If I had to pick one person to cook for me forever, it might well be Yotam Ottolenghi. (Oh god, how I hope I'm never in that position—cough, cough, wink, wink.) I think I could eat at his table for the rest of my life and never get bored. His previous three cookbooks (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, and Plenty) inspired a global epidemic of fevered fandom, and this week sees the release of his anxiously awaited latest, Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi. Commence hot-flashes. A follow-up to Plenty (which, with it's creative, largely Middle-Eastern bent on vegetarian cooking, was pretty much the best PR vegetables ever got), his new book expands his already bursting universe of plant-based cooking.
Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born, London-based chef with a group of eponymous restaurants/delis in London, embraces complexity. His recipes are known for being a commitment; many, though not all, require extra time spent sourcing unusual ingredients or toiling in the kitchen. They are not simple to prepare, but you are rewarded with food that is surprising, enigmatic, and delicious. Ottolenghi isn't a vegetarian, but he had such a knack for making vegetables shine that the London paper, The Guardian, approached him about doing a weekly vegetarian column for them in 2011. Since then, he has become even more creative, partly out of necessity to keep the column interesting, and he's found inspiration in ingredients and techniques discovered on his travels around the world (like pot barley, black garlic, and tempura-fried lemons). He has a test kitchen devoted to developing recipes for home cooks, and this is where he spends most of his time, tinkering with produce until something wholly new reveals itself.
Plenty More incorporates the fruits of his experiments into over 100 recipes that are, often, entirely revelatory. He draws on the flavors of multiple food traditions, frequently in the same dish. They don't come across as 'fusion' in the usual way, however; you can't pick apart the ethnic influences. Rather, he'll use a few spices common to one cuisine with herbs from another because they taste good together, not because he's trying to evoke a certain style of cooking. (There are also more overtly traceable dishes, giving due to Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and, more newly to his repertoire, Southeast Asian traditions.) This means that Smoky Polenta Fries, made with smoked cheese and charred tomato sauce, share the pages with a Carrot and Mung Bean Salad that's flavored with cumin, caraway, and fennel seeds and tossed with cilantro and feta cheese, and Eggplant with Black Garlic, with chiles, dill, basil, tarragon and yogurt. I mean, this is inventive stuff, folks. This is new.
Yet despite the novelty, Ottolenghi's recipes comfort as much as they excite. They come together in such a way that feels so right, they stop short of being jarring. And despite the hard-to-find ingredients and the unusual combinations, his recipes are approachable; there's no special equipment needed and there are usually substitutes for items that prove impossible to track down. As to the extra effort, you just have to want it badly enough, and I promise you, you will.
Choosing the recipes this week was excruciating—I wanted to make everything. After much brooding and drooling, the final four are as follows: Tomorrrow, we'll whet our appetites with the WTF/OMG-provoking Zucchini "Baba Ghanoush," which bears little resemblance to it's namesake; instead, it's silky, broiled zucchini mashed with a little garlic, topped with funky Roquefort-and-goat's milk yogurt custard and toasted pine nuts in chile butter. Then we'll make his Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries, which has so much wonderful stuff going on, there's not room to go into it here—suffice to say, it's a bowl of bright, crunchy, herby, wholesome satisfaction. Next up are the brilliant Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomelos and Star Anise, in which pomelo (or grapefruit) segments are marinated with spiced syrup, which is then used to dress roasted sprouts and shallots. And finally, we'll bake the cheesy, herbed Cauliflower Cake, which makes a beautiful centerpiece to a weekend brunch (or light supper).
Win a Copy
With a million thanks to our friends at Ten Speed Press, we have 5 copies of Plenty More to give away this week. For your chance, just tell us your favorite unusual veggie dish in the comments below.
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