Book Review: Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

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This is the second ‘vegetables first’ cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. For those of us who have his first book, Plenty, this is more of the same. It is a lushly photographed celebration of vegetables, fruits, funghi, grains and pulses. You cannot read this book without realising that this is a man who loves vegetables and knows how to put them together to make a multi-flavoured, multi-textured dish. Ottolenghi gets accused of using a lot of ingredients, most of them difficult to get hold of. The last one isn’t that true – you can get most of the ingredients in one of the big, main supermarkets. As for a lot of ingredients, well, you can’t get layers of flavour and texture without them. This is not a book to reach for when you want to throw something together after a long day at work, but if you have the time to spare this book will give you something special to eat at the end of the process.

It does have its eccentricities, though. It is divided into sections by cooking method, so you get Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened as chapters. Now, it might just be me, but I don’t normally wander into the kitchen when I’m hungry and think ‘Hmm, I fancy something blanched today!’ There is an index, but no glossary of ingredients. Sometimes Ottolenghi explains the more unusual ingredients at the start of the recipe or in the ingredients list, but sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he suggests alternatives, but sometimes not. If you don’t know what za’atar, shiso and freekeh are, this book isn’t going to tell you.

I think the Tossed chapter is the most successful. Yes, there are lots of ingredients, but they mostly just need putting in the salad bowl or mixing in the dressing. And there are really interesting dressings that would go well on several different dishes.

My least favourite sections are the Cracked and Baked ones. Mr Ottolenghi says in the introduction that he is not a vegetarian and does not want to be pigeon-holed as a vegetarian writer (the horror!). It really shows in this section, not just because there’s a lot of cheese in these recipes, but because there appears to be no attempt to choose vegetarian cheeses. Parmesan is used a lot, gorgonzola appears, so does roquefort. There’s no help for it, you cannot use any named cheese in this book unless you first check that it’s vegetarian. I spotted 22 recipes using non-vegetarian cheese, there may be others.

This is a bit of mixed bag of a book. It is in turns inspirational, aspirational and infuriating for this vegetarian home cook. Having said that, if more chefs took recipes from this book and put them on menus as the veggie option, I would be a much happier woman.

Title: Plenty More
Author: Yotam Ottolenghi
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 351
Recipes: 154 (including 49 vegan and 22 non-vegetarian)
Price: £27 (hardback)
ISBN 9780092957155

I was thinking of doing one of the Tossed salads for my recipe tryout, but then I found Ottolenghi had done a recipe for Fava, the greek version of pease pudding. That decided it for this Durham lass! Besides, as in a lot of the traditional recipes in the book, they haven’t been complicated.

fava photo DSCN1711_zps62422255.jpg

Ingredients
3 large onions
300g yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
100ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
35g capers, roughly chopped
10g chives, finely chopped
salt and white pepper

Chop one of the onions into rough chunks. Add to the split peas, bay leaves and turmeric in a large saucepan.
Add enough water to cover twice the amount of peas.
Bring to the simmer, skim off any scum, cover and let simmer for 60 minutes or until the peas are soft.
Keep an eye on them and add more water if necessary, they should be loose and sloppy like thick porridge at the end.
While the peas are cooking, slice the remaining onions finely and fry in a tablespoon of the oil until they are golden brown. Set aside.
When the peas are cooked, remove the bay leaves, blend the peas with the olive oil, garlic cloves and lemon juice until you have a smooth paste. Add water if the mixture is too stiff.
Season generously with salt and pepper.
Stir in half the fried onion.
Serve in a bowl with the rest of the fried onion, capers, chives and add a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe: Roast Pumpkin, Pepper and Tomato Soup

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Ah, late summer (or early autumn depending on your point of view), when the pumpkins and squashes hit the veg boxes and I wonder what I’m going to do with them. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first – soup! Pumpkins (like their cousins, courgettes) make great soup. They blend to a wonderful smooth, creamy texture and they add a background sweetness that never really overpowers anything they’re in.

This recipe calls for roast pumpkin and if you’re going to put the oven on to roast one vegetable, you may as well roast a few at the same time. Unusually for me, this is a more liquid soup, rather than the thicker ones which are my forte.

