Book Club Tuesday: Ottolenghi Simple

Let’s start with something fun — word association! If I say “Ottolenghi” to you what might you say? The word “elegant” may come to mind or “extra” might pop into your head. Most assuredly “ingredients” would be one that most would think of. Yotam Ottolenghi is a person who has changed the way people view food. Difficult to categorize, his style works on the premise that food is all about flavour and unorthodox combinations (prior to receiving Ottolenghi Simple I had made one of his recipes from
an earlier cookbook — Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Pomelo and Star Anise — if this is not an unorthodox pairing, I’m not sure what is! But what I can say is that it was a flavor memory my mouth won’t soon forget).

Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup, p.52

His food is elegant because it simply is, not because it’s been styled to be so. But with the unexpected or unorthodox leads to some challenges sourcing ingredients. Maybe like some of you home cooks out there you’ve admired the Ottolenghi ethos but you’ve been intimidated by the ingredient list or the sophisticated-sounding recipe titles (more elevated than a simple home cook can easily achieve). I’ve found that while I’m drawn to the recipes they seem to be more in the category of “weekend cooking” (when you have the time to fuss over a recipe) rather than being something a home cook can work with in order to get a weeknight meal on the table. This being said and to be perfectly honest these aren’t criticisms. In an answer to the humble, yet eager home cook we are given Ottolenghi Simple.

In the introduction he says something that made me laugh, “I know, I know: I’ve seen the raised eyebrows, I’ve heard the jokes. The one about the reader who thought there was part of the recipe missing as they already had all the ingredients they needed in their cupboard. Or the one that goes, ‘Just popping out to the local shop to buy the papers, milk, black garlic, and sumac!'” What this means for the home cook is that a uniquely Ottolenghi primer has been developed with accessibility at its core. Do the ingredient lists resemble my daughter’s list to Santa (never ending)? Not at all! It was a pleasant surprise that the ingredient lists were moderate — even coming in at 10 or fewer for many of the recipes! Can you cook from it on a weeknight and not see the hangry rage on the faces of your family as they wait for dinner to be served? Definitely! Even if you’re feeling that the time between coming home from work and dinnertime is compressed there are loads of recipes to turn to. Is the Ottolenghi-ness diluted? Gosh no! Since receiving this book to review I’ve made some really delicious food. Nothing intimidating here — just as they put it: “Recipes that give you the time to do everything else”!

Hot, Charred Cherry Tomatoes w/ Cold Yogurt, p. 70 

As soon as you open the cover you’re met with an acrostic of the word “simple” — S (short on time), I (ingredients: 10 or fewer), M (make ahead), P (pantry-led), L (lazy-day dishes), E (easier than you think). A more in-depth description of each is given in the introduction because each of these letters and meanings are used in conjunction with each recipe. When I made the Hot, Charred Cherry Tomatoes with Cold Yogurt, for example, the letters “S” and “I” appeared below the recipe title in order to indicate that this recipe was good if you’re short on time and contained 10 or fewer ingredients.  While some might find this strategy both novel and useful I didn’t. At first, I thought I would really make use of this feature but in the end I’m not sure if I ever chose a recipe because of the letters or referred to the letters at all.

Buckwheat and Haricots Verts Salad, p. 157

The book is divided into 8 main chapters — Brunch, Raw Veg, Cooked Veg, Rice, Grains, and Pulses, Noodles and Pasta, Meat, Seafood, and Dessert — with a few sections added in which focus on simple menus (for everyday), special menus (for occasions), and what we’ve come to recognize as “Ottolenghi Ingredients” (Urfa Chile Flakes, Pomegranate Molasses, Sumac are a few I used and were easy to source — the molasses I bought at Walmart). I went into this review owing three Ottolenghi cookbooks and having only tried one recipe (mea culpa!) to cooking 10 recipes right-zippity off the bat! Recipes worked out perfectly and were enjoyed by my whole family! The Buckwheat and Haricots Verts Salad was one of my favourites — I loved the different textures here along with the fresh mint. My daughter loved the curried lentil soup. The Green Onion and Ginger Salsa from the Beefsteak Tomato Carpaccio is something so delicious that I needed to triple the next time I made it!

Portobello Mushrooms w/ Brioche and Poached Eggs, p. 10

One question that I’ve been asked is whether or not Ottolenghi Simple is suitable for vegan, vegetarian, and/or gluten-free diets. Speaking from experience as a vegetarian there are many, many recipes that suit. I had no troubles finding recipes to try. As for the other diets, this is addressed at the end of the book — “”free-from” focus was not, this time, a priority” which is to say that there are vegan and gluten-free suitable recipes but there isn’t any special index (etc.) to show this. Since this book is full of whole food ingredients and is focused on flavour, I think there is a broad appeal — you might just have to explore and seek out those recipes for yourself. The Brunsli Cookies are gluten-free (they use almond meal instead of flour which gives the cookies a very fudge-y texture when mixed with the chocolate and egg whites). Out of the ten recipes I’ve tried so far 7 of them were (or could be with some subbing) vegan and 3 relied on eggs in a way that you couldn’t substitute for.

I think that Ottolenghi has successfully translated what has made him so remarkable — ingredients and flavour — into something that is 100% accessible for the home cook without compromise. As you can see from everything I’ve been making it all looks delicious (keep tabs on my special Instagram hashtag #ottolenghisimpleiseatworthy or on my dedicated Facebook post to see what I’ve made).

 

Brunsli Chocolate Cookies, p. 290 (I’ve made them as thumbprint cookies here)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House / Penguin Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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