Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

by Yotam Ottolenghi

Plenty is the sort of cookbook that will make you hungry, even if you are actually eating while reading it. Whatever you might be eating does not seem nearly as satisfying as the dishes Yotam Ottolenghi collects in this rather sizeable volume, which includes recipes that previously appeared in the Guardian. Also? All of these recipes are vegetarian. Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian himself, but his restaurant in London’s Islington is known for its outstanding vegetable dishes, and I can see why. They make me wish that this neverending rain would knock it off already so that our Farmer’s Market can open. The sooner this happens, the sooner dishes like leek fritters and multi-vegetable paella can get in my belly.

"The multitude of ingredients and ways of making miracles with them have given me the perfect tools for making up dishes and turning them into recipes. This is also why vegetarian cooking didn’t turn out to be a chore for me. I like meat and I like fish but I can easily cook without them."

The above sentiment could easily describe my own cooking. I may not eat pork, but in general, I don’t have a problem eating meat. However, sometimes I’m lazy/forgetful and don’t pull any meat from the freezer far enough ahead of dinner, and most of the time, I flat out can’t afford to cook with meat every meal. Besides, despite what my carnivorous 7 year old would say, vegetables, beans and grains make up perfectly satisfying meals on their own.

Pulling from his European and Middle Eastern heritage, Ottolenghi uses the sort of flavors that I love and cook with often – cumin, lemongrass, thyme, garlic, tomato — and there’s not a lot I don’t like here. Maybe I could do with less mint, and I flat out hate fennel, but nothing here is too difficult. Yes, he recommends a lot of specialty cheeses, but I imagine that a person could easily come up with substitutes.

Unfortunately, I’m lactose intolerant and for the most part would have to eliminate or substitute many of the dairy products listed in some of the recipes. For instance, the caramelized garlic tart is not adaptable for me in a way that I think would make it taste like it should. Ottolenghi’s right-hand person for the book, Claudine, gushes in the intro, “I think this is the most delicious recipe in the world!” Since practically everything I cook has garlic in it, I’ll admit I’m a little sad I can’t have it as intended.

Thankfully, this is not a cheese and cream-heavy book, and it makes me curious to try out different varieties of lentils and rice, as well as trying out methods such as stuffed onions. I love onions, but I am notoriously impatient when it comes to assembling food, and anything “stuffed” I have ever tried has never quite worked. This book makes me want to try again.

The photos in Plenty are stunning, absolutely stunning. Brightly colored and not overly styled, they are less about being a hip foodie and more about letting simple ingredients shine. Even foods I’m normally not too wild about — say, mushrooms — look delicious, so anyone into food porn may find this a bit of a one-handed read.

With any luck, I’ll be able to make some of these recipes soon, and I will post my results over on Godtopus Eats. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find myself a very unsatisfying snack.


Full disclosure: I won this book through a giveaway hosted on the Chronicle Books blog.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

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