Of the cookbooks that I have acquired this year, the one that I have gotten the most mileage out of is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty; Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. Usually books that so much money has gone into their presentation tend to be books that are prettier sitting on a coffee table then getting sloppy sitting on a kitchen counter. This does make for coffee table eye candy, but is so inspired and delicious that it is worth tainting its pristineness by getting some use out of it.
Ironically it is also another vegetarian cookbook, but where Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is an essential reference book as well as an instructional guide in learning to cook, Plenty is a book to inspire seasoned cooks. The little twist that Ottolenghi gives to each recipe are unusual enough that they expand a cook’s creativity of what is possible. One of the recipes that I tried first was his Swiss Chard, Chickpea, and Tamarind Stew. The combination of tamarind, caraway, and Greek yogurt seemed an unusual combination, but the earthiness of the chard, the sweetness of some rice, and the tanginess of tomatoes brought everything together in an unexpected and delicious way.
I think why I resonate so well with this book is the fact that even though it is a vegetarian cookbook, like Ottolenghi, I am not a vegetarian. However, I do tend to like to cook with vegetables at the center of a dish, and where cheese and often meat are usually treated as flavorings, not main ingredients. Almost every dish in this book is centered around vegetable, minus a couple in the “Pulses” section that are centered around beans such as his Hummus with Ful. Even in the section, “Pasta, Polenta, Couscous,” vegetables make up the majority of each dish.
Much of my cooking is driven by what we are receiving in our weekly produce box from the CSA that we are members of, so the layout of this book was very user friendly. The vegetables are mostly groups by vegetable family; roots, funny onions, mushrooms, squashes, brassicas, leaves, and green things, green beans, tomatoes, pepper, with eggplant getting a center stage and chapter to itself. Aside from the aforementioned “Pulses” and “Pasta, Polenta, Couscous,” there is also a section for “Grains” and “Fruit with Cheese,” both of which are mostly vegetable based dishes as well.
Most recipes each have their own full-page picture of the finished dish, which adds to coffee table want ability, but also shows how there is great potential for presentation for each dish. At the restaurant Ottolenghi, food is set on display in much a deli-esque fashion, and most dishes are intended to be served at room temperature. This also means that many are not dependent on the final executions needing to quickly get to the mouth, so many of his recipes are perfect for potlucks, or side dishes to other main courses the are temperature dependent.
I have gained many tips with this book. In many of his eggplant recipes he has you “burning” the eggplant to get a nice smoky flavor. This can be done one of two ways: on a gas stove top, covering the burners with foil and placing the eggplant over the flames for 10-15 minutes while turning with tongs, or under a hot broiler for an hour. I did the stovetop method to great success and made his Lemon and Eggplant Risotto. The first time I made it I couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak in a little saffron, which I found the second time around masked some of the awesome smokiness of the eggplant.
Recipes are all over the map with influences from Asia to Mexico, but most are a blending of his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern heritage, often blending flavor in an enticing way unlike most “fusion” food. In his recipe Roast Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile, he has you tossing the squash with cardamom and allspice before roasting, and creating a dressing of Greek yogurt, tahini and lime. The addition of green chile and cilantro brings the flavors edging toward India, but still very Middle Eastern.
Plenty doesn’t waste any space on an obligatory dessert chapter, but stays close to its main subject: vegetables. There are plenty of starters, salads, soups, and sides sprinkled through the book, all of which could be hearty or light mains. Although there are plenty of recipes that incorporate eggs, cheese, or yogurt, there are many that are vegan friendly. Aside from the vegetable that is center to each recipe, most ingredients are easily found in markets, or easily substituted for something that can. None require fancy cooking equipment other than a good knife, cutting board, and a pot or pan. Instructions are straight forward, and accessible to learning cooks. This is not a book with more of the same, so for experienced cooks, there is enough inspiration to keep one engaged and curious to try more of his recipes.
I realize that I last left you with a squash recipe, but since that is what I cooking most of these days, I am leaving you with one more. Inspired by the aforementioned squash recipe of Ottolenghi’s, I enjoyed the sweetness of the squash perfumed by the addition of cardamom, so I did a little experimentation. Here is what I came up with…
2-3 lbs. Sweet Squash (Butternut, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, Sugar Loaf, Pie Pumpkin)
1 tsp. Ground Cardamom (or approximately 10 cardamom pods, cracked open, shells discarded, ground)
Salt and Pepper
3 tbsp. Pistachios, toasted, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. Orange Zest (you can use lemon or other citrus)
1-2 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tbsp. Flat Leaf Parsley, minced
Olive oil, Pistachio oil or other nut oil
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. You can peel or not peel you squash depending on type or desired aesthetic. If leaving skin on, you’ll want to slice into half moons about ½ inch thick, if peeled you can still do half moons or cubes. Toss squash with cardamom, salt pepper, and enough oil to coat. Roast until tender (start checking after 20 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, times will vary do to size and type).
For the Gremolata: Mix ingredients. You can keep chunky by adding less oil and sprinkling on, or add more oil and some added salad greens for a warm salad. Good warm, or at room temperature.
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