It is that time of year when I scrabble around for my log-in details to this website, and then apologise for not publishing anything else here since *checks notes* this exact same post twelve months ago.
Despite the blog lying happily dormant and probably ready to be moth-balled / repurposed, I do feel strangely compelled to return and round-up the last twelve months of cookery (and a few other food-ish) books.
There are already tens of lists doing the rounds. But, as previously noted, they tend to be flawed in concept (there can be no “Best”*) or by space on the page. But because I am not limited by pesky things like word counts or, frankly, being bothered about SEO results, click-throughs, or even whether you finish reading (it is ridiculously long, sorry), I’m able to celebrate a good number of recent releases here. And in doing so, perhaps point you in the direction of a gift or three (whether directly to you or for others).
So, once again, make a hot drink, pull up a chair, and play a little drumroll in your head for This Year’s Cookbooks. There are many I’ve not mentioned. I will have forgotten some. And I’ll be unaware of others. But there’s still plenty/rather a lot here, so let’s dive in.
For those who realise It’s About Damn Time
Over the last decade we have seen a plethora of cookbooks exploring global cuisines, typically centred on the author and their family’s heritage. Britain’s mostly Med-centric dietary lexicon, and perhaps some habits and tastes, are gradually expanding as a result. And yet, representation of African, Afro-Caribbean and black diaspora cooking has remained limited / shocking (with a few notable exceptions (Hibiscus; The Groundnut Cookbook; Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen)). This year it feels as though the winds are beginning to change.
Indeed, Riaz Phillips’ West Winds is a beautiful and smart cookbook, with engaging short essays and (crucially) easy recipes. Flicking through it again, the saltfish spiced patties with their turmeric-yellow pastry are high on my agenda. (Readers of previous editions may remember the outstanding Community Comfort ebook, edited by Riaz).
Lerato’s Africana showcases many hits from this vast continent, including Senegalese Poulet Yassa, Ugandan Rolex (look it up), quick injera and jollof, with a pleasingly off-hand ease rarely afforded to African cuisine.
But my pick is Melissa Thompson’s Motherland. Here is an essential exploration of Jamaican flavours, culture, history – and by extension, the flavours, culture and history of enslaved African men and women, of colonial melting-pots, and, now, of the kitchen tables of many British families. Beyond that, it’s just bloody good! Curry goat, pepper goat skewers, a proper explanation of Jerk, oxtail nugget, multiple ways with plantain (including ketchup’d), sorrel (hibiscus) poached pears, tamarind and bay caramel brownies… Motherland is appetising, extremely cookable, gloriously photographed, thoroughly researched and smartly, evocatively written. Helluva good book.
And if you’d like to add another regional cookbook to the shopping list
We can, of course, be interested in multiple cultures and cuisines at the same time… Other regional cookbooks of note in 2022 include Romy Gill’s On The Himalayan Trail, which arrived strangely quietly at the beginning of the year. In it, she recounts a journey through Kashmir to Ladakh via “Romy-tinted lenses”. These are, it seems, clear, interested and hungry. The reader has to be quite committed to cook through it. But it’s thorough, intriguing and mighty tempting. Side note: in a year of very strong covers, this comes close to the top of the tree.
Another book I feel has been published at a strange time (late in the year) and subsequently without enough oxygen, is Farokh Talati’s Parsi. Head chef at St John Bread and Wine, this guy can really cook. And he can also provide a superb insight into Parsi cuisine – that glorious, fragrant, bejewelled cross between Persian and Indian influences.
Given the ubiquitousness of Thai food in the UK, we’re not well served by home cook-accessible but ‘authentic’ recipe books. John Chantarasak makes a strong go of it in Kin Thai, despite his natural inclination towards restaurant-level perfection. If you want to improve your som tam, pad thai or pad grapao, or dive much deeper into making proper curry pastes from scratch, you should consider this.