Roast Pumpkin and Pepper Soup photo DSCN1708_zps3aa25382.jpg

Ingredients
1 small pumpkin, deseeded and sliced
2 red peppers
4 tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 litre vegetable stock
Harissa paste
Lemon juice

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Put the pumpkin pieces, peppers and tomatoes on a shallow roasting tin, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper.
Bake for 45 minutes until they are all charred round the edges and the pepper skins are blackened.
Remove from the oven and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the tomatoes and pumpkin pieces and the skins and seeds from the peppers.
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan.
Sweat the onion and garlic until they are softened and translucent.
Stir in the coriander, cumin and paprika.
Now add the tomatoes, pumpkin pieces and peppers to the saucepan.
Pour over any of the juices from the roasting tin.
Pour over the vegetable stock.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to temperature and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend to a smooth consistency.
Check for seasoning and serve with a little drizzle of harissa paste and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serves 4

Recipe: Summer pasta

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My brother Jon and my sister-in-law Maria are both excellent cooks. They’re not vegetarian, but I always get fed well when I go to stay. And one of my brother’s pasta recipes reminded me of summer, so let’s pretend that autumn’s not sneaking up on us rapidly.

First time around, both Jon and I put mushrooms in, as we happened to have some lurking around and outstaying their welcome. Jon adds parsley as well. I made the recipe again and replaced the mushrooms with feta cheese, and the parsley with basil. This one had a lighter, less earthy taste. But you might want to dial back on the capers and/or olives if you don’t like dishes too salty.

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Ingredients

Clove of garlic, crushed

Couple of spring onions, finely chopped

Half a chilli, finely chopped

Handful of small tomatoes, halved

A dozen small black olives, finely chopped

1tsp of capers

Feta cheese

Fresh basil

While the pasta is cooking (penne or fafalle is probably best), sweat the garlic, chilli and spring onions very gently in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, olives and caper, and warm through. Drain the pasta and mix the topping through it. Add plenty of torn basil leaves and ground black pepper. If you’re veggie rather than vegan, it benefits from feta cheese crumbled on the mushroom-free version or some hard pasta cheese (Tesco’s is very good) on the original. Parsley works better than basil on the mushroom dish.

Recipe: Falafel-stuffed Roast Tomatoes

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I adore falafel, but I don’t adore having to fry them all the time. I was looking for a way to cook them with less fat. I was considering baking them, but worried about them drying out. Then I hit upon the idea of stuffing tomatoes with the falafel mix and then roasting the tomatoes.

Though I say it myself, it was one of my better ideas. You get all the flavour of fresh falafel (and there is nothing better), the mix is soft and moist inside the tomato and then crispy and crunchy where it sits on top. Also, no frying smell! If you want to make falafel for a dinner party, you don’t have to start frying them at the last minute while you guests are there. If your falafel always fall apart on you, this if fool-proof!

Fat-free, fool proof falafel? It might start a trend!

Falafel stuffed tomatoes photo DSCN1702_zpsb07925bc.jpg

Ingredients
100g chickpeas (dry weight), soaked overnight in water
1/2 red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 handful fresh parsley
salt & pepper
6 medium tomatoes
olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Add the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, chilli, cumin, coriander and parsley to a food processor.
Chop until finely textured.
Season with salt and pepper.
Slice the stalk end off the tomatoes and hollow out the inside.
If the tomatoes won’t stand up, carefully cut a little bit off the end to make them stable.
Fill each tomato with the falafel mixture, with a little rounded heap on top to go crispy in the oven.
Put on an oiled baking sheet and place in the oven.
Roast for 30 minutes.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over them. Or don’t, if you want them fat-free.

Serves 2 as a light lunch with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Report: London Vegan Festival 2014

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I went to the London Vegan Festival held at Kensington Town Hall on 17th August. I’d never been to Kensington Town Hall so I was surprised to find 70s brick civic centre rather than Victorian mock gothic. It did mean that everything was nicely accessible, but they need to get the air conditioning fixed – the rooms were very hot.

There were three main exhibition rooms with a good showing of the usual Three Cs – Chocolate, Cosmetics and Campaigns. I come at Veg*nism from a food perspective, so the food stalls are all par for the course for me, but I will admit to being a little startled at seeing hunt saboteurs stalls.

