I was one of the judges for the Guild of Food Writer Awards International and Regional Section and was very pleased with the final nominations on which our panel of judges agreed. However, there were some other outstanding books which didn’t quite make it into the final five and but which are well worth buying and I would like to give them an airing here.
The Best of the Rest
I am going to start with the “best of the Rest” as they have not had the benefit of the publicity surrounding the Awards. These comments are purely my own. The books are listed roughly in order of their personal appeal to me. I will finish the post with the judges’ comments on the winner of the section and the four other nominated books.
This book has gone straight into my bookcase for everyday use. On the first reading I was excited by the range of interesting and unusual recipes and I really did not notice that there was no meat or fish to be seen. All the recipes are either vegetarian or vegan. I was also pleased to see that though the book has an Eastern slant I would not need to embrace a large number of new and perhaps unfamiliar ingredients. The book does, however, offer a useful list of on-line suppliers for specialist ingredients from Japan, India, China, and Korea. It also offers a good deal of useful information on some of the basic ingredients such as noodles, tofu, rice and pulses.
So far I have tried, with great success, recipes for crispy Potato Dosas with Pea and Coconut Chutney, Korean Egg Bread with a whole egg nestling in the centre and Honey, Soy and Ginger Braised Tofu. I also discovered an excellent recipe for Vietnamese Coconut Pancakes which I have been trying to replicate since first discovering them in a Vietnamese restaurant in the south of France some years ago. Waiting to be tested, among many others are Sichuan Aubergines fried and cooked in ginger, garlic and chilli bean sauce, herb and chilli filled Bombay Rolls, and Kimchi Pancakes with Spinach Salad.
This book contains a galaxy of recipes from all around the Mediterranean linked by their origins in the history of the region when the exotic flavours of the Arab world collided with the characterful food of the north. There are some wonderful historical stories in the book such as that of Crocetta of Caltanissetta. This sweet fried pastry, laden with nuts and sweet fruits, originated in the era when the Arabs over-ran this part of central Sicily. The recipe was then lost for a while until the early 1900s when it was resurrected by a local chef and four Benedictine nuns. It is now very much part of the church celebrations for the Holy Crucifix festivities in the town.
I have placed more markers in this book than in any of the other books I have featured here. I love this type of food and I like the fact that Ben Tish has put his own mark on the collection as well. The recipes are divided into groups according to cooking methods such as Slow-Cooked, Charcoal Grilled and Smoke, Sweet and Sour, Fresh and Breakfast and Brunch.
There are some really simple but unusual recipes to choose from such as Carrots Pickled with Coriander, Smoked Paprika, Vinegar and Cumin Marinade, Mojo Verde Sauce from the Canaries and Chickpea Pancakes or Panelle. There are also more complicated recipes for the main meal like Chicken with Apricots and Sumac, Mullet in Saffron Escabeche and Wood Pigeon with Lardo, Pomegranite, Molasses and Salted Walnuts.
I also found recipes which I had been trying to find since first discovering them on my olive oil travels such as Shrimp and Cumin Fritters first eaten in Seville, Caramelised Chicory with Saba grape must in Sicily and Fig and Almond Bread Pudding from the Balearic islands.
This celebration of food from a Cypriot kitchen draws on Georgina’s family background in Cyprus but with her own take on traditional recipes, making them more accessible to the modern UK cook. Plenty of interesting stories and anecdotes enliven the text but it is the recipes which really evoke the Mediterranean melting pot that is Cyprus. Try Roast Chickpea and Sesame Soup, Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Fresh Dates, Coriander and Lemon Roast Chicken, Eggs with Greens or Apple and Olive Oil Breakfast Cake. In fact, the more I leaf through this book, the more I feel I want to cook from it. There is no pretension here, just really interesting but straight forward food that anyone with just a little cooking experience can make.
Continuing the Asian and, this time, purely vegan theme this book concentrates on Indian, and in particular the cuisine of the Punjab. If you love vegetables this is the book for you. Whether it is aubergines, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, peas, peppers, potatoes or squash there is a wide choice of recipes. You will also find recipes for gourds, jack fruit, kale, mooli, pumpkin and turnips. Deep Fried Okra has found its way on to my regular menus as have the Cauliflower Parkoras.
The Chapter on Breads also came as something of a surprise to me as I had always thought that Indian breads would be a lot of trouble to make. In fact many of the bread recipes given here are quite easy to make and some are also quite quick to prepare.
If like me you are a fan of Lebanese food this book is a must. You will find recipes of all your favourite dishes here and a lot more too. My copy of this book, too, is stuffed with little page markers to the many dishes I want to try out soon. Chouf Mountain Spring Tabouleh starts the Mese section for me with its unusual use of lentils and mint in place of the more usual parsley and tomatoes. Then I would like to add Garlic Chicken Wings with Coriander and Pistachio Pesto, Griddled Aubergine Fatteh with a rich tahini sauce and Whole Roasted Halloumi with Citrus Salad and the meal is complete.
Looking at the main course dishes I am longing to cook Sumac and Seven Spice Roast Chicken, Okra Yakhni make with lamb, Walnuts and Coriander and Cumin and Caraway Spiced Couscous. Finally, I might have a go at Date and Cinnamon Squares made with Semolina and Rosewater and Pistachio Cheese cake.
Dishoom “From Bombay with Love”: Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir
This is a completely different offering. Its sub-title and back blurb sums it up: Cookery Book and Highly Subjective Guide to Bombay with Map. “Through the course of this book you will go on a gentle walking tour of south Bombay, peppered with much eating and drinking”.
This is a tome of a book with almost 400 pages of text and illustrations. It is quirky and idiosyncratic but there is a lovely sense of humour running through the book and it is extremely well written. If you have the inclination to go to Bombay it is a great travel guide.
