Flavour Turns up the Heat
A new cookbook by Ottolenghi always raises the pulse. FLAVOUR (published by Ebury Press) is no exception. Written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, the recipes will turn up the heat in your kitchen. FLAVOUR is a vegetarian delight, the third in the Plenty series. Many readers will already be familiar with the previous two, Plenty and Plenty More. Once again, vegetables are centre stage and any non-vegetarian items like fish sauce or Parmesan can be substituted.
FLAVOUR is divided into three principles that create taste, or what the book refers to as flavour-bombs. These are Process which focusses on the cooking methods that enable vegetables to reach new heights – charring, browning, infusing and ageing; Pairing that identifies the four fundamental pairings that enhance flavour – sweetness, fat, acidity and chilli heat; Produce which suggests which vegetables to use – this section hones in on mushrooms, alliums, nuts and seeds, and sugar (sometimes in the form of fruit and alcohol). There are substantial introductory chapters written on each of these which will please the food science geeks no end. I was engrossed, but you could easily skip over to the recipes themselves if you prefer.
Just when you think you have bought in every Ottolenghi ingredient you might ever need – remember za’atar, sumac, pomegranate molasses and preserved lemons? – this book changes direction. FLAVOUR is well named, because now you are going to need to start collecting chillies. Belfrage, who co-created the recipes, is a chef in Ottolenghi’s test kitchen and, having grown up in Mexico, has brought her love of chillies to the new dishes. There are chillies I have never heard of which is what I like about the Ottolenghi cookbooks, I am always learning something new. I, for one, have never cooked with hibiscus flowers, white masa harina nor gochujang.
Look away though all chilli-phobes. These dishes are hot. I had to check I had not misread the recipe for roasted cauliflower in chilli butter which not only involved three kind of chilli flakes as well as a hefty helping of harissa, but also eight red chillies. Eight!! I chickened out and used two. The finished dish was hot enough for my taste. I noticed my other guests all removing their jumpers as the chilli raised body temperatures.
The spicy roast potatoes made a further dent in my rose harissa stash. One member of my household spoons rose harissa onto almost everything, like the ketchup of old, so I have lots stored up. That won’t last long with these new recipes where dollops of the rust red paste are used frequently.
Ottolenghi recipes have a devoted following who will be very happy indeed. Others, who find his recipes too long in the ingredients list or preparation steps will not be changing their view. Those who believe that life is too short to stuff a mushroom may balk at slow cooking a Portobello for 80 minutes as required for Portobello steaks and butter bean mash. I certainly do not have that sort of time during the week – the book is said to combine simple recipes for weeknights, low-effort, high-impact dishes and standout meals – but over the weekend I did slow cook the mushrooms and was rewarded with a dish that packed a fabulous punch. Once again, it was hot with chilli – a red chilli plus chipotle chilli flakes added to the flavour along with ten garlic cloves plus coriander and cumin seeds. The prep was easy and the finished dish was an unctuous and silky mushroom served on a lemony, butterbean mash. Deeply satisfying, complex flavours are a winner. It is not a photogenic dish – although the wonderful photographer, Jonathan Lovekin, works his magic for the book – but what it lacks in looks in makes up in taste. It’s a keeper.
Roast potatoes are a prized dish in my household, a weekly affair that sets the weekend off on a good note if I get them fluffy and crispy and produces a slight sigh of disappointment when my Maris Pipers fail to crisp successfully. Hence it was with some trepidation that I tempted fate with Spicy roast potatoes with tahini and soy. In the intro to the recipe we are informed that there are different schools of roast potato. The English method which is the one I follow – peel, parboil, roast in hot oil. While Ottolenghi likes this method, Belfrage disagrees. They find common ground with the Italian method which eschews peeling and hot oil. It is quick and easy. I had a back handed compliment when the biggest roast potato fan at the table opined that these were the best roasties he has had ‘in so long’. What about the others I have slaved over week in and week out? But I can’t have it both ways. FLAVOUR has upped my game and I will serve these delicious, spicy potatoes again and again. The dressing – this is Ottolenghi after all – is a quick whisk of tahini, soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar. What do you mean you don’t have mirin in your store cupboard?
As if we needed more heat, I served up cauliflower roasted in chilli butter. Our cauliflower eating has been transformed by Ottolenghi over the years since he instructed readers to roast this fine vegetable. I must admit this is not my favourite of his cauliflower recipes, but chilli lovers may disagree. It is easy to prepare but be prepared with eight red chillies, red bell pepper flakes, Urfa chilli flakes, Aleppo chilli flakes and rose harissa. I am going to sound like a real ignoramus here, but with so much heat is there really the need for three kinds of chilli flakes?