And you wait a few years for a cracker on Sri Lankan food, then two come along at once. Karan Gokani’s Hoppers is at once a rich compendium of contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine; the story of his ace, eponymously titled restaurant and its menu; and an insight into his effervescent and ambitious mind. This is big and jam-packed, and worth it for the secrets of Hoppers’ bone marrow varuval curry, and kalupol roast chicken alone. Also impressive — in fact, right up there with Motherland — is Cynthia Shanmugalingam’s Rambutan. From black pork belly curry through an array of pickled raw things, to the many ways to spice-up vegetables and fruits, this is a beautiful item, a true ‘I want to make everything in this book’ book.
For those who like a family meal and home comforts
Home Food: recipes to comfort and connect by Ukrainian cook, writer and now advocate, Olia Hercules, became far more pertinent than she could ever have imagined (or wanted) it to when it was published in July. Although rooted in Olia’s own interpretation of home comfort, this is actually an eclectic set of recipes. There are dumplings, potatoes and cabbages, but dhal, pasta and Cypriot dishes too. Much to cherish. I commend to you the savoury eggy bread.
Do you know Big Has? He’s one of the very best of a new generation of chefs on screen (and social media). Check him out on YouTube, and if that draws you in (it should), then head to his book Home. Three parts North London Cypriot, and then a healthy dose of no nonsense London-Italian too. Straightforward delicious.
I’m so impressed with Meliz’s Kitchen, the debut book by Meliz Berg, which presents an extensive catalogue of family-friendly Turkish-Cypriot recipes. I can confidently say that if you only cooked from this book, you’d have a varied year (or lifetime) of extremely flavourful meals. Some dishes take time and love, but mostly they’re ‘real’; Meliz is a busy mum, a natural (and trained) teacher, and a seriously accomplished cook. You can tell all that from the recipes and writing, and can also tell it’s a debut book (heart and soul poured-in). Her food shines. This book has the potential to really shake up your weekly repertoire.
Wise and funny. I like that combination. Deborah Robertson showcases how to do that in Notes from a Small Kitchen Island, which is in part a delicious miscellany of recipes to make your stomach smile, while also offering pearls, gems and life skills — how to be a good host, how to be good to yourself.
Mark Diacono follows his acclaimed books Sour and Herb with Spice. Again it’s both an illuminating reference book, and an appealing set of recipes, which expand on what we’ve learnt. Those recipes are a mix of well-researched classics (Egyptian doro wat stew with berbere spice, for example) and Mark’s twists that suit contemporary habits. Such as my need to nibble on spiced nuts while supping an overly-hopped IPA (in this case, walnuts with a Cape Malay spice blend). One of the most engaging writers out there.
On which note, Angela Clutton and Borough Market’s The Knowledge is brilliant for fans of produce market shopping (or anyone who cooks from scratch). Interspersed through the book are Borough trader insights on key produce; plus Angela’s guidance on preparing things like crab, or on selecting citrus fruits, chillies, vinegars and tinned fish. But Angela’s tempting, produce-led recipes are the glue: miso butter root veg; rhubarb and sweet vermouth fool; a multitude of ways with jointed chicken. I could go on.
But must finish this section with Jeremy Lee’s Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many. Here is a culinary authority with an extraordinary turn of phrase and unquestionable taste. It is a joy (but no surprise) to find that he has poured all of that onto the page. I’m sitting here salivating over a deceptively simple melange of tomatoes, lovage and goat’s curd, I’ve poured over the perfect selection of pies, and am hungry for sardines on toast with a fried egg (the chopped and fried spring onion base a secret weapon). Which potatoes to use when? Jeremy provides sage notes, before willing us to divebomb into tarts, meringues, compotes and ambrosial crash mats. Cooking offers the good taste and reliable flavour combinations and advice of Slater, Hopkinson, Henderson and Leigh; the fun and charisma of Fanny Craddock and the Galloping Gourmet; and the lyrical and conversational ability of Billy Connolly and Graham Norton, all rolled into one. Deservedly on Waterstones’ shortlist for book of the year.
For those attracted to ‘new’ ingredients and combinations
Perhaps the two most creative books of the year come from the Ottolenghi stable.
