'Pen', a new cookbook by Yas and Fumi Hisai. Photo / Supplied

The Best Cookbooks Of The Year

In a year of excellent cooking tomes, these six rose to become a few of our favourites

Pen by Yas and Fumi Hisai, $60

When we spoke to Coffee Pen founders Yas and Fumi Hisai last year, their hopes for their Eden Terrace coffee shop was simple. “Just a corner cafe that becomes part of the community like a good friend’s house. We serve simple, good and reasonably priced homestyle food.” Adding to its humble perspective and on the back of a challenging year for the hospitality industry, the couple have launched their new recipe book Pen.

Featuring a collection of the cafe’s popular homemade sweet and savoury items, the charming limited-edition book is a creative collaboration between friends (and customers) photographer James K Lowe, designer Nicole Miller-Wong and writer Hannah Lees. Another sweet addition is Fumi’s step-by-step illustrations.

Available in limited quantities, 5 per cent of sales will go towards people affected by the pandemic, with 2.5 per cent donated to Auckland City Mission, and an international donation (2.5 per cent) to Unicef. Pen is available to order from Everyday Needs (Auckland), Frances Nation (Christchurch), Cook the Books (Auckland) and Coffeepen.co.nz

Simply — Easy, Everyday Dishes by Sabrina Ghayour, published by Octopus Mitchell Beazley $45

Persian and other Middle Eastern cooking needn’t be difficult, as the fifth book from Iranian self-taught home cook turned chef, teacher and food writer Sabrina Ghayour shows in this colourful tome. With chapter titles such as “effortless eating”, “traditions with a twist” and “the melting pot”, the recipes are tantalisingly quick to prepare, colourful and oozing with flavour.

READ: Chef Kirsten Gilmour's Ode To New Zealand's Cafe Culture

Weeknights will never be the same, thanks to super-quick dishes such as yoghurt- and spice-roasted salmon, spiced pork wraps with green apple salsa and turmeric, pomegranate molasses and honey-glazed meatballs. Divine.

Hiakai — Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso, published by Penguin $65

It’s been a year of celebrating what’s in our own backyard, and few authors do this as beautifully as Monique Fiso. The innovative young chef launched her Wellington restaurant of the same name after working at Michelin-star restaurants internationally; using indigenous ingredients and transforming them into fine-dining masterpieces.

As well as its 30 recipes, some more challenging for home cooks than others, Hiakai the book delves deep into Monique’s Māori epicurean knowledge, be it history, mythology or tikanga (custom), plus her love for foraging and fermenting. The ideal kitchen companion for anyone seeking to upskill their culinary skills so they can (one day, hopefully) wow our international visitors.

Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson, published by Penguin $45

Despite the title suggesting a flippant attitude towards food, really this book is about Nigella’s joyful obsession with it, and here you’ll find the inspiration behind many of her dishes. Her deep pleasure for cooking is clear, and will inspire even the most reluctant home cook to fire up the oven — fear-free fish stew, anyone?

READ: Rachel Khoo's New Podcast & Whether Veganism Can Really Save The Planet

It’s also the ideal Christmas gift for those who appreciate a little literary love alongside delectable recipes. Who else would describe gingerbread as “squidgy”? Part of Nigella’s charm is her flexibility around personal taste (and imperfection), with dishes such as her chicken-in-a-pot with lemon and orzo feeling rustic and casual enough to play around with. Soul cooking at its finest.

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi, published by Penguin $60

You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to appreciate Yotam Ottolenghi’s seventh cookbook, a celebration of flavourful dishes powered by vegetables, co-written with his test-kitchen sidekick Ixta Belfrage. For the budding chef, this is like taking a cooking lesson with the Israeli-born restaurateur and chef himself. The book opens with a list of 20 ingredients that he believes will transform your cooking and elevate everyday meals.

It’s also handily divided into three sections (process, pairing and produce) to show you how to dial up the flavour by using the best cooking methods, and how to let the vegetables do all the work. His aubergine dumplings alla parmigiana, ultimate tray bake ragu and chickpea pancakes with mango pickle yoghurt are all classic examples of Yotam’s ability to splice cuisines.

Bella: My Life in Food by Annabel Langbein, published by Aotearoa Books $50

No New Zealand bookshelf is complete without a cookbook by our Wānaka-based recipe doyenne, and this one is equal parts practical deliciousness and personal history. Annabel charts her love of food and nature, from her childhood passion for cooking and baking to her teenaged days as a hippie, to starting a croissant business in Brazil. Then she gets down to what she does best, offering 60 easy recipes inspired by her love of living off the land, her adventures in the New Zealand bush and her travels abroad.

Featured here are Annabel’s go-to’s, such as duck and red cabbage spring rolls, classic pissaladiere with caramelised onions, anchovies and olives, and rhubarb tarte tatin. Prepare to salivate.

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