Many chefs, albeit prodigiously talented, if they actually write their own books, simply recount what they cook and instruct us to do the same. Other books are written by cooks who bring the ingredients to life and inspire us with the pure possibilities of what we can learn about them. Dino Joannides’ Semplice, Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana and Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite each invite us to do the latter. Here is briefly why.
Italian cuisine is complex, chaotic, even sometimes anarchic. Practically every village in Italy seems to make its own pasta or have its own take on a dish; certainly the specific traditions of many dishes vary widely. But Joannides’ book takes a masterful grasp of the subject – which he describes as ‘more of a pattern with boundaries than a rigid set of rules’ – with a flourish of expertise, erudition and culinary ease. And like the other two cooks, he insists on the simple maxim, that using the best ingredients you can find will always bring you joy. And if you can’t always afford the best, find something else to cook. Better to eat less and well. To me, the simplicity of his recipe for fried aubergine seems like a secret of life and the salmorigano to dress squid, with its collaboration of dried and fresh herbs, is a culinary revelation.
Middle Eastern cooking at its best has been well-established in the British culinary repertoire from Claudia Roden to Yotam Ottolenghi. The aromas of spice and tart flavours, that combination of Mediterranean and something more eastern are irresistible. And Sabrina Ghayour is just my kind of cook: self-taught, a well-known supperclub host, she has added her own spin on traditional Iranian dishes using interesting ingredients. I’d never even considered pomegranate soup or that marinating asparagus in harissa gives it a bolder complexity? The design of this pretty book has a decorative, intimate feel. Which is just right. These recipes are all about bright, clean flavours and ravishing colours in combinations that are at once surprising and celebratory.
For me the modus vivendi of traditional Christmas is usually insane over-indulgence. We ramp up the calories – booze, rich food, parties, booze, suet mincemeat, more booze – before we’ve even manhandled a bit of oversized poultry in preparation for a week of non-stop eating. So Diana Henry’s book is written for the season. She’s fed up with sisyphean struggle against calories and is irritated at the endless definitive edicts and reversals in food research about what is and isn’t good for us. So for her new book she has embarked on a journey across a multitude of global cuisines, from Uzbekistan to Burma, to find dishes that chime with her deft kitchen wisdom and demand simple, nurturing ingredients in combinations that help us eat well. Henry is actually a writer who loves cooking; you can tell that from her irrepressible desire to talk to us. And it’s exactly that voice – part mischievous mumsy whispering in your ear at a party and part bloody good teacher who knows her subject thoroughly – that makes this book such a treat. Give it to a child leaving home or someone you know who needs a culinary shot in the arm.
You’ve got two weeks ahead of clear water to start rethinking the way you cook and the ingredients you buy. These three will be the best of companions on that journey.