Cookbook of the year
Comfort and Joy
Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Ravinder Bhogal – broadcaster, food writer and chef/owner of Jikoni restaurant – developed an early love of vegetables from her grandfather’s allotment and the produce of local women growers. This engaging vegetarian book shares that love and revels in Bhogal’s belief that “vegetables are the soul of the kitchen… [offering] endless opportunities for play”. The recipes really deliver on that: hot and sour sweetcorn risotto with lime leaf butter, and mango and ‘golden coin’ curry are among the many that insist on being made. Bhogal moved to multicultural London at an early age, and everything about Comfort and Joy reflects the richness of her heritage and experience. If you like the idea of modern, inventive and cross-cultural recipes, written with warmth and love, there’s no-one doing it quite like Bhogal. Published by and available from Bloomsbury (£26).
Runner-up, cookbook of the year
I smiled so much reading British Indian food writer Gurdeep Loyal’s debut. It’s the work of a real talent: inventiveness, originality and pleasure run through every page. Feeling like an immigrant in both Britain and India, Loyal uses that licence to reinvent the familiar and create striking combinations, while including the deliciously different: ingredients such as wonderfully sour kokum (a dried fruit) get a welcome inclusion. The recipes are consistently inviting, and more than occasionally wow-out-loud thrilling: I couldn’t decide between sticky treacle and kokum chicken lollipops or coconut crab crumpets with railway crispy eggs, so I made both – and I’m so glad I did. In the introductory pages, Loyal builds your confidence in understanding flavour combinations (or “chords”, as he puts it). A book of terrific writing, bold photography and fresh design, by an author with a confident, friendly, humorous voice. Published by and available via 4th Estate (£26).
The best cookbooks of 2023
The rest of the top picks, in no particular order…
Roast Figs, Sugar Snow
Having become a classic since its publication almost 20 years ago, Diana Henry’s hymn to the pleasures of cooking in the colder months has been re-issued to the most beautiful effect. It is – in the days of greater attention to wellbeing and seasonality – perhaps even more relevant now. Of course, the recipes are exemplary – who doesn’t fancy tartiflette or chestnut and jerusalem artichoke soup as the nights draw in – but, as ever with Henry, the evocativeness of the writing is all but unparalleled. Everyone should own this book, and even if you have the original, this re-issue is worth it for the redesign and seven extra recipes. Published by Aster and available via Hachette UK (£22).
Brutto: A (Simple) Florentine Cookbook
In restaurateur Russell Norman’s fourth book, he turns his attention to the ‘brutto ma buono’ – the ugly but good – food of Florence. Happily, by ‘ugly’ Norman means uncomplicated, delicious food such as anchovy with cold butter and sourdough, roasted courgettes with borlotti beans and salsa verde, and four-ingredient meringue hazelnut cookies. Many of the recipes have three or four ingredients, but don’t let this put you off: dishes like pears with pecorino and toasted walnuts with just a dash of olive oil need nothing more. Laced with tales and evocative photography of one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Brutto is a beautifully designed, captivating window into the people, place and food that Norman clearly loves so much. Published by Ebury Press and available via Penguin (£32).
The delicious. team was deeply saddened to learn about the unexpected passing of Russell Norman, who died on 23 November 2023. Well-known for his passion for Italian cuisine, Norman made an enormous impact on the UK’s food scene with the opening of Polpo in London’s Soho in 2009, a Venetian-inspired small plates restaurant. He will be missed greatly.
One Pan Chicken
Food writer and chef Claire Thomson celebrates the nation’s favourite meat with 70 recipes that can be cooked in a single pan, dish, tray or tin. There’s much that’s familiar – madras chicken curry – alongside interesting combos such as miso mustard butter baked chicken and sweetheart cabbage; there are stews, roasts, salads, soups and more. Everything is simple, with no compromise on flavour. For anyone wanting to expand their chicken repertoire, be it a quick supper or a leisurely weekend feast, this is the book. Published by Quadrille and available from Bookshop.org (£20).
These Delicious Things
This book, overseen by chef Jane Hodson, food writer Lucas Hollweg and influencer Clerkenwell Boy, brings together food memories and recipes from over 100 celebrated chefs and food writers, with proceeds supporting children living in food poverty via charity Magic Breakfast. As well as backing this excellent cause, there’s the pleasure of recipes and food memories from Nigella, Jamie, Raymond Blanc, Stanley Tucci and more. Felicity Cloake’s mushy pea fritters (plus tales of a northern boyfriend), and Ottolenghi’s gran’s hoppel poppel (an all-in-one-pan recipe) are two that caught my eye. Published by and available via Pavilion (£25).
