The last cookbook that really inspired me was the River Cafe cookbook. That blue book put a premium on fresh, quality ingredients. These were expensive, yes, but they also repaid their expense in flavour and depth. That book was a revelation to me. It also pandered to my obsessive love of the Bello Paese.
Recently I have been given two new cook books, Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and India by Rick Stein. Since coming home I have been dipping into both. I was a little surprised to see last weekend that Jerusalem has been elected The Observer Food Monthly’s book of the year.
Surprised, not because it’s no good, but just because I don’t find the contents that inspiring…It doesn’t particularly make me want to go to Jerusalem, and certainly not in the same way the River Café Cookbook made me want to head to Tuscany. Jerusalem is full of good, healthy, everday food. But there seems little to roll out to impress at a dinner party.
Rick Stein’s India is the resultant book of his recent tv series on the BBC. It is interesting because apart from one apparition by an Austrian convertible Beetle driving chef, France does not do celebrity chefs. And even less celebrity chefs doing things other than congratulating themselves on their cuisine classique. And it is a pity, because with a little less complacency and tablespoon more curiosity, France would be a far more interesting place to eat.
France’s faults aside, the tv series really was inspiring. It’s twenty five years since I went to India and I have an almost constant longing to return. Perhaps this year…
Stein’s programme, from his cooking on the backwaters of Kerala to the hills of Ajmer and the Punjab was incredibly evocative. I never thought I would buy the DVD set of a cooking programme, but of this I will. And the book is great too. My Indian dinners have always suffered from a slight sameness and lack of variety. I have come to understand that this is both owing to a lack of imagination in my ingredients, but above all a lack of understanding of spices. These seem essential to a successful curry.
From now on it’s regular concoctions of my own garam masalas and regular throw outs in the spice drawer. Freshness, freshness, freshness.
I have a source for fresh curry leaves, and a fantastic Indian supermarket in Paris who deliver. Vegetarian, fish and meat varieties await, and between Madhur Jaffrey and Rick Stein, I am looking forward to putting feasts on the table.