My book of the moment is PLENTY, by Yotam Ottolenghi.
This book is completely excellent.
Much more than just a vegetarian cookbook, PLENTY is a book that celebrates MEAT-FREE DELICIOUSNESS. I wonder how much of this distinction has to do with the fact that Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian....... ?
Ottolenghi might be described as London's chef du jour, running 4 signature eateries around London and, just a few weeks ago, opening his new restaurant NOPI in Soho. PLENTY is essentially a collection of recipes that appeared in Ottolenghi's weekly column in the Guardian called 'The New Vegetarian". When the Guardian approached Ottolenghi to start the column, a number of the Guardian's readers were outraged that their vegetarian column was being written by a carnivore; (it might not have helped that he once wrote that a particular salad would go well with some barbequed lamb chops...!) In any case, the very popular column, which he started in 2006, continues to this day, and happily for us, an edited collection is now available in your local bookshop !
The spirit of celebration emanating from these recipes is already captured in the very simple title. Ottolenghi's concept for the book is summarised in the opening lines of the book where he writes:
I'll start with something as simple and unassuming as rice. When I try to think of all the uses for this grain I immediately go dizzy with the countless possibilities - within and between cultures, pairing with other ingredients, all the types of rice available, the methods of cooking and when you serve it... I think of paella, wild rice salad and ho fan noodles. I visualize arancini with their golden breadcrumb crust, Iranian saffron rice with potatoes, Chinese friend rice, rice pudding... I can then move on to another cereal grain such as wheat, then lentils, beans, peas... herbs, leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, bulbs, fruit and funghi - each part of a separate little universe, with a million varieties and variations within it...
What I'm getting as is how lucky we are... to be cooking in a world that offers such a spectrum of ingredients and so many cultural heritages to draw on.
Inspiring stuff !
And, more than just inspiration, I reckon this book demonstrates a degree of culinary genius. There are techniques he uses with veges, that would just never occur to me. Combinations of veges/herbs/grains which are just so clever, and so DELICIOUS, I seriously think I could eat of this book most days of my life and be very, very happy.
Since discovering the book, I may have raved about it somewhat to those around me (put your hand up if I've talked you into buying this book in the last month ?) but, I take nothing back. If you're thinking about reducing your meat intake (becoming a flexitarian, as I believe it's now called) or you would like like to be more excited about preparing veges or vegetarian meals, BUY THIS BOOK. I am convinced you won't regret it - let it be your vegetarian cookbook for life. Everything I have prepared from it has been excellent and also flexible, which is always good. The caramelised garlic tart (with two types of goats cheese in) was a particular highlight... need I say more ?
ps Okay, just one very small thing... in the 'capsicums' section, Ottolenghi does a "Multi-vegetable paella". Ah - call me precious, but I can't quite cope with this. Vege paella ain't paella, friends. None-the-less, it still looks like a very tasty recipe ... !