Let's Eat

Feeling the flavour - Ottolenghi's latest cookbook packs a punch

The Israeli chef and co-writer, Ixta Belfrage, are all about the veggies this time around


How many more ways can there be to roast a cauliflower? Or fry an aubergine? It’s something that even Yotam Ottolenghi (the poster boy for vegetable cookery) admits niggles him from time to time.

But the London-based, Israeli super chef has done it again, and in his eighth book, Flavour, (published earlier this month) produced a collection of more than 100 of his trademark, full-of-flavour, punchy vegetable recipes. Expect to find some of them on a Rosh Hashanah celebration table near you, as his legions of dedicated fans will have already splattered their copies with pomegranate juice and sumac smears.

In the book — the third of a vegetable trilogy after Plenty and Plenty More — he has provided us with eight new aubergine recipes; from a smoky aubergine cream slathered over fresh crunchy iceberg lettuce wedges to spicy Berbere ratatouille with coconut salsa; plus another way to roast the enduringly fashionable cauliflower — here with a range of chillies.

Chillies take a lead role in this book’s roll call of 20 “essential ingredients” — some obscure (such as hibiscus — which Ottolenghi says he uses like sumac for acidity and colour) and others less so — like the humble anchovy.

By now, there’s an expectation that his books will launch previously unheard-of ingredients, which may or may not become part of our kitchen vocabulary.

This year’s pantry staples have been shaped by co-author Ixta (pronounced Ea-sta) Belfrage. Belfrage — an immensely likeable 29-year-old Londoner with no formal kitchen training — must be pinching herself at having landed one of the biggest cookbook writing gigs.

“It all happened by chance — I was in the right place at the right time,” she says humbly. But she has actually been a key member of the Ottolenghi test kitchen team for four years — having been plucked from a chef role at his restaurant, Nopi. “She earned it!” he insists. “Going into the test kitchen is hard — not everyone survives it. To last, you need experience and a knowledge of a wide range of cuisines and techniques. A lot of it is bringing ideas to the table — and Ixta has so much food knowledge.”

Belfrage’s heritage explains an emergence of new flavours and ingredients. South America is a clear influence —the lemon, a firm favourite in his recipes to date, has had to make room for its green cousin, the lime; and Mexican ground corn flour, masa harina, makes an appearance.

“My grandfather lived in Mexico for 35 years and so Dad was always there, and loved the food. Mum’s from Brazil and she lived in New Mexico — my parents met there and I’m named after a Mexican volcano!”

She has also travelled to and immersed herself in the food cultures of Mexico, Brazil and Italy — where her parents had a second home for many years.

She’s been cooking since childhood. “I’ve been dangerously obsessed with food since I had conscious thought,” she admits.

“Mum was a nutritionist and would not buy crisps, sweets and cakes, and said if I wanted to eat them I had to make them. I was frustrated with the boring foods at home.”

She didn’t initially decide to cook professionally but, after a series of other jobs, opened a small catering operation, then a market stall selling tacos. From there she applied for that Nopi job.

The recipes are trademark Ottolenghi — “in your face” and often unexpected. Some ingredient combinations made my eyebrows soar — kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage) is paired with Gruyère cheese in crisp, gooey-centred fritters; while classic Sicilian dish, caponata, is partnered with Asian staple, tofu.

“The ‘out there’ combinations are very Ixta,” he says. “But over the years I’ve done this too — people would say that doesn’t read right. I trust her — she has a great knowledge of all sorts of countries.”

Of the kimchi/Gruyère combo, Belfrage says: “I don’t see how an Asian flavour and a European flavour cannot work together — it’s about balance. Kimchi is hot and sour — why would it not go with something fatty, like Gruyère?”

And that’s part of the book’s premise — new ways of combining ingredients and techniques to maximise flavour.

Recipes are divided into three main categories: Process (cooking methods like charring; browning; infusing and ageing); Pairing (combining the four basic elements of sweetness; fat; acidity and chilli heat); and Produce (ingredients such as mushrooms or any of the allium family, which pack a hefty enough punch to carry a dish on their own).

Ottolenghi admits vegetables can take effort to shine. “You can’t just fry a vegetable in a pan with a bit of oil like you can with meat or fish. You need to do more to it.”

And there’s a generous helping of science explaining the magic of how flavour develops. That may not be for everyone — although it did make this a book serious foodies will want to sit down and read properly as well as cook from.

“For me” says Ottolenghi, “the science connects to the food, and we wanted to include it to give the book a bit of heft. You wouldn’t miss out on making the recipes without the science, but that extra part will help people understand why.”

The book has grown on me — the more I read, the more I want to cook, and, while there are plenty of new ingredients, there are also familiar friends. One of Ottolenghi’s favourite recipes from the book pairs Middle Eastern herb mix, za’atar, with fashionable pasta dish cacio e pepe (a recipe made simply with cheese and black pepper); while spicy roast potatoes are drizzled with tahini and soy.

If you love Ottolenghi’s ideas and don’t mind restocking your store cupboard, you’ll want to mark the New Year by tasting a few of these new flavours.

Ottolenghi Flavour (Ebury) £27 is out now

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive