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Nine of the best books for the chef in your life as chosen by award-winning writer Nicola Miller



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Nicola Miller has been named Cookery Writer of the Year at the The 10th annual Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards.

The awards, the most prestigious in their field, champion the achievements of the UK’s current and emerging writers, editors, publishers, photographers, broadcasters and personalities who encourage us to enjoy, explore, experiment and discover more about food and drink through their work.

Nicola won the award ‘for her exceptional work in SuffolkNews’, which includes the Bury Free Press, Newmarket Journal, Suffolk Free Press, Haverhill Echo and Diss Express newspapers and the Suffolk News website.

Nicola Miller has won an award in the 'Cookery Writer' category at the 10th annual Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Awards
Nicola Miller has won an award in the 'Cookery Writer' category at the 10th annual Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Awards

The award was announced at a glittering event at The Royal Exchange in the heart of the City of London.

Nicola was shortlisted alongside Diana Henry for work in The Telegraph’s Stella magazine and Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer for work in FT Weekend Magazine.

Many congratulations, Nicola!

Today, Nicola casts her eye over some of the brightest cook books on our bookshelves.

Live Fire: Seasonal barbecue recipes and stories of live fire traditions old and new by Helen Graves (Hardie Grant £26)

Live Fire
Live Fire

There’s a lot of swagger in the world of live fire cooking, and it can be very off-putting. That’s why I have long been an admirer of Helen Graves, who has been championing an ancient style of meal preparation for a long time now without all the pomp and circumstance that cooking over fire seems to encourage in some cooks. She just gets on with the job of creating amazingly delicious and achievable food whilst championing the UK’s rich multicultural heritage of cooking with fire, acknowledging how it has influenced and guided her recipe development. Live Fire begins with a helpful guide to different barbecues for those of us looking to buy one, a section on the ‘best things to burn’ and notes on technique. There’s a focus on our wonderful homegrown produce (including lots of meat-free recipes); essays about specialist producers of smoked foods such as Craster kippers, smoked salmon, and goat meat and an exploration of Nigerian suya (meat skewered in a paste of spices and peanuts); the joys of hog roasts and carne asada; and the emotional bonds we form with foods via a recipe for sheftalia. Every single recipe tempts me, particularly the grilled sugar snap peas with mint, barbecue flatbreads stuffed with spinach and cheese, grilled corn with whipped beer butter, an upside-down nectarine cake with thyme cream baked on a barbecue, smoked coronation turkey sandwiches (so clever!), and apricot-glazed pork ribs with crushed spices.

Saka Saka: Adventures in African Cooking, south of the Sahara by Anto Cocagne and Aline Princet (Murdoch Books, £25)

Saka Saka
Saka Saka

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink,” said Epicurus, as quoted by Aline Princet in the foreword of a book that invites people with African heritage to describe their favourite dishes and the memories associated with them, via a series of sensory portraits and recipes. The book is named after the cassava leaf dish that “appears in a variety of different forms with different names” and is, as such, a metaphor for the dynamic, differentiated and blended, convivial cuisines of sub-Saharan Africa. Gabonese and French chef Anto Cocagne takes us through recipes that blend the modern and traditional. There’s an amaranth-filled ravioli made with wonton wrappers filled with smoked mackerel for special occasions; a cashew nougat which is popular across Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and Comores; a ‘shaken’ (kedjenou) one-pot rabbit dish from the Ivory Coast; a Central African version of red rice; an evaporated milk and lime ice cream; fresh ginger juice; Niter Kibbeh, a brilliantly versatile Ethiopian technique for butter spiced with verbena, fenugreek, cumin and saffron, and fonio salad with mango. Pages printed with regional wax-printed textiles make this a visually gorgeous cookbook and a comprehensive guide to ingredients region by region, accompanied by photographs and notes on Sub-Saharan culinary principles and techniques are extra-useful if unfamiliar with the region’s food.

The Last Bite by Anna Higham (Penguin Random House, £22)

The Last Bite
The Last Bite

As befits its painterly cover of juicy lemon halves and cherries, Anna’s book is fruit-focused and, unusually, asks us to focus on using just one fruit per recipe. “Your first thought when you eat a dessert should always be ‘that’s delicious’. Your second can be ‘that’s interesting’, but never the other way around,” she writes and – as the Executive Pastry Chef at The River Café – Anna knows what she is talking about. We have a collection of recipes that, in the main, do not combine fruits because Anna believes in eating produce at the height of its season and allowing the essential nature of each kind of fruit to sing. So there’s lots of helpful advice on techniques that will help you get the most out of your ingredients, plus poetic writing to help you better understand the philosophy behind Anna’s cooking. She is a lovely writer. ‘The Last Bite’ asks us to think about the essential ‘strawberriness’ of the berry in a deceptively-simple recipe for strawberries and cream combining four different textures (granola, ice cream, dried and fresh berries) served at room temperature; a section about plums tells you how to cook and preserve them, there’s a simple almond and fig cake and a recipe for her famous Rhubarb Chewies, which she compares to a classier Haribo Tangfastic and takes 24 hours; shows you how to make browned butter and use any leftover butter solids from brown butter-making by combining them with icing sugar to create a ‘log’ that can be frozen and grated over puddings; a versatile elderflower custard, and a gooseberry sherbert and fool scattered with oat biscuit.

