Had I not inadvertently dropped out of Nonfiction November, I had planned a sort of Food Writing Week in the middle of the month – with my review of Home Cooking (which will still be coming soon), a Become the Expert list of food writing I want to get to – and this post. I still want to do the project, though, so I thought I’d add this little bit of context and still upload the post.

Although I love cooking, my repetoire has got a bit stale recently, and I’d like to learn some new meals. Also, outside of Nonfiction November, I rarely write about food writing here, despite the fact that I really enjoy it. I thought this might therefore be a good time to talk about a project I’m attempting next year. I’m trying to decide on a cookbook to work my way through – not necessarily in order, but in its entirety between January 1st and December 31st 2022. I won’t bore you by blogging about everything I cook, but I will try to post about any particular disasters or triumphs, or possibly a monthly update – haven’t quite decided yet. I’m therefore taking votes on which book I should pick.

I have some criteria:

  1. Something with between 100 and 200 recipes – I probably cook from scratch two or three times a week (and eat leftovers on the other days), plus occasionally have people round to dinner and might cook more than one course on those occasions. Any more than two hundred recipes therefore becomes unmanageable; under a hundred isn’t any fun.
  2. Nothing with a tonne of cow’s cheese recipes, because, alas – great sorrow of my life – I can no longer eat it due to faulty genetics. (Meera Sodha’s wonderful Fresh India, my original choice for this project, was reluctantly rejected for being full of paneer).
  3. I tend to cook vegetarian or vegan during the week, with meat reserved for weekends or if I have people over. This allows me to buy my meat from the butcher, which is more expensive but tastier local and higher welfare. So I would prefer a vegetarian or vegan cookbook, or at least one which is not meat-heavy.
  4. Nothing with lots of ingredients you can only get in four specialist shops in London. I don’t mind buying ingredients online occasionally but the whole point of this is to expand my cooking repetoire, and buying lots of individual items online is not sustainable in any sense of the word.
  5. Either all or mostly main meals. Eating two hundred different puddings over the course of the year sounds like great fun, but not particularly nourishing.

Okay – on with the options! I am also open to suggestions, as it’s possible that I’ve missed something wonderful. I’d be particularly grateful for any recommendations for one-person-household cookbooks. (Delia Smith’s One is Fun is practical, but the recipes are all extremely worthy. I don’t want to eat worthy food all the time. No other book I’ve tried on this topic is practical enough, with recipes that leave random odds and ends of unusual perishables without any thought about how to use them up).

Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen by Ravinder Bhogal

Bhogal was born in Kenya to Indian parents and then moved to London, so she has a melting pot sort of culinary heritage, which produces exactly the type of food that I like. Her restaurant, Jikoni, is very much on my list of food destinations that I would like to visit at some point when I’m in London. However, it’s on the pricey side (this is putting it mildly), and I can’t really see myself having a weekend out in London until mask mandates are lifted at some point in the nebulous beyond. In the mean time, this cookbook is very appealing. Some of the recipes cited in the blurb are: Duck Rendang, Tempura Samphire and Nori, Cauliflower Popcorn with Black Vinegar Dipping Sauce, and Spicy Aubergine Salad with Peanuts.

The main draw of this is that everything in it sounds delicious but completely outside my experience; the main drawback is that not all these things sound like they will store well, and living alone I do rely pretty heavily on batch cooking and freezing.

East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing by Meera Sodha

Given that this has a decent amount of vegan recipes, included some adapted from Sodha’s Guardian column (which I love and recommend wholeheartedly), I’m hoping it won’t have the same paneer problem as Fresh India. I already know Sodha’s writing is clear and easy to follow, and that it lacks the judgemental vibe that so much vegan food writing has. I was frustrated that Fresh India – written and published in the UK for a UK audience – has only imperial measurements, but it seems like that particular flaw has been amended for this publication. Some of the recipes in this that sound appealing: Aubergine Katsu Curry with Pickled Radishes, Black Dal, and Kimchi Pancakes with Spinach Salad.

Main draw: I already love Sodha’s writing enough that multiple of her recipes have become staples in my kitchen; main drawback: because of this, it’s entirely possible I will have already cooked several of them and won’t learn as much as I would with some of the others.

Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower by Gill Meller

This cookbook by River Cottage chef Gill Meller sounds great. We had a work Christmas do at the River Cottage in Winchester in the halcyon days of 2019, shortly before it closed due to the pressures of the pandemic, and I really enjoyed every bit of the meal. This cookbook is a selection of unusual but mostly easy recipes. It sounds like it is pretty connected to the growing seasons, which is great, as I get a seasonal veg box and am also hoping to produce all or most of my own veg for a through late summer/early autumn next year. Also, this includes nettle recipes, for which I am grateful, as they grow very enthusiastically on my allotment whenever I am absent for more than a few days. Recipes include: New Potato and Nettle Soup, Courgette Flatbreads with Lots of Herbs and Goat’s Cheese, and Roast Swede with Onions, Sage, and Chestnuts.

Main draw: the link with the gardening year is very appealing, and I’m intrigued by the number of recipes for flowers; main drawback: some of the recipes included on the look-inside seem much more like side dishes than main meals, which means they might not be as suitable for quick midweek cooking as they first appear.

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Ottolenghi Kitchen Team

Normally I don’t buy Ottolenghi cookbooks, on account of him using 1453 ingredients per recipe, thinking that everyone owns at least twelve pans, and never considering how long it will take to wash up. However, his recipes do strike roughly my preferred vegan/vegetarian/meat balance, and those few that I’ve tried have become favourites. His braised squash with harissa and chickpeas is an autumn staple for me (yes, you do need the preserved lemons; no, you can’t tell if it’s a banana shallot or a round one, or at least I can’t). Because this book was a) written by his staff, not him, and b) created during 2020, the year of weirdly specific shortages, it seems to have a much more reasonable quantity of ingredients per meal. Some of those listed in the blurb include Sweet Potato Shaksuka with Sriacha and Pickled Onions, Za’atar Salmon and Tahini, and Creamed Corn Peppers with Pickled Jalepenos.

Main draw: I like the chapter titles, which have themes like “Your veg box” and “The shelf at the back of the fridge”; main drawback: I am a little concerned that maybe the straightforward recipes I can find are a marketing ploy and, if I choose this one, I will find myself hunting down gnat tears and phoenix feathers on a wet and windy night next November.

Edit: apparently the poll isn’t showing in the mobile reader, so if you can’t see it but you want to vote just write it in a comment!