The follow-up to 2021’s Ottolenghi Test Kitchen Shelf Love is OTK; Extra Good Things, and is (again) a collection of vegetable-forward ideas with mad-good twists. In this case, the mad-good twist on every page is a condiment, seasoning or crunch to brighten each already bright dish (and which could subsequently be used however your imagination sees fit). From coconut chutneys to smoky sweet nuts and so many different oils, there’s LOTS here. The book takes a twist at the sweet end, where instead of condiments we’re offered a set of basic techniques, which can then be amplified with whatever flavour combinations you fancy (or, whatever they prescribe). Creme anglaise, caramel, yeasted dough, meringue roulade etc etc. I think you need to commit to the philosophy, rather than dip-in and perhaps be bewildered. But it’ll pay off if you do.
When it comes to cookbooks and food media, very few things are truly ‘new’ or ‘innovative’. The mind of Noor Murad and her cohorts at OTK often provide an exception to that. As do the offerings of Ixta Belfrage (ex of that test kitchen). Using football parlance, I think Murad and Belfrage are ‘generational talents’, and the latter’s solo debut Mezcla is everything I hoped it would be: whizzbang combinations that are familiar enough, yet genuinely fresh and exciting. So long as you’re into big flavours, lime and chilli (in abundance), this book and its recipes will surprise, delight and feed you very well indeed. The prawn lasagne with habanero oil, the red curry sweet potato gratin, the tuna crudo and soy butter crumpets, the spicy ginger, tomato and sesame dip, the coconut-chocolate ganache and sweetly spiced gingernut tart … all of it.
For those upping their veg-intake
Both of the Ottolenghi-fam books are an excellent resource for anyone looking to amp-up their vegetables. But as we all need ways to make cutting back on meat easier (whether for ethical, environmental or economic reasons), I also suggest you consider the following vegetarian/veg-focused books from this year’s crop.
Thomasina Miers’ Meat-free Mexican is exactly what you would expect – vibrant, bright, fresh, largely speedy and crowd-pleasing. And Claire Thomson’s Tomato is every bit the celebration of that fruit I hoped it would be (worth it for the roast tomato aioli alone).
Joe Woodhouse’s Your Daily Veg wins pun-led title of the year and is also a contender for properly useful, most splattered cookbook. I’ve enjoyed tomatoes cooked in creme fraiche with mint on toast, pancakes stuffed with creamed mushrooms, and pumpkin gnocchi with spinach sauce. You could go meat-free with this, or use many of the ideas as sides.
Finally (on this theme), Georgina Hayden’s Nistisima is quite niche on paper, but in reality broad and wide-ranging. Through researching and relaying the cooking and eating habits of those of Orthodox faith who fast during Lent (largely, by giving-up meat and dairy), Georgie offers a vibrant and nourishing set of vegan recipes. You forget, very quickly, the V word, this is about tradition not trends. Although, as it happens, because there are lots of grains and pulses, simple vegetables with a little spice, most of the recipes are inherently kind of the wallet … very apposite.
One of the best ways to prepare a vegetable is to burn it on a barbecue. If that’s your vibe (it should be), be happy that two gems of the ‘cooking outside’ genre were published this year, and both offer plenty beyond the smokin-meat-bro vibe of 5-10 years ago.
Gill Meller’s Outside is the bucolic option. Gill is very good at writing simple, seasonal, minimal ingredient dishes that are immediately recognisable as his. You don’t need to live next to a pebbly beach or five minutes from a forage to cook them. But as you browse the recipes, gawp at the scenes, and bookmark multiple pages, you will wonder why you don’t.
Live Fire is not technically Helen Graves’ first cookbook, though I know she feels like it is. As a result, well, good God, there’s a lot in here. She’s masterful at sharing the stories and skills of other Londoners who cook over smoke (Eritrean cooks, Turkish mangal masters, Vietnamese grillers and more). And it’s rammed with really superb ideas and tekkers of her own. Finger-licking.
For people with Sweet teeth
There’s never a shortage of baking books. And usually a few dessert-focused ones too. Three called out to me this year.
