Best cookbooks of 2012

Cookbooks are flooding the book market as we speak and it’s hard to work out what is good and what is a flash in the pan. I buy too many cookbooks every year but I try to buy books that have what I believe to be delicious recipes. I like a cookbook to be quite clean in design, nothing too flash or savvy but most importantly the recipes have to inspire me to cook or try new and interesting flavour combinations or ingredients. I like looking back on the year and reviewing what cookbooks I’ve bought and which ones I think will stand the test of time and continue to be splattered and spilt on in my kitchen. The year 2012 brought an array of amazingly good ones. These are my favourites from 2012, ones I think I’ll continue to cook and find new wonder from.

cookbooks

1. Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop (Bloomsbury)

Fuchsia Dunlop does it again. Another awe-inspiring collection of recipes that demystifies Chinese cuisine. She has that certain something that is required to break things down and provide the reader with incredibly tasty recipes that are authentic yet still accessible. Although Chinese food is generally quite meat-based, there are a number of scrumptious vegetarian dishes that can compete with those meat dishes. Fish-fragrant aubergines is a gingery and fragrant aubergine dish that has layers of taste. I love the recipes in this book, especially the Pock-Marked Old Woman’s Tofu (vegetarian version)—it’s truly addictive.

2. The Kitchen Diaries II, Nigel Slater (4th Estate)

Now this is one hefty cookbook. It’s full of so many recipes, all interspersed with anecdotes and tips for cooks like how important a good cook’s knife is and other musings. Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries book was excellent, full of the kind of food you really want to eat. The photos are gorgeous, they make you drool with delight and the recipes are more delicious than you ever thought possible. I made the Roast Goose Stuffed with Chickpeas, Sausage Lemon and Mint for Christmas, and it was hands down the best goose I have ever eaten. Thanks Nigel, you are king!

3. You’re All Invited, Margot Henderson (Fig Tree)

I’m not sure if it is the New Zealander inside me that loves Margot’s homely, paired back cooking so much or if it’s simply because she has such good taste and knows what people want to eat on a lazy Sunday afternoon—it’s probably a combination of these. I haven’t managed to go to Rochelle Canteen out in East London yet, but it’s one of those places on my ‘must-eat list’. The cookbook’s been written a bit like a food diary: generous, classic and yummy recipes like Rich Dark Ginger Cake, Turkish Coffee Cake and Chorizo, Kale and Potato Soup. The Arnold Circus Biscuits are genius because they hark back to those good old Anzac biscuits that are so part of the New Zealand psyche. The book isn’t trying to be trendy or break preconceived notions of food, it’s just simple and honest. It’s definitely going to be one that I will pass on to my children.

4. Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press)

When I first got my hands on a copy of this cookbook I was so excited to get cooking from it. I think it was something about the tactile nature of the cover, it’s covered in printed cloth and it’s  just so nice to feel. The recipes are another thing. I can’t rave anymore about Yotam and his team. Their incredibly mouth-watering and eye-popping salads that use exotic grains like freekeh along with dried fruit have really put ‘the salad’ on the foodie radar. Recipes from Spicy Freekeh Soup with Meatballs to Chicken with Caramelised Onion and Cardamom Rice leave me salivating on the pages. I made the Mejadra the other week, a kind of rice pilaf with lentils through it, sweetly spiced with turmeric, allspice, coriander then topped with crisp-fried onion that was one of the most perfectly comforting meals I’ve ever had.

5. The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden (Penguin Michael Joseph)

What can I really say about this ‘bible’ of Spanish cooking. Claudia Roden has long been one of my all-time food heroes. Ever since I bought that copy of Arabesque back in 2005, I have been a convert of her food and her writing. Claudia doesn’t do things in halves. Her books are always full of facinating insights on culture and history, all aspects that influence and cause a cuisine to develop or grow. The Food of Spain is I think, her best title yet. It’s beautifully designed, photographed and the recipes are introduced with such precision on taste, origin and cooking practicalities. Pepa’s Fish Soup, a tomato-based fish soup with prawns, potatoes, saffron and a picada (a paste of garlic, almonds and parsley), is a brilliantly simple recipe that was became more and more delicious after my first spoonful. Other recipes such as the Medley of Spring Vegetables and Aubergine Fritters with Honey bring authentic Spanish food into the spotlight, and it’s all so easy.

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Fish stew

Fish stew is one of those things that you either love or hate. I personally am one of those people who bring fish-smelling lunch foods to work and everyone complains about how it reeks out the office while I sit there and enjoy my fishy delight. It’s a surprise I have only recently discovered fish stew—at 10 Greek Street. It was my second visit there, and I wanted to try a fish dish. The offer of the day was Catalan fish stew. So delicious it was! The stew was tomato based with potato, white fish, clams, mussels and prawns. All I can say is it was a revelation, and I’ve been craving a good recipe every day since. Then I got myself a copy of Claudia Roden’s latest—The Food of Spain: A Celebration. Claudia Roden’s Arabesque was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought, and everything I tried was, beyond simply being a recipe, a work of food detectivism. Her new book is the ultimate book on Spanish cooking and contains some really amazing stuff. This recipe is adapted from ‘Pepa’s fish soup’. The best element of this recipe is the picada, a paste made from almonds, garlic and fresh parsley added to the broth to give it a lovely texture. Once you try this fish stew I know you’ll also be hankering for more. I adapted the recipe a bit as I wanted to replicate the one from 10 Greek Street, I think I got quite close, but I’ll have to try it out a few more times till I get it right …

Fish stew

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 large or 2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped

500g waxy potatoes, cut into 1cm-thick slices

1 bulb of fennel, sliced

125ml white wine

350ml fish stock

a generous pinch of saffron

3/4 teaspoon sugar

250g firm white fish fillet (cod, haddock), cut into 2cm chunks

180g mussels

180g clams

200g raw peeled prawns

For the picada

10 blanched almonds

1 large garlic clove, peeled

1/2 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oil in a casserole, add the garlic and the tomatoes. Cook stirring often over  a medium heat until the tomatoes are reduced (this should take almost 10 minutes).

2. Add the fennel along with the wine and the stock. Cook for 10 minutes. Then add the potatoes with the saffron, sugar and salt. Simmer, covered, over a low heat for 20 minutes, until the potatoes and fennel are tender. Don’t let the potatoes get too soft or they will disentergrate.

3. In the meantime, make the picada. Fry the almonds with the whole garlic clove in the oil until they look golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Add the parsley, fried almonds and garlic to a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Then add a ladleful of the stock to dilute it.

4. Put the fish into the stew and 3-4 minutes later add the clams, mussels and prawns and the picada. Cook over a low heat until the prawns are pink.

This recipe was adapted from Pepa’s fish soup from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden (Michael Joseph, 2012)