The Japanese Larder

Luiz Hara, Jacqui Small, Quarto UK, H/B, $55

As the author Luiz Hara states in his introduction, this “is not a Japanese cookbook.” Rather, it seeks to demystify Japanese ingredients and offer both traditional and novel recipes in which to make use of them. Brazilian-born, London-living Cordon Bleu-trained Hara’s debut cookbook focused on Nikkei cuisine; he’s well-versed in Japanese-meets-other cuisine and so the (dare I say it) fusion approach to many of the recipes in this book is supported by Hara’s own knowledge, and the knowledge he shares with readers in the extensive ingredient descriptions, chapter and recipe intros. Too often I find cookbook authors – or their editors – skimp on recipe intros, but this book is enriched by them.

The book is divided by categories of ingredients – core seasonings, fermented and preserved things, spices and condiments and so on – rather than by the the type of dish, a refreshing approach that flows well. Also helpful is the clean design, food styling and photography; it may not be trendily edgy, but it gives us what we need to take this book into the kitchen and cook from it, or into your local Japanese or Asian grocers, to shop from it.

Anna King Shahab

Tart & Bitter: Four Decades of Dining Nightmares

Davi Burton, Potton & Burton, P/B, $29.99

I felt a bit guilty about enjoying this collection of reviews of hapless restaurants, where David Burton suffered their food fiascos so you didn’t have to. Should schadenfreude feel quite this gleeful? Burton has a deft turn of phrase that can turn a whinge into anything from a gentle dig to a no-holds-barred sucker punch, which made me laugh out loud and squirm with second-hand humiliation in equal parts. But once I got over the discomfort of chortling at others’ mistakes I dipped in and out with delight: Burton’s wry comment that “chefs come and go, and as good chefs go, he went,” nearly had me choking on my rosé. This is a collection of the best of the worst of Burton’s reviews in over four decades of restaurant reviewing and really, when you read “by the standards of a Cantonese petfood factory, the food here is actually rather good” or “dinner here is rather like smoko time on a hillside building site,” the man deserves our thanks that we only experience these disasters second-hand.

Tracy Whitmey

The Catalan Kitchen

Emma Warren, Smith Street Books, H/B, $65

This is a book that reflects Catalonia in many ways: recognisably Spanish but excitingly different; sophisticated sometimes, rustic and simple at other times; tempting and beautiful to look at. Many of these recipes are simple, especially in the ‘pica pica’ section (the Catalan version of tapas) starring humble ingredients such as anchovies, olives and salt cod. Catalonia is famed for its seafood, cured meat and pork products and these feature strongly here, often in combinations such as pork meatballs with cuttlefish, calamari stuffed with pork and mushrooms and clams with cava and jamón. Look out for the charming illustrations that introduce each chapter, and the photos redolent with the pleasures of this beautiful, varied and individual region.

Tracy Whitmey

Meat: The Ultimate Companion

Anthony Puharich & Libby Travers, Murdoch Books, H/B, $95

Meat eaters can feel like pariahs these days, so it’s refreshing to see an encyclopaedic book that is unapologetic about the pleasures of the flesh. Building on the ethos of eating better-quality meat but eating less of it, the authors believe that thoughtful consumption requires one key ingredient: knowledge. Puharich is a fifth-generation Australian butcher who delivers a ton of information about breeds, feed, methods of butchery and cuts and how to choose your meat, while Travers takes care of how to cook it. More than 100 recipes focus on classics from the world’s major cuisines. There’s also a section on techniques, with a show-and-tell on boning, a steak-doneness comparison and sections on barbecuing, roasting and braising. If that red meat tax does come about, we’ll want to make the most of every morsel, and this comprehensive book has it all covered.