Regular readers might remember that Edd Kimber books have popped up before (One Tin Bakes, One Tin Bakes Easy). He’s found himself a clever little niche of truly excellent little baking books. I’m really taken with this year’s offering: Small Batch Bakes. Which acknowledges that many of us don’t want to bake a cake for 14 people every time we hanker after some sugar. Largely because we don’t trust ourselves to not eat it all. So there are recipes in here to feed the sweet teeth of typically 4-6 people and sometimes fewer. The cookie section is particularly good: note the one egg pistachio and meringue cookies, carrot cakes sandwich cookies and emergency chocolate chip cookie (for 1).
But if you need / trust yourself to make cookies and cakes in large quantities, Cupcake Gemma’s Crumbs and Doilies (her business) it’s superb. A late entrant (only just released) to the category of most visually and cardiac arresting cookbook of the year, this is rammed with cookies, cupcakes, big cakes and traybakes. It’s an absolute stonker, with the potential of becoming your baking bible.
With a slightly different take on sugary things, Anna Higham’s The Last Bite is essential for fans of seasonal fruit (fist bumps to all my rhubarb, damson, apple and quince bros blap blap). Anna is the former head pastry chef at revered restaurants Lyle’s, Flor and The River Cafe, so there is experience, authority and great taste here. But this beauty of a book is also gentle and considered and another debut, so hosts a wealth of information and love. Highly recommended.
Are you still here?
Really do have to rush things through now. I’m worried your dinner is burning. So a trio for those of you buying for impatient/busy cooks:
Persiana Everyday. Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana launched her best-selling cookbook career. Her latest revisits that title, offering super quick mostly Middle-Eastern-inspired recipes to whack down in the middle of the table without faff or pretension. Meatball and mushroom stroganoff on oven chips, anyone?
You might have read this far. But the truth is most of your friends just want a quick recipe without waffling intro. In Rustle Up, Rhiannon Batten and Laura Rowe not only cut straight to the chase, but their succinct, one paragraph, micro recipes are quick fire and quick to prepare, while still being packed with flavour. Good ideas and a great deal of sense.
MOB’s latest book Fresh; over 100 tasty healthy-ish dishes does exactly what it says on the tin. I like their flavour-first, achievable recipes and rate the recipes writers behind these books. Take a look.
Potentially the most useful and timely cookbook of this year is Catherine Phipps’ Modern Pressure Cooking. There are some ‘energy saving’ cooking tips that take more energy to read than they save. But using a countertop slow cooker or old-style pressure cooker over saucepan, you can significantly shorten and lessen the time, effort and energy you would use for the same or similar dish on the hob or in oven. Cathy’s recipes are realistic but also contemporary and not without ambition or style — from speedy dal makhani to pasta, braised chicken and all the soups, it’s clever and practical.
Words words words
Seriously, still here? In which case you may be interested in books with only a few recipes and pictures (maybe even none).
Not going to lie, I haven’t found the time to consume these from cover to cover. And some I’ve only dipped into for a chapter. But I’m still confident these are worth considering if you want to buy yourself or a friend something to sit down and READ.
Small Fires in the Kitchen — a meditation on life in the kitchen, on memory, our relationship with food and the act of cooking.
Settlers — Jimi Famuera, the Evening Standard restaurant critic, on what it means to be, and what binds, black African Londoners in modern Britain.
London Feeds Itself — essays by Londoners on the city’s ‘true centres’ of food culture. Ed. Jonathan Nunn. Unavailable online but you may find in an indy bookseller (alternative: a subscription to Vittles)
The Food Almanac II — seasonal recipes and stories from celebrated food writers, poets and novelists. Edited by Miranda York.
Red Sauce Brown Sauce — Felicity Cloake around Britain on a bike, looking for breakfast.
The Joy of Snacks — Laura Goodman’s sparky celebration of snacks and snacking.
And if you’re still reading?!!
You are remarkably patient, time rich, and/or perhaps my mum (hi).
And the only thing left for me to write is: also available at some bookshops, lots of places online, and even in the books and merch section of this website, are my cookbooks Crave (*named Best Cookbook of 2021 at this year’s Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Awards!) and On the Side (which imo remains an essential book that should be in every kitchen and some loos too.)