There is nothing cautious about Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many (4th Estate) by Jeremy Lee. I kept wondering if the editorial brief was more! More stories, more illustrations, more wit, more advice, more recipes. The abundance feels contained, though, as does the gregarious, expert and tender writing, in an exquisitely well-crafted volume. This is the most complete collection of recipes: pies, soups, stews, salads, tarts, puddings and a dish of potato, butter and cabbage called Rumbledethumps. It is also a biography recounted through home and professional cooking; a meditation on ingredients and eating; and a celebration of food writers past and present. Lee notes that time spent in the kitchen is “something to cherish and celebrate”. This book is, too.
“I was the kid you saw running behind the counter,” says Angela Hui. Her memoir Take Away: Stories from a Childhood Behind the Counter (Trapeze) is an exhilarating delight even when it isn’t – for example, when she describes the racism that Chinese immigrants running a takeaway in the Welsh valleys inevitably faced. Her observations are clear-sighted, her writing full of humour and life, and nowhere more so than when recounting her shy then rebellious adolescence, the fiery takeaway kitchen and the complex dynamics of private family cooking. Egg fried rice, steamed eggs, shark fin soup; recipes not only end each chapter, they tell stories, too, of longing and belonging.
I’ve been waiting for Modern Pressure Cooking (Quadrille) with trepidation, because it meant getting a pressure cooker and I’ve been resisting, with outdated preconceptions, for years. Fortunately, Catherine Phipps is not only an expert advocate, but – it took two and a half paragraphs – utterly convincing. No doubt climate concerns helped, too: a book about something that cuts 70% from cooking times, using 70% less energy and considerably less water, is hard to ignore. I did approach the maiden batch of beans like a newly qualified vet approaching a wounded wild animal, and jumped when it hissed. But the reward was perfect beans in a quarter of the usual time. Minestrone, stock, dream dal, rice and a four-minute pumpkin puree followed: a fraction of a book that feels as much a treatise on good cooking and eating as a guide to contemporary pressure cooking.
From the flicker of gas that opens the book to the ode to rum that finishes it, West Winds: Recipes, History and Tales from Jamaica (Dorling Kindersley) is captivating. It is Riaz Phillips’s second (his first was Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK) and it centres on a journey to Jamaica. Observations, cultural history, religion, folklore, music, poems and food are drawn together, while glimpses of his Jamaican grandmother cooking in Hackney, and other impressions of the Caribbean community in London, swell to fill the book. Phillips is skilled, his writing evocative and sharp; reading I yearned for ackee, breadfruit, salt fish, spiced patties, red-pea soup, hardo bread and ginger beer, the latter two of which I made immediately. Phillips’s hope is to illuminate the legacy of an intellectual and innovative Jamaican food culture, and he does so, amply.
Understanding and humour are good qualities in a book. The Joy of Snacks (Headline) by Laura Goodman has an abundance of both. The premise is simple: snacks, whether a folded crisp, pickle, warm biscuit or cheeseball, are some of life’s greatest pleasures. A chapter on crisps, nachos and popcorn is followed by dips, which are chased by things on toast, the soothing power of a hot, buttered crumpet, and instructions for a no-knead focaccia. Other chapters cover cheese, pickles and snacks to go with coffee and wine. Deft storytelling ensures momentum, while deep research and real wisdom about how we actually eat flash brilliantly. There was a chance that recipes in among the flowing text would feel lost. But clever design ensures they don’t; instructions for chickpea-flour socca, crumbly biscuits, golden latkes and warm doughnuts form a seemless part of the whole.
Inspired by a train journey between her parents’ home towns of Kolkata and Chennai, India Express (Square Peg) is a collection of 75 south Indian and Bengali recipes, and Rukmini Iyer’s seventh book. The first thing I made from it was Chingri Macher Malai, spiced prawns in coconut milk, which took minutes to prep, simmered quietly for just under half an hour, and was perfect on buttered white rice. Semolina pancakes were similarly successful. This collection follows Iyer’s wildly successful roasting tin series, rightly considered cookbooks for our times. What was it about them? Accessibility? Minimum fuss/maximum flavour? Layout? Trust in the likable, reassuring person who guided you through? All of the above – which, together with more personal material than her previous work, makes Indian Express a must-have.