Tracy Whitmey

La Boca Loca Mexican Cooking for New Zealanders

Lucas Putnam and Marianne Elliott, Potton & Burton, H/B, $49.99

The beauty of this book is that it breaks down Mexican cuisine to be achievable in any home. The book provides earthy recipes, guides to traditional Mexican ingredients and the fundamentals of this colourful cuisine. It reveals the secret to hosting a Mexican fiesta – ginger spice margaritas, stuffed jalapeños and classic tamales are just some ideas to name. I have had the pleasure of eating in the eponymous restaurant in Miramar, Wellington and the atmosphere is just as lively as the cookbook. The street-style corn is a highlight recipe, taking humble corn to a completely different level. It’s creamy, spicy, smoky and downright delicious – everything Mexican food should be! Stock your pantry with essential traditional ingredients (everything is available from their website then craft a celebration perfect for a spicy start to the new year.

Sophie James

Lands of the Curry Leaf

Peter Kuruvita, Murdoch Books, H/B, $55

Renowned Australian chef, author and presenter Peter Kuruvita takes his Sri Lankan heritage (on his father’s side; his mother hailed from Austria), his wide travels throughout the region from a young age, and the use of the curry leaf as a starting point for a culinary trail that covers the Indian subcontinent and then some, reaching into Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan, too. The collection is a celebration of both shared and unique flavours, but above all, it’s about the key role that vegetables, legumes and pulses play in these cuisines; the recipes here are vegetarian, many vegan.

Meat or fish-eaters won’t feel there’s anything missing: as well as a host of sides, snacks, condiments (so many pickles and sambals to love) and staples like breads, there are main dishes that look utterly satisfying – Kuruvita’s rich- sounding Sri Lankan Banana Blossom Curry has me mentally making a note to hunt down some blossoms at Avondale Markets. I’d take the book along and use it as a guide of sorts while browsing the overflowing produce stalls.

Anna King Shahab

My Indian Kitchen

Ashia Ismail-Singer, Potton & Burton, H/B, $49.99

It was news to me that Gujerati cooking has subtle Persian influences – rosewater, saffron, pomegranates and cardamom – the contribution of Persian settlers into the Gujerat in the eighth century. Aisha Ismail- Singer deftly weaves these into her simple recipes along with strands of her upbringing in a Gujerati family in Malawi, East Africa, and the UK before ending up in New Zealand. Some of the dishes are Indian favourites that you’ll love to have a good recipe for – butter chicken, fish and coconut curry, mung dhal with roti. But Aisha is also happy to play around and ‘bring a hint of the East to a nutritious everyday meal.’ So we get the humble sausage roll come over all exotic with a chilli and coriander paste and a tangy tamarind chutney, and eggs wrapped up in spicy meatballs Scotch-egg style. Treats to finish include a pavlova gently scented with rosewater and cardamom (thank you Persians!), mango and saffron kulfi (ice cream) or a rather surprising beetroot halva. Lush, extravagant photos complete the feast.

Tracy Whitmey

Baladi: Palestine- a celebration of food from land to sea

Joudie Kalla, Quarto Group UK, H/B, $55

Baladi means ‘my home, my land, my country’ and for Joudie Kalla that means Palestine. It’s joyful family food, rooted in tradition, essentially Palestinian, but mixed with Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian as her grandparents were forced to leave and adapt. It’s scattered with location shots to give you a flavour, and that flavour is of stony olive groves, packed vibrant markets piled high with fresh-as fruit, vegetables and spices, glistening fish being off-loaded from bright fishing boats, and flatbread cooked over coals. My copy is already bristling with Post-it notes: I’m going to start with garlic labneh and poached egg on flatbread (all oozy-yolked creaminess with a yeasty chew), pomegranate and za’atar lamb chops with lemon, mint and yogurt will be on the barbie just as soon as we remember to fill the gas bottle and I reckon watermelon juice with mint and orange blossom will be this summer’s cooler. In a refreshing variation from the usual, recipes are grouped by markets and village life (including cheeses, preserves and drinks), the fields and earth, the bakery, the farm, the hills and orchards, and rivers and seas. Curiously there are lots of pictures of cute, long-eared goats, though no recipes for goat.

Tracy Whitmey