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Breakfast The Cookbook, review: expand your brunch recipe repertoire – from Lebanese fatteh to Thai rice porridge

The Breakfast Cookbook
Food writer Emily Elyse Miller has created an encyclopaedia of breakfasts from different cultures around the world  Credit: Phaidon/Haraala Hamilton

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I’d eat breakfast dishes all day long, in fact: give me eggs, wholegrains, and the requisite smashed avocado (now ubiquitous worldwide, thanks in part to Aussie restaurateur Bill Granger successfully exporting the Sydney brunch scene abroad), and I’m happy.

However, of late I’ve found myself in need of new ideas: simply sprinkling everything with chilli flakes or cinnamon to spice things up is no longer cutting the mustard. It's good timing, then, that Phaidon will publish a new cookbook this month dedicated entirely breakfasts from around the world, providing just the kind of Sunday-brunch inspiration I'm looking for...

The cookbook

Breakfast the Cookbook, published 17 May 2019 (£35, Phaidon)

Food writer Emily Elyse Miller grew up between Arizona and Hawaii, and her grandfather ran in a delicatessen in The Bronx in New York – where he would serve lox (wild salmon belly), eggs and onions with toasted bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. It inspired in her a fascination for morning routines, “when your brain and your palate are a clean slate”.

In 2015, Miller founded BreakfastClub – a global series of one-time only breakfasts served in restaurants typically closed in the morning. Her new cookbook is the result of three years of travelling, sharing meals and stories with strangers, and gathering recipes around the world, from Portugal to India via Italy.

It contains both iconic and and lesser known regional specialities, and attempts to “authentically and faithfully” represent different cultures (Miller provides both an Israeli and a Yemeni version of shakshuka) – though she notes that many of the dishes are “endlessly adaptable”.

Emily Elyse Miller, author of Breakfast: The Cookbook Credit: Haraala Hamilton

The books recipes are divided into 14 categories arranged by foodstuff – yogurt, cheese, pies, pastries – rather than country. The photography is tasteful and tempting – though not every recipe has a picture to illustrate it. Normally, I’d find this disarming, but some are so simple that you don’t actually need a picture to throw them together.

Two-page-spreads scattered throughout show the dishes of a particular culture brought together to show what might be served for a crowd, so I didn’t find myself short of inspiration. A Filipino feast offered cured beef with garlic fried rice and fried eggs, chocolate rice porridge, coconut jam and pandesal (bread rolls).

The book is interspersed with meditations from chefs and food lovers on the wonders of breakfast – including the Telegraph's Stephen Harris, of The Sportsman in Kent, who offers an acerbic two pages on the joys of “full English blandness”.

I adored reading Lincolnshire-born Indian chef Meera Sodha on discovering the perfect masala dosa in the city of Mysore: “a fermented, lace-edged rice pancake curled around soft mustard seed and curry-leaf potatoes, the only accompaniment a pool of otherworldly coconut chutney”.

A word of warning: this cookbook may inspire wanderlust...

The recipes: what I tried and how they turned out

The book is a window into the morning traditions of different countries and cultures. I picked a range of dishes, each of them concise and straightforward...

Eggs with spiced clarified butter

Miller's Ethiopian eggs (left), and my attempt (right) Credit: Haraala Hamilton

This Ethiopian dish, enqulal tibs, is essentially spiced scrambled eggs with red peppers and tomatoes. 

Making the clarified butter is the tricky bit (don’t simmer it directly over heat otherwise it burns – lesson learned), taking 30 minutes, and forces me to re-acquaint myself with the darkest corners of my spice cupboard. But I’m rewarded by the nose-tingling scent of fenugreek, cardomom and clove. Next time, I'll prepare a larger batch of clarified butter to keep in the fridge, or just buy ghee for speed.

The rest of the dish takes just minutes to cook and prepare. I used a bought Ethiopian berbere spice mix from Ocado – a fiery seasoning blend I’d never heard of and didn’t know I needed in my life until now – and the resulting eggs were delicious. Spicy, fragrant and colourful.

Fatteh

Miller's Lebanese fatteh (left), and my own version of the recipe (right) Credit: Haraala Hamilton

Despite my love of Middle Eastern cuisine, I've never had chickpeas, yogurt and pitta for breakfast. I’ve been missing a trick. In this Lebanese dish, the acidity of lemon cuts through the earthy heat of cumin in sour, cooling, garlicky yogurt, topped with brittle toasted almonds and pine nuts (I used butter to toast mine, although you can use traditional lamb fat). 

Fatteh is the Arabic word for “crushed” or “crumbs”, I learn – which makes sense: I found it’s best devoured by scooping it onto the scraps of pitta with a fork. And the leftovers keep well in the fridge for lunch the next day, too.

Kasha

Creamy buckwheat groats (left), and my own take on Russian porridge (right) Credit: Haraala Hamilton

In Russia, kasha means simply porridge, and can be made with any kind of grain boiled in water or milk, but for this I use toasted buckwheat groats with full-fat milk and butter, as recommended in the recipe.

Despite fearing this would be a nondescript dish, the nutty scent of buckwheat grains (coated in a beaten egg) alone wakes up my taste buds as they turn golden on a cast-iron pan.

The result is a bowl of creamy goodness with more bite and less gloop than traditional oat porridge. It’s filling, functional and energising. A novel new addition to my mid-week breakfast arsenal, I think.

Rice porridge, or ‘jok’, with pork meatballs (Thailand)

Miller's "jok", Thai rice porridge with pork meatballs and spring onion (left), and my deliciously textured re-creation (right) Credit: Haraala Hamilton

Jok is a popular Thai version of congee (Chinese rice porridge) and the texture is incredible: watery and gelatinous, rather than creamy (a good choice if you don’t fancy dairy). It feels odd to eat rice and minced pork for breakfast but the zing of ginger and spring onion give it a refreshing lightness. It also feels like a fairly healthy way to consume pork: fresh and boiled in rice, rather than processed, cured and fried. I wolfed it down.

Cheese pie

Miller's olive oil brushed "tiropita" (left), and my own triangles of Greek cheese pie (right) Credit: Haraala Hamilton

Miller advocates pre-rolled filo pastry for this Greek dish, which makes it incredibly simple to make. The recipe doesn’t require a particularly long list of ingredients, although I cursed myself for not having a pastry brush to sweep the olive oil over the filo.

Tiropita (a crispy filo cheese pie stuffed with cheese and egg) and spanakopita (with the addition of spinach and onion) remind me of visiting Greece as a teenager, eating them straight from paper bags on the beach. I was pleased to find my version turn out flaky on the outside, with softer inner layers and a tangy, generous cheese filling of feta, ricotta and parmesan. Best eaten with your fingers.

The verdict

To my delight, each recipe I tried proved successful (despite burning my first round of Ethiopian-style clarified butter), and I’d make each of them again – perhaps taking more license to experiment. Next on my list is a toasted rice and fish noodle soup from Myanmar.

At £35, the book isn’t cheap, but it contains between one to three recipes per page, over 400 pages, so I’d call it an investment. Consider it your new go-to encyclopedia of early- (and mid!) morning cookery...