Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ottolenghi's Plenty Cookbook

My friend Susannah gave me Ottolenghi's Plenty Cookbook for my birthday last year. My other friend Tirana had been raving about his cookbook and so I was aware of him and wanted to try it out. His story, an Israeli born chef who moved to London in 1997, he's about my age. He writes the vegetarian column for the Guardian but is not a vegetarian. He runs 4 little shops in London and I"m dying to go there. I suggested to my fellow foodies Lauren and Robin that we go when I was in town (silly me, I expected it to be raging spring in April but it was freezing cold!). We were unable to get reservations but the seed was planted.

Something about being in London in March inspired me to start cooking when I returned. So I've been cooking like mad since I got back - craving vegetables and mediterranean flavors.

So far I've cooked the following dishes:

Mango and Aubergine (Eggplant) Soba Noodles
I made this the first time as an accompaniment for a dinner with my friends Kaya and Assaf. We ate it with sesame chicken salad. I was unable to find proper large aubergine/eggplants so I substituted zucchini/courgettes. It was just as good!

Okra and Sambal with Coconut Rice

I made this for myself. I was so intrigued as I love all the ingredients separately and wanted something spicy and Asian to make for breakfast. It was divine. I'm making it again for breakfast for this week.

Aubergine (Eggplant) with Buttermilk Sauce
This is so beautiful that i had to make it. I invited Assaf and Kaya over just so I could have an excuse to make it. I was having dreams of originally making the eggplant and tahini sauce recipe that my friend Celine made for Songkran brunch but the photo of this and the fact I was able to find pomegranate seeds in the Arab influenced grocery store sold me on this. I made the za'atar from scratch - roasted sesame seeds, thyme, and salt. I didn't have sumac to add to the za'atar but it was still tasty. I made the buttermilk with lemonjuice and milk. I served it with tahini chicken salad made with red bell peppers and cucumbers and the green couscous and a big green salad with tahini buttermilk dressing.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Although I love watermelon and I love feta, I never considered putting them together in a salad. I'm not the biggest fan of mint unless its hidden in something and normally these salads have mint in them. Ottolenghi's uses basil instead. It really is like sunshine on a plate!

Eggs Shashuka
Reading the description of this dish made me hungry. I like eggs, I like comfort food, and anything spicy that involves cooking eggs on top of it makes me happy. I think I could be part Japanese since they love a fried egg on everything. I cooked it a bit too long and the eggs were solid in the middle. The next time I make it, I'm going to up the chili, up the cumin, add garlic and cook the eggs soft-boiled so they run into the delicious sauce.

I don't have a photo of this one but I also made: Green Herb Couscous . At first I thought the herb paste was too strong smelling and overwhelming and I forgot the pistachios but it still turned out great. Fresh tasting and delicious.

It's a fantastic cookbook and in general, very easy to follow the recipes. Some of the ingredients are hard to find here in Bangkok.  I had an exhaustive search for Tahini at the Foodland on Soi 5 which I thought would be easy since its right next to "Soi Arab" and couldn't find buttermilk so had to make my own. However, I was able to also make za'atar and I found pomegranate seeds so in general, no problem! You can also buy readily cut up watermelon, mangos, guava, cantalope and other things in Bangkok for next to nothing right no the street so I was also able to substitute somethings.

The dishes I highlighted are excellent for the hot sultry Thai climate. The only big problem I had was making the Eggplants that I had to roast as I live in an old building which is designed to have an un-airconditioned kitchen where the "help" would cook for you. However, I'm the help so I sweated my way through roasting eggplants in the oven during the heat. It was worth it though.

I'd like to get his other cookbooks too and try them out - my friend Celine has them and when I return from Papua New Guinea in a week, I thought of inviting her and her husband over for dinner and ask them to bring the cookbooks so we can browse through them.

In the meantime, I say - jump in there and cook this stuff up. His book is worth buying just for the mouthwatering photos of the dishes and the joy of flipping through it to decide what to make. But I've included the recipes in a link to the photos...

Bon Appetit!