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Lateral Cooking, By Niki Segnit


‘Self Isolation’ can give us permission and time to find joy in our passions. We so often set aside activities we deem frivolous or unnecessary in our daily life, but no more excuses – actually it’s good for our mental health. One of my passions is food and cooking. My siblings and I always talk food, make food, swap recipes when we get together and this surmounts the differences between us and our lifestyles.

Our approach has generally been rough and ready but experimental, and these days we use a quick search of the internet or using a favourite cookbook, the latest being ‘Simple’ by Yotam Ottolenghi. My brother sent me a link to the ‘the cookbooks you need for 2020 as selected by chefs’ last year: https://www.nytimes.com/…/t-magaz…/best-chef-cook-books.html.

When ‘Lateral Cooking’ arrived, my heart sank. No glossy, mouth watering pictures, about 600 pages of dense print and an unusual way of content organisation. The section headings are Bread, Batter, Roux, Stock, Nuts, Sugar, Sauce, Pastry, illustrated by strange mind maps showing the development of each. Not a layout to stir my passions (sorry!) I lugged it home on the train thinking I’d give it a quick skim before returning it.

My spirits lifted on reading the foreword by my favourite chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, in which he explained how the book worked and how much he valued it. So, I picked a section ‘custard’ as I had been struggling to make a home country favourite – South African melktert and settled in.
Wow! First Signet laid the foundations by teaching the basic principles

of egg, milk and heat (low) and the rule of thumb ‘one egg sets 250ml milk’. She explains ‘Custard’ comes from the French word croustrade (pastry case) which protects the liquid from the heat. I then read about how the basic custard then can morph into crème caramel, crème brulee, creme anglaise and so on by tweaking ingredients and method.

She writes in an elegant, quick, prose packing so much into each sentence as if she can’t wait to share all her research and experience. This doesn’t make it difficult to read as her humour, wit and interesting references to other chefs or dishes, or history make the prose buzz.


Well you say, ‘how can I possibly use this kind of cookbook?’ Proof of the pudding and all that…. So, I made my problem pudding melktert for which there are umpteen recipes, but just using her basic pastry and custard tart method adding the essential cinnamon that defines it.

Result: the nicest melktert I’ve made.

After each basic recipe, Segnit gives a page of ‘Leeways’ which are a couple of sentences each giving slight alterations as well as longer ‘Flavour and Variations’, which for custard tart go from tarte au citron to a savoury tart ‘Tarragon, leek and sour cream’ each getting a good half a page each.

I was fortunate enough to have this book before lockdown started, so I now have the opportunity to carry on with another chapter…

– Review By Keynsham Library Staff


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