I have been making this for over a year now, ever since I first got a copy of Niki Segnit’s witty and unique Lateral Cooking. Like her first book, The Flavour Thesaurus, this brilliant tome unpicks cooking and recipes in a way that no one else has ever managed (as far as I know).
In the Thesaurus, she lists ingredient pairings: what goes with what. With 99 starter ingredients and over a thousand entries, it offers flavour combinations that you may have thought of, considered or would never touch and, in doing so, pushes a home cook’s knowledge from safety into creativity.
In Lateral Cooking, she does exactly the same but this time, the starting point is a basic recipe rather than an ingredient. She demonstrates how to make one thing, then how to make another using the same skills and recipe, with a few tweaks.
The book begins with a recipe for flatbreads, made from possibly the easiest dough mixture there is: flour, salt, water. Then, in choose-your-own-adventure style, once you have mastered this step, you are encouraged to use what you have learned to make other unrisen bakes, like crackers and soda bread, then yeast-risen dough, for loaves, buns and focaccia, before finishing with a carb-coma flourish of enriched doughs like brioche and rum babas. She does this with both savoury and sweet bases, from batter to stock to sauces.
The recipes are straightforward to follow, and there are tons of tweaks and suggestions in the basic recipe alone, so that you can see alternatives, then stepping away from that comfort zone, Segnit leads you through different options whilst riffing on everything from Hemingway to Scrabble. Her voice is both sharp and funny, but also thorough and straightforward, like a combination of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Delia Smith. You’ll be laughing as you read, which doesn’t happen very often with cookbooks.
But laughter doesn’t mean this is a book to be taken lightly; the bibliography alone tells you she has ingested the contents of every shelf in Books for Cooks (a famous bookshop in west London, that only sells cookbooks) and is serving you the best of many of them. Whether you are a beginner in the kitchen or a recipe bore like me, this book will teach and entertain you for years. It is a cookbook like no other.
If you need any more proof of its brilliance, then try this kedgeree recipe: two saucepans and so much less faffy than the usual method. It’s very storecupboard-friendly, bar the fish. I’ve cut the recipe in half, which serves 2–3, since, alas, not many of us will be serving brunch for six right now.
brown onion, ½
butter or neutral oil (so sunflower, not olive), 1 tbsp
smoked haddock, 150g
garam masala, 1½ tsp
chilli powder, to taste (I add about ½ tsp but maybe start with a pinch and add more if it needs it)
ground turmeric, large pinch (aka ¼ tsp)
hot fish stock or water, 350ml
salt, about ¾ tsp (less if your stock is very salty)
frozen peas, 25g
white basmati rice, 200g
eggs, 3 (one per person, but if there’s two of you, extra won’t hurt…)
a little fresh parsley or coriander, and fresh chillies, to garnish (optional)
a little butter or cream, to finish
half a lemon, to squeeze over (also optional)
1. Peel and dice the onion then, in a large lidded saucepan or deep/wide frying pan (this is what I use), warm the oil, add the diced onion and cook over a medium heat until soft. This will take about 5-10 minutes depending on the size of your dice, and all sorts of other things. Whilst it cooks, chop the haddock into small pieces and remove any bones.
2. Add the garam masala, chilli powder and turmeric to the softened onion, cook for another minute, then stir in the stock/water, salt and frozen peas.
3. Bring to the boil, add the rice and fish then lower the heat so that everything is at a gentle simmer (this is important because you want the rice to cook in and absorb the liquid, and if it is too hot the liquid will evaporate before this happens) and cover. Cook for ten minutes without lifting the lid.
4. Whilst the rice is cooking, soft-boil the eggs to your liking. My system is: six minutes in boiling water, tap the shells with a spoon to just crack them, cool under running water, then peel in water whilst cool.
5. When the rice has been cooking for ten minutes, remove from the heat, again leaving the lid on, not lifting it to check, and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, slice the eggs in half or quarters and chop the parsley or coriander and fresh chillies, if using.
7. Once the 20 minutes is up, remove the lid and check whether the rice is cooked (it always has been for me, but my oven/pan etc are not yours). If it is not, then put the lid back for a few more minutes.
8. Just before serving, stir a little butter or cream into the rice, fluff it with a fork then serve with the eggs, herbs and chillies to finish. It’s also nice with a squeeze of lemon to finish.