Darina Allen's favourite cookbooks from 2016

So what to do with all those Christmas book vouchers?

Darina Allen's favourite cookbooks from 2016

Of course there are hundreds of tempting volumes like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, but this is a food column so here’s a list of my pick of the 2016 cookbooks.

This year there’s been a whole slew of books from the Middle East with wonderfully evocative titles, such as Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus. This volume, by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, is a love letter to Central Asia. It’s not just recipes: There are travel essays, beautiful photography, stories, and dishes that are little known in the West but that have been expertly adapted for the home cook. For hundreds of years, various ethnic groups have passed through Samarkand sharing and influencing each other’s cuisine and leaving behind their culinary legacy.

Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan is much more than a compilation of recipes. Yasmin is a British Iranian cook. She crisscrossed Iran with little more than a fistful of childhood memories and a notebook. Her adventure took her from the snowy mountains of Tabriz to the cosmopolitan cafes of Teheran and the pomegranate orchards of Isfahan. She was warmly welcomed into the homes and kitchens of ordinary Iranians — farmers, teachers, artists, electricians — who shared their family recipes with her, from fesenjoon to kofte berenji (lamb meatballs with prunes and barberries) and delicious desserts like rose and almond cake.

Naomi Duguid, whose book on Burma also entranced me in 2016, has written Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan.

Mesmerising tales and exceptional recipes for beguiling dishes from the rich, soupy stews called ash to spiced grilled kebabs, barbari breads, and alluring sweets like rosewater pudding and date halva.

If you don’t already have the Honey and Co cookbook, Food from the Middle East, check it out. Itamar and Sarit generously share the favourite recipes from their jam-packed café, keeping nothing back, leaving nothing out. There’s also Honey and Co The Baking Book.

Leaving the Middle East behind,

I’ve long been a fan of José Pizzaro, whose restaurants José and Pizzaro are two of my favourite haunts in London. José comes from Extremadura and, like many Spanish natives, is fiercely proud of his heritage, language, and, of course, the food and drink. He has a particular love and admiration for the food of the Basque country, in particular its major city, San Sebastian, known for its rich food traditions and obsession with the perfect tapa (pintxos). You’ll love José’s latest book, Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastian and Beyond — beautiful, simple tapas for the home cook to enjoy with friends and a glass of vino.

Salt is Essential: And Other Things I Have Learned From 50 Years At The Stove is the arresting title of Shaun Hill’s new book. Shaun is a hugely respected ‘elder statesman’ in the world of food. I have long been an admirer of his pragmatic approach and his food at The Walnut Tree in South Wales. He says, “All chefs, however proficient, need to remember that food must taste good, not just look good. The level of seasoning with salt and spice is crucial to the eventual success of the dish.” This book is packed with well-judged, carefully tested recipe that I love to cook.

Knife: The Cult, Craft, and Culture of the Cook’s Knife by Tim Hayward has also caused a stir; it’s brilliantly researched. Not just for knife nerds.

For lovers of Chinese food there are two treasures, Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China by Fuchsia Dunlop and China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan.

For cooks who love to grow some of your own food, The Complete Book of Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit by Bob Flowerdew, Jekka McVicar, and Matthew Biggs is pretty much the standard work on the subject.

Another gem, but this time a light paperback from the king of ‘No Dig’, Charles Dowding, is Vegetable Garden Diary. It could change lives — a perfect present for the cook/gardener in your life.

Finally the Scandi cook Trina Hahnemann is one to watch. I have several of her books but am particularly looking forward to getting the latest, Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge.


A traditional dish for Tunisian Jews, this is usually made by cooking the and onions in a pot of oil, then pouring the eggs in and placing the whole dish in the oven with a tray underneath to catch the oil overflow. We offer this lighter (but no less gorgeous) version.

Enough for breakfast for 4 hungry or 6 modest guests

Fills an 18-20cm frying pan


2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice (about 300 g)

Half teaspoon salt plus half teaspoon table salt

50g unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, peeled and sliced (about 200g)

8 eggs

100ml double cream

2 teaspoons ras el hanut spice mix

2 tablespoons capers

1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped

A pinch of freshly ground black pepper


Place the potatoes in a pan containing 500ml of water seasoned with the first half teaspoon of salt. Boil for 5 minutes, then drain.

Melt the butter and oil together in a good non-stick frying pan. Add the onions and fry on a medium heat until they soften entirely (this will take about 8-10 minutes), now add the cooked diced potatoes and continue frying for a further 6-8 minutes. In the meantime, whisk all the remaining ingredients together in a bowl.

Increase the heat to high and pour in the egg mixture. Allow 1 minute for the eggs to start cooking around the rim, then use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to push the mixture from the sides into the centre, all around the pan. Leave to cook for another minute, then repeat.

Now smooth the top and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, then use the lid and pan combined to flip the maakouda. Carefully slide it back into the pan to finish cooking on a low heat for 5 minutes before transferring to a plate to serve.

You can eat this hot but it also keeps well for a packed lunch or picnic and is just as delicious cold as it is hot.

