Life

Hidden gems of 2019's cookbook scene that'll help shape what you eat next year

With so many cookbooks on the shelves, it's easy to miss a few – but these ones are worth digging out and truly discovering, says Ella Walker

Romy Gill, whose cookbook Zaika: Vegan Recipes From India was published this year

IT'S been a pretty good 12 months for the cookbook scene. We've been treated to a quietly wonderful Ainsley Harriott comeback championing Caribbean cuisine; become more acquainted than ever with Burmese home cooking thanks to food writer Mimi Aye; and Australian seafood chef Josh Niland shared the revolutionary concept of fin-to-gill cooking.

Some trends have understandably spiralled into the mainstream, like our increasing preoccupation with plant-based diets – top cookbook picks if you are reconsidering your animal consumption being East by Meera Sodha, Veg by Jamie Oliver, and Nigel Slater's Greenfeast editions.

The reign of Great British Bake Off contestants has also continued, with Liam Charles's latest bold, fun collection Second Helpings, while Kim-Joy's debut took decorating to enchanting, almost-too-sweet-to-eat levels – the woman is the next Willy Wonka, if Willy Wonka turned iced biscuits into llamas.

Plus it's been a blockbuster year for restaurant cookbooks. As a result of Dishoom's collection we can now make the Bombay Irani-style cafe's feted black dal; The Quality Chophouse shared their coveted confit potato recipe (so crispy!), and Black Axe Mangal and St John welcomed us via eponymous collections, as though their food wasn't complete without us slavering over it a home. We're more than happy to oblige.

But with so many published every week, you're bound to miss a few absolute cookbook gems. Here are just a few to top up your shelves...

Our top 3 not to be missed...

1. The Quick Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg, £16.99)

Sunday is still pretty much the only day of the week many of us have the time or head space in which to devote ourselves to the kitchen for more than an hour or two. Midweek, between kids and jobs, Netflix and mates, it's snatched dinners on toast, leftovers pulled from the freezer, or Deliveroo.

But then you have the likes of Rukmini Iyer – a former MasterChef contestant and food stylist – who devises recipes that have the power to utterly rework your relationship with the oven. The Quick Roasting Tin – the third book in her Roasting Tin series – revels in stress-free, 30-minute, one tin dinners, suitable for all.

Her Kerala prawn curry will make you abandon your frying pan for good, and her sticky soy and honey-roasted salmon draped in broccoli will see you forgo anything cooked on the hob from now on.

2. Sour by Mark Diacono (Quadrille, £25)

The bitterness of chicory, endive and Negronis might have been in vogue this year (and always, if you live in Italy), but our taste buds have become increasingly exposed to the varying notes of sourness too – whether via kimchi and homemade pickles, a new-found appreciation of vinegar (thank Angela Clutton, author of The Vinegar Kitchen, for that) or the zingy tartness of citrus.

Food photographer and writer Mark Diacono – who grows as many unusual plants as he can (from mulberries and Szechuan pepper to kiwis) at his Otter Farm nursery in Devon – has taken a deep dive into the possibilities or sourness to bring contrast and brightness, sharpness and balance to a dish.

The recipes in Sour dazzle with tang: think rhubarb and radish salad, cherry sour cream clafoutis, sour apricot upside down cake and passion fruit, grapefruit and pomegranate ceviche.

3. Zaika: Vegan Recipes From India by Romy Gill (Seven Dials, £20)

More of us than ever are adopting diets that prioritise the green stuff over the formerly sentient stuff. We might not all be going fully vegan (although more than 3.5 million people in the UK now do identify as vegan), but many of us opt for meat-free Mondays, or find ourselves voluntarily ordering the bean burger rather than the beef. And if you're doing that regularly, interesting recipes are a must at home.

Which is where British/Indian food writer, restaurateur and cookery chef Romy Gill's debut cookbook comes in. Zaika is filled with dishes inspired by her heritage, including golden turmeric gram flour pancakes, bite-sized poppy seed cakes and battered cauliflower dunked in mint chutney. They'll convert even the most hardened of plant-based sceptics.

But don't forget these ones either...

