OK folks, I have a confession to make. Ready for it? I'm not a super creative cook. Oh sure, I improvise sometimes, and there are some common staple dishes that I make without looking anything up (e.g. egg curry, poriyal, macaroni & cheese, enchiladas, quiches, basic vegetable soups). But I feel much more comfortable, or at least more inspired, when I'm cooking from a recipe. I don't think it's so much lack of faith in my own abilities to come up with something but rather the joy I get when looking at and following a good recipe (albeit often with tweaks). Cooking this way allows me to discover cuisines, ingredients, techniques and ideas that I probably would never have thought of on my own, at least not within the confines of my busy lifestyle. If I had all the time in the world and could be paid to be a recipe developer, then it would be a different story!
So then it should come as no surprise to you that my #1 time suck is Pinterest (seriously, I need a major Pintervention! I have no less than 54 food/recipe boards, neatly organized by type of cuisine or dish. In my defense I do try a lot of the recipes I find). I'm subscribed to a zillion food/recipe email lists, obsessively follow and read several fellow food bloggers (of course!), regularly spend time on websites such as Serious Eats, Food 52 and Epicurious, have subscriptions to many cooking magazines and lately have been getting sucked into food-related accounts on Snapchat. Sigh! And of course our combined cookbook collection (hubby's and mine) is out of control!
Among cookbook authors and recipe writers, I have to say that I’m just a TAD obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi. You may already know this if you follow my Facebook page, since I often make and post Ottolenghi recipes in my “it’s what’s for dinner” posts. Ottolenghi, who is Israeli but based in London, made a name for himself with his weekly vegetarian cooking column for The Guardian and his Mediterranean, vegetable-focused cooking at his London restaurants Ottolenghi and Nopi (which sadly I've never had the pleasure of dining at...yet). He has also written or co-written five critically acclaimed cookbooks. To date, I own hard copies of Plenty (thanks, Naeeda & David!), Jerusalem and Ottolenghi: The Cookbook while I have Plenty More on my iPad. Knowing myself, I'll probably break down and buy the hard copy of this plus the newly released Nopi soon as well!
|Image courtesy of Ottolenghi|
Many of Ottolenghi & co’s dishes have a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean touch, like the man himself. Ingredients like Greek yogurt, tahini, pomegranates, preserved lemon and pomegranate feature often. But what I love about his cooking is how truly global it is, much like my own. Plenty, for example, offers luscious vegetarian versions of Asian favorites like Malaysian nasi lemak and mee goreng and Indonesian gado gado. In Plenty More, you can find a jazzed up pomelo salad (a favorite here in Thailand), with nontraditional green mango, star anise and orange blossom water. There’s also a nod to India in dishes like the fried upma fritters with a poached egg or the curried chickpea & Alphonso mango salad, or to Iran in some of the kuku and rice dishes that he features. This is a man after my own heart!
Some people may feel that Ottolenghi’s recipes are a bit inaccessible in that they call for ingredients that not everyone has in their pantry (not to worry though, you can actually purchase many of these on his website!). But in my kitchen, you can find pretty much everything that he calls for in his recipes. Sumac? Check. Harissa? We have three kinds at the moment, which do you prefer? Black sesame seeds and nigella seeds? Of course, in the back fridge! This may not be commonplace, but for a cooking-obsessed spice mistress like me, I always lug back local condiments, spices, grains and produce from wherever I happen to be travelling (yep, that was me toting back brussel sprouts from Melbourne!), while my lovely friends always graciously mule stuff for me as well. So I guess that Mr. Ottolenghi and I are a match made in heaven!
I'm not the only one, as some of my fellow foodies here in Bangkok are equally obsessed with the man. Thus we've been organizing a number of Ottolenghi themed dinner parties, which always make for a fabulous evening! We need to figure out a way to get him to make a trip out here! Any ideas?
|Too bad we didn't get a proper picture of the spread at this one - I made the eggplant cheesecake from Plenty More which was incredible!|
So as an ode to the fabulousness that is Mr. Ottolenghi and his cookbooks (both Jerusalem and Ottolenghi: The Cookbook were co-authored by the equally fabulous Sami Tamimi, his Palestinian business partner and friend), I thought I would share with you photos of some of the lovely dishes that I've cooked from these books. Enjoy! And do let me know if any of you are Ottolenghi-philes as well...what are your favorite recipes of his? Or what are your favorite cookbooks that you cook from regularly? I'd love to hear from you!
From Plenty (my first Ottolenghi cookbook!)
|Marinated pepper salad with pecorino|
|Lemon and aubergine risotto|
|Very full tart|
|Soba noodles with aubergine and mango|
|Cucumber salad with smashed garlic & ginger and coconut rice with sambal & okra (basically a veggie version of the delicious Malaysian staple nasi lemak)|
From Plenty More
|Thai red lentil soup with aromatic chili oil - this was the BOMB! Stay tuned for my adaptation coming soon...|
|Honey roasted carrots with tahini yogurt (on the right)|
|Tomato & pomegranate salad and aubergine kuku (a Persian frittata-like dish)|
|Basic hummus (AMAZING!) - here I served it topped with tomato, cucumber, banana peppers and toasted pine nuts for one of our Ottolenghi dinners|
|Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini & zaa'tar|
|Tomato and sourdough soup (I used regular bread instead of sourdough)|
|The making of chermoula aubergine with bulgar (I substituted couscous) and yogurt|
|Chermoula aubergine with bulgar (I substituted couscous) and yogurt|