Plenty for the taking…

I have been in love with this book for so long, it’s embarrassing to declare it so late. It’s hard to find the right words to do it justice. It has become so deeply inculcated into my kitchen, weaving it’s way into so many areas, that it is hard to break it down clearly enough to be objective. It’s like asking why you love your friend. You know the answers, but it’s hard to say.

Written by Yotam Ottelenghi, of Middle Eastern descent, Plenty, is exactly that. In that one word, the entire premise of the book is encapsulated. In it, he demonstrates clearly, how vegetarian food has so much to offer, not as a sideshow to a meat feast, but as a headliner. It is a collection of recipes from his Guardian Column – The New Vegetarian. The book itself is beautifully designed; from its white padded, tactile cover, to the modern graphic line drawings, and simple, straightforward photos within.

Drawing heavily from his own Israeli background, the food is, on one part,  a modern interpretation of Middle Eastern food. Do not be mistaken, this isn’t a hundred-ways-to-make-homous sort of publication. It’s about the essence of Arab food. Clean, simple, punchy. Also, some of the best recipes in here hail from Malaysia and Indonesia as well, where vegetables are venerated and are considered absolutely essential to the completion of any meal. He has taken due note.

The use of spices and condiments are liberal and, liberating. Butternut squash is roasted to sweet perfection against a dusting of perfumed cardamom. Pomegranate syrups enrich and pucker up long cooked barley grains. Rice grains are tenderly infused with lemongrass, ginger and coconut. Greens and aubergines are dressed generously with tahini based sauces. The combinations are extensive, educate the palate and give you the chutzpah to try your own variations.

Here are some of my forays (pictures were taken a fair while ago, while I was getting into food photography…be kind!) into this unique book along with the recipe links for them from the column he writes.

Roasted Butternut Squash with sweet spices, lime and green chilli

Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce

Sprouting Broccoli and Sweet Sesame

Caramelised Garlic Tart

Chickpea, Tomato and Bread soup (Children’s favourite)

Stuffed Onions

 and one of the best recipes out of this book, in my opinion.

Gado Gado

In the interest of being fair however, I must mention the niggles this book presents. Ottelenghi being a chef, demonstrates the ‘faff’ of a professional. Where one pot will do, the man uses four. A lot of the food, takes time to prepare. However, the instructions are straightforward, there are no complicated techniques. This comes from someone who finds making a homemade lasagne from scratch tedious to say the least, but will happily engage in the four stage production of a Caramelized Garlic Tart. The recipes (not all) are multi – staged, much like a lasagne; it takes more ticks out of the clock. I am sure he would argue that the principle of the method is based on sound reasons but having two little ones clinging to my knees, makes standing over a hot stove for more than an hour, difficult.

However, my enthusiasm for the food here has not been dimmed, since the result is so much more than the sum of its parts. The satay sauce for the Gado Gado, can be made days ahead. It takes a couple of pans, and dedicated watching, but oh!! That sauce, as it has been aptly described by a devoted Dutchman, ‘is like having liquid gold in your fridge‘.

The second thing to note, is the oil content. Our man Ottelenghi, is weak of wrist as he pours fat into the pan. Having said that, I have drastically cut down his measures and I feel the end result did not suffer in the least, for my disobedience.

That’s what I find to be a merit of this book. It’s open to  your interpretation. I work around whatever suits me. Make things upto a certain stage, or cook it all ahead, or prep everything to go, bake instead of saute´and truly, the recipes allow for such heathen behaviour. Break the rules a bit. Add some more sambal oelek (indonesian chilli paste) if you want. Chuck in some cheese. Plonk in more pomegranate molasses, go wild with the chilli. Substitute your ingredients (normal broccolli for sprouting for example) or leave them out (like the tofu and the shrimp chips in the Gado Gado) Up the tahini, increase the yoghurt, do it all in one pan. In other words, don’t be slavishly bound to the instructions. He is obviously, meticulous and you always have that as a guide.

What I get at the end of it all, is a table where meat has been rendered as an unnecessary embellishment to an otherwise perfect meal. While any of the food here would make a fine partner to meat or seafood should you need it to, I am grateful that I don’t have to cook anything extra. Texture, flavour and taste are all there in spades. You do not have to be a vegetarian to appreciate and more importantly, enjoy it!  The Scotsman, who celebrates all things meat, will eat Plenty recipes with relish and not feel any lack. In fact, the Black Pepper Tofu and Gado-Gado, which I have blogged about previously, are some of his favourite meals. I’d say that’s a darn good sign.