The Irish Bakery
This beautiful collaboration between photographer Andrew Montgomery and cookery writer Cherie Denham, with essays by Kitty Corrigan, tells the story not of a specific bakery but of bakers, cooks, millers, beekeepers, smokers, growers and other food artisans across the entire island of Ireland. Published through Montgomery’s own imprint, this book has clearly been conceived of as a whole: the photography – landscapes, people, interiors, ingredients and recipes – the design and the words come together beautifully. The writing is intimate and revealing, and the 80-plus recipes are a real joy: among many delights, expect numerous loaves (including soda bread and treacle and linseed bread), buns, biscuits, cakes (hello, Irish cream cheesecake), appealing pies and more that together convey the unique nature of Ireland’s baking and cultural heritage. Published by and available from Montgomery Press (£27).
British-Iranian chef and author Sabrina Ghayour’s appeal is in offering simple Persian and Middle Eastern-inspired recipes that are fuss-free and burst with flavour. Fans will be pleased to know this new book – her seventh – has that appeal in spades. Recipes include the likes of butterflied lamb with tahini garlic yogurt, Aegean giant couscous salad and cinnamon brioche toast, all without lengthy ingredient lists. As Ghayour says, “Life is too short to eat bland food” – with this book you won’t have to. Published by Aster and available via Octopus (£26).
In this delightful book, MasterChef runner-up Alexina Anatole takes 10 ingredients – bitter oranges, beer, walnuts, cranberries, cocoa and coffee among them – and “walks you through every type of bitterness and how to tame it”. The recipes are varied and compelling – chicory, roquefort and walnut salad, and coffee and Biscoff no-bake cheesecake jumped off the pages at me – but above all, the pleasure here is in embracing bitter flavours and using them to elevate, balance and bring pleasure across a dish. Published by Square Peg and available via Penguin (£27).
The Secret of Cooking
If you know Bee Wilson from her numerous food books and journalism, you’ll be especially delighted that she has – finally – produced a cookbook. This book is full of recipes so numerous in their appeal that Post-it notes are pointless: I immediately made the crispy cauliflower with pasta and mustard croutons, and the pear, lemon and ginger cake. This is so much more than a recipe book, though. As its subtitle, Recipes for an Easier Life in the Kitchen, promises, the primary aim is to “crack the code of how to fit cooking into the everyday mess and imperfection of all our lives without it seeming like… yet another reason to berate ourselves for falling short.” The author’s encouraging, liberating presence makes that feel achievable for us all. Published by and available via 4th Estate (£28).
The Farm Table
Leaving his life cooking in London restaurant Noble Rot for the Dorset countryside, self-taught farmer and chef Julius Roberts takes us through a year in his fields and kitchen in his first book. Organised by season, recipes are preluded with beautifully written short essays about the time of year and its meaning for the farm. The combinations are often familiar – elderflower panna cotta with roasted strawberries and black pepper, and apricot tarte tatin – but they come with a sort of seasonal abandon that makes them so appealing. Published by Ebury Press and available via Penguin (£27).
A New Way To Bake
Phillip Khoury – head pastry chef at Harrods – has created a book that will be a game-changer for those who follow a plant-based diet. Its subtitle, Re-imagined Recipes for Plant-Based Cakes, Bakes and Desserts, says it all. There are fresh takes on classics including tiramisu, crème brûlée and carrot cake – as well as a few side-roads such as nut gelato – all using alternatives to the usual animal fats, eggs and dairy. There are plenty of core recipes (for creams, types of pastry) and recipes that take advantage of them: ‘vrioche’ dough (a plant-based brioche) provides the base for pain au raisins, sticky date and cardamom buns and so on. A beautifully designed book that opens a wide door for vegans, those who are lactose intolerant – and curious cooks who just love excellent bakes and desserts. Published by Hardie Grant and available from Bookshop.org (£30).
Food writer and nutritionist Alice Hart specialises in vegetarian cookbooks filled with thoughtfully considered recipes of the kind I want to make again and again. Her latest also lives up to that billing – the green lentil and pea dhal, mushroom paccheri pasta with browned butter and thyme, and pedro ximénez spiced pears instantly knocked on my door and invited themselves round for supper. As well as being organised handily into suppers, sides and so on, there are seasonal menu plans with useful tips on preparation for when you have people coming round. Published by OH Editions and available from Bookshop.org (£27).
The Pepperpot Diaries
Andi Oliver shares the glorious diversity of Caribbean food, influenced by the islands’ indigenous peoples as well as “those who have come and gone”. This is a personal book, communicating the experience of a black British woman drawn to her roots, and the recipes – tea-brined spiced chicken, sticky star fruit pork chops – are really inviting. As Oliver puts it, while there’s “a dark shadow in the story… in our food, there is light and joy and survival…” Published by and available via DK (£27).
Pomegranates & Artichokes
Born in Iran, Saghar Setareh has lived in Italy since her twenties. Her beautiful debut shares the food culture of her two ‘homes’ and the space between, capturing how the migration of ingredients, recipes and people informs and develops food traditions. Laced with sour cherries, anchovies and courgettes, it delivers as fully on the photography (her own) and writing as it does recipes. Personal, lively and engaging. Published by Murdoch Books and available from Bookshop.org (£26).
