Are you one of those people who skips straight to the last page of a whodunnit? Do you read a cookbook review in frustration and haste, skimming the background blurb to find out whether the book was any good or not? Did I love it, did I kinda like it, is it already in the box to go to the charity shop? I’ll put you out of your misery, dear reader. Crave by Ed Smith is going to be up there with my favourite authors’ classics.
There’s something very Nigella-like about Crave, and I don’t say that lightly. As the estimable food writer Nicola Miller puts it, “it’s a proper flavour-first cookbook”, and it’s gloriously intelligently written. The thought and effort that’s been invested in it by Ed Smith bounces out of the page at you. My shopping list wrote itself effortlessly – it had me in its clutches from the off.
Right from the start the concept is pretty gripping for those of us who are led by our bellies: “recipes arranged by flavour, to suit your mood and appetite“, as the tagline on the cover has it. Our appetites are so often influenced by a combination of weather, mood, anticipatory pleasure and biology to crave a certain flavour profile. With this in mind, Ed neatly subdivides his recipes into profiles that might satisfy those cravings. Chapters are: ‘fresh and fragrant’; ‘tart and sour’; ‘chilli and heat’; ‘spiced and curried’; ‘rich and savoury’; and ‘cheesy and creamy’. Recipes however have a certain flex – you might see recipes in one category that you sense would slide effortlessly into another; this isn’t a hard-and-fast indexing of dishes, more a typification of a dish to potentially address your current craving.
Each chapter contains a couple of introductory pages describing some of the characteristics of the food and how they may fulfil that particular craving, then around 15 savoury dishes and 2 or 3 sweet dishes. The bonus in the ‘rich and savoury’ and ‘cheesy and creamy’ chapters is a single page at the end of each titled ‘A quick fix’: a list of simple, inspired and sometimes quirky ways to meet the need without effort (I was struck by the excellent suggestion of “a pot of peanut butter, a teaspoon, and no regrets“).
It is a sparklingly humorous book, with most recipe intros invoking a smile or giggle whilst referring to one of Ed’s food heroes, giving wise advice or encouraging words, suggesting alternatives or variations. In his acknowledgements he mentions the editing of his tendency to be a little verbose, but he has a genuinely engaging voice that editing hasn’t subdued.
We had a wide variety of weather whilst I was cooking from Crave for the purposes of this review, from cold, wet and windy to muggily heavy days, and my mood equally varied from bouncy and positive through to comfort-seeking, so I was able to explore a range of recipes whilst staying true to the book’s ethos.
An inspired rainy day dish of Lamb chops with cacio e pepe white beans was deeply umami and had that ‘cheesy and creamy’ character promised by the eponymous chapter title, whilst steering clear of stodginess. A great mix of textures and flavours with a bright pep from the pepper, and hugely satisfying.
Comté-baked onions with air-dried beef from this chapter also has my name all over it – Jersey Royals couldn’t be sacrificed to a nobler calling, I reckon.
From ‘fresh and fragrant’, Bream with whipped tahini and glazed green beans focused the effort on the side dish, leaving the creamy, delicate bream to shine whilst simultaneously giving each mouthful texture and zing. I do very much like the way Ed gives reassurance on the huge volume of dukkah: “it might seem a lot but it will all go“, and it does. I should point out here that one of Ed’s other two cookbooks, On The Side, deals purely with side dishes and as a result of this recipe alone it’s a book that’s hopped quick-smart to the top of my wish list.
Now that Ed’s revitalised my love of haricot beans, Slow-cooked, minted courgettes with white beans and fresh cheese from this chapter will be hitting my lunch table when the inevitable courgette glut arrives.
The ‘tart and sour’ chapter would be my natural home I think, particularly in the torpid heat we’ve recently experienced, so I beelined my way to the Buttermilk chicken with sour watermelon salad. As I type this Ed is Instagramming a watermelon-only variation on this dish which uses a trickle of honey and lime, and a generous sprinkling of the sumac and fennel seasoning powder that really demonstrates what a genuinely intelligent food writer he is. The salad without that seasoning would have been very pleasant, but with it, it is magical, to the extent it could almost outshine the crisp-shelled buttermilk chicken, were that not so juicily moreish.
When blood orange season returns, I’ll be making the Brown-sugar meringues, tamarind and blood orange from this chapter (even typing this is making my mouth water).
I chose three recipes from ‘chilli and heat’ (as Ed suggests, perhaps this is my subconscious desire for a holiday in Thailand, Mexico or Italy manifesting itself). Spatchcock ‘nduja chicken was ludicrously simple and perfectly fabulous. It’s here I want to mention how superb a recipe writer Ed is. He’s so careful about the impact of the type and size of your bird and the right ‘nduja as well as the stuffing method. Noting the care taken in every single recipe, you sense he’s tried his very best to work out how to make sure you succeed. At the same time the instructions are given with a lightness of touch and a softness of language that avoids hectoring and genuinely feels like a pal is in the kitchen with you.