:: The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson (4th Estate, £12.99)

Food writer and historian Bee Wilson delves into the question of why we eat what we eat, and how we've got to this point in this thoughtful and illuminating book.

:: Madhur Jaffrey's Instant Indian Cookbook (Knopf, £16.99)

The legendary cookery writer brings haste and ease to this collection of reworked favourites and new recipes, all designed for one pot cooking.

:: The Little Library Year: Seasonal Cooking And Reading by Kate Young (Anima, £25)

What to eat when – and with what – need never be a cause for concern again thanks to Kate Young's latest publication.

:: Below are three recipes from some of this year's cookbooks for you to try at home.

BLACKBERRY AND PISTACHIO CAKE

(Serves 8)

150g unsalted, shelled pistachios

170g softened unsalted butter, plus more for the tin

170g golden caster sugar

3 free-range eggs

30g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

200g blackberries, halved if very large

Icing sugar, to dust

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C, and line and butter a 28 x 22cm roasting or baking tin with non-stick baking or greaseproof paper. Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until very finely ground (but don't over-blitz, or they'll get oily).

Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth, then whisk in the eggs. Stir in the ground pistachios, flour and baking powder and mix briefly until combined.

Tip the cake batter into the prepared tin and dot with the blackberries. Transfer to the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the cake is risen, firm to the touch, and a skewer inserted into a non-blackberry bit comes out clean. Do not panic if the cake has risen like a glossy quilted blanket to hide all your blackberries – this will particularly happen with small berries – they're still there and the cake will taste delicious.

Let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes before transferring it, with its paper, to a wire rack to cool down. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

:: Taken from The Quick Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, published by Square Peg (£16.99).

JACKFRUIT SABZI

(Serves 2-4)

2tbsp sunflower oil

1tsp black mustard seeds

6 curry leaves

2 small onions, sliced

3 tomatoes, chopped

1/2tsp ground turmeric

1tsp ground coriander

1tsp garam masala

1tsp mango powder (amchoor)

1tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

1tsp salt

400g tin jackfruit chunks, drained

Wraps, pitta bread or Roti to serve

Method:

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves and immediately add the sliced onions and cook, stirring continuously, for five to six minutes until the onions are golden brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and cook for a further three minutes. Stir in all the spices, chilli and salt and cook for two minutes. Add the jackfruit to the paste, stir it in well and cook for four to five minutes.

Serve with wraps, pitta bread or roti.

:: Taken from Zaika: Vegan Recipes From India by Romy Gill, published by Seven Dials (£20).

MACKEREL, GOOSEBERRY SALSA AND HORSERADISH BUTTER

(Serves 4)

7tbsp gooseberry salsa (see below)

2tbsp prepared horseradish

Half a handful of chives, chopped

100g softened butter

2tbsp mild olive oil or vegetable oil

600g mackerel fillets

4 buns, sliced in half (or 8 thick slices from a loaf)

A small handful of mint, roughly chopped

A small handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the gooseberry salsa:

4tbsp caster sugar

3tbsp white wine vinegar

150g gooseberries, topped and tailed

3 shallots, thinly sliced

Zest and juice of one small lime

20-25 mint leaves, finely shredded

Small handful of chives, chopped

2 lovage leaves, very finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

First make the gooseberry salsa so you can refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours before serving: In a small pan, stir the sugar into the vinegar with a generous pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper and bring it slowly to a simmer. Add the gooseberries and cook gently, stirring often, to soften the fruit just a little – this may only take a few mintues. Remove form the heat. Once cool, stir in the shallots, lime zest and juice and herbs.

Mix the horseradish and chives into the softened butter and put to one side. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Season the mackerel fillets and pan-fry them skin side down first for two minutes over a medium heat. Carefully flip the fillets over with a spatula, add three tablespoons of the gooseberry salsa and cook for another minute.

Lightly toast the buns or bread and spread with the horseradish butter. Stuff the buttered buns with the gooseberry-coated mackerel, add another spoonful of the salsa, generously sprinkle with mint and coriander and serve immediately.

:: Taken from Sour by Mark Diacono, published by Quadrille (£25).

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