston (Croydon) Lorenz Books
Woah this is a big big volume with a beautifully colourful cover. So a good Chrissie prezzie for the vegan in your life as it looks important and expensive. Yvonne Bishop-Weston was the director of legendary 1970s vegetarian restaurant Cranks, the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and Holland and Barrett. So she knows her stuff. Her husband Tony Weston is also a plant-based cook and author: their wedding catering consisted of ‘vegan caviar, vegan champagne, a vegan chocolate fountain, a vegan wedding cake’.
Like my book V is for Vegan, it touches upon the history, ethics and nutritional reasons behind veganism which I think is essential. (I struggled to get those chapters into my book, the publisher didn’t want any backstory). The recipes are comprehensive but not terribly original. I do like the look of the coconut patties. But this is probably not a bad thing for non-cheffy vegan cooks, students and people who don’t want to spend much time cooking. The uncredited photography is functional but unartistic. Spending some money on a good photographer would have helped. You have to inspire as well as instruct.
Baladi by Joudi Kalla (Hampstead) Jaqui Small
Baladi, arabic for home, is an attractive looking book from Palestinian Londoner Joudi Kalla. As well as authentic Palestinian cuisine, Kalla fuses influences from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Eastern Europe, just as the diaspora of nomadic Palestinians have been obliged to adapt to new homelands since the creation of Israel. There is an underlying sadness to this book.
Recipes such as purple stuffed carrots I’ve simply got to try (minus the meat), even though I’m not sure how long it will take to drill a hole through them. Other must-try recipes include purslane salad with radish and pomegranate seeds, coriander lentils with pasta and tamarind stew; halloumi fries with tangy shatta (a chilli paste); chocolate and labneh cake.
The chapters are divided into markets and village life, fields and earth, rivers to the sea, and hills and orchards. We think of Israel/Palestine as a desert, at least I did before I visited, but the variety and beauty of landscape is one of the reasons it is such as contested land. Nice photography by Jamie Orlando Smith and good styling.