Looking at the cookbooks released this autumn, there is a definite trend towards flavour — there’s Ottolenghi Flavor by Ixta Belfrage and Yotom Ottolenghi, Nik Sharma’s Flavor Equation, Bob Blumer’s Flavorbomb, James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst’s Flavor for All, and Dan Kluger’s Chasing Flavor just to name a few. I think this flavour odyssey is about making the most with what we have to cook with and being able to identify ways to enhance the flavour of a dish whether it’s through the use of particular techniques, ingredients or both.
Lately I’ve been cooking through Ottolenghi Flavor and, I find it interesting how the vegetable themes that threaded their way through Ottolenghi’s earlier books, Plenty and Plenty More, have made their way into Flavor. For Belfrage, Ottolenghi, and his test kitchen it’s all about how to intensify the flavour of vegetables. In the introduction they tell the home cook that “Flavor is the third book in the series, it’s about understanding what makes vegetables distinct and, accordingly, devising ways in which their flavors can be ramped up and tasted afresh; it’s about creating flavor bombs, especially designed for veg. This is done in three ways [through process, pairing, and produce].” (6)
I think that it is crucial to note that, while the recipes in this book focus on vegetables, it is not a vegetarian or vegan cookbook. As the authors point out in the introduction, they’ve written a book that will appeal to “vegetable lovers” and there are a handful of recipes that use ingredients such as fish sauce, Parmesan cheese, and anchovies. Ottolenghi Flavor looks to engage the widest audience of home cooks. For the people reading this review that would like to see the numbers, the authors helpfully tell us that “of the 100 recipes in the book, 45 are strictly vegan and another 17 are easily ‘veganized’.”(9) There are no hard and fast rules here, just flavour.
The recipes themselves are organized into 3 main chapters, with each chapter containing 4 subheadings: Process (Charring, Browning, Infusing, Aging), Pairing (Sweetness, Fat, Acidity, Chile Heat), and Produce (Mushrooms, Alliums, Nuts and Seeds, Sugar — Fruit and Booze) with an additional section on “Flavor Bombs” (which is their “arsenal of flavor-packed condiments, sauces, pickles, salsas, infused oils…”). Ottolenghi Flavor is an extremely ambitious undertaking which looks to explain the, at times, elusive qualities and reasons behind what makes food flavorful while showcasing flavour through recipes inspired by different cuisines from around the world.
I found the amount of information overwhelming and had a difficult time deciding what to try first. It was after listening to the web conversation between Chris Nuttall-Smith, Yotom Ottolenghi, and Ixta Belfrage during one of their virtual book tour stops that I was inspired to start simple by making the Whole Roasted Celery Root and then their version of a Tahini and Soy Dressing (which I used on roasted vegetables). In a time where whole roasted cauliflower is king, I find that the whole roasting of a celery root to be such a wonderful idea! Slow roasted and basted over a few hours, the celeriac becomes tender-centered with a delightfully caramelized skin. As suggested in the recipe, I brushed the slices with honey, added lemon juice and served with some thick yogurt. I had a bit of a “duh” moment while standing at my kitchen counter, plate of roasted celeriac in hand, thinking to myself “Gosh! This is so darn tasty!” — and then I reminded myself that the cookbook is, in fact, about flavour!
Another recipe I tried — Noor’s Black Lime Tofu — came as a suggestion from fellow blogger Dhivya from Maple Chutney. This recipe was also a fabulous way of trying the Loomi (dried limes) that came as a gift (with thanks to The Spice Trader) with my review copy of the cookbook. For those unfamiliar with dried limes, they are limes which a picked then boiled in salt water and left to dry in the sun. They’re about the size of a ping pong ball and can be pulverized into a powder to then add to a dish. As you can imagine, the dried limes add a wonderfully citrus flavour (even more pleasing and potent than regular lime juice or zest). So, with this recipe you precook tofu then add it to the sauce — the resulting dish was a big hit with my family! (It is unsurprising to me that I loved this recipe because I am already a fan of Noor Murad‘s recipes and, I’m not alone in saying that I hope that she’ll have her own cookbook someday!)
Some recipes take time to build flavour — take their recipe for The Ultimate Roasting-Pan Ragù, . While not difficult to prep (especially if you have a food processor), it takes a couple of hours in the oven before this umami-packed ragù is ready. I served it on pasta and found that the recipe makes a generous amount which is perfect for having leftovers. I recommend making this on the weekend so that you’ll have dinner covered for some of the week. While I served it with pasta, the authors also suggest serving it on polenta or using it as a base for shepherd’s pie or lasagne. I think the possibilities are endless here — it would also make a great Sloppy Joe sandwich. This is one of the best meatless ragùs I’ve ever had and such a good use of one of my favourite pantry staples: lentils.
Cooking from Ottolenghi Flavor, I’ve found the recipes I’ve made to be delicious and, this cookbook contains the hallmarks of what makes an Ottolenghi cookbook an “Ottolenghi Cookbook” (mainly the choice of ingredients and how they’re used). Full of enticing photographs and vegetable-forward recipes I think this cookbook offers a variety of recipes to suit both busy weeknights as well as weekends which might follow a more leisurely pace.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I would also like to thank The Spice Trader and Amola Salt for generously gifting me some spices and salt — that are perfect for cooking flavourful dishes — and to Nature Bee Wraps for the reusable food wrap!