Watching Plenty -- the veggie-centric cookbook by chef, restaurateur, and "New Vegetarian" food columnist Yotam Ottolenghi -- climb to the final round in Food52's Piglet cookbook competition last year was a frustrating experience. The cookbook, published in the U.K. in 2010, had yet to be released in the U.S., and what I was reading gave me the "I wants" for this cookbook I couldn't yet get.
Sure, I could find many of the recipes included in the cookbook by Ottolenghi on The Guardian's website, but I was looking for the big picture point of view that a cookbook in hand offers, from the creative chef, part of the team behind the celebrated Ottolenghi take away shops in London. The book hit the U.S. market last spring, delivering updated versions of recipes previously published in Ottolenghi's Guardian column, new recipes, and page popping food photography by Jonathan Lovekin.
The verdict? Get it after the jump.
Ottolenghi, and his collaborative partner Sami Famimi, are known for aesthetic, creative, vibrant food inspired by the cooking traditions springing from their respective roots in Israel and Palestine, where seasonal vegetables, fruits and grains dominate the plate, and the cuisine is multi cultural. Ottolenghi does not follow a vegetarian diet, rather his dedication to the plant-based recipes in his column and in the cookbook come from his sensibility about sourcing quality food and his excitement for specific ingredients.
The cookbook's chapters are titled and arranged in a quirky way, by specific ingredient: Peppers, Tomatoes, The Mighty Eggplant; or by a group of related ingredients: Zucchini and Other Squashes, Funny Onions; or finally by categories of ingredients: Pulses, Grains, Green Things. Some recipes are introduced with Ottolenghi's musings on his personal experiences and inspirations (Bahn Xeo, Shashuka, Multi-Vegetable Paella) and others by a short explanation of ingredients or specific cooking tips (Tamara's Ratatouille, Black Pepper Tofu, Cabbage and Kohlrabi Salad) which along with the photos is the fun of the read.
The collection of recipes offer a creative contrast, heavy on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean based dishes, with Asian and Mexican dishes and ingredients tossed in. An Asian soba noodle dish is enhanced with an addition of fresh ripe mango, the classic French tatin is upside down with potatoes benefiting from the classical caramel treatment for apples, and an ample amount of cilantro replaces basil in an Italian baked eggplant dish.
Spices and fresh herbs are used generously in all the recipes, and all but a few of them can be easily sourced in ethnic or specialty food markets. Most of the recipes call for fresh, sometimes seasonal produce and time for food prep. The recipes require a basic working knowledge in the kitchen for the novice, and the competent cook will be inspired to carry on Ottolenghi's approach adapting the recipes based on their unique culinary inspiration and personal experiences.
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Plenty is a cookbook for lovers of food and cooking. It is a crossover cookbook, and just like a song with universal appeal, it transcends the obvious label (vegetarian) and challenges the expected in ingredient use and flavor combinations of specific cuisines.
It was well worth the wait.