A Feast of Vegetables

DSC00114Yotam Ottolenghi has now published five books, of which “Jerusalem” is perhaps the best known and the latest of which, “Plenty More” (Ebury Press, 2014, full cover price £27.00), covers vegetarian cooking. Jonathan Lovekin’s photographs occupy as many full pages of the book as the text itself does and show excellent composition, balance and saturation of the intense colours associated with the best vegetarian food. They contribute enormously to the pleasure of reading and possessing the book as well as helping visualise sometimes exotic ingredients and dishes.

This is a book both practical enough to cook with and sumptuous enough to keep on display, even if not on a coffee table. It is the sort of book you might give or be given as a present, admire for its visual fireworks and relatively trendy subject matter; and then surprise yourself by actually using it, again and again.

Its production was clearly a team effort, from an outfit that now embraces restaurants, provisions and media. Ottolenghi’s acknowledgements to those he works with are both fulsome and full of character, for example he writes “Lucy, who’s in charge of Ottolenghi’s purchasing and of my life in general, isn’t hard to please but can be highly observant”

The author points out in his introduction that the prospect of vegetarian cooking can worry many people, as it once did him. Firstly a lot of the dishes, techniques and possibilities are not commonly known and secondly he, like many people, suffered an initial terror of running out of ideas. No danger of that once you’ve been using this book for a couple of weeks.

Its twelve chapters are respectively headed Tossed (salads), Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened. They demonstrate the range and variety of dishes that can be prepared without the use of meat or fish and those I have tried are frankly delicious. A tart apple and celeriac salad is made special by the use of quinoa, coriander, thinly sliced red onion, poppy seeds and chilli. A rice dish is boosted by the use of cinnamon stick, lemon and fresh curry leaves; delicious pasta made with tagliatelle incorporates roasted walnuts and lemon juice as well as judicious amounts of cream and grated parmesan.

Given his culinary history and background it is unsurprising that Middle Eastern seasonings, ingredients and techniques play such a major part in this book. As the author points out with dishes like these, quality of ingredients is paramount and freshness and condition essential to a first class result. Some of the ingredients may be difficult to obtain outside large cities (verjuice, panch phoran and shriracha sauce seem to spring to mind) but many can be obtained through Ottolenghi’s website (www.ottolenghi.co.uk/pantry/other-ingredients).

A small caveat is that, while nothing in the book is actually difficult to make, knife skills are definitely required and the amount of chopping, cutting, peeling and dicing is non-trivial. These are dishes to be prepared with concentrated love and eaten with serious pleasure. On the other hand the recipes are sufficiently filling, interesting and varied to ensure that if you so wanted you could eat off them happily for a very long time.

If you can get a competitive price at your local independent bookshop (it is heavily discounted at certain online outlets) please do consider using them to obtain it. As we always point out, you will probably miss them if they go.

Chris

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