On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill (Hardie Grant, £27)

On the Himalayan Trail
On the Himalayan Trail

This is a cookbook with one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen – a painting of a Himalayan landscape in forget-me-not blue, celadon and primrose yellow. It is a lovely, lovely thing. Inside, the beauty continues with stunning vistas of blossom-edged meltwater rivers, Romy at the tulip gardens of Srinagar, pans of palely gold pulao made with saffron and dried fruit and nuts, fried courgette flowers the shade of red oxide, a lone fisherman in a silvery-blue lake, and streams of gossamer flags. Just before lockdown, Romy spent time in the parts of India that abut this famous mountain range, talking to the people who live there, cooking alongside them and sharing their stories and culture in her book. Never appropriative, Romy honours them with a collection of recipes and images that take the reader with her. It is one heck of an achievement by a woman whose deep knowledge of India and its food culture and willingness to learn means I trust her word. The food, of course, is incredible: try the crunchy fried lotus root spiced with chilli powder and ginger (Asian stores will sell lotus root); Chaman Kaliya, a bowl of fried paneer in yellow gravy from Kashmir; a simmered then fried dish of lamb or goat ribs flavoured with garlic, cardamom, cinnamon and other spices and usually served at weddings; Alu Bukara Korma, lamb served with dried plums; fried trout with spicy potato chips, which Romy ate in Pahalgam and described as a Kashmiri take on fish and chips; an unusual dish of sea bass cooked with turnips; a pretty drink made with rose syrup, milk and soda water called Rooh Afza; and a recipe for Kashmiri Kulcha, a sweet and spicy bread roll, which Romy ate in Anantag. It’s flavoured with cardamom and poppy seeds.

Nistisima: The secret to delicious vegan cooking from the Mediterranean and beyond by Georgina Hayden (Bloomsbury, £26)

Nistisima
Nistisima

I have made no secret that Georgina’s second book, Taverna, is one of my favourites, and when she told me Nistisima was on the way, I could not have been happier. When Georgina was researching Taverna, she saw how many Greek-Cypriot recipes were centred around their orthodox calendar, especially Lent, where meals are based on the general principle of no animal products and adhere to fasting rules. There’s no need to worry about ‘going without’, though. In this case, fasting does not mean withholding food (perish the thought!). Still, it is the story of how resourceful people are when it comes to creating and cooking delicious plates of food that adhere to religious and spiritual principles. Georgina goes beyond Greece and Cyprus to celebrate the foods of Coptic Christians, Armenians, the Maronites of Lebanon and Syria, and the Russian Orthodox community. The result is an exquisitely beautiful and calm work of culinary art and history that is practical, delicious, and packed with atmospheric stories. I am mad about her recipe for fave made with yellow split peas and rosemary and Father Augustine’s Lebanese Kebbet Laktin with pumpkin, bulghur wheat and spices; a classic Greek dish called Spanakorizo made with ‘sweet and smoky spinach, tomato and lemon rice’; Eliopites (little olive, mint and coriander buns); chilli-dressed potatoes; her mama’s halva; rose rice pudding with roasted strawberries, and a Serbian recipe for apricot, beer and walnut rolls.

Modern Pressure Cooking by Catherine Phipps (Hardie Grant £26)

Modern Pressure Cooking
Modern Pressure Cooking

Disclaimer: I don’t own a pressure cooker, but I intend to buy one after reading this. I never thought I’d say that, but Catherine is a scrupulous tester of recipes and a true expert on this form of cooking. I trust her word when she describes pressure cooking as labour-saving (an important consideration when our utility bills have shot up) and capable of producing healthier, incredibly delicious and varied meals. And variety is essential for someone like me whose memories of pressure cooker food are not good. The things Catherine gets a pressure cooker to do are incredible: she shows us how to expedite the making of a Salad Niçoise by cooking the potatoes and eggs together with the beans on top, produces a dish of pork and dill meatballs with braised buckwheat and beetroot from one pot, devises a pressure cooker mac n cheese and a retro tuna pasta casserole (love!), offers lots of variations on risotto, quick dals, a plethora of steamed puds, a pale beauty of an orange Sephardic cake with almonds and orange-blossom water, and lots of soups. There’s also masses of information about choosing and buying your pressure cooker and how it works. Just brilliant.

