We in northern Europe have had a long and delicious relationship with spice. We tend to think it’s just been this modern era of the local curry house that has developed our taste for food with spice and colour. But consider those old recipes that predate the high-street Taj Mahal, those that go back further than Dream of Bengal. I apologise if restaurants with those names actually exist, but please find joy in the unexpected plug.
Britain has a battery of recipes that have included nutmeg: no self-respecting rice pud would be without a fresh grating. Saffron has found its way into breads and cakes down the centuries. Cloves are among those warming Christmas spices used in quantity. Yes, culinary exotica has been commonplace.
But Arun Kapil has written a book that marvellously reflects not who we were, but who we have become. His mixed Indian and Yorkshire heritage has allowed him to wander through the traditional spice box without the constraint of maintaining Indian authenticity. He has compiled a raft of recipes that shout ‘dinner without borders’, dishes that ooze vibrancy and that craved comfort, plates that please and tease.
These recipes are often twists on European favourites and they are easy to accomplish, yet they are stylish. The dishes are, for the most part, economic but offer real impact. They illustrate how we eat, or would like to eat, and they are tempting in every regard.
Arun has chosen dishes that truly mirror his heritage and his continuing story. Yes, his mum and dad have laid the cornerstone of his culinary structure but his wife, Olive, and her homeland, Ireland, have added more. There is unmistakable warmth and simplicity that has elevated this book to the noteworthy. Cookbooks are for people who want to cook. Fresh Spice will spend its time in the kitchen rather than on the coffee table.
It’s taken me a while to review this book. It encourages a few hours at the Aga (no, I don’t have one but that boast sounds good) rather than just an admiring glance. I have so many must-trys from Fresh Spice that it’s almost easier to advise a trip to the bookshop, but a few should be listed as this week’s dinners. Coconut Mashed Roots could be part of a posh supper spread or as veg for the family. Potted Pepper Pork will have its place on several of my festive tables this year – as gift jars and as starters chez nous. Cauliflower Cheese with Spiced Mornay Sauce will likely be stolen and shamelessly presented as my own.
Fresh Spice is eclectic, accessible, whimsical and a good solid cookbook. It’s not Indian. It’s not Irish. It’s not British. It’s Arun Kapil at his well-seasoned best.
Author: Arun Kapil
Published by: Pavilion Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018