Keep calm and carry on cooking – 2020's best cookbooks

Ella Walker takes a look back at the tastiest cookbooks of 2020 that you might have missed...

Magnus Nilsson, chef and author of Faviken: 4015 Days, Beginning To End
Ella Walker

IT'S BEEN a funny old year, and one that saw kitchens – private and professional – under greater duress than ever before.

Back in March, lockdown sent us all to the stove, whether we liked it or not, with everyone somehow having to conjure up three meals a day. Many of us found ourselves redirecting our pandemic-induced fears and worries into the fickle, bubbling lifeform of a sourdough starter, while too many bananas were left out to brown in aid of banana bread.

Throughout it all, cookbook authors and chefs kept us fed and enthused via Instagram cook-alongs. And once restaurants had re-calibrated (although many sadly were lost and shuttered), it became our civic duty to order in with abandon – oh the relief of not having to think up something else to put on pasta.

Hospitality has suffered and for many who have been unable to support restaurants, cafes and pubs in person, cookbooks have offered a path to deliciousness, comfort and escape. They've subbed in for jaunts abroad, stretched dinner plans beyond 'something on toast' and made us feel at least a little more connected to the wider world.

Big culinary hitters like Nigella have risen to the occasion. Her latest cookbook and its accompanying series, Cook, Eat, Repeat, is a soothing mix of recipes and essays, celebrating brown food and rhubarb, and food that ultimately aims to bring pleasure – like roast chicken served on crisps, and fish fingers fried up with chilli, garlic and ginger

Jamie Oliver has incessantly churned out recipes since his Keep Cooking And Carry On series had us in tears when it first aired at the beginning of lockdown #1, culminating in 7 Ways, a cookbook that brings together the seven key ingredients shoppers rely on most, and builds easy weeknight family dinners around them. Yotam Ottolenghi meanwhile teamed up with Ixta Belfrage on Flavour, which looks at vegetables in all new, exciting fusion ways.

Other highlights have included Ryan Riley's ground-breaking Life Kitchen, filled with recipes designed to spark the taste buds and sense receptors of people going through cancer treatment; Jack Monroe's Good Food For Bad Days couldn't have been more timely; Amy and Emily Chung broadened our culinary horizons with their debut Burmese cookbook, The Rangoon Sisters; and 2019 Bake Off winner David Atherton's illustrated My First Baking Book focussed on getting kids cooking fun but healthy dishes.

Here are three more cookbooks you might have missed in the milieu, that deserve a second look.

Our top three not to be missed:

1. Red Sands: Reportage And Recipes Through Central Asia, From Hinterland To Heartland by Caroline Eden (Quadrille, £26)

AS MUCH travelogue as cookbook, Red Sands comes of the back off Caroline Eden's hugely successful and atmospheric Black Sea. This time her attention swivels to Central Asia, inspired by a lunch in the Kyzylkum Desert where she ate raw onion rings, meat skewers (shashlick) and wedges of watermelon.

She writes that her aim was to explore, preserve and record a fast-changing region through its food – and does so in two parts, spring and autumn – interspersing dishes with stories as she goes.

Eden recommends a canned peach and sour cream cake for dark, cold months and opines about a hot and sour kimchi for topping rice; there are mini towers of Russian Easter bread and an intriguing sounding carrot and honey 'jam', while hearty dishes abound, like pilaf with beef and lemon. It will transport, educate and feed you.

2. My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes by Hooni Kim (WW Norton & Company, £30)

BORN in Seoul, chef Hooni Kim is arguably best known for becoming the first person to gain a Michelin star in Korean cuisine. He runs two restaurants – Danji and Hanjan – in New York city and splits his time between the US and South Korea, and founded, a charity that supports orphans in Korea to find work in catering.

My Korea is his first cookbook and goes big on the traditional ingredients he won't compromise on (which he explains in detail, so you can stock up), and shares the food that's intrinsic to how he cooks and eats.

It's easy to fall in love the second you hit the condiments page, and that's before you even get to his recipes for spicy raw blue crabs, spicy braised chicken, soy-poached black cod with daikon and bibimbap with beef tartare. This is some seriously exciting food.

