Here are my favourite food and drink books published in 2022 with something to suit everyone’s prezzie stocking. I make no apologies for kicking off with a couple addressing, in their different approaches, a wellbeing approach to eating. The health of our planet seems inextricably bound to the healthiness of what we eat.
Food For Life by Tim Spector (Jonathan Cape, £20)
Initially sceptical about yet another nutritional gospel, I was won over by the famous epidemiologist dissing ‘superfoods’ and proclaiming his own food passions, which include dark chocolate, red wine and butter alongside all those key ferments, kimchi, kombucha and sourdough bread. Such food choices for health? Im with him all the way.
The new tome is an upgrade on his The Diet Myth, (2015), which popularised the idea that each of us has a unique and constantly changing gut microbiome that is crucial to our health and 2020’s Spoon Fed, in 2020, which debunked a legacy of food misinformation that encourage us to consume many products that are of scant nutritional value. The microbiome continues to take centre stage but the research message is that each individual’s ideal diet is different and common sense should prevail.
Healthy Vegan Street Food by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20)
A key element in Spector’s message is the importance of plant-based while avoiding the trap of vegan ready meals. He is keen on spices too, so Jackie’s latest book, revisiting her food discoveries across South East Asia, is a natural companion in the stocking. The former MasterChef finalist expounds on the health value of these tasty cuisines in my recent interview with her. What really impresses is, seven years on from her debut cookbook, the lack of recipe duplication alongside the lessons she has learned about the health value of ingredients as she tackles he own auto-immune issues.
Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Cynthia Shanmugalingam (Bloomsbury, £26)
Like with buses, you wait around for ages for a definitive book on Sri Lankan cookery and then two come along. Compendious indeed is Hoppers, from the London chain name-checking the savoury rice crepe synonymous with the island, but I prefer this more narrative-driven alternative with its 80 attractive recipes, including fabulous mutton rolls. Coventry-born Cynthia’s family hails from the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka – Tamil territory – and the book does not shy away from the terrible conflicts as it explores the ravishing culinary culture. Above all, it is a celebration of a family in exile maintaining its links via food.
Notes from a Small Kitchen Island by Debora Robertson (Penguin, £26)
Now for a read that is less dramatic but with it own distinctive, domestic voice. The chapter names reveal the wry take on food from this erstwhile Daily Telegraph columnist: No one wants brunch’; ‘Why everyone hates picnics’; ‘How to survive having people to stay’; ‘unInstagrammable, that’s what you are’. Like Nigella Lawson, I am a fan of this diarist, whose kitchen apercus straddle Co Durham and the Languedoc.
Here’s Debs on Roast Lamb with Durham Salad: “ My slow-roast lamb is luscious and garlicky, which would probably have offended my northern antecedents, who greeted the arrival of garlic in the trattorias and brasseries of County Durham circa 1970 with no small amount of suspicion, bordering on disdain. My mother, being a free spirit and one of the first people in the county to wear cork wedges, suede trouser suits and, famously, a crocheted bikini made by my Auntie Dolly, was an early adopter and always loved, and still loves, garlic, so this is for her.”
Cooking: Simply and Well for One or Many? by Jeremy Lee (4th Estate, £30)
Distinctive voices? Well that surely bring us to ‘national treasure’ candidate Jeremy Lee, whose debut cook book has been rapturously promoted. For once, happy to endorse; this really is an instant classic – my prime Christmas prezzie recommendation. I devoted a whole article to his recipe for salsify but in my heart of hearts would settle for the signature sandwich at his Soho restaurant Quo Vadis – smoked eel.
Butter: A celebration by Olivia Potts (Headline, £26)
Jeremy Lee prefers light, unsalted butter for cooking and baking. In her debut cookbook Spectator magazine `Vintage Cook’ columnist and former barrister Olivia begs to differ. Salted is her go-to in th fridge. Who’s to argue with a cook devoting 350 pages to the glorious (and healthy) key to so many culinary delights. I’ve been cooking from it ever since it dropped through my letterbox – most notably a Wild Mushroom, Tarragon and Mushroom Pithivier.
A Dark History of Sugar by Dr Neil Buttery (Pen & Sword, £20)
Sugar – now there’s another much-debated kitchen essential, this time with a troubled history to match its place on the table. I interviewed the Levenshulme-based (and yes sweet-toothed) food historian about his research which encompassed the murky worlds of both slavery and later, teeth-rotting commercial exploitation. Dark stuff indeed, but this is a delightful read, if not for the squeamish.
The World of Natural Wine by Aaron Ayscough (Artisan, £31.99) and The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil (Workman, £31.99)
Two very different approaches to wine writing, each to be treasured, both authors from the States. Natural wine proselytiser Ayscough is based in Beaujolais, the crucible of the natural wine movement thanks to certain key figures over the past four decades. Across 400 pages he traces that timeline in depth, exhaustively explaining what make this alternative ethos superior to mainstream ‘manipulative’ winemaking.
Karen McNeil’s encyclopaedic tome runs to 700 pages and embraces the mainstream. The first two editions have old more than 800,000 copies. This updated third now has the advantage of colour and whole new chapters on Great Britain, Croatia, and Israel. he chapters on France, Italy, Australia, South America, and the United States are greatly expanded. What I like are the little sidebars on regional food or culture anecdotes. A great, approachable yet opinionated entry in the ever-evolving world of the grape.