Debora was a successful ghost writer, writing recipes and books for some of the best known TV chefs. In the last few years she has emerged under her own name, writing a popular column for the Telegraph. This is her first cookbook written in her Stoke Newington kitchen, but towards the end of the book, precipitating her move during lockdown to France, there are some Séte influenced dishes. It’s very readable with practical recipes developed over years of experience with chapters entitled ‘How to throw a party without losing your mind’ and ‘How to survive having people to stay’. She’s no glamour-puss influencer, but a warm and sure presence who knows her stuff.
It’s refreshing to have a Jamaican cook from Britain write about Caribbean food culture. Phillips, as well as providing typical recipes, puts Jamaican food in context: slave food, created from ‘ground provisions’, that is, what slaves could grow on their tiny hard-scrabble allotments to approximate their African pre-slavery diet, (for instance replacing the African Yam with American sweet potatoes), has its own history. Vegan food has long been espoused by Rastafarians. Classic West Indian fave foods such as Hardo bread, rice and peas, jerk chicken and sailfish and ackee are here as well as ingredients such as plantain, Scotch bonnet, figs (the Caribbean name for bananas of which there are dozens of varieties), callaloo and Irish moss.
The design of this book is shoutier, more in-your-face than West Winds with a collage of artwork, food photographs, graffiti and essays by academics. It’s also physically large, more coffee-table statement than something you can actually use in the kitchen. Ghetto Gastro is a collective of three male African-American chefs and one female writer Osayi Endolyn (who isn’t credited on the cover)who I have a sneaking feeling did most of the work.
You can tell the white food media is thrilled to death to have this cookery book, nay, manifesto, to review. The authors freely admit it’s not really a cookbook or even something you read. It’s designed to be visually inspiring to millennials. There is a section on ‘nutcrackers’, Bronx ‘entrepreneurs’ who sell home-made mixed cocktails on the street from a cooler, a resourceful response to the fact that Black people struggle to get liquor licenses to run legit businesses. Jerk is explained from a historical and political point of view: the Jamaican Maroons who escaped the British and fled to the Blue Mountains. They slow-cooked food wrapped in leaves on the ground on smokeless fires so that the masters wouldn’t find them. Circumstances create dishes.
The recipe introductions are written like little raps; ‘this is how we do’ or ‘They fill the roti, then hit it with tamarind and Peppa sauce if you nasty’. While the writing pleads for authenticity and realness reflecting how people eat, the plating, photography and recipes, for instance a scoop of coconut ice balanced on a huge rock on top of a coconut shell, seem cheffy, impractical, artistic and conceptual with fancy ingredients such as Bronte pistachios. I appreciated that most of the recipes were vegetarian or vegan, however.
You can tell it’s their first book. They want to say everything straight away. It’s angry, provocative and interesting.
Guardian stalwart Felicity is probably one of our finest young food writers. I use her recipes, knowing that they are generally infallible. This book is a follow-up to her cycling odyssey through France ‘One more croissant for the road’. This time she cycles around all four nations of the UK sustained by one of our most eminent meals – breakfast. The title refers to a geographical divider between north and south. In the south we eat ketchup (arguably we are more Americanised) and in the north, brown sauce. Felicity provides recipes for both sauces. She visits Exeter to find out about butter, Wales to eat cockles and laverbread, the Baked Bean Museum in someone’s living room in Port Talbot, Marmite in the Midlands, eats soda farls in Belfast, porridge at the world championships in Carrbridge, marmalade in Dundee, Weetabix in Peterborough and jam in Tiptree, Essex. Beautifully written and researched.
A fun cookbook with ideas for ‘sheet pan meals’, this would be a great gift for a student or non-cook. I’ve served nachos (at its most basic: tortilla crisps, melted cheese, salsa, slung in the oven) to a rapturous reception by sophisticated foodie friends. Whalen analyses the classic Mexican nacho dish, then spins out the concept to other foods such as Banh-mi nachos, Polish pierogi nachos, lasagn’chos, chicken tikka masala nachos, falafel nachos and even, apple pie nachos for dessert.
I love a well-stocked larder of which fish in tins forms an essential part. Here chef McDade promises to elevate your cooking with canned anchovies, sardines, tuna and more. Spanish or Portuguese tinned fish is of a superior quality, worth the extra price and comes in attractively designed tins. I recently found large Ortiz jars of tuna fish in olive oil at Lidl for a fiver. I’ve also been known to give a selection of tinned fish to my daughter as a Christmas present. This cookbook offers ideas for snacks stacked on cocktail sticks such as The Gilda, consisting of a guindilla pepper, a manzanilla olive and a coil of anchovy as well smoked trout salad, sea urchin pasta, mussel sandwiches, clam bruschetta. In fact any tinned fish on toast is an excellent meal.
I’m always thrilled when I come across a cookbook with genuinely new ideas. Ixta trained under Ottolenghi and shares his relaxed approach to food, a series of small plates but this time with ingredients from Italy, Brazil and Mexico (her mother is Brazilian, and she’s spent part of her childhood in Italy and Mexico). She’ll throw salads together with crumpet croutons, tahini ginger sauce, chillis and tomatoes, make cornbread but with brown butter and curry, cook thin omelettes which she will roll and chop into ‘noodles’. Her food is messy, expressive, creative, and colourful.
This is not so much a cookbook but a ‘pairing’ manual: how to present a fantastic and original cheeseboard. Morgan is a local Norf London girl with a cheese shop in Muswell Hill and frequent guest on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. She explains how to store, cut and serve cheese from a classic cheeseboard to more unusual combinations such as pairing with edible flowers, chocolate (go blue) or whisky.
Alex Renton wrote about his slave-owning ancestors in the Caribbean in the searingly honest ‘Blood Legacy’, and now authors the first official book for BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme. Each chapter delves into 13 staple foods, such as oil, cocoa, bread, soy, sugar, rice, salt and tomatoes, all part of the global diet. Bread is possibly the oldest food, with remains found in Jordan almost 15,000 years ago and the cause of political turmoil, even revolutions, throughout history. Fat is the most misunderstood ingredient in terms of health, eating fat doesn’t make you fat, but is key for a pleasurable ‘mouth feel’. Renton is less convincing on salt, having interviewed notorious anti-salt campaigner Professor Graham MacGregor, but does agree that it is better to adequately salt during cooking than at the table. This book is informative about the history, botanics and politics of our diet and entertainingly written, not dry at all.
This is the second book in the series OTK. The first book, ‘Shelf’, was a lock-down paen to the pantry, whereas Extra Good Things is less focussed, exploring the flavour bombs that lift a recipe. It’s about how to ‘ottolenghify’ a dish, that is, to celebrate vegetables, to add a twist, to add acidity or crunch or something pickled, to add a counterpoint via herbs, spice or condiments. There are recipes for tonnato sauce but this time on vegetables rather than veal; how to make home-made rose harissa, or feta cream or caramel and clementine dressing. There are a zillion ideas, which will inspire the keen cook.