It recently came to my attention that I have been living under a rock. Despite my propensity to cook vegetarian meals and follow celebrity chefs on Twitter, how come I never heard about Yotam Ottolenghi?
The Israeli-born, London-based chef writes a column in the U.K.’s The Guardian, stars in his own cooking and travel show, and runs a restaurant empire with four restaurants in London. And here I am, falsely thinking that I am good with keeping up with current events and know about all the good cookbooks out there. Somehow, I missed the memo about Ottolenghi.
Well it is good thing that it was recently brought to my attention that Ottolenghi’s cookbooks are amazing. And by amazing, I mean that, as someone who still goes out to buy cookbooks and not just to pose as some food snob, every single Ottolenghi recipe that I have tried thus far is a winner. My sister recently brought over her copy of Ottolenghi’s sophomore effort, Plenty, and all four dishes we made were hits. Thankfully I was able to continue making more recipes after being gifted the beautifully photographed cookbook for my own use.
Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad
Plenty’s subtitle is “Vibrant vegetable recipes from London’s Ottolenghi.” The book is completely vegetarian, though Ottolenghi is actually not vegetarian. In fact, his column in the The Guardian was exclusively based on vegetarian recipes for fourteen years until 2010, when he started to introduce fish and meat into his creations for publishing. His most recent recipe on the news site is a version of North African sausage rolls, while his two other cookbooks are for his omnivore fans. Still, I note that Plenty encourages a lot of eggs (including quail eggs!) and butter into the recipes, so for vegans and other strict vegetarians this cookbook is sadly not for you.
Just like Ottolenghi’s quirky preferences for cooking vegetarian food as a omnivore chef, Plenty is also unconventionally organized. When you open the table of contents, you will not find a chapter on soups, appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. Instead you get sections like “Roots”, “Funny Onions” (I thought onions were for the teary-eyed), “The Mightly Eggplant”, and six recipes under “Fruit with Cheese.” And though many of Ottolenghi’s recipes link to his Middle Eastern background, you will find a Vietnamese crêpes recipe for Bánh xèo, a version of gazpacho, and Jerusalem Artichokes with Manouri and Basil Oil (the etymology of Jerusalem artichokes is, ironically, not related to Jerusalem, nor are they artichokes). My favourite recipe from Plenty is thus far his Green Pancakes with Lime Butter.
Making the batter for Green Pancakes (but without the lime butter)
Frying up the Green Pancakes
The Green Pancakes in their natural chaotic habitat that is my kitchen.
We made the Green Pancakes with Lime Butter without the lime butter, a decision due to laziness, and the fritters came out crispy, hearty, and healthy (all that spinach!) at the same time. It had the right amount of greasiness, and frying these little guys are best done with olive oil as directed. I tried using canola oil and I definitely missed the subtle olive flavours from my previous attempt.
The recipe definitely reminded me of a version of the Korean pancake, pajeon, which is a favourite appetizer or side dish (banchan). Like Ottolenghi’s Green Pancakes, pajeon is usually made with green onions though it also often incorporates seafood into the batter. Although the Green Pancakes are mainly based on spinach rather than green onions, something about the dish made it akin to a western twist on the Korean pajeon.
Caramelized Garlic Tart
The Caramelized Garlic Tart recipe also called for a slew of butter but was balanced with lots of healthy garlic (this is the rationalizing that goes on in my head), which we made using frozen pie shells instead of making the crust with puff pastry as directed. That, along with the Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad and Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese, rounded out a fantastic dinner with the Green Pancakes as the highlight. However, each recipe we made was honestly really flavourful and well loved, and was relatively straight forward and uncomplicated in directions. I would say that, because these recipes are based on vegetables, the effort required for each dish was mainly centered around peeling and chopping the produce, which I would recommend doing first thing to have all the ingredients prepared for their next steps.
Additionally, I found that the Caramelized Fennel recipe tasted the best right once it was prepared. I would say that this is usually what happens with recipes based on caramelizing the main ingredient. That slightly burnt crispiness from the sugar tastes best when it is just formed on the semi-dense surface of the fennel, and does not translate well when you nuke it in the microwave the next day.
So how is Ottolenghi so great at making vegetarian food when he is not vegetarian himself? His appreciation for and ability to make excellent vegetarian food makes me like Ottolenghi even more. I will now have to browse through his most recent cookbook, Jerusalem, which Hilary had even before she moved to the U.K. As I said, I have been living under a rock and had no idea who Ottolenghi was. And now he is a regular feature of my home cooked dinners.
Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese
The Caramelized Fennel topped with dill