Stalls that stood out for me as I shuffled round in the crowds (it was very busy!) were:

Conscious Chocolate, who produce vegan raw chocolate bars. Their Mint Hint bar has a lovely truffle texture with a nice level of mint flavour.

I kept on my personal campaign to find a vegan ‘cheese’ that doesn’t taste of sick. Vegusto had a stall and I have to say their cheese isn’t bad. It tastes of processed cheese, which is a step up on most of the competition I’ve tried. I came away with a tube of their No-Moo Melty. This does go soft when heat is applied and tastes like processed cheese. I wouldn’t rush back to it, but if you’re desperate for something cheesy this might fit the bill.

In addition to the stalls there were talks on various subjects related to veganism and animal rights/welfare. I went along to one given by Paul Gravett on “How Special Branch spied on the Animal Rights Movement”. Paul gave a good talk (mercifully powepoint free!) about his experience of the members of Special Branch who infiltrated the animal rights movement in the 80s and 90s. It was interesting and a little chilling to find out just how plausible these infiltrators were and deep they were in the organisations they were spying on. They weren’t just sitting in meetings and taking notes, they were organising the meetings, running the mailing lists and driving people to demos and actions. As a side note, if you’re running any kind of movement, watch out for helpful men with vans – this was a common factor in several of the infiltrators.

One thing that struck me at the festival was not only how many people attended, I’m sure it must have been over a thousand, but the range of people. All ages, all classes (by the clothing) and all ethnicities. Any idea that veg*nism is a white, middle-class thing can be completely dispelled by standing outside and watching who goes in. This is a far more diverse movement than you might think from press coverage.

Recipe: Potato, avocado and dill salad

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I love potato salads, but I don’t always want the creamy or mayonnaise dressing that frequently goes with them. This one uses creamy avocado instead. The lemon cuts through the richness with just the right amount of acidity and the dill adds it’s fragrant mellowness as a high note.

A handful of ingredients, very little prep and a great taste at the end of it. This is my kind of cooking.

Potato, avocado & dill salad photo DSCN1686_zpsa1dec079.jpg

Ingredients
250g new potatoes, cooked and chopped into bitesize pieces
1 avocado, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Mix together thoroughly until the avocado starts to break down and little and coat the potatoes.

Serves 2 as a side salad

Recipe: Vegetarian Piedmontese Peppers

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There was a time in the mid-late 90s when this roasted pepper dish was ubiquitous at British dinner parties. It featured in St Delia’s Summer Collection TV series and book, but I don’t think that’s why it was so popular. It’s because it’s a simple, delicious recipe with great flavours and is very forgiving as a starter. You can prepare it well in advance. If the guests are late an extra ten minutes in the oven will not mar it, or you can take it out and it will taste just as good cold as hot and every temperature in between. It featured in the first dinner party I ever gave.

It’s taken me a while to post this recipe, principally because I needed to find a substitute for the anchovies that pack such an umami punch in the original. I decided to use a mixture of capers and olives a la grecque and they work very well indeed. If you can’t get olives a la grecque then black olives would do, but you’d have to add some salt before cooking.

I don’t normally use extra virgin olive oil in cooking, but this is one time where you want your best ingredients. It’s not one for a low-fat diet, either I’m afraid. I have tried it without the oil and it just doesn’t work.

Piedmontese Peppers photo DSCN1682_zps2fd354cf.jpg

Ingredients
2 red peppers
2 medium tomatoes, skinned and halved
4 olives a la grecque, chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, sliced
8 tsp extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
4 basil leaves

Heat the oven to 180C.
Take each pepper and cut in half lengthwise through the stalk.
Keep the stalk on each half, but scoop out the seeds and white pith.
Put the halved peppers in a shallow roasting tin, cut side up.
Divide the tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and olive oil into four and fill each half pepper.
Sprinkle with black pepper, but no salt if you’re using olives a la grecque
Put in the oven and roast for 45-60 mins, checking after 45 mins to make sure they’re not burning or going dry.
Serve with a basil leaf on each half with the juices poured over.

Serves 2 as a starter with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices