Chef Yotam Ottolenghi — the author of the immensely popular cookbooks Ottolenghi, Plenty and Jerusalem — is famous for making vegetarian dishes that are packed with bold, surprising flavors. His new book Plenty More expands the repertoire. With recipes like this Pink Grapefruit & Sumac Salad and Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg (sprinkled with za’atar and smoked paprika) we promise you won’t miss the meat.
We asked Ottolenghi for the secrets behind his vegetable success — the herbs, spices and seasonings he uses to take dishes to the next level. Here, he identifies some of his favorites, plus creative ways to use them at home.
Miso paste and tamarind paste are both great ways of injecting huge amounts of savoury flavour into a dish. Miso has a depth of flavour which works well in either a marinade, dressing or in a pickling liquor for, say, some sliced mushrooms to be spooned on top of a cannellini bean spread.
I’m evangelical about the difference between making your own tamarind paste from a block of tamarind pulp, rather than buying the ready-made varieties. Some ready-made pastes are better than others but, generally, they are far too vinegary and acidic compared to the sweet-sour amazingness you get from making your own. It couldn’t be easier to make – you just soak a chunk of the pulp in warm water for 15 minutes, squeeze it a few times to help the pulp disintegrate and then strain the paste through a sieve – and the result is divine.
Other favourite flavour boosters? Sweet-sharp Verjuice or yuzu juice both bring their distinct character to a number of dressings and sauces.
Little sharp dried red Iranian barberries provide small bursts of flavour in rice salads or mixed with batons of eggplant in the Iranian frittata-ish kuku.
Ground sumac is a favourite spice which has a similar impact, bringing a sprinkle of bold colour and a welcome piquancy to a huge number of dishes.
Umami-rich cloves of black garlic, blitzed together with Greek yogurt, make for a rich and mellow addition to a tray of roasted vegetables.
A few drops of orange blossom or rose water add a fragrant sweetness to a number of cakes and I find it hard to make a watercress soup without adding a teaspoon or two of the rose water.