I also made Fiery chicken laab with extinguishing salad from this chapter. You’ll probably gather from the title (though he does admit it himself) that the author has a predilection for the hotter end of the chilli scale, so you can adjust the heat to suit your palate, but I went “full Ed” and used the recommended quantities. It was a triumph, despite the fact I was gasping between mouthfuls – it’s amazing how quickly you adapt though, and the accompaniments had the promised cooling effect.
My final foray in this chapter was the intriguing Mango with chilli, lime and salt. We’re currently rejoicing in mango season, with our local Pakistani-owned shop selling carefully wrapped, sturdily boxed golden fruits, fragrant even through the armour of protective layers. I first tried this recipe as a quick dessert without the lime-spiked yoghurt, simply sprinkling the zest and a squeeze of lime over the seasoned mango. It was heavenly. I’ve since made it twice more following the recipe exactly and it has a completely different quality, more depth and richness.
From ‘spiced and curried’, a surfeit of cherry tomatoes immediately swung me towards Spiced tomatoes with baked cod and turmeric yoghurt. My apologies to the author, I genuinely thought this recipe would be a disaster. I ploughed ahead faithfully with it though, cooking the tomatoes for the requisite total of 1 hour 35 mins, convinced it would be a mushy, subdued meh of a dish. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sheer cleverness of adding tomatoes and spices at different stages in the process created an extraordinarily nuanced and textured dish, the simple turmeric yoghurt a fine counterpoint. Again, the fish was allowed to quietly be itself in this glorious melange. I completely understand Ed’s suggestion of brown basmati as an accompaniment too, the nuttiness and grainier texture would be just perfect in this instance. This is going to be a house favourite.
The Turmeric and saffron poached pears with spiced crumble from this chapter are already sneaking their way onto my to-cook list, as is Coronation cauliflower stuffed into a decent crunchy baguette.
I’ve yet to cook from ‘rich and savoury’ as (in the spirit of the book) it’s not my current craving, but Cuttlefish rice and romesco or Miso-braised duck legs, buckwheat and squash are bookmarked for the gloom of imminently-forecast stormy days.
Recipes are suitable for those using European and US measurements and terminology, with conversions placed unobtrusively. I noticed a couple of minor errors in the book but it’s generally extremely well edited, tight and concise whilst remaining chatty and informative. This is another cookbook where more photos would be appreciated – perhaps doubling up on some illustrative pages? And again, whilst the photos are pleasantly rustic and inviting, I noted that improved paper quality would make them pop a little more on the page. Minor niggles in the scheme of things though.
To finish the book there’s a very impressive index that’ll help you with ideas for random ingredients, an excellent and frighteningly comprehensive reading list that Ed describes as “just a starting point” (!) to inspire, educate and guide, and a short UK supplier directory for both fresh and store-cupboard ingredients. These complement the short Introduction which gives good guidance on the basic principles the author uses to underpin his recipes (butter is salted, cream is double, eggs are large etc).
If you’ve got this far through the review, you’re in for another treat, so well done for staying the course. There’s an extra section from Ed, which illustrates just how considerate of his topic he is: a ‘Directory of alternative cravings’, where recipes are grouped under a whole different set of categories. So if you craved something crunchy or something meaty for example, you could flick to these pages and get instant inspiration.
And finally from me: no, Ed’s not a mate, nor have I been offered inducements for this rave review, nor have I been abducted by aliens and injected with happy-juice. This is a genuinely beguiling cookbook that would perk up the most jaded of us, packed to the gills with recipes that range from adapted favourites to exciting novelties and it’s already got me itching to get back in the kitchen.
Recipes From Crave
We are delighted to share these three recipes from the book, with permission from publisher Hardie Grant.
- Garlic Pepper Butter Prawns
- Lamb Chops with Cacio e Pepe White Beans
- Buttermilk Pudding with Sharp Fruits
Reader Offer for Crave: The Extra Bite
Crave: The Extra Bite is an exclusive booklet of bonus recipes, free when purchasing a copy of Crave. If you purchase a copy between now and 23 July, you can claim the exclusive ebook by simply emailing [email protected] with your proof of purchase.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Crave by Ed Smith: Recipes Arranged by Flavour, to Suit Your Mood and Appetite from publisher Hardie Grant. Book photography by Sam A Harris. Our home-cooking photography by Nicky Bramley.