I had another recipe I made today, from the book, all lined up to post, but this has ended up quite wordy and picture filled as it is. I’ll leave that one for later. I guess, when there is a connection to something, anything, even a cookbook, there is a lot to say. Plenty, in fact.


50 thoughts on “Plenty for the taking…

  1. Joost Poort

    Love your post, Caroline! Plenty is one of my favourite cookbooks now but as I’ve said before (we talk about this book a lot on Cooking Friends) it’s a book I’ve had to grow into or that has had to grow on me (or both) and I think one of the reasons is exactly the freedom it allows you. Scary stuff, freedom, but brilliant once you’re used to it!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Thanks Joost 🙂 I know we have had our good natured banter over some of the recipes here, but I like the book so much more for that! LOL ! Love the last sentence, I think you’ve captured it in a nutshell!!

  2. emmathebakewelltart

    Wow what a great review! As you know I bought this book today and I must say your pure enthusiasm for the book has got me truly excited, and I can’t wait to dive right into it! Thank you so much Carrie for sharing your passion with us all. Keep up the great work!

  3. Peony

    How can I not comment on this post, after lurking and dipping into your blog for ages! I, too, am still in love with this book, although I must get out of the habit of continuing to repeat making old favourites and try a few new recipes. I so agree with what you say about the faffing, but it’s true that a lot can be avoided once you know what he’s getting at.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      PEONY!!!! Oh my goodness! I was thinking of you the ENTIRE time I was doing this post and even dipped into the forum to rejig my memory. You were an excellent partner in the virtual, communal kitchen, really enjoyed it! Thank you for posting, it’s lovely to hear from you and I hope it continues 🙂

  4. Hannah

    Wow Caroline, beautiful photos and lovely post! I must must get this book…it’s saved for later in my amazon basket along with so many others though…one day!!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Oh you must Hannah. I think you, will definitely enjoy the book and also, you are confident when it comes to chopping and changing as need (or shopping) demands. Don’t leave it too long!

  5. Pamela

    A great read there m’dear. You do have plenty of good things to say about this fabulous book (and do you think the author realised so much could be done with the name)? I totally agree with you that his methods are sometimes a bit ‘cheffy’ – how many kitchens, realistically, have unlimited time, unlimited pots and pans, and are free of children? I can only dream… but that is easy to get around. When you want dinner, shortcuts can be found.
    I have cooked three recipes so far, having had the book less than two weeks. The spiced lentils (gorgeous), the mixed bean number (delish) and the ratatouille (my favourite so far). Am not sure where to go next however. One of the reasons I bought the book is because nearly-six Katherine is vegetarian and, while she enjoyed the three meals I have made so far, not every child, vegetarian or not, will go for a meal that contains wacky looking leaves and is sprinkled with suspicious looking nuts and herbs, even though I may be desperate to eat it. Such is the compromise that has to be made between one who eats everything (me) and one who could survive on raw carrots alone.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Ha! So many things to say! Katherine is vegetarian? Hmmm, interesting :-). I find you can fudge things up a wee bit..what about the barley salad for her? Maybe subbed with rice? Under extraordinary circumstances as yours (;-)), I think a ‘inspired by’ approach would be best! Would she like the Gado Gado? My kids too and you could really use any veg you liked, and the nutty taste and lack of chilli heat, is appealing to kids…good luck!!!

  6. bessiecat

    Thanks for reminding me about this cook book that is sat, gathering dust on the shelf. I love it (especially the black pepper tofu) but as you say, not many are suitable for making when small children are clamering for your attention. I will have to revisit soon.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Hope you do…I think slow and steady is the case with this book. The more I do out of it, the easier I find it the second time around, and by the third, am racing along with it…kids or not 🙂

  7. Hazzer

    Great write up, describes our beloved tome precisely. When my copy of Plenty was on loan OH actually asked where it had gone as we hadn’t had any ‘Otto’s’ recently. Tonight’s delight is going to be either leek fritters or butter beans and feta but then again I bought some silver beet this morning. Too many to choose from.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Haha, I like the fact that your OH noticed. I think his recipes really stand out from the rest. But you are right…you have a tough set of choices there…you could always make the lot! 😉

  8. Michelle

    I like Plenty, too. But I think I like his earlier book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, even better. And no apologies needed for those photos—they are beautiful!

