Yotam Ottolenghi, the internationally renowned chef and James Beard award winner, has written cookbooks that have put him and his co-author, Sami Tamimi, on the culinary map. His latest book, Plenty More (Random House), is dedicated to vegetarian food.
Plenty More is richly illustrated, with 150 innovative yet simple recipes. It’s divided into several chapters — cooking style, tossed, grilled, fried, mashed, baked and sweetened. And no, this book does not recycle his greatest hits but rather offers completely new recipes that inspire the senses and evoke wanderlust.
Many of the recipes are deeply rooted in the Middle East and Mediterranean basin, utilizing ingredients which can be bought in the food markets of Jerusalem, where he was raised.
Ottolenghi likes to use exotic, richly-hued spices, along with fire-baked bread, sun-ripened produce, preserved lemons, sesame seeds and lots of olive oil. These ingredients are reflected in a recipe like crushed carrots with harisa, pistachios and Greek yogurt. He advises you to dry roast nuts so their sweetness and gentle crunch come through.
A recipe I tested turned out to be one of my favourites: fennel with olives and capers. You sauté whole unpeeled garlic cloves with fennel in ver juice, a reduction of lemon and red wine vinegar. The end result is richly flavoured, transforming the garlic into an almost meaty, elegant main course.
The puy lentil salad with toasted walnuts is also among my favourites I tested. Roasted walnuts with Manuka honey, chilies and turmeric are baked, giving the salad a sharp, sweet and spicy bite and a rich dark saffron hue. The saffron contrasts beautifully with the bright purple of the radicchio and the muted earthiness of the lentils.
In assembling each dish, aesthetics are as important as taste. The lentil salad is an explosion of bright colours, bringing to mind the shades found in tadelakt walls and tiles in the Middle East. Scent is also part of the adventure, since orange geranium water is used in a dish with grilled stone fruit.
What is clear is that the recipes are designed to explore new worlds. For many readers, I imagine, the start of this journey will begin in sourcing ingredients such as angelica seeds, orange blossom water, preserved lemons and tamarinds.
This might prove difficult in big box grocery stores, but don’t give up. Explore the Middle Eastern grocery stores in your city. This is the start of the rich and fulfilling trip that Ottolenghi takes you on in Plenty More.