Cookbooks have long been one of my preferred forms of reading, especially this past year when I happened to be polishing off my own entry to the genre. At the same time, this has been a unique period for welcoming old friends and family back to the dinner table after the enforced isolation of the covid years, so there was a necessity there as well.
In 2022, cookery works also suddenly become more valuable in the strictly economic sense. After all, with inflation galloping along and money generally too tight to mention, what better time to bring a cost-effective eye to your home-cooking skills?
Not every cookery work I loved offered immediate ideas for savings in terms of ingredients. On the other hand, home cooking itself offers immediate financial advantage at a time when the mains at most major restaurants have migrated well into the $40-plus bracket.
And sometimes the best of the bunch delivered low-cost travel specials as well, taking readers to far-flung cultures without the kinds of indignities many of us have experienced abroad, with chaotic international air travel. Not to mention the other kind of trip, the one from the couch to the kitchen, that these sumptuous works all prompted.
In alphabetical order only, the following are just a handful of the works that gobbled up my time. As usual, unsurprisingly, women dominated again in 2022.
Extra Good Things, by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury Press, $55
Yotam Ottolenghi is heading to New Zealand next month for appearances in Auckland and Wellington, but frankly, I’m in two minds about the London-based restaurateur. Some days, I think he’s extremely good. Other times, I find him a bit of a genius.
The Ottolenghi Test Kitchen series seems to be a particularly inspired touch in these straitened times, adapting homemade ingredients in an exotic or different way to strictly standard dishes. Tamarind dressing on turmeric fried eggs and steak, anyone? Whole roasted carrots with sweet and sour dressing? Dreamy pasta and beans with halloumi and rocket pesto?
What he calls the “the great mumble jumble” of eastern Mediterranean cuisines remain the obvious source of the dishes, but the personal signature has always been splashing them with newfound colour. Once again he’s collaborating with a member of his own London-based stable, in this case the Bahraini-born Murad, with whom he worked on the fabulous Flavour.
The Food Saver's A-Z: The Essential Cornersmith Kitchen Companion, by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, Murdoch Books, $55
Everybody agrees that it’s shocking how much food ends up getting chucked out. So it’s a bit surprising that nobody until now has thought to put together a compendium of ideas for reducing the waste and (more to the point) making eminently satisfying meals with what you were just about to bin.
The Australian authors, both self-styled waste-warriors, offer storage tips, swaps and shortcuts for more than 150 vegetables, fruits and kitchen staples from their own Cornersmith Cooking School in Sydney.
What, for example, do you do with that huge silver beet that was purchased for just the one recipe and is now crowding the fridge? What about the leftover mushrooms that will soon be despoiled? How do you deal with too many chillies?
All is revealed, and hey, if this 505-page work helps you to save 10% of what you might otherwise have dumped, you’ve already left inflation in the dust.
The Homemade Table, by Nicola Galloway, Potton & Burton, $60
If your New Year resolution involves home growing, Nicola Galloway is your epicurean ally. The Nelson cook with the beautifully insightful and unpretentious style (and luscious photographs) is fast becoming a byword for DIY ingredients done seasonally.
I like the way she riffs on the idea that the most essential ingredient of all for newcomers to keep in a well-stocked pantry is enthusiasm.
Kai: Food Stories and Recipes from Our Family Table, by Christall Lowe, David Bateman, $60
Māori-style recipes have long been a curious omission from local cookbooks. The fact that Māori cuisine is still in some ways a work-in-progress isn’t much of an excuse, since precisely the same can be said of “Pākehā cuisine”.
Indeed, the two main cultures here in Aotearoa may have their differences, but one striking similarity is how both have tended to treat food more as a necessity than an art – although in both cases that’s changed a lot in recent times.
So, while I’m not entirely convinced by absolutely everything in Christall Lowe’s loving domestic collection – baked beans and eggs as a kind of Antipodean version of shakshuka? – the mānuka honey, muttonbird, pāua and all the rest serve as one of the year’s reading treats.
Persiana Everyday, by Sabrina Ghayour, Octopus, $50
Anyone familiar with Ghayour’s previous books – which seem always to be kept in stock in NZ, such is her popularity – already knows that this British star is the master of low-fuss Middle Eastern-inspired recipes that are accessible to beginners yet still often carry plenty of surprises for old hands.
Persiana Everyday has her doing what she does best, which is to say clear, precise and clearly well-tested gems.
RecipeTin Eats: Dinner, by Nagi Maehashi, Macmillan, $50
Nagi Maehashi, a one-time finance executive, is the queen of generally fail-proof comfort food, and I speak as a happy subscriber to her massively popular RecipeTin Eats.
The millions of us who use her food site basically wouldn’t go anywhere else for how to do mac'n'cheese or spag bol. “Happy dance food” is her motto.
Another beautiful selling point: the brevity of it all, not so much in her preambles – which can be a little gushy – but in the method and time: snappy weeknight and near-instant family fare are her forte.
Mexican favourites. Hearty dinner salads. Asian soups and noodles. Perfect suggestions for busy lives. Possibly the only good reason for avoiding this work is if you are on a strict diet. But maybe not even then.
● David Cohen is a Wellington journalist who writes frequently about food. He is the co-author of The RNZ Cookbook (Massey University Press).