Your summer holiday might be off (sorry), but you can now travel the globe in 75 faff-free, one-tin recipes, courtesy of food writer and stylist, Rukmini Iyer.
The former MasterChef contestant pioneered the “chop and chuck traybake” with her wildly successful Roasting Tin series of cookbooks, single-handedly making it possible for us all to get in late (and hangry), switch the oven on – and swiftly have something not only acceptable and edible to feed people, but something surprising, delicious and practically effortless too.
Book four, The Roasting Tin Around The World, has come at an admittedly difficult moment. But arguably its timing couldn’t be more pertinent, either. When our horizons have been wholly curbed, and our lives tethered to one spot, being able to “travel via your kitchen” is quite a gift.
Iyer, who grew up in Cambridgeshire and is now based in London with her border collie, Pepper, has managed to condense into a cookbook the feeling so many of us get on holiday, of eating something amazing, and knowing we will desperately try to recreate it when back home – only she’s made that possible.
“When my mum came back from a trip to Peru, she was like, ‘I’ve got to get these purple potatoes’,” says Iyer affectionately, adding how she also saw this book as a chance to “get a bit more creative, and authentic with flavours.
“With the first two books, a lot of the recipes was just me going, ‘Just add a bit of lime juice’,” she says, rather self-deprecatingly. “Now it’s more like, no, this is based on a really authentic dish – and from that you get so many new ideas.”
Take her North African inspired chermoula roasted tuna steaks, her Russian meatballs with sour cream and, a current lockdown favourite, a peach dulce de leche cake, which is a riff on the Uruguayan cake, chajá, just “executed completely differently”.
The original dessert layers tinned peaches, whipped cream, icing and dulce de leche, into a towering, Eighties-style meringue. Iyer thought: “How could I use those flavours but make it easier and also maybe a bit less sweet and sugary?” So she laces the sponge with tinned dulce de leche, bakes in fresh peaches, and sprinkles crushed meringue over the top at the end.
And these aren’t pilfered replicas of traditional dishes, manhandled into a tin – for starters, in many of the regions she features, ovens aren’t even widely used. Instead, Iyer considers flavour combinations and uses them to vault into new one-dish recipe realms.
Writing the book pre-coronavirus was also a good excuse to jump on a plane, to America, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Iyer has long been the kind of person who, after eating something particularly good, accosts the chef to ask, “Excuse me, how did you make this?” – meaning she already had reams of notes, recipes ideas and food memories scrawled down from years of holidays and trips to work from.
With a laugh, she calls it “being a really irritating traveller”, admitting she is also the person who drags her travel companions off on culinary missions. “If they’re like, ‘Should we just go and get pizza?’ I’m like, ‘No, no! Unless it’s a really exciting pizza! [Before saying] There’s this really amazing little place that we have to go to that serves the best crab cakes…’.”
She’s careful to only note down fun dishes (“Things that felt really special, that just make you remember eating things for the first time”), many of which have in turn made their way into The Roasting Tin Around The World.
A visit to the USA inspired Iyer’s baked polenta with prawns, aka shrimp and grits. “You’ve got really rich, cheesy, buttery polenta and the lovely texture of chilli-spiked prawns,” she buzzes. “It’s such a nice comfort dish.” While on a previous trip to the South, these “really amazing Louisiana crab puffs” inspired her Creole crab tarts. She swaps out expensive chilled crab meat for tinned, blending it silkily with cream cheese and hot sauce atop a pastry base.
Not all of the things she ate on her travels made the cut, however. Like Chinese soup dumplings, xiao long bao (“I cannot make dumplings in a tin”) and an amazing fried chicken burger she ate in Singapore, prompting her host to point out: “Mini, I’ve taken you to some of the most interesting hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Singapore and you’re banging on about some hipster burger joint!”
Of course, in a city where street food stalls bear Michelin stars, there was more to Singapore than chicken burgers.
“I was just eating non-stop,” says Iyer, recalling endless bowls of chicken rice, chilli crab and satay eaten on the street. “There’s 20 places selling chicken rice, but people in the know will only go to one of those because they’re like, ‘That’s the best one’. I arrived from the airport and, my friend said, ‘Let’s go get satay, you’re hungry, let’s not wait around at a restaurant’. And we’re passing loads and loads of satay stores. I’m saying, ‘Are we stopping at this one? At this one?’ And she’s like, ‘Nope, no, it’s not the best!’” And Iyer knows, good food is always worth tracking down.
The Roasting Tin Around The World by Rukmini Iyer, photography by David Loftus, is published by Square Peg.
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