“Pure Simple Cooking: Effortless Food Every Day.” By Diane Henry. Mitchell Beazley. $19.99.

There are all kinds of cooks in the world, and there are all kinds of cookbooks. “Pure Simple Cooking: Effortless Food Every Day” by the noted British food writer Diana Henry is a cookbook for the sort of cook I am. The book was first published in Great Britain in 2007, but only came to my attention with this 2018 softback edition, which uses American measurements.

The recipes – for dishes like Roast Chicken with Warm Vegetables and Arugula Cream or Vine Growers’ Sausages (which incorporates grapes and saba) – feel contemporary without being tiresomely trendy. Many require just a handful of ingredients and a handful of steps, which will appeal to the enthusiastic but time-pressed cook (read: me). Under the header “and also,” Henry offers smart suggestions for recipe variations; the Hot and Sweet Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables with Tahini Dressing, for instance, can be adjusted by dropping the tahini sauce and serving the same veggies with preserved lemon or anchovy pesto or white bean skordalia. Mmm times four.

The chapters encompass, straightforwardly, chicken, chops, sausages, leg of lamb, fish and pasta (heads up: this is not a cookbook for the meat averse). There are also chapters on fruits and vegetables divided, loosely, by seasons.

Intermittently, Henry throws in a page of offhand suggestions, recipes written in relaxed paragraph form, on topics like “lots of ideas for stuffing” or “(virtually) no-cook starters.” The page on no-cook desserts suggests, in part, figs and raspberries with mascarpone, strawberries in beaujolais, cherries on ice, boozy raisins. Boozy raisins?! I ask you. Hungry yet?

If not, glance at a few of the photos, and you’ll work up an appetite. Page after page of casually strewn bowls of figs, pears and radicchio; wooden crates with eggs, the shells with charming, childlike penciled doodles; burnished pomegranate- and honey-glazed lamb chops – with a blob of tzatziki and some jaunty cilantro sprigs – atop the sort of flower-bedecked china plate with gold flourishes that back in the day your Great Aunt Ruby used to serve stale slices of very plain cake.


As with naturalistic Japanese gardens, I suspect all this photographic effortlessness actually took quite a bit of effort, but I am ravenous regardless. What is it about British cookbooks these days? (Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, I’m talking to you.) “Pure Simple Cooking” is seductive in the extreme.

So it pains me to say that, in the kitchen, I had uneven success with it. The Pacific Lime Chicken that opens the book was easy and tasty, but the marinade did not cook down into the glaze that Henry promised. The Baked Sausages with Leeks, Apple and (hard) Cider took just minutes to make, but while, yes, browning the sausages would have added more time and effort, I found myself missing the caramelization and crust that step would have provided.

I loved the combination of Roasted Eggplant with Hummus, Yogurt, Mint and Cilantro, but could adding 2/3 cup of olive oil to just one (14-ounce) can of chickpeas to make the hummus possibly be right? It seems an insane amount of oil. Ditto with the 1/2 cup honey called for to glaze just 1 pound of parsnips in the Ginger, Orange and Honey-Roasted Parsnips. Maybe for dessert, yeah, but in the winter vegetables chapter? I admit I cut both ingredients drastically before proceeding with the recipes. Apologies, Ms. Henry, perhaps they would have worked.

Speaking of dessert, while I liked Johanna’s Swedish Apple Pie, I’d have appreciated more explicit instructions than “butter an ovenproof dish.” What size dish, even roughly? I used a 9-inch pie plate (although it turned out the “pie” was closer to a crisp), but it could barely contain the mixture.

I had more success with the Roasted Potatoes with Tomatoes and Spices (“good and attractive” I scribbled next to the recipe), and the Spanish Sweet Potato with Peppers, Chorizo and Fried Egg; the latter delivered robust flavors and didn’t ask too much of the cook (me, again) after a long day.

Cookbooks serve all kinds of purposes for all kinds of cooks, and while “Pure Simple Cooking” won’t be where I go when the pressure is on (important guests!), if it’s ideas and inspiration I’m looking for, expect to find me flipping through its pages.


Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or

[email protected]

Twitter: @PGrodinsky


Use Spanish, not Mexican, chorizo here.

Serves 2


2 sweet potatoes

1 red onion, halved and cut into half-moon shaped slices

1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into wide strips

Olive oil

1 1/2 tsp. pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin


Salt and pepper

8 oz. chorizo, cut into thick rounds

4 oz. bacon or pancetta, cut into meaty chunks

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 large eggs


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks – you don’t have to peel them – and put into a small roasting pan with the onion and bell peppers. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil, the pimenton, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir the vegetables until they’re coated in oil and spices. Roast for about 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender and slightly charred.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a frying pan and cook the chorizo and bacon until colored. Turn the heat down, add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add all this to the cooked vegetables. Stir in the chopped herbs.

3. Heat a little more oil in the same frying pan and fry the eggs. Serve the sweet potato mixture topped with the fried eggs.


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