However, it is not just a travel book there are lots of useful culinary hints and tips, for example on how to fold samosas or make up spice mixes. There are also plenty of recipes which are well set out and easy to follow. For me it is a book for dipping in and out of. I loved the Prawn Moilee which is served in the authors’ restaurant in London and simple Khari pastry snacks and Jeera Biscuits. When I have more time I plan to try Awadhi Lamb Biryani, Spiced Chicken Livers and Gulab Jamun Indian pudding.
Gino’s Italian Express: Gino d’Acampo
I am not usually a fan of chefs indulging themselves travelling around their homeland for television programmes. Nor will I often pick up a book on Italian cooking as I have lived in the country and have some experience of it. However, I think I have to make an exception for this book. It is based on a train journey Gino made through northern Italy, taking in all the regions north of Rome. There is an interesting introduction about each of the different provinces.
If you like Italian food but have not had much experience in cooking it, this book is for you. The recipes are, on the whole, reasonably authentic and they are very easy to follow. You will find good recipes for favourites such as Bruscchetta, Caprese Salad, Tuna and Bean Salad, Fettucine with Pork, Mascapone and Truffle Oil, Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Sauce, Risotto and Pizzas, Roasted Sea Bass with Potatoes and Lemons, Chicken in Lemon and Caper Sauce, Veal Milanese, Frittata, Panforte and Tiramasu. Or you may like to have a go at one of Gino’s creations based on local food such as Spicy Warm Lamb Salad with Artichokes, Quick Bolognese Sauce, Limoncello ice cream, Upside Down Apple Crumble.
The Winner of the International and regional section of GFW Awards 2020:
‘Eleanor Ford’s passion for Indonesia and its cuisine shines through her beautiful and picturesque writing.’ Not only does she capture the sights and sounds of the region, she also understands the flavours. ‘The book includes really useful guides to authentic ingredients, including a recipe for Bumbu, the spice base for so many dishes, and there are some very useful “kitchen tips.”’ The jurors also appreciated the way the chapters are arranged: ‘by the texture and character of the dishes, for example Dry and Aromatic, rather than by ingredients or the way they might be served.’ And they liked the wealth of authentic recipes. One juror remarked that she had marked so many recipes to make that she would not be deterred from ferreting out all the correct ingredients. ‘This gripping book is particularly welcome as there has been so very little written about Indonesian food in recent years.’
The rest of the nominations in alphabetical order
Mandalay: MiMi Aye
‘This is a deeply serious book’, wrote one juror, ‘and the opening pages make riveting reading with MiMi letting us into her family secrets and memories. This book offers ‘an evocative snapshot of Burmese culture and cuisine.’ Not only does MiMi’s unpretentious and engaging food writing make it ‘a great read, her recipes all sound and look delicious.’ Intrigued by the use of canned fish and the story of MiMi swinging in her grandfather’s sarong, one judge tried Popo’s Pilchard and Tomato Curry and pronounced it excellent. Another judge liked the section on fritters, while a third remarked on the transformations of everyday chicken in the section on chicken and eggs. There is also a ‘really comprehensive’ glossary of Asian ingredients and an even more useful list of stockists. One judge summed up: ‘this is a cracking cookbook that I’ll be using for years to come.’
Salt and Time: Alissa Timoshkina
This ‘intriguing and original’ book celebrates the food and cultural heritage of Alissa Timoshkina’s home country, Siberia, and showcases the many local and international influences that have gone into its development before, during and after the Soviet era. ‘She offers a very personal approach with reference to her family heritage and her own likes and dislikes, often with a modern twist. The recipes seem deceptively straightforward to the Western eye using very familiar ingredients but with unfamiliar flavour combinations and delicious results.’ The trio of vegetable patties are good examples; one judge could not resist the Squid Poached in Smetana Sauce; and Chicken with Prunes, inspired by the fare of Soviet Cosmonauts, also scored well. ‘This is a sparkling and warm hearted book, beautiful to look at, leaf through and come back to.’
The Food of Sichuan: Fuchsia Dunlop
Fuchsia Dunlop’s new take on her much admired classic Sichuan Cooking is ‘an extraordinary book and a definitive work.’ However, it is not just a high quality reference book: ‘it also manages to be a joy to the eye and a great read.’ One judge found it to be ‘a fascinating book’ that had him turning each page ‘to learn the cuisine as a whole rather than just leafing through for recipes.’ Another commented that the descriptions of ‘The 23 Flavours’ in the chapter on Seasonings absorbed her for an entire afternoon. The recipes, too, were felt to be ‘of a very high standard, both accurate and appetizing. Some are extremely subtle, others more obvious in their sometimes numbing spiciness, but all are excellent.’
The Turkish Cookbook: Musa Dgdeviren
The judges agreed that if you wanted to own just one book on Turkish cooking then this would have to be it. Musa Dgdeviren has compiled ‘a massive compendium’, unique in the English language, that is essentially an encyclopaedia of the country’s multi-cultural and diverse food. ‘It is deeply researched and covers the whole gamut of Turkey’s incredible cuisine.’ The 500 recipes are uncompromisingly traditional and are based on authentic home cooking. One judge especially liked what she called ‘the unyieldingly honest collection of dishes. There are no concessions to long lists of ingredients or complicated methods. There are no modern twists or deconstructed recipes.’ Each section has a fascinating introduction to the history and customs associated with the dishes included, ‘and the whole book manages to convey the Turkish love of sharing good food.’ All the judges agreed that they would definitely give the book shelf space.
The notes on the winner and the other four nominated books were taken from the Guild of Food Writers website.