Taken from Honey and Co, The Baking Book by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich

Blue Cheese and Sesame Biscuits

These simple biscuits have been my favourite snack with drinks for years, so apologies if I have mentioned them before. I have made them slightly larger on occasion and squirted beetroot and horseradish purée on top so they look a little more interesting. I’ve also served them alongside gravadlax and prosciutto for grand canapé situations. I’m sure you’re not silly enough to cater for this sort of event but will enjoy them as they are.

I try to use Roquefort or Stilton, but any blue cheese that isn’t too soft — a mountain Gorgonzola or Bresse Bleu perhaps — will be just fine. A perfect use of leftover blue cheese in fact, better than the overpowering dressings you may have tried to use it for previously. The biscuits are crumbly.

Serve bite-sized and warm.

Makes: 20 small biscuits


100g unsalted butter – cut into cubes

100g self-raising flour

100g blue cheese – crumbled

50g sesame seeds


Use a food processor to blend the butter and flour to the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the cheese and process for a further few seconds, on the pulse setting. You don’t want a blue purée.

Turn out and knead the mixture a couple of times to evenly distribute all the ingredients, then refrigerate until needed. Chill briefly before cooking if you have time.

Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4.

Scoop or pinch out small pieces of the dough and roll these into balls about 2.5cm across. Toss these in the sesame seeds.

Space the balls out on a baking tray and then bake for about 10 minutes or until firm and golden.

Taken from Salt Is Essential by Shaun Hill. Published by Kyle Books. Photography: Tamin Jones

Samarkand Plov

The quintessential dish of Uzbekistan, with as many variants as there are people who cook it. This Samarkand version is a little lighter than most traditional Uzbek plovs, where pools of lamb tail fat provide the dominant flavour. It can be made with lamb or beef and is distinctive for being cooked and served in layers. Plov should be eaten from one large dish placed on the table to share, each diner digging in their fork. It is said people form mutual love from a communal plate and the joy of eating plov.

You’ll need a good, heavy-bottomed pan with a close-fitting lid to make plov. In Uzbekistan, a cast-iron kazan is used; a large cast-iron casserole makes the perfect substitute.

Serves 6


450g basmati rice, rinsed

600g blade stewing steak, diced

150ml clarified butter or

sunflower oil

4 onions, cut into wedges

2 bay leaves

4 yellow and 2 orange carrots

(or use 6 orange), cut into

thick matchsticks

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Half teaspoon black pepper

Half teaspoon cayenne pepper

Half teaspoon paprika

12 garlic cloves, unpeeled

12 hard-boiled quail’s eggs, peeled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put the rinsed rice into a large bowl of cold water to soak while you start the recipe. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the clarified butter in the pan until hot and foaming. Brown the beef over a medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon leaving the butter behind. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden. Return the beef to the pan with any collected juices, the bay leaves and a small cupful of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down very low, cover the pan and gently simmer for one hour until the meat is tender.

Spread over the carrot matchsticks, but don’t stir as you want to keep the layers separate. Scatter over the spices, and cover and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Drain the rice and layer it on top of the carrots. Poke the whole garlic cloves into the rice and flatten the top with the back of a spoon. Season very generously with salt and slowly pour over enough boiling water to just cover the top of the rice. Increase the heat and leave the pan uncovered so that the water starts to boil away.

When the liquid has cooked off, make six holes in the rice using the handle of a wooden spoon to help the steam escape. Cover the pan and cook at a low simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat without removing the lid and leave the dish to steam undisturbed for a further 10 minutes. If the rice isn’t cooked, add a splash more boiling water and cover again. Serve the layers in reverse, first spooning the rice onto the platter, then the carrots and finally the tender chunks of meat on the top. Circle the hard-boiled quail’s eggs around the edge. A juicy tomato salad is the perfect accompaniment.

Taken from: Samarkand by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, published by Kyle Books, priced €29.27.

Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Serves 4


5 boneless chicken legs cut into ¾ inch (2cm) cubes

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

1½ teaspoons cornflour

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for deep frying

¾ cup (3½ oz/100 g) cashew nuts

6 shallots, quartered

1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

2 spring onions, stems only, cut into 2 inch (5 cm) lengths

½ teaspoon sesame oil

Coriander leaves for garnish, roughly chopped

Steamed rice, to serve


Combine the chicken, garlic, salt, wine and 1 teaspoon of cornflour in a large bowl, then add the oil and marinate for 10 minutes.

Put the cashew nuts into a wok or large frying pan and add enough oil to cover them completely. Heat the oil to 285F/140C or until a cube of bread turns golden in 2 minutes. Deep fry the nuts for 2-3 minutes or until crunchy. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the nuts from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Pour out most of the oil leaving 1 tablespoon in the wok and heat over a medium heat. Add the shallots and stir fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Put in the chicken, increase the heat to high and toss rapidly for 2 minutes until browned.

Add the bell pepper and soy sauce and stir fry for another minute or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the spring onions.

Mix the remaining ½ teaspoon cornflour with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl and stir this mixture into the wok. Bring to a boil stirring for about 30 seconds to thicken the sauce. Add the sesame oil and garnish with coriander, if using. Serve with steamed rice.

Taken from China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan

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