"PLENTY" by Yotam Ottolenghi
Published in 2010 by Ebury Press, part of the Random House Group.
Cover price: £25.
At Christmas I bought this book for my wife Jane. Of course there was no self-interest involved - perish the thought! Actually both she and I know that we will both derive pleasure from this book, even if it is she who does most of the cooking from it, while I do most of the looking at pictures, and planning how to grow such nice veg.
I believe this to be a book that all Foodies would want to own -- and gardeners as well. It is a book written by someone who loves food, especially but not exclusively, vegetarian food. Yotam is definitely NOT a vegetarian, nor is his book specifically aimed at vegetarian readers. Actually, I think it will appeal most to people like me - ones who eat meat because they enjoy meat, but also eat vegetables because they too are nice - without being fanatical in relation to either. The book allegedly echoes the style of the restaurant Ottolenghi, with the emphasis on the best quality ingredients, sensitively prepared. The author makes a point of saying that his recipes usually begin with one main ingredient, around which the dish is built, but which always remains the star of the show, despite the addition of a "supporting cast". Most of the recipes in the book also live up to its title - good-looking, wholesome food presented in generous portions.
I'm not sure what Yotam's nationality or ethnic background is (nor is it important), but in the Introduction to his book he describes an upbringing in a clearly food-loving family with Lebanese and Israeli influences. It is hardly surprising therefore that his book covers an eclectic mix of recipes from all around the Mediterranean and Middle East, as well as some from further afield - Lentils with grilled aubergine; Lemon and goat's cheese ravioli; Caramelized endive with Gruyere cheese; Quesadillas; Fried Butter Beans with feta, sorrel and sumac; even Mee Goreng. There is something for everyone in this book!
Most of the dishes described are ones that could be served as Main dishes in their own right, though they could also easily be done as accompaniments to meat or fish dishes. This for me is the big attraction of this book. The fact that the food is "vegetarian" is not relevant. It's just good food; do with it what you like.
The way the book is organised is also interesting. It is divided into sections containing recipes that are at least vaguely related. For instance "Brassicas"; "Courgettes and other Squashes"; "Pasta, Polenta, Couscous". Within these sections though there are elements from a number of different cuisines. The section on "Green Beans" contains recipes for Green bean salad with mustard seeds and tarragon, as well as Gado Gado and Warm glass noodles with edamame beans, so you will gather that the categories are fairly loose ones.
So far we have made only one recipe from the book (simply because traditional Christmas fare has dominated over the last couple of weeks). The recipe we made was for Quesadillas, served with Black Bean paste and a fresh salsa (I'll be posting about our use of our new Tortilla-press very soon).
Star of the show was the Black Bean paste, which was absolutely lovely and incredibly easy to make. The recipe instructions are easy to follow and not full of cheffy jargon (which is a relief). I'm sure it won't be long before we use another recipe from this book (currently the most likely candidate is Mushroom and herb polenta).
Finally a word on the photography - literally one word: "stunning". The photos are by Jonathan Lovekin. He has done a brilliant job. I always find that a good photo helps me to understand a dish better. In fact I would go so far as to say that without a photo, I find it hard to imagine whether I would want to eat the dish. In this case, there is no doubt at all - I want to eat ALL the dishes (well, perhaps not the "Aubergine tricolore" recipe which contains not only aubergines and yellow peppers, both of which I dislike, but also leaf coriander, to which I am violently allergic!)
My verdict: definitely a must-have book for any serious amateur chef. Highly recommended.