Niki Segnit’s first book was the lauded Flavour Thesaurus, a wonderful and often surprising guide to which flavours go together. In Lateral Cooking, Segnit explores the relationships between different recipes. She takes readers from a base recipe (for béchamel, for instance) to more complex recipes that use the same technique (say for croquettes or a soufflé). This isn’t about saving time or whipping up dinner. It’s for competent cooks who wish to be more versatile: an anti-recipe book.
Twelve broad chapters cover breads, roux, nuts and everything inbetween. Segnit shows how dishes connect: how custard tart and crème caramel are the same but for the ratio of milk to egg, and crème caramel and crème brûlée but for the ratio of yolk to white. Pease pudding, she explains, is ‘like dal, but without any of the aromatics’.
Segnit is a warm and funny writer, which makes what might be an intimidating book surprisingly approachable. That’s all to the good, because Lateral Cooking breaches six hundred pages, with no photographs and few illustrations. This isn’t a work for kitchen virgins, but it’s one of most exciting cookery books I’ve read this year.
Yotam Ottolenghi has heard all the jokes, he tells us in the introduction to Simple. Simplicity is not what he is known for. He uses unfamiliar ingredients, and lots of them; in so doing, he has almost single-handedly introduced Britain to a whole new way of cooking. In his latest book he aims to strip his recipes back so that they are still distinctly Ottolenghi, but simpler.
‘Simple’ is a subjective term in cooking. For some, it means speedy. For others, it’s about putting all of the ingredients in one pot and leaving well alone. This book obligingly gives us six different versions of simple, which together form the acronym ‘SIMPLE’: ‘short on time’ (S), ‘10 ingredients or less’ (I), ‘make ahead’ (M), ‘pantry’ (P), ‘lazy’ (L) and ‘easier than you think’ (E). Each recipe falls into one or more of these categories, denoted by colour-coded letters below its title.
The trouble is, none of this is simple at all. The categories flew out of my head as soon as I turned the page and I had to flick backwards and forwards to remind myself what the letters stood for. And sure, it’s subjective, but thirty minutes doesn’t strike me as a short amount of time for preparing dinner, nor is ten ingredients a small number. Even the pantry-led recipes require fresh ingredients, like cod or spinach, on top of a list of store cupboard basics, as well as a set of additional Ottolenghi-favoured ingredients – sumac, preserved lemon, and so on. We are fudging the idea of ‘pantry-led’ here.
If you get past the concept, the recipes are as excellent as you would expect. I find myself marking dozens to try: curried egg and cauliflower salad; cavolo nero, chorizo and preserved lemon; a tahini-crusted siniyah, Middle Eastern shepherd’s pie. Simple is likely to become a much-used favourite in our home, but in spite of its concept, not because of it. Ottolenghi is complicated and that’s okay.
Ella Mills, aka Deliciously Ella, is back with Deliciously Ella. The Plant-Based Cookbook: 100 Simple Vegan Recipes to Make Every Day Delicious. Mills goes to great and repeated pains to point out that Deliciously Ella is a brand. She tells us how she built that brand by creating products, opening shops and catering for festivals. Her introduction is thirty pages long, and that’s before you get to the lengthy diaries that accompany each chapter. While I have no doubt that she has worked hard, it isn’t terribly interesting to read about.
Much of Mills’s writing here is an attempt to distance herself from the charge that her food rests on dubious nutritional and scientific foundations. She now believes the conversation around food has ‘become too complex and polarising’ and that there is too much discussion of ‘clean food, dirty food’. This from a woman who happily told us to avoid white rice because the body ‘works best when it’s alkaline’, until a backlash compelled her to modify her position.
Mills claims that she’s no longer gluten-free, though all but three of her baking recipes use gluten-free grains without any real justification. All the sugar used is inexplicably unrefined: in a recipe for a particularly bleak cake, lemon ‘jam’ is made with maple syrup and lemon juice and thickened with arrowroot, and the lemon-yellow ‘icing’ is simply coconut yoghurt and turmeric. Of the seven chocolate-based recipes in the book, not one uses actual chocolate.
This, then, is not a book for most people. It’s for those who already love Mills, who’ve bought into her gluten-free, refined-sugar-free lifestyle. It’s clean eating without the label. Which is a shame, really. Many of us could do with eating more plant-based foods and cooking more. There are some nice ideas here, but they are lost under a thick layer of turmeric icing.
Simon Rogan is the chef patron of double-Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cumbria, known for its ultra-seasonal, ultra-local food. Rogan, his first book, is a paean to that approach. It is, without doubt, a restaurant book, large and cloth-bound, with big, beautiful photos of prettily plated dishes and the sprawling Cumbrian countryside.
I suspect that in most kitchens this book will not end up dog-eared and oil-stained from regular use. Like most books emanating from Michelin-starred restaurants, Rogan is more a piece of art than a working text. I probably won’t be making the buttermilk semifreddo with white-
currant jam, chervil purée and gingerbread, or the oyster pebbles (silver powder-dyed meringues served with oyster emulsion and apple dice). But that’s not the point of this book, which exists to show us the mind and methods of a brilliant restaurateur. I don’t go to Simon Rogan for eggs on toast, in the same way I don’t go to Ottolenghi for simplicity.