Books of the Year: Food

How to choose between a vast crop of cookbooks?
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The Independent Culture

Pardon the pun, but there's been a real glut of food books this year. Even the most greedy of amateur cooks might be exhausted enough to hang up their spatula by trying to keep up. Weighty tomes such as current food god René Redzepi's Noma (right, Phaidon, £35) and Asian expert David Thompson's Thai Street Food (Conran Octopus, £40) are more suited for devouring with the eyes than the mouth.

The best books fall into two categories: eat me quickly and savour me slowly. Of the former, the ever-reliable Jamie Oliver brings us 30 Minute Meals (Michael Joseph, £26) and if the layout is as frantic as the author, the recipes are worth it. A more thoughtful but no less useful guide comes from Skye Gyngell's How I Cook (Quadrille, £25). You'll know if you're a regular reader of this magazine just how good she is, and there are no duds in this collection. The no-nonsense chef who gives a daily recipe to our sister newspaper i is Bill Granger, and his Bill's Basics (Quadrille, £25) does what it says on the label, deliciously.

Rose Prince offers Kitchenella (Fourth Estate, £26), which lacks pretty visuals but comes crammed with nurturing dishes; and Nigel Slater's latest, Tender: Volume II (Fourth Estate, £30) does for fruit what he's already done for veggies – that is, make us want to seek out fresh produce and use it intelligently.

Among the savour-me-slowly titles is a true original, The Flavour Thesaurus (Bloomsbury, £18.99). Niki Segnit makes trying new taste combinations a game we all want to play, while hot young chef Jacob Kenedy presents a faintly baffling but never uninteresting examination of Italian dishes in The Geometry of Pasta (Boxtree, £14.99).

Talking of flavour of the month, Stevie Parle has been wreathed in garlands for his Dock Kitchen restaurant, but for anyone not near west London but whose taste knows no geographical boundaries, his My Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far (Quadrille, £14.99) is a must-read.

Of those books that focus on a single cuisine, the most interesting feature Indian cooking. Madhur Jaffrey gives us Curry Easy (Ebury, £20), her first book in seven years; if you ever worry that your Indian dishes look a bit brown and undistinguished, Madhur knows just what to do. India Cookbook (Phaidon, £29.95), meanwhile, comes wrapped in a rice bag and is printed on thin, coloured paper – all very subcontinent. The 1,000 dishes compiled by Pushpesh Pant cover every region of the country, and if you make it through all of them, you'll have saved a fortune at the takeaway.

The last word goes, as so often, to the most famous name. A compilation of the most treasured of her recipes, At Elizabeth David's Table (Michael Joseph, £25) shows yet again that years may pass but the flavours stay fresh. If you were restricted to just one recipe book this year, it might be this one. Lisa Markwell

Lisa Markwell is the restaurant critic for 'The New Review'

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