These days I find myself eating less animal protein. I am increasingly concerned about the provenance of the beef, pork, poultry and seafood in the markets. Food safety and the ethical treatment of animals has influenced my approach to cooking and eating more than ever before. So it shouldn’t be surprising that this month’s cookbook review features a book that I have used many times; in fact, as recently as yesterday. (Unfortunately we were so intent on devouring the Smoky Frittata that I didn’t get a chance to snap any photos). Back in January, I wrote about green pancakes, the first dish I tried from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi.
They were so good and the zesty lime-chile butter was the perfect accompaniment. I have also prepared the dish that graces the cover of the book: eggplant with buttermilk sauce. Mr. Ottolenghi has devoted an entire section of the cookbook to eggplant, fittingly titled “The Mighty Eggplant”. The other sections are organized by product categories which include Roots, Funny Onions, Mushrooms, Zucchini and other Squashes, Peppers, Brassicas, Tomatoes, Leaves, Cooked and Raw, Green Things, Green Beans, Pulses, Grains, Pasta, Polenta, Couscous, and finally, Fruit with Cheese. I am in awe of this young man’s creativity and the way he combines flavors in ways I would never think to do. Sweet Winter Slaw is an example: a salad of red and savoy cabbage with mango, papaya, red chile, mint and cilantro. It’s dressed with a combination of fresh lime juice, maple syrup, sesame oil, soy sauce, lemongrass and olive oil. And for another layer of texture and sweetness, caramelized macadamia nuts are added to the mix. Another favorite of mine is “Crunchy Pappardelle”, a dish of wide noodles tossed with broccolini and mushrooms sauced with white wine and a little cream, and topped with crunchy panko enhanced with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley (in the style of gremolata). Mr. Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian and from time to time he will suggest that a certain dish might go well with roast chicken or (in the case of the green pancakes) some smoked fish. But his care and attention to the best raw materials are what make his food so exciting and interesting. In the introduction to the book Mr. Ottolenghi explains that his childhood in Israel and Palestine exposed him to “the multitude of vegetables, pulses, and grains that are celebrated in the region’s different cuisines”. I particularly enjoyed this paragraph where he says: “What I am getting at is how lucky we are (although unfortunately not all of us) to be living and cooking in a world that offers such a spectrum of ingredients and so many culinary heritages to draw on. And this is what gets me excited-the multitude of ingredients cooked and processed by so many people in so many ways with so many different purposes”. It is an exciting book. My advice is if you want to move vegetables to the center of your plate, seek this one out. Here are some images from the pages of “Plenty”.