The Dusty Knuckle: Seriously good bread, knockout sandwiches and everything in between by Daisy Terry, Rebecca Oliver & Max Tobias (Quadrille, £20)

The Dusty Knuckle
The Dusty Knuckle

The publication of Dusty Knuckle’s first book is an act of charity to those of us without regular access to its Dalston-based bakery and the delights contained within. Their guiding principle is simple: “There is no secret to the perfect sandwich: it just needs good fillings and good bread,” writes co-founder Rebecca Oliver and there are no limits to what can be put in a sandwich in the Dusty Knuckle world. From the gentlest of milk buns stuffed with a vegan filling of cauliflower with tamarind and date sauce, pumpkin seed tahini and coriander and lime chutney; a focaccia sandwich packed with porchetta, sweet onions, quince aioli and watercress; to the famous Vada Pav from Mumbai in India, you’ll soon be mixing and matching, guided by valuable wisdom on what your bread needs texture and structure-wise to build each sandwich. The book is packed with recipes and guidance to help you bake Dusty Knuckle’s famous potato sourdoughs (alongside lots of other bread), morning buns, Danish pastries, sticky buns with brown butter, and dimpled Focaccia. There are also recipes for soups and salads. If you need more encouragement to buy the book, the bakery was established to train and employ young people at risk; co-owner Max Tobias worked in a gang intervention programme when the bakery idea was first mooted. Dusty Knuckle is a delicious force of good in the world.

Cooking Alla Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan, £30)

Cooking alla Giudia
Cooking alla Giudia

The history of Jews in Italy and the ways in which their culinary contribution has influenced the development of regional cuisines could be better known. Some of Italy’s best-known dishes are Jewish in origin, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that. To correct this, Benedetta takes us on a beautifully-written tour of the Italian regions where Jewish communities are established and traces the movement of people and meals across continents. There are sections on Jewish festivals and how food is used to celebrate and commemorate them. And the food is exceptional: Venetian Sarde in Saor (sardines fried and marinated in onions, vinegar and pine nuts, which may have originated in Spain and then brought to the Veneto by Sephardi Jews); fried cocoa cookies called Castagnole, which are made for Sukkot, the celebration of the harvest; a sautéed and simmered red mullet stew from Livorno served on Rosh Hashanah; a herbed pumpkin spread from Emilia Romagna where the vegetable is grown in significant quantities; meaty stews and braises; honey matzo fritters for Passover from the Roman Ghetto; the famous Carciofi Alla Giudia (deep-fried artichokes), which are featured on the book’s cover; a dairy-free lasagne for Kosher households, and a traybake of golden Roman semolina gnocchi. This is the book for you if you want to know more.

Ammu: Indian home-cooking to nourish your soul by Asma Khan (Ebury Press, £26)

Ammu
Ammu

Asma Khan is an inspiration. She is the restaurateur and chef at Darjeeling Express in London, runs an all-female kitchen and never stints in her efforts to promote and support women and challenge discrimination in the hospitality industry. She is also an exceptional writer, weaving stories and recipes together in the most bewitching way. Ammu, I think, is the book of her heart because it is a deeply personal collection of recipes from her childhood, written when she was separated from her extended family because of Covid restrictions. The recipes are described by her as ‘quintessentially Bengali’, reflecting the spirit of ‘Ammu’, which she says melds the South Asian word ‘Amma’ (‘spiritual mother) and the Arabic word ‘Umm’, meaning ‘mother’. These are recipes written in Asma’s culinary mother tongue, and the book’s cover is a tribute to the embroidered cloth-covered notebook Asma brought to the UK as a new bride. Its recipes are arranged into sections covering different stages of Asma’s life, from her arrival in the UK and the nostalgic dishes she learned to cook as her skills and confidence increased, celebratory meals and menus, and her experiences of motherhood. I love the rounded curves of Aloo Bonde (spiced potato balls in chickpea batter); a Bengali roasted moong dal and rice dish that she says is probably her favourite rice and lentil dish; a Nine Jewel Korma, which cleverly allows you to use whatever vegetables you have in your cupboards; saffron-infused roti bread, which I would serve with her pineapple and chilli chutney; Macchi Kebabs made with meat or crab; a fish Korma which brings together the two traditions of Bengali and Bengali Muglai cooking, and a pretty rose, pistachio and apricot pulao.