Tuscan food writer and blogger (Juls’ Kitchen) Giulia Scarpaleggia celebrates Italian rustic cooking, where l’arte dell’arrangiarsi – the art of making do with what you have – turns seasonal ingredients, cheaper cuts and storecupboard staples into great meals. Expect enticing takes on the familiar (such as roasted squash risotto), an appealing array of stews, breads and more, along with surprises such as Sicilian watermelon pudding. Published by Artisan and available via Hachette UK (£30).
Amy Newsome’s beautifully photographed first book is a plot-to-plate love letter to bees and their glorious honey. While rooted in the beekeeper’s year, offering a window into the practicalities and what makes bees so magical, the majority is dedicated to making the most of honey in the kitchen. The recipes are a diverse delight, from smoked lime and honey chicken to lemon pollen pie. Published by Quadrille and available via Hardie Grant (£27).
Sumayya Usmani’s exploration of the food of Pakistan is full of enticing recipes – hello, saffron black cardamom fudge and yakhni chicken pullao – but this is as much memoir as cookbook. Now living in Scotland, Usmani writes openly about growing up as a woman in Pakistan in the 1980s and 90s, the influence of maternal figures in her life, and how cooking – and many of these recipes – helped her find her place in the world. Published by Murdoch Books and available from Bookshop.org (£25).
Dark Rye and Honey Cake
Regula Ysewijn’s remarkable book explores the distinctive culinary identity of Belgium – her country of birth – through the lens of its feasts and festivals’ baking traditions. As superb as the recipes are – I loved the 19th century Brusselse wafel and the worstenbrood (a sausage bread) – this beautifully photographed book satisfies so deeply thanks to drawing on art, history and much research to paint a rounded picture of the culture behind the flavours. A stunning, personal and original joy. Published by Murdoch Books and available from Bookshop.org (£26).
Time and Tide
In the follow up to her first book Sea & Shore, chef Emily Scott shares the recipes that colour her day: chapters such as Rise & Shine are plump with early morning delights. The book is filled with the colours and landscapes of the north Cornwall coast where Scott lives (and ran her Watergate Bay restaurant until earlier this year). Short essays on time and place, foraging and more punctuate the unfussy, flavour-led recipes, such as monkfish and saffron curry, and clotted cream and lemon drizzle Bundt cake. Published by Hardie Grant and available from Bookshop.org (£28).
Writer, photographer and molecular biologist Nik Sharma publishes his third book where recipes and techniques are underpinned by scientific insight. This isn’t a vegetarian book but rather vegetable-centred: over 50 recipes are organised by plant family into suites of inventive recipes that encourage us to put vegetables at the heart of our diet. Expect everything from pasta with broccoli miso sauce to chicken katsu with poppy seed coleslaw. Recipes are accompanied by atmospheric photography, instructional illustrations and cook’s notes that encourage substitutions and experimentation. Published by and available from Chronicle Books (£26).
Pub Kitchen: The Ultimate Modern British Food Bible
Chef, presenter and author Tom Kerridge is proprietor of The Hand and Flowers in Marlow – the only pub in the world to have two Michelin stars – and serves up a book that shows us how to create the best home versions of his new pub classics. Expect simple, adventurous takes with big flavours: the Indian-spiced lamb shoulder and hake with yuzu hollandaise immediately took my eye. An inspiring book, beautifully photographed by Cristian Barnett. Published by and available from Bloomsbury Absolute (£28).
Fish For Dinner
The latest by star chef Nathan Outlaw delivers exactly what it says in the subtitle, Delicious Seafood Recipes to Cook at Home, bringing confidence to those preparing fish and seafood in their own kitchen – which can be intimidating. Techniques, tips and advice on alternative fish to try sit alongside a wonderful collection of recipes including soups, stews and mains such jerk john dory with coconut and snap pea salad. As ever, the simplicity of many of Outlaw’s recipes disguise the pleasure they bring. Published by Kyle Books and available via Octopus (£28).
Baking For Pleasure
Pastry chef, Junior Bake-Off judge and author Ravneet Gill’s third book invites us to seek pleasure in baking. For the first time in a book, Gill shares savoury recipes – I made the ’nduja sausage rolls and can’t wait to do so again – alongside her take on sweet classics, plus twists such as chocolate and malt baked custard. The recipes – reliable and delicious – are dipped with Gill’s infectious enthusiasm. A joyful immersion into her world of traybakes, cakes, tarts, biscuits, savouries and more. Published by and available via Pavilion, out 7 Dec (£26).
Food writer, photographer and supperclub cook Uyen Luu has created a beautiful book that majors – as you’d hope – on the pleasurable combining of sweet, sour, hot, umami and bitter flavours. I didn’t know whether to make dumplings (and if so, tapioca with sweet lime sauce, or cabbage, tofu and kimchi first?) or throw myself at the mercy of the fried bánh canh noodles with purple sprouting broccoli. In the end, I made the lemongrass noodle soup – and it was a bowl of happiness. The book is written with joy and zest; expect equally delicious helpings of traditional and fresh takes. Published by and available via Hardie Grant (£25).
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