With all the cookbooks that come out each year, repeating volumes filled with market-driven dishes prettily photographed in vintage cookwear on hardwood tabletops, it’s easy to overlook some of the best examples of the genre. This would be a shame, not least because in the rush for more exotic culinary locales or flashier titles you might miss “Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.” This is the 10th cookbook from Northern Ireland-born, London-based cookbook author Diana Henry, who won a James Beard Award for her 2015 cookbook “A Bird in the Hand.”
Henry, a prolific writer who is also a longtime food columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, has collected more than 150 recipes in her latest book, which she describes as a follow-up to her 12-year-old cookbook “Pure Simple Cooking,” calibrated for the wider array of ingredients now available online and with a shift toward cooking that’s more grain- and vegetable-focused. Thus there are recipes for everyday sorts of things, divided up by headings as simple as the conceit of the book: eggs and roasts, vegetables and toasts. All this happy simplicity isn’t deceptive as it is with some cookbooks engineered by lesser writers. Rather, the forthright recipes and chatty asides are plain in the way that Jane Grigson and Richard Olney were plain, which is to say that these writers share a lovely economy both of language and of the cooking itself.
But don’t think that “Simple” is a simple book in scope, as Henry’s recipes include a pantheon of flavors (Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Nordic, Indian), along with techniques and ingredients (‘Nduja, salmon roe, harissa) pulled from other cultures. The first recipe in the book is for a donburi, or Japanese rice bowl, that Henry says she stole from Nobu; the last is for a Turkish coffee pudding. In between are pages loaded with Laura Edwards’ appealing photography (ceramics, jam-filled spoons), Henry’s cheerful commentary (the joys of canned food) and of course, a lot of truly wonderful recipes. We made her orange-oregano roast chicken in the Test Kitchen, and there is no greater recommendation than four people gathered around a hot All-Clad sauté pan, the air perfumed with oranges and herbs, the only sound one of spoons against metal.