What We're Cooking Now

What We're Cooking Now - My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ottolengi's "Plenty" Inspiration and Insight into vegetarian cooking

In 2006, Yotam Ottolenghi wrote a vegetarian column for the Guardian's "Weekend" magazine in London. While he is not a vegetarian himself, his beautiful cookbook inspires us to embrace a less meat-centric lifestyle. This book, a collection of his work from the Guardian, is an inspired and accessible place to explore the fascinating journey into Middle Eastern vegetarian cooking.

No standard chapters here (ie apps, mains, desserts). Chapters are organized by "Roots", "Mushrooms", "Brassicas", "The Mighty Eggplant" etc.

Over all, we did find an excessive use of eggplant. There were some obscure and expensive ingredients, and some of his portions were off. For example, the hummus recipe on page 210 which is supposed to serve 6 makes TWELVE cups of hummus. That's a 2 cups of hummus per person! As busy working women, some of us with kids, we found that we missed advice on how to make many of these recipes ahead, perhaps even freezing instructions?

Interestingly, our combined meal together to celebrate our successes with this book has to date, been our favourite meal. It was like being at a delicious vegetarian buffet where every single item was fantastic.

Overall Consensus-some very unique vegetarian dishes here-and if you are interested in a slightly less meat-centric new year, perhaps this wrapped under your Christmas Tree would make a great addition to your cookbook collection.

Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinagrette 
(p 16)

Rather than a prescriptive recipe, this is more of a gentle suggestion of how to lovingly treat any manner of root veggies. But something alchemical happens with the lemon, capers, maple syrup and dijon. Run-don't walk. Try this tonight.

Surprise Tatin (p 22)

 This recipe had had me at "Surprise". What do you mean "surprise"? What kind of "surprise"? Well, as we all know, a Tatin is usually a sweet dessert prepared with apples, sometimes pears. But no...here we use a strange combination of potatoes and sugar, onions, goat cheese and puff pastry. And I suppose the surprise is that it is freakin' fantastic!

This served with a light salad is the perfect luncheon treat. Serve this at your next brunchy/lunchy thing and you'll be a superstar!

Sweet Potato Cakes (p32)
Yield is far grater than for 4 people as suggested by the recipe. The cakes themselves were rubbery in texture and quite gummy. However, the sauce which combines greek yogurt, lemon juice and cilantro was fantastic especially when served with fish and chicken.

Leek Fritters (p 36)
Too intense on the leek flavour-we take a pass on this recipe.

Tamara's Ratatouille (p74)
Very labour intensive and ended up being a very watery dish, and not inspiring. We've mentioned this before--we hate when a photo of a dish so clearly does not match up to reality. The photo on page 75 is of clearly defined chunks of almost dry vegetables---obviously not the result we achieved. All in all, another pass on this recipe.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (p 112)
One of our favourites, only if you cut back on the eggplant.

Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad (p 128)
FANTASTIC...essentially a panzanella salad with a Middle Eastern twist (the addition of mint). But SO GOOD. Our advice-toast the bread for longer than recommended in the recipe for a crunchier result.

Quesadillas pg 124
 Even my meat loving hubby really liked this. And my daughter thought this was the BEST! Very fresh tasting salsa and the freshly toasted spices in the black bean paste set this recipe apart.

Lettuce Salad pg 146
Every good cook should have a 'go to' salad in their repertoire. This is not it.  A bland and uninspired salad.

Swiss Chard, Chickpea and tamarind stew (p 148)
Three things I love...and have used them in various combinations when cooking Indian food. This however was too sour (too heavy on the tamarind) and just did not work. Pass.

Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger (p 166)
Really good-refreshing. Keep this salad in mind when summer gardens start over producing cukes. You'll be thrilled to have this recipe on hand!

Caramelized fennel with goat cheese (p 172)
This was and 'epic fail'. The sugar burnt on the bottom of the pan before the fennel was cooked, leaving the overwhelming taste of burnt sugar in the dish.

Char-grilled asparagus (p 182)
Simple and very delish. Asparagus, lemon, feta-deadly good combination!

Soba Noodles with Wakame pg 188
Refreshing main salad, but it took over 1 hour to prepare all of the ingredients. This was a VERY intensive prep and because of the draining time for the cukes and the drying time for the noodles once cooked--AND the soaking of the wakame...you really need to be commited to this. It was good. But not that good.

Gado-Gado (p 195)

This was, for me the most surprising hit of the book. The idea of eating steamed cabbage, boiled potatoes and tofu was decidedly not inspiring to me.

However, this main course salad was so wonderfully light, surprisingly flavourful (thank you BEST peanut sauce EVER), and satisfying that it has become a regular feature in my culinary repertoire.  Having said that, the peanut sauce, is...wait for it...labour intensive. It does however make a large quantity...and had I shown even a modicum of restraint, I might have been able to test how it freezes. Alas...since I basically ate it with a spoon, there really wasn't enough to do a freeze test with. :)
The BEST Peanut Sauce ever. Really...I mean it.
I wasn't sure what the purpose of cooking the potatoes in water laced with tumeric (ie not much of a flavour boost there), but the sunny way they look in the salad just makes me happy!

Hummus with ful (p 210)
This made a massive amount of hummus. The recipe says it serves 6, and is correct, if each of the 6 people are eating a gigantic TWO cup bowl of humus and nothing else. Having said that--this was really the best humus any of us had ever tasted. We all agreed that the addition of baking soda did something magical to the humus-it was light and fluffy and wonderful. Now for the ful...general consensus was not to bother-fava beans are hard to find in Toronto, and if you do find them, they have to be as the  recipe tells you, soaked over night. However the recipe does not tell you to shell them (ie slip the skins off of them). This was a critical omission in this recipe.

Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt (p 221)
Deb loved this dish, although she did cut back on the 1/3 Cup of butter the recipe called for. She used 1 Tablespoon of butter only and was pleased with the result.

Socca (p 224)
What seemed like too many onions...melted away to make...
This recipe had me at 'On a visit to Southern France'...after testing so many Middle Eastern inspired dishes, I was excited to try something that was a little different. Lots of onions caramelized to a sweet and savory topping along with oven roasted tomatoes on top of a pancake? Sounded great to me.

this sweet and lovely amount.

Wonderful roasted tomatoes...

Making the chickpea flour pancakes was simple and fun... 
And the end result was lovely. But really, to be honest, the taste was not to my liking...nor to the liking of my peeps. I suppose, in the end, we are just not chickpea flour pancake people.

Yogurt Flatbreads wtih Barley and Mushrooms (p 236)
Oh my this was a wonderful meal. SO delish. The flatbread was wonderful-light, fresh and slightly tangy from the addition of Greek yogurt in the dough. Here's the dough prior to frying...see all of those lovely green bits of fresh cilantro?

And after frying... golden and puffed from the baking powder and yogurt reacting in the hot butter.

The mushroom ragout was easy enough to make and once spooned on top of the flatbreads made for a very good meal.

Sweet Corn Polenta( p 266)
This is polenta recipe that uses fresh corn rather than cornmeal.  Sadly, it leaves you wondering why anyone would want to try. This was a wet, mushy, babyfood, mucky dish that was very unappetizing. Another epic fail.

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