Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

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Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Not necessarily a book for the purist vegetarian, but for those who enjoy vibrant food where the individual flavours sing out this book is a gold mine.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 978-0091933685

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I'm sure that there are many good reasons for buying the Guardian of a Saturday but I always enjoy Yotam Ottolenghi's New Vegetarian column. I'm not a vegetarian (nor, indeed, is Ottolenghi) but he has a way with vegetables whether they're to be served on their own or as an accompaniment which is fresh, full of flavour and exciting. The background to the food is in Israel and Palestine with the region's rich supply of vegetables, pulses and grains.

Normally I would dislike the way in which this book has been organised – even Ottolenghi says that it's disorganised – but I found it strangely appealing. For each recipe he has just one ingredient in mind which he then takes, elaborates on and finally produces a dish which enhances the ingredient whilst still keeping it at the heart of the dish. And so we begin with a chapter on root vegetables. I loved the spicy Moroccan carrot salad with its sweet spices and the kick of lemon. Ottolenghi recommends serving it with fried fish (for the non-vegetarians amongst us) but I've enjoyed it with rack of lamb. If you're tired of fish cakes (yes - it is possible) try the sweet potato cakes. They have a kick of chilli, are fried in butter and then served with a yoghurt and soured cream sauce.

There's a very similar sauce in the first recipe in the chapter on 'Funny Onions'. There's a Turkish influence in the leek fritters and rather a long list of ingredients, but don't let that put you of. There's a touch of cumin to give some heat but they're deceptively light and very tasty. The caramelized garlic tart is reputedly the most delicious recipe in the world. Two goat's cheeses marry well with the garlic and it's wonderful for lunch in the garden on a warm day. My favourite from this chapter is the stuffed onions though – originally I though of them as an accompaniment, but they play well centre stage.

The chapter on mushrooms was always going to be a favourite and there's a great recipe for mushroom lasagne. I like my lasagne without cheese, but the five cheeses in the recipe do add some useful protein. The taste is good too. I was glad to see a return to a traditional method of cooking in wild mushroom parcel where the dish is cooked in greaseproof paper tied with string. There's absolutely no waste and no loss of flavour.

Before long I'll be facing my courgette glut and the chapter on courgettes and other squashes will be very useful. There is a limit to the amount of ratatouille you can consume. I'm taken with the recipe for stuffed courgettes, not least because it's served just above fridge temperature and can be prepared well in advance. For a luxurious summer starter I'm going to try courgette and cobnut salad.

If I had to choose one recipe from this book it would be multi-vegetable paella from the chapter on capsicums. The paella glows on the plate and amazingly all the individual flavours sing out, from the peppers through to the broad beans. Food like this just might tempt me to become a vegetarian! A close second is Very Full Tart – and you need to know little more than the name to visualise it.

Brassicas have occasionally had a bad press but the stuffed cabbage with its Turkish and Arab influences should win most people over. I'm unusual in being fond of Brussels sprouts – a view which I suspect Ottolenghi doesn't share as his Brussels sprouts and tofu recipe is tasty and quite possibly addictive but the sauce did seem to overwhelm the vegetables.

My aubergine glut comes later in the year but I couldn't resist trying lentils with grilled aubergines. It makes a delicious and relatively healthy main course. It's a recipe I'll be returning to later in the year, but before then I'll face my tomato glut. Later in the book in the chapter on cereals there's a recipe for lemon and aubergine risotto, where the aubergine is more of a background flavour, but it's tasty. Quinoa and grilled sourdough salad makes a substantial main course. 'Tomato Party' will come in very handy too – it's a salad using as many different types of tomato (including green) as possible. Some are cooked. Some are raw. It's all very tasty. Herb-stuffed tomatoes have a Provencal influence and are always a good stand by.

In 'leaves cooked and raw' I smiled when I saw that every cook should have a solid lettuce salad up their sleeve. It was just the vision it created, but it is a very good salad. Ottolenghi recommends it as an in-between course, but I think that I'll be making rather more use of it than that. Green pancakes with lime butter sounds unusual, but is very tasty. Bittersweet salad is recommended for Valentine's Day but it would be a good boost any time when the weather lacks any colour.

We're in the asparagus season now. I'm tempted by asparagus, fennel and beetroot with verjus (a sour juice made from unripe grapes) but so far the verjus has proved elusive. For the time being I shall have to stick to the asparagus mimosa. There's also a recipe for asparagus vichyssoise which will come into its own towards the end of the season. There's a green gazpacho which is sure to have at least one outing this summer. There's a good selection of green vegetables but with unusual addition of walnuts which should provide a delightful contrast. I'm still a little way from the green bean glut but there's a recipe for green bean salad with mustard seeds and tarragon. There are mangetout and peas in the recipe and I can't wait to try it.

There's a wonderful section on pulses. Puy lentil galettes have already had a couple of servings – they're great for a light lunch. For something more substantial try hummus with ful. You may never need to eat again. Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint is an unusual combination, but one which hits the spot perfectly. The mint came from the garden and the flavour sang out. For a warming, robust and substantial soup you can't do better than chickpea, tomato and bread soup. The inspiration came from the Tuscan ribollita, but I preferred this version with its stronger flavours.

The chapter on pasta, polenta and couscous is mouth-watering and we tried the recipe for the ultimate winter couscous some time ago when it appeared in the Guardian. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients but it shines like the sun on a cold winter's day. The recipe serves four (easily) and I'll confess to freezing half of it so that we could enjoy it another day.

The final chapter on fruit with cheese provides several recipes which make quick and easy finishes to a meal. Figs with basil, goat's curd and pomegranate vinaigrette is good in the autumn when you can still get European figs. My favourite is the watermelon and feta. If I close my eyes I'm back on a vine-hung patio in Greece…

If you're an established vegetarian you'll quickly realise that some of the cheeses are not for you and you'll be able to make adjustments. If you're just starting out as a vegetarian or making food for someone who is strict about what they eat then this book should be approached with some caution. On the other hand, if you cheerfully eat any good food then this book is a gold mine. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this type of food appeals to you then you might also enjoy Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark.

Booklists.jpg Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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