Curried carrot mash with brown butter was a gentler dish, helpfully using up a bag of carrots I had forgotten at the back of the fridge. It uses a medium curry powder so is a caress rather than a punch. It is easy to prepare, colourful and, although it is another recipe with chilli, these are pickled and mild. I felt rather pleased with myself, not usually pickling anything despite the popularity of all things fermented these days. The carrots in the recipe are steamed although I have had more intense results with others recipe that roast the carrots before mashing. The finished dish had a lovely crunch of seeds in the butter, the tartness of lime juice was lovely with the sweet carrots and cinnamon. It would be great as part of a mezze selection although I served it alone as a starter with a good bread.
Steamed carrots mashed with curried oil and served with brown butter and spices
- 1-2 red chillies finely sliced into rounds, deseeded if you want less heat
- 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp caster sugar
- 800 grams carrots peeled and roughly chopped into 2cm chunks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp medium curry powder
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 30 grams unsalted butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 grams fresh ginger peeled and julienned
- 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 spring onion trimmed and julienned
- 5 grams mint leaves finely shredded
Start by making the pickled chillies. Place the chillies, vinegar and sugar into a small bowl along with 1/4 tsp of salt. Mix well and leave to pickle for at least half an hour.
Place the carrots into a colander or steamer basket and steam over high heat until the carrots can be cut easily with a knife. Transfer to a food processor and add the olive oil, curry powder, cinnamon and 1 tsp of salt. Blitz until semi smooth. You want to retain some texture.
While the carrots are busy steaming make the brown butter. Place the butter, ginger and nigella, fennel and cumin seeds plus a good pinch of salt, into a small pan on a medium heat. Gently cook for 3-5 minutes, stir from time to time until the butter begins to foam and turn light brown and the seeds are fragrant. Now you can set this aside until you are ready to serve. I made this ahead of time and gently reheated the butter when I wanted to serve the dish.
Spread the carrot mash onto a serving platter, make dips in the mash using the back of a spoon. Now drizzle over the butter and spice mix. Then drizzle over the lime juice.
Drain the pickled chillies and scatter them over the mash. Garnish with the julienned spring onions and the mint. Serve warm.
The final dish I cooked was barley, tomato and watercress stew. This had a red Scotch bonnet chilli listed as optional, so I took the day off from the heat and enjoyed the mellow version of the stew. As with most stews, the flavour continued to improve over time, and by the time I reheated the leftovers on the third day, the barley base was rocking with taste. This dish has roasted kohlrabi, cherry tomatoes and a whole head of garlic that gets mashed into the sauce for the barley. It is so good. I was grumbling a bit about the number of processes involved but the end result brought very colourful, healthy eating. The nutty barley partnered well with the roasted garlic and the peppery watercress and lemon salsa looked gorgeous and lifted the flavour a good level or two. I am a new convert to kohlrabi so am always seeking out new ways to serve it. The dish includes anchovies, but you can opt to adjust the seasoning if you leave them out.
Living in London, I have access to, and have often visited, the growing number of Ottolenghi restaurants. Rovi is one of my favourites. When Plenty More was published, I was delighted to find a number of Rovi dishes in the book. Of course, it is not the same as going to the restaurant, but the book enabled me to get as close as I could to the meals I had enjoyed. No doubt, some of FLAVOUR’s recipes have also appeared in the restaurants. This winter, I won’t be going to restaurants much, so I am even happier to have instructions for how to produce restaurant quality flavour at home. Had I eaten those slow cooked Portobello mushrooms at Rovi or Nopi, I would have been mopping my plate as well as my brow. Now, with a bit of time in the kitchen, I can score the brownie points at my own table. What more can one get from a cookbook?
FLAVOUR is seriously tasty. As with all Ottolenghi cookbooks, there are umpteen recipes to try and many will become family favourites. I rustled up the super-soft courgettes with harissa and lemon while my fish fillets were baking and this twist on sautéed courgettes is on its way onto the favourites list. This is a book with which to experiment and to enjoy at leisure. I intend to do so throughout the winter that lies ahead. What with not being able to eat in our homes with friends this season, FLAVOUR may just have arrived at the right moment. Pile on the chillies and your outdoor guests won’t begin to feel the cold.