Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-British chef located in London who has themed his hefty cookbook based around the different definitions people may have of ‘simple cooking’. For himself, he explains in his introduction, it’s to stop at the grocer on the way home, then whip something up within half an hour. For his husband, Karl, simple cooking means to prepare in advance so there’s little left to do when guests arrive. For others, simple cooking may be to throw something in the oven for 5 hours.
Across 300+ pages and 130 recipes, he attempts to cater to each of these preferences by flagging his recipes with the applicable letters of his SIMPLE acronym:
S – short on time: less than 30 minutes
I – 10 ingredients or less
M – make ahead
P – pantry
L – lazy
E – easier than you think
It’s a simple idea, no pun intended, that works.
The cookbook, written with Tara Wigley and Esme Howarth, provides a smorgasbord of recipes including brunch suggestions, raw and cooked vegetable dishes, and into the usual breakdown of meat, fish, puddings, pastas and so on. Full page photos and the colour-coded SIMPLE tags meet the vibrancy expected from the bright yellow cover.
While Ottolenghi’s steps are straight forward, his recipes need to be read carefully because most steps in his cooking methods contain multiple instructions which can easily be lost in the paragraph format. At a glance, a recipe may only have 3 or 4 steps but each step may reveal 5 or 6 things to do. In contrast, his list of ingredients are crystal clear, providing both the ingredient and what needs to happen to it (examples: 5g basil leaves: finely chopped, plus a few extra leaves to serve; 1 lemon: finely grate the zest to get 1 tsp, then juice to get 2 tsp).
To conclude his cookbook, Ottolenghi offers SIMPLE meal suggestions on page 294 for mid-week suppers, weekend brunches and more. This is followed by suggestions for various Feast themes – suggested recipes for a Summer Vegetarian feast, a Winter feast, Tapas feast, Middle Eastern feast, and so on. There is also a fantastic breakdown of common ingredients, explaining what each is, and ways that you can use it, citing some recipes in the book as examples.
Across the three recipes I tried, Ottolenghi instilled confidence and trust in what he has to offer. I love the variety of recipes in Ottolenghi SIMPLE, and found his instructions clear and precise once I got into the habit of rereading each step before moving on, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. There are many other dishes that appeal and I look forward to making all of them over time.
Lamb Siniya (page 206) – tagged I, M, L
Ottolenghi describes this lamb stew as the Middle Eastern equivalent of Shepherd’s Pie, using a tahini crust instead of mashed potato. The consistency is the same and, if, like me, you are not overly familiar with Tahini, it comes in a jar and is available from mainstream supermarkets.
It was the Baharat Spice Mix that proved the most difficult. Two supermarkets, a Fine Foods Store, a Health Shop, a Middle Eastern supermarket and an Afghan Supermarket all came up empty. Only the latter offered any clue, advising that “baharat” is the Arabic word for “spice”, so any available Middle Eastern spice mix will do (I highly recommend the Shan brand of spices). A quick Google search to round out the hunt showed me how to make my own. Several Baharat recipes all cited various levels of the same common spices – all of which I had in my pantry – so after all that running around, I made my own. Having now tasted it, I’m extra glad I made more than enough to use with other dishes in the future.
A glass of wine later, my grumpiness had subsided and I dove into this easy recipe, substituting 70 minutes on the stove top for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker when it came to that point in the recipe. The use of celery and pine nuts gives the end result a good texture, while the spice mix provides the distinct Middle Eastern flavours to the meat. There seemed to be an awful lot of salt added throughout the various steps of this recipe but, having cut back on the recommended amount, I would suggest sticking with it. Mixed with the abundance of other spices, tomatoes and tahini, the salt was not as potent as I expected.
Serve with rice, pasta or a side of your choice and complete the meal with a salad. Fantastic!
Bridget Jones’s Pan-Fried Salmon with Pine Nut Salsa (page 246) – tagged S, I, E
This is the dish that Patrick Dempsey’s character mentions in the film Bridget Jones’ Baby, which he says is “from Ottolenghi”. The dish was, in fact, fictional, but Ottolenghi has retrospectively created it in honour of that mention.
I normally prefer my salmon steaks baked but pan fried gives this dish a lovely, crispy texture to counterbalance the softer salsa topping, particularly with the skin still on the salmon. Making it is very straight forward and well worth chopping up a few ingredients. Soaked currents give the salsa some sweetness, while capers, olives and lemon give it some tang. The recipe calls for green olives but I already had an open jar of Kalamata olives in my fridge, so used them with no regret.
I served my salmon on a bed of sweet potato mash for a bit of extra moisture on the plate. It was a good choice, making this a dish I would both recommend and eagerly make again.
Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake (page 276) – tagged I, M
My tastebuds prefer savoury over sweet so I’m still relatively new at making cakes and desserts. That could be why my cake didn’t turn out quite as picturesque as I would have liked. The flavour however, was undeniably wonderful. You need to be a fan of blueberries for this recipe because there’s a lot in it. So much so that I cut back by a handful and enjoyed them on their own while I cooked. The use of two lemons provides a good counterbalance to the sugar and berries, making this cake just as enjoyable to taste without the icing. Serve it fresh out of the oven or let it cool before adding icing on top. Either way, the 4-step method really is simple and the cake lasts 3 days in the fridge. Delicious!
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
Released: September 2018
RRP: $55 hardcover