  9. trangquynh

    I’m jealous with you and your cookbook, it looks so simple but still attractive. Too bad I can’t get this book here, so I’d love to see one of its recipes on your blog and realize it one day 😦

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Thanks! There is always the internet! All the recipes from this book can be found on the column, The New Vegetarian that he writes for The Guardian paper. Also, I have featured two recipes out of this book, the Gado-Gado and the Black Pepper tofu..links are in the post 🙂

  10. Rushi!

    Wow!!! I’m enchanted by your post and by the book, now I’m compelled to start hinting to each and everyone who’d listen that I’d like to have this book for my birthday. Your pics look delicious 🙂 Mmmmmmm
    You rock Carrie!!!!!!! 😀

  11. lardersaga

    Ditto – I used to cook from this book ALOT when I ran my catering company – and completely agree about the ‘faf’ factor – that aside he has opened a door to a whole new cuisine for me and I love it. He is very talented – one my favorites is the ‘Winter Slaw’ – again the dressing is scrumptious, the marriage of ingredients is totally novel and really works! P.s your shots are great.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Oh I agree with everything you say. You wonder about the faff and then when you actually sit to eat it, that\s when the “oh!!!” sound comes out…that’s what he was trying to get at! LOL! I tend to follow through the first time and then on a repeat, I cut out the process, or work around things. He has opened up an entire new foodie world to me. Love YO!

  12. Jo Blogs

    Fabulous Carrie love, just fabulous. This book is one I’ll never regret buying and you were clearly a big driving force in that purchase. I loved revisiting your pictures from old Facebook write ups – like seeing how your blog began. A faultless post, intelligently articulated and exceptionally well structured. Bravo love, bravo! 😀

  13. Jacqueline @howtobeagourmand

    Fantastic write up Caroline and it looks as if you have been very thorough in testing the recipes, The caramelised garlic tart is the one that really jumps out at me. Although I’m not a vegetarian I’m always looking for ways to jazz up any vegetable based dishes so will look into getting a copy of Plenty 🙂

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Thank you 🙂 That recipe is divine Jacqueline. The book recipe differs from the link. In the book,he uses mature, rinded goat’s cheese, which I am not keen on so subbed with the soft creamy variety, which there was some of in the recipe anyways. Worked a charm. It is really special and though flooded with garlic cloves, it has that sweet, roasted flavour…utterly delicious.

  14. Heike Herrling

    I’ve heard people talk about this book and wondered if it was really that good. But your review has tipped me over the edge – I clearly need this book in my life. Thanks for the review. 🙂

    1. The Patterned Plate

      No problem, my pleasure 🙂 If you aren’t sure, you could always check out his column for the Plenty recipes, all of which are there. At any rate, if you chose to get it, this book will become a welcome, unique resident on your shelf.

  15. oiyoufood

    Plenty has been on top of my amazon wish list for a looooong time. I guess I have to buy it for myself. i can’t wait any longer! Lovely post as always!

  16. eat, little bird

    I have you to thank for introducing me to Ottolenghi and Plenty, a vegetarian book which I never thought would sit on my bookshelf, let alone with a creased spine from frequent usage. Your enthusiasm for this book has been infectious and I love how you have spurred so many people to try Ottolenghi’s wonderful recipes. He ought to give you a commission for all of the PR you have done on his behalf! The Black Pepper Tofu and the Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce remain my favourite so far, but I still have so many more recipes to try … Many thanks again for introducing me to such a wonderful cookbook!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      LOL HE SHOULD!!! It’s easy to wax lyrical, because his work is genius. Not all of it admittedly, he can get it spectacularly wrong, but that’s the case with most humans 😉 Am so glad to hear the books getting a good workout in your kitchen. I love those aubergines. People have gone bonkers when I’ve made it and always ask for the recipe, especially since it’s so utterly easy to make. I think the Gado-Gado also comes into the top 5.

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  18. basalevolution

    Holy delicious everything! Beautiful pics! Love everything…love the book! Going to order it on Amazontoday, for sure! You can never have too many books. Ever. Thanks for sharing!

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