This is the season for gathering all and sundry round the contemporary equivalent of the hearth, but trying to feed people who don’t eat entire food categories makes hospitality that bit more taxing. When it comes to cookbooks, do you go for vegan separatism or inclusivity?
Greek cooking and its cousins have the answer. In Orthodox Christian cultures, vegan cooking is the norm during Lent and other periods of fasting, which can amount to a third of the year. So Taverna: Recipes From A Cypriot Kitchen, by Georgina Hayden (Square Peg, £25), includes not just wholesome family favourites with the characteristic flavours and ingredients of the region, but also excellent dishes without meat or dairy. Mind you, when I made her filo pastry my ungrateful family demanded the shop-bought stuff.
The same principle applies to The Greek Vegetarian Cookbook by Heather Thomas (Phaidon, £24.95), which makes clear that meatless dishes are normative. Some recipes include dairy and eggs, but lots don’t. As the author observes: “Vegan food might have taken the rest of the world by storm but it’s not new to the Greeks — they’ve been eating it for centuries.” This is authentic cooking. Though eating the equivalent of fasting food over Christmas is something new.
Leaf by Catherine Phipps (Hardie Grant, £25), isn’t vegetarian (though it includes recipes that are), but it is “a celebration of edible and aromatic leaves”, which covers a bewildering variety of salad leaves, herbs and wild plants. It’s especially useful for finding ways to use unexpected plants and plant parts: there’s a good recipe for squash leaves with peanut butter. Who’d have thought it?
Diana Henry is a terrifically engaging food writer. Her latest, From The Oven To The Table (Hachette, £25) is based on those forgiving recipes that you put in a roasting tin or casserole, cover, and leave to cook by themselves. Easy, delicious cooking.
Nigel Slater’s latest, Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter (4th Estate, £22) is simple, too. It’s billed as plant-based but there are lots of eggs, cream and butter in a number of its excellent dishes, divided by type, such as “In A Pan”, “On Toast”, “With A Ladle”, etc. The recipe titles are River Café-esque, using just three ingredients without conjunctions (“Pumpkin, Onions, Rosemary”, for example). It’s a celebration of carbs.
I had great fun cooking from Khazana by Saliha Mahmood Ahmed (Hodder, £25), a MasterChef winner. It’s billed as “A treasure trove of modern Mughal dishes”, exploring Mughal recipes adapted for contemporary cooks but that are still rich and exotic, with flavours of cardamom, saffron, rose, fennel and spices.
The Lost Orchard by Raymond Blanc (Headline, £20) is a paean to the orchard behind the chef’s restaurant in Oxfordshire, where he grows English varieties of apples, pears and stone fruit next to French fruit from his native Franche-Comté. Each variety is described in terms of growing and cooking; the very names are evocative. The last chapter provides excellent fruit recipes — interestingly, Cox’s apples are good for most things.
Sardine by Alex Jackson (Pavilion, £25) is probably my favourite cookbook of the season. It’s from his London restaurant of that name, and based on the cooking of Provence. My goodness, there are riches here for every season, using the simplest (well, simple for Provence) ingredients, though there are also feasts for, say, the truffle season or the first olive harvest. Yum and yum.
There are, by definition, no duds in Signature Dishes That Matter (Phaidon, £35), a compendium of famous dishes, from east to west, and how to make them, from Vichyssoise to banoffee pie. Lots of familiar favourites turn out to be of quite recent origin. Really useful.
The Book of St. John (Penguin, £30), Fergus Henderson’s latest, is, frankly, one for carnivores, though there’s always the veg section. The pictures of animal parts would probably see off the more sensitive vegans. But the point of the project is to eat every bit of every beast. That’s the ethical approach, I reckon.
There’s lots of delicious dishes that are simple to prepare, such as the ham bits with melted Gubbeen, or the braised beef shin (which calls for a bottle of wine). The desserts are orthodox and tasty, too.