17 Dec 2023

Six of the best cookbooks of 2023

8:27 pm on 17 December 2023
Best cookbooks of the year 2023 collage

Photo: Lucy Corry / RNZ

By David Cohen

Break out the wooden spoons and spatulas. Here are a half-dozen of the best culinary works of the past year, arranged alphabetically in the interests of avoiding argument about their merits around the summer dinner table that could be organised around any of them.

Eat Up New Zealand: The Bach Edition, by Al Brown (Allen & Unwin, $49.99)

Eat Up New Zealand: The Bach Edition by Al Brown

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"No-one cares whether you're a freezing worker or a High Court judge," Auckland restaurateur Al Brown observed recently of summer dining out in the sticks.

"People care about who you are, not what you do or where you come from." Fair enough, too, but all of them surely care about high-quality grub to which Brown is rather marvellously partial.

The author's ode-to-the-crib version of his popular Eat Up New Zealand is just right for the summer hols. Fresh fish, easy vegetables, pies, sandwiches and salads are the book's forte - not unlike a sizzling great lunch at his own Depot restaurant in Auckland - are the colourful focus. As befits an easy-going summer volume, most of the recipes are dead-easy to rustle up.

Butter, Butter by Petra Galler (Allen & Unwin, $50)

Butter Butter by Petra Galler

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Best cookery debut of the past year by a country kilometre. Galler, who has worked in Auckland and Melbourne, specialises in decadent baking and pastry, and counts among her fans one Yotam Ottolenghi.

She's also big on bringing back home a crisp European sensibility to the antipodes. This is something she doffs her chef's hat to her Jewish grandmother for first impressing upon her. Everything needs to be done in moderation, even excess, the party pedagogue cheerfully pledges in the introduction to this frivolously luxurious volume, and boy, she makes jolly good on her word.

Flavour by Sabrina Ghayour (Astor, $50)

Flavour by Sabrina Ghayour

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For anyone looking wanting to master the tricks of bejewelled rice or the most delicate of Middle Eastern braises, Sabrina Ghayour is probably not your go-to Persian chef. Budget-friendly, weeknight casual and time-efficient are her watchwords.

Even so, there's hardly a recipe in her latest cookery work that doesn't have fingerlickin' traces of the region she was born and raised in before decamping for London after the Iranian revolution. The self-taught star is also a great mix-and-matcher. Her samosa-style spiced pasta in the new book, for example, looks slightly dishevelled on paper (how does one shuffle together Middle Eastern spices, Italian presentation and Indian ingredients?), but totally works on the dining table.

Home cooks may need to get a few staple ingredients that pop up quite a bit in this succulently illustrated book - pomegranates, for instance, whether as fruit and molasses, of course, along with garlic granules and, especially, the author's beloved rose harissa. Most of the rest should be available at the corner store.

New York Cult Recipes by Marc Grossman (Murdoch Books, $32.95)

New York Cult Recipes, by Marc Grossman, Murdoch Books

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Marc Grossman, a Manhattan native now domiciled in France, unlocks and unriddles many of his hometown's celebrated recipes. This volume trawls through many of the iconic items - BLTs, cheeseburgers, hot oatmeal and cheesecake as deep and satisfying as the one this writer enjoyed last time he visited the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan - while also offering an insider's guide on the cult establishments to visit next time you're in the Apple. With more than 130 recipes to choose from, the value belies its small size and low price.

The Farm Table by Julius Roberts (Penguin, $65)

The Farm Table by Julius Roberts

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How did the best locally available book on farm-to-table book in 2023 end up being produced by a young British celebrity chef? This is supposed to be farm-exporting New Zealand, right?

Julius Roberts, a first-generation farmer who has built up quite the following as an epicure on Instagram, goes all rustic - plenty of lamb stew, pork belly and a particularly inspired version of beef short ribs. This ought to go down a deserved treat with Kiwi diners looking for something to complement the surfeit of recent works having to do with solely plant-based dishes.

Not that the Dorset-based author is neglectful of things horticultural. Jumping out of the page are curries done with tomatoes or eggs, vivid soups and a tumble of desserts round out this splendid volume. All helpfully arranged by season and presented alongside some stunning English photography.

Veg-Table, by Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books, $75)

Veg-Table, by Nik Sharma

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In which the Fiji-born academic turned recipe writer and ace snapper takes a salivating romp through 50 vegetable stars, matching them with soups, salads, sides, pasta and rice, and his own unbeatable photography. There's a lot more going on here than in the latest Jamie Oliver volume.

Wellington journalist and foodie David Cohen co-edited The RNZ Cookbook, with Kathy Paterson, and was the co-author of Ima Cuisine with Yael Shochat.

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