California: Living and Eating, cookbook review – sunny recipes from the Golden State, from short rib tacos to daikon noodle soup

California Living and Eating
Cooking the books: how to eat like a Californian, according to Eleanor Maidment (pictured left) Credit: Nassima Rothacker

The Golden State is famed for its health-conscious, sun-kissed lifestyle, and many trends in Californian cookery have already made their way to the UK, from the farm-to-table movement to the fusion cuisines of LA.

There’s a freedom and wholesomeness to the way Californians eat, which I’m drawn to: so when former Waitrose food editor Eleanor Maidment (a London-born Cali-phile) published a cookbook dedicated to recipes inspired by her travels there, I was intrigued...

 

The cookbook

California: Living + Eating (published by Hardie Grant, £22)

Th recipes are intended typify the spirit of Californian food, so Maidment’s focus is on seasonality and fusing traditions, with a “sub-conscious” drive towards healthy eating. It’s split into five chapters: Morning Sun (I loved the look of Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros), All Day Every Day (colourful, light plates for sharing), Twilight (heartier, warmer dishes), Sides and Sauces and finally, Fully Baked.

The chapters are interspersed with meditations on ingredients and themes, from sourdough to viticulture, telling the story of the evolution of the food scene. Finally, she shares 36 of her favourite places to eat (mostly casual and inexpensive), from the Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco to Galaxy Taco in San Diego – a nice touch.

The recipes: what I tried and how they turned out

I chose a selection of dishes to reflect the produce of California: from black grapes to Hass avocados (California produces over 90 per cent of avocados grown in the US).

Avocado, radish and walnut salad

Right; Eleanor Maidment's avocado salad; left; Madeleine Howell's attempt at home Credit: Nassima Rothacker/Madeleine Howell

Texture is king in this salad, the cool freshness of the radish counterbalancing the creaminess of the avocado, with added crunch from toasted walnuts. The carrot and miso dressing is a faff to make and required a blender, but adds a strong umami, savoury flavour to the plate. It turned what could have been a boring-but-healthy lunch into something novel, colourful and exciting – and I made extra to keep in a Kilner jar.

Coriander, coconut and daikon noodle soup

Credit: Nassima Rothacker/Madeleine Howell

This broth is time-consuming, simmered for three hours. For the daikon ringlets, you also need a spiraliser. But I was surprised at the resulting balance of flavour built into the vegan bowls: a balance of sour lime, sweet maple syrup and salty tamari. The savoury topping of baked sweet potatoes with shiitake mushrooms was my favourite element of the dish. The broth proved a little thin, and could perhaps do with the addition of coconut milk. 

Roast chicken with grapes, onions and sourdough

Roast chicken with grapes, onions and sourdough Credit: Nassima Rothacker/Madeleine Howell

Maidment takes inspiration from San Francisco’s Zuni Café, famed for its roast chicken with bread salad. Black grapes nestle in the pan to provide unexpected bursts of sweetness.

I used San Franciscan-style sourdough from Gail’s Bakery to sit alongside the chicken and to mop up the juices, mingled with onion, herbaceous rosemary, white wine and acidic, fresh lemon.

Short rib tacos with simple slaw

 Short rib tacos with simple slaw Credit: Nassima Rothacker/Madeleine Howell

These Korean-Mexican hybrid tacos are inspired by LA’s famed Kogi BBQ taco trucks. The marinade was a success: a concoction of soy sauce, chilli bean sauce, Shaoxing rice wine (I substituted this with Japanese rice vinegar), brown sugar, garlic and ginger. It rendered the meat (grilled in the oven for five minutes either side) even more tasty in leftover wraps the next day.

Cioppino (fisherman’s stew)

Cioppino (fisherman’s stew) Credit: Nassima Rothacker/Madeleine Howell

This fresh tomato stew was inspired by the Italian immigrants who settled in San Francisco and would collect leftovers from the fishing boats on the wharf. It’s delicate and not too heavy, with the addition of a perfumed, aniseed-y fennel bulb. Made in one dish, it’s easy to make – though I wasn’t organised enough to prepare fresh fish stock. To feed a crowd, serve with crusty sourdough.  

The verdict

This cookbook will encourage you to experiment with new flavours in unexpected ways. It’s a fairly accessible introduction to California-style eating (though you may need to stock up on some of the more unusual ingredients), with beautiful photography of both dishes and scenery. It may also tempt you to book a plane ticket...