3. Faviken: 4015 Days, Beginning To End by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon, £45)

FAVIKEN was chef Magnus Nilsson's highly revered two-star Michelin starred restaurant in remotest Sweden, where the food was sourced incredibly local to the kitchen. It even appeared on Netflix series, Chef's Table. It closed in 2019 (Nilsson was interested in pursuing new projects) so this hefty book of recipes acts as obituary and commemoration.

The food itself swerves from iconic, crazy complicated and impossible to recreate in a home kitchen, to something more akin to, "OK, I can just about give that a go". In the former category we have the likes of kalvdans (featuring cows' colostrum), wild trout roe served in a warm crust of dried pig's blood, and a cup of bird's liver custard with malted cabbage.

In the latter we have a grilled oyster, pickled and semi-dried root vegetables, and cottage cheese pie. It's out of this world cooking.


Barley pancakes with sour onions and sprouting barley from Faviken by Magnus Nilsson

:: Barley pancakes recipe with sour onions and sprouting barley from Faviken by Magnus Nilsson

Ingredients (Serves 6):

For the pancake batter:

2 eggs

600g milk

75g wheat flour

75g barley flour

5g salt

Butter, for frying

For the filling:

500g crystal-clear whey, obtained from yogurt or buttermilk

20g butter

3 onions, cut into paper-thin slices

1–2 spoonfuls cream

30g whole barley seed, sprouted to roughly 3cm-long green sprouts, to serve


1. Make the pancake batter. Beat the eggs and half of the milk together in a bowl, using a stiff whisk. Add both flours and the salt and stir briskly to get rid of any lumps. Add the remaining milk and stir until fully incorporated. Cover and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Make the filling. Pour the whey into a wide pan and start reducing it over a medium heat, and when you are left with about a tenth of the original volume add the butter and onions. Stir around to fully glaze the onions before flattening them out into an even layer and covering them with a cartouche (parchment lid). Continue to cook the onions over a low heat for another 10 minutes or so. The onions should soften but they should not fall apart, and the pan should be almost completely dry. It is important, though, that there is no coloration. Just before serving, add the first spoonful of cream and stir. If the texture is pleasant and creamy it is ready, if it is still a bit dry, add the other spoonful too.

3. To finish, heat a small pancake pan to a fairly high heat, butter each indentation very lightly and spoon batter into them. Swirl the pan around to coat the inside of the indentations evenly and thinly. Cook until just set before spooning some of the onion onto each pancake. Place some strands of sprouting barley on each mound of onions before rolling the pancakes up and serving them immediately.

:: Faviken: 4015 Days, Beginning To End by Magnus Nilsson is published by Phaidon, priced £45. Photography by Erik Olsson. Available now.

Dushanbe Sambusa with Chickpeas and Mint from Red Sands by Caroline Eden

:: Dushanbe sambusa recipe with chickpea, spinach and mint from Red Sands by Caroline Eden

Ingredients (Makes 15):

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained

3tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped

Handful of spinach

1tsp fine sea salt

1tsp black pepper

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp dill seeds (optional)

1 x 320g packet of puff pastry

1 small egg, beaten

1tsp black sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to garnish (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a large baking tray (or two smaller trays) with greaseproof paper.

2. Into a food processor add the onion, and pulse a few times, then add 100g of chickpeas, the mint and spinach, and pulse so it comes together. Put the mixture into a large bowl and mix in the salt, pepper, spices, dill seeds, if using, and the remaining unpulsed chickpeas.

3. Lightly flour the work surface and the pastry, and roll it out to 37 x 28cm. Using an 8cm cutter, stamp out 15 rounds then put a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each one and bring up the edges to create a triangle shape. Press to seal, creating a samosa-style triangle. Repeat with the remaining pastry.

4. Place on the baking tray seam-side down. Brush each one with the egg wash and scatter over the black sesame seeds or a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper, if you like. Bake for 15 minutes, then when the pastry has fully risen, lower the oven temperature to its lowest setting and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the layers are dry and crispy.

:: Red Sands: Reportage And Recipes Through Central Asia From Hinterland To Heartland by Caroline Eden is published by Quadrille, priced £26. Photography by Ola O. Smit. Available now.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access