Nine of the best food books from 2021
Must-read books from Mandy Yin, Nigel Slater and more
A Cook’s Book
No one is better than Nigel Slater at describing the “simple sensuous pleasures of food”, said Bee Wilson in The Times. His latest book – a summation of his life in recipes – is a “magnificent volume of comfort”. It would be a great gift for “a novice” or for an experienced, but becoming jaded, home cook, said Rose Prince in The Spectator. Its practical detail will be invaluable to the former, while for the latter it will provide a “booster jab of inspiration”.
Med: A Cookbook
Claudia Roden has “studiously” been recording the dishes of the Middle East and southern Europe for more than 50 years, said Tony Turnbull in The Times. In her latest book, she “homes in” on coastal Spain, France, Italy and North Africa. Everything, from the elegant prose to the photos, conveys the Mediterranean’s “sense of ease”, said Diana Henry in The Daily Telegraph. What a blessing that at 85, Roden is still going strong.
Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen
Ottolenghi has sometimes been criticised for the forbidding number of ingredients his recipes require, said GQ. In his latest collaborative project he opts for a more “flexible approach”: this is a work that’s really about “encouraging you to produce something great with what you have to hand”. Its flavours are big but its techniques are simple, said Diana Henry. “You could cook out of this book for years and never eat a dull meal.”
Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook
Combining Indian spices with Chinese techniques, Malaysian food is perhaps under-appreciated in Britain, said Bee Wilson. Mandy Yin – proprietor of the popular Sambal Shiok restaurant in Highbury – shows “just how exciting it can be”. I’d buy this book just for the Penang Assam laksa recipe, said Rose Prince – a fruity, sour soup made with lemongrass, tamarind, galangal and fresh mackerel. But there is lots to enjoy. Yin was a lawyer before becoming a cook, and her personal stories are “intriguing”.
The Italian Deli Cookbook
For obvious reasons, many writers this year have focused on store-cupboard ingredients, said Tony Turnbull. In his “wonderful book”, Theo Randall “makes full use of eggs, tinned fish and dried pulses and pasta, augmented by judicious use of deli staples”. Randall, who worked for years at the River Café before opening his own restaurant, specialises in “unshowy cooking” that’s true to its roots, while delivering on superb flavour. With him, you just know you’re “in safe hands”.
Cook as You Are
My favourite cookbooks are like Day-Glo hedgehogs: they bristle with Post-it notes next to all the recipes I want to try, said Rukmini Iyer in The Guardian. This is already one of my “most neon-edged”. Tandoh, a former Bake Off contestant, knows “that home cooking – if it happens at all – happens in the mess and exhaustion of everyday life”, said Bee Wilson. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me this is their “favourite cookbook of the year”.
Taste: My Life Through Food
Stanley Tucci “knows both how to eat and how to live”, said Rukmini Iyer. Having written two cookbooks, the actor here serves up more of a memoir that weaves family stories with the “recipes he’s encountered on his travels”. A natural raconteur, he reveals what a defining influence food has had on his life, said GQ. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll definitely be inspired to cook up some exceptional Italian food.”
“I’m frankly envious of this beautifully made object,” said Tim Hayward in the FT. Dunk’s guide to festive German baking is not only full of amazing recipes, but illustrated with her own photographs and woodcuts. The result is a “gorgeous instruction manual for an aesthetically faultless Christmas”. It’s ideal for seasonal inspiration, agreed Rukmini Iyer. “Look out for the recipe for lebkuchen, which look like the walls of the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel.”
Normally, when leading chefs publish books on “home cooking”, my reaction is a “sceptical sniff”, said Rose Prince. But Michelin-starred Ollie Dabbous, renowned for his elaborate restaurant creations, has done an excellent job of putting “himself in our shoes”. While his book does contain some unusual ideas – such as adding white miso paste to a treacle tart – the recipes are all carefully explained, and well within the grasp of a reasonably competent home chef.