Tuesday 3 December 2019

Cookbooks 2019

This hasn't been a great year for blogging, from my point of view. Not a lot I have cooked has been worthy of a whole post, so I've mostly been sticking photos on Instagram as reminders to myself of what I have been eating, and making notes on Eat Your Books and hoping it's enough to replicate my results if I want to. But here we are, staring down the barrel of December, when people are thinking about what to get their food-inclined loved ones for Christmas. So here are the four cookbooks, released this year, that I have cooked the most from.

And just as a by the way, I don't have affiliate links or make any money from this, any links I have inserted are purely to help you find things. Also, I bought all of these myself and would do it again.

They all have really good recipes, but the main thing I love about them is the writing. Dishoom, Mandalay and Baan all tell stories which give context to the dishes in a way that I really love.  Diana Henry's writing is always delightful: evocative and inviting, but the other three give a sense of place to the cultures and cuisines they are writing about which I think is important when you are cooking from outside a culture.

Dishoom is a British chain of restaurants, modelled on the "Irani" cafes in Bombay. The food is a lot better than the majority of neighbourhood curry houses we've been to (there are excellent exceptions, but most of the Indian restaurants we've been to in this country haven't been very good), the atmosphere is relaxed and they are reliable. Even though you nearly always have to queue. It took me years to get Paul into one, and now he is a confirmed fan. When I saw that they had a book coming out, with the famous House Black Daal recipe in it, I had to have it.
Dishoom's garam masala is not like bought, ground garam masala
The Irani cafes apparently had their heyday in the 1960s, but Dishoom tries hard to capture the essence of them, and set a scene for when and how you eat the dishes in the book. I don't think my Kejriwal quite captured the grandeur of the Willingdon Club, but they tasted lovely.
Kejriwal - fried eggs on chilli cheese toast

It appears that I took no pictures of the daal - so imagine, if you will, a bowl of dark brown sludge that tastes deeply of hours spent perfecting it. It is rich, creamy, subtly spiced and utterly entrancing. If you think of a bowl of lentils as being penance in food form, this will show you how very wrong you are.
Spicy lamb chops
Everything I have made has been delicious, and well worth the extra effort of making my own masalas and making batches of fresh ginger and garlic purees. A technique I hadn't come across before, which is used in grilled meat dishes, is to do a short, first marinade in green papaya puree, before adding an aromatic second marinade. It's very successful - it seems to open the meat fibres so that the aromatics really penetrate, and it makes the meat incredibly tender. To the point that even with flat metal barbecue skewers, it's hard to turn kebabs because the meat just falls apart. So delicious!
Okra fries
MiMi Aye has become a friend through the magic of social media. She's a brilliant human - passionate and articulate whether she's pointing out racism and discrimination or being geekily enthusiastic about pop culture. Her first book, Noodle! is great and I thoroughly recommend it, but you can easily see that Mandalay is the book she wanted to write. It's deeply personal - which is not something you often say about a cookbook.
Duck egg curry - a long-standing favourite
Burmese food, apparently, tends not to be pretty food. Mostly muted shades, it makes up for the appearance with incredibly punchy, savoury flavours. I have shared some of my more photogenic pictures, but there have also been several intensely flavoured, aromatic bowls of brown and beige.

Tofu fritters like you have never experienced tofu before, ginger salad, chicken goujons and two dipping sauces

Goat and split pea curry, and Burmese coleslaw
Lahpet thoke - pickled tea leaf salad
Lemon salad

Baan is also a clear labour of love. Having read Kay Plunkett-Hogge's Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl, I was familiar with her Thai childhood, and adult love for Thailand and its food. It's interesting to juxtapose MiMi and Kay's experiences - one brown woman born in the UK and for years not being quite Burmese enough and one white woman born in Thailand but not quite Thai enough. I feel extremely fortunate to have their books in my hands.
Classic gai yarn - incredibly juicy chicken
 As delicious as the recipes I have tried have been, my favourite thing, I think, is the method of brining the chicken for the Classic gai yarn - I have used it many times since I first bought the book, and used the same brine for my most successful ever roast pork.
Northeastern-style [duck] laarp

This meal danced all over South East Asia, but the rings are Kay's Squid deepfried with garlic and white pepper
Diana Henry's last book, How To Eat A Peach, was glorious. From the tactile flocked cover to the stories to the carefully considered menus, the whole thing is a treasure: a fantasy of long lunches and expansive hospitality. From the Oven to the Table is a very different kettle of fish. You may not have noticed, but the UK is in a very tense and uncertain period at the moment, which I think has created a need to cocoon and seek comfort - this book certainly seems to be an expression of that.
Croque monsieur bread pudding
Of course, having previously heard that Diana plans several books ahead, she was probably considering this book well before the 2016 referendum. So it may not have been a response to the current climate, but it certainly seems to articulate the zeitgeist. These are dishes to give heart. To nourish the people you hold dear before you let them go back into the world.

Lamb chops with sweet potatoes, peppers and mojo verde
Not all the dishes are bung-it-in-the-oven-and-wait: some have a few stages, some are made by the final addition of a relish or sauce, but they all feel quite achievable. The recipes also aren't trying to be too clever - it's not about "I bet you didn't know you could cook THIS in the oven", it's about dishes that the oven is the right thing for.
Baked lime, passionfruit and coconut pudding
Baked sausages, apples and blackberries with mustard and maple syrup
Roast peppers with burrata and 'nduja
Tomato, goats cheese and olive clafoutis with basil
I honestly couldn't pick a favourite from these books, so don't ask me. I think I will go back to all of them again and again, whether it's to re-read a passage or to take inspiration or actually follow a recipe. And I can't imagine anyone being disappointed to receive any of these as a gift.


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