My kitchen bench is always full of small bowls, terracotta vessels, some glass mixing and storing dishes, some Japanese earthenware, and stainless steel containers for cooking small puddings. At times it looks like a weird mis-en-place, with bowls of all sizes and materials. Some soak grains or lentils, some hold half an onion, half a chilli, half a garlic clove or half a lemon, waiting for the next recipe to use them in. A couple have nuts – pistachios in one and some walnuts in the shell in another, pwaiting for the inevitable salad. There are left over herbs in another, sometimes chopped finely and sometimes long branches of leaves. The daba adds the Indian touch with its small pots of mustard seeds, cardamom pods, fennel and cumin seeds, and dried chillies. There might be a plate with today’s produce from the garden – some cumquats, spring onions, beetroot and eggplant. Tiny zucchini. Greens of all sorts. There are bunches of noodles, standing upright in a glass, wanting to be cooked, and perhaps some fresh harissa, or fresh capsicum puree, or tomato and olive puree, waiting to be dolloped into or onto dishes.
The third chapter in Ottolenghi’s book Plenty More reminds me of my kitchen bench. It is a mish mash of recipes, one where the thread that holds them together is hard to see. It is there – just as on my kitchen bench, the link is the inspiration for that day’s food. In this third chapter, the oh so subtle theme is Blanched. At least one ingredient in each dish is popped into boiling water for seconds or minutes before being combined with others to produce a final dish. It’s an oblique reference indeed.
The chapter holds some very amazing dishes, as you’d expect from Ottolenghi – flavours layered and layered, each layer finding compliments and contrasts amongst the others. It is something that we have come to expect from the Ottolenghi brand. There are salads in the Ottolenghi style, noodle dishes, Indian fusion dishes, vegetable side dishes. The chapter invites the home cook to include seaweed, curry leaves, mustard seeds and Japanese noodles in the pantry, and to think about how these ingredients, new to many, can be incorporated into regular home cooking.
It has to be said that this chapter’s dishes give little relief from the Ottolenghi style of many ingredients, may steps, many pots and pans, and some serious time requirements to make the dishes. It is a warning that needs to be given so that appropriate planning can be made.
Despite all of that there are some recipes in this chapter that don’t work as well as we might expect. Some seem overly rushed, without enough thought before inclusion in the book. Others – the ones that include Indian ingredients – bear the mark of improper treatment of these spices. I felt as though Ottolenghi could benefit from working a lot more with these spices and ingredients, learning their attributes and behaviours. before including them in his published recipes. There are issues with quantity, treatment and technique, meaning that often those dishes do not meet the usual high expectations we have of his dishes.
There was one recipe in particular that I agonised over for quite a while, consulting others to verify my concerns. In Peas with Sorrel and Mustard, there is an extraordinary amount of mustard seeds used. I was right to be concerned; it turned out to be one of my least favourite of his dishes. The mustard seeds are used without popping them, and therefore it has an overly strong mustard flavour with an acrid after taste, as you’d expect.
To make up for the disappointment, the recipe for Sprouting Broccoli and Edamame which also includes mustard seed (a moderate amount) and curry leaves, is a triumph. I did alter the process, though, to better treat those ingredients to help them release their beautiful flavours into the dish. It really is similar to a South Indian quick sauteed vegetable dish with coconut, except that non-traditional vegetables are used. His use of curry leaves in the recipe is as if they are a vegetable rather than a flavouring. I find it over-kill – curry leaves are difficult to eat in quantity, and flavour-wise only a few are needed. I moderated the quantity and the result is divine. I also loved the Beetroot recipe – the play of beetroot and pea shoots is divine.
A final note on this chapter – Ottolenghi’s go-to oil for dressings and salads is peanut oil. I like to keep a few different nut oils for salads – hazelnut, walnut, for example. I find myself wondering if I will find a use for these as I delve further into the book. Meanwhile, I feel free to sub out peanut oil for one of the others if I think it will work well in the dish.
Some of our write-ups on the recipes have not been published yet. The links will be added when they are published.
Tomato and Roasted Lemon Salad
Seaweed, Ginger and Carrot Salad
Broccolini and Edamame Salad with Curry Leaves and Coconut
Beetroot, Avocado and Pea Salad
Rice Noodles with Spring Onions and Soy Beans
Soba Noodles with Quick Pickled Mushrooms
this is a living post and will be updated as more of the recipes are published. most of ottolenghi recipes are online, if you are looking for them. yotham’s column in the guardian is a good place to start.