Utilize--embrace--all the different modes of “Simple”
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 18 October 2018
I understand why Ottolenghi’s other books had to come first. But I sincerely believe that this one is his best yet, especially for the way we American cooks operate.
UPDATE December 2018: Check the equivalents/conversions as you study ingredient lists. Some conversions are incorrect in this first edition. If you are an experienced cook or baker, I believe that you will catch these mistakes--and I am not going to change my 5-star rating. But, be careful! And a plea to the publishers: Please edit this product page --in a prominent way--when the corrections have been made, so that people feel at ease with buying this book. It would be a shame for this book to fall short--just because conversions are screwed up!
What is this book about? And how do these "simple" methods work? The “modus operandi”, or MO, goes somewhat like this: And it’s SIMPLE: (Please stay with me, as I work the way through these letters. The next paragraph gets to be long-ish.) Because these concepts drive the book, if you don’t care for or believe in these six methods, then maybe you won’t appreciate this cook book. On the other hand, if you currently think that you don't need to learn these S-I-M-P-L-E MOs, then maybe you are the perfect "target" for this book! Can I convince you to buy this book? These S-I-M-P-L-E cooking principles are important to accept, to grasp, and to own.
If you are a somewhat experienced home cook with the ability to manipulate recipes, you’ve probably already tinkered with some from Ottolenghi’s previous publications and made them your own. So, you have already practiced SIMPLE and you beat Ottolenghi to the punch in a way, creating your own SIMPLE recipes, using the following techniques: Maybe you created a riff that does not take too long, (S = short on time). And you streamlined some ingredient lists, (I = ten ingredients or less). And I bet you’ve broken apart some recipe steps, so that you could do some in advance, (M = make ahead). For sure, if you’ve cooked from Ottolenghi’s recipes before, you’ve built up your pantry to come up with a quick (pantry-led) dish when you don’t have extra time to shop, (P = pantry). And you have developed some steps to keep your hands and mind free to do other things, such as slow cooking, marinating ahead, building an entire meal in one pot or one sheet pan, ( L = lazy cooking). And last but not least, you know those techniques and recipes that you’ve mastered—and therefore embraced as being E = easy: Where you say to yourself, “Oh, I can do that, no problem!” Well, in this book Ottolenghi encourages us to try some recipes that might seem intimidating in some way, but, as he puts it, “are easier than you think.”
Where some cookbooks falsely claim to be “easy”, or “week night” cooking, most of the recipes in this book actually are. Just get thoughtful about the concepts and just don’t balk! Grasp these concepts or methods and fine tune your planning skills. You will be a better--and more creative--cook for it.
On to contents: Veggies are overwhelmingly in the forefront—in their own chapters, Raw Veg and Cooked Veg—but also throughout all the other chapters. (Except the Dessert chapter, which is, of course, led by fruit.) I remember writing in my review of one of his other books, and it continues to be a fair warning for this one: If you do not have opportunities to find fresh herbs, you cannot substitute dry herbs and get proper results. I didn’t really check to see if I could say that every recipe uses fresh herbs, but I believe it is safe to say that most recipes require fresh herbs. Once one buys an Ottolenghi cook book, if you have a yard, you will be incorporating herb plants into your flower beds…..
And you will need to buy quality spices, too, if you want these recipes to excite and astound you. There is a huge difference between the taste of grocery store shelf and bulk bin spices and what you get from an experienced spice merchant. The quality of the spices you use can make or break these recipes. Do an internet search of spice houses to find one that appeals to you. For an example, take in the scent and taste of cumin from an established and experienced spice merchant and compare it with what you last bought at the grocery store. You will be amazed at the difference.
The veggie dishes are fabulous! The day this book arrived in the mail, I was able to whip together a handful of veggie dishes—just with what I already had on my shelves and in the frig. See? SIMPLE. A tomato and cucumber raita uses a green chile paste with preserved lemon. Another tomato/bread salad mixes in anchovies and capers. I had just bought three bags of Moon Drop grapes. They are a long cylinder shape and so sweet. And I had all the ingredients for a marinade for the grapes that were then skewered and grilled. I had ingredients at hand for a green onion and herb salad, with cukes, bell pepper, mint, and cilantro. And also, all I needed to make Roast Cabbage with Tarragon and Pecorino, Mustardy Cauliflower Cheese, Carrot Salad with Yogurt and Cinnamon, Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa (of basil, cilantro, garlic). There was so much I could have made—right then, with what I already had—that it was kind of overwhelming. And it was a powerful feeling--and when I realized that, it surprised me! We finally decided on Rice Noodle Salad with Cucumber and Poppy Seeds, (with onion, ginger, apple, chiles, mint and tarragon.)
There are beautiful potato recipes: Oven Fries with Oregano and Feta, Shallow-Fried Potatoes with Rosemary and Sumac, Sweet Potato Fries with smoked paprika, cayenne, garlic and sumac. And, so happy to see, lots of zucchini dishes! And, of course, eggplant—lots of eggplant recipes. (I'm in mid-Texas, and I'm glad my eggplant plants are still producing.) And some of these eggplant recipes I easily adapted to use my air fryer to roast the eggplant.
There is an entire chapter for fish and seafood, and there’s plenty of lamb recipes along with some beef and pork recipes in the Meat chapter.
Of course, like his other books, and like all Ten Speed Press books, the page layout is “easy on the eyes” and your eyes can easily find and keep your place. Ingredient lists are accurate and show both Imperial and Metric measurements. Instructions are easy to understand and do not leave you guessing.
Last night we made a small version of Chicken with Miso, Ginger and Lime. (It calls for 8 leg/thigh bone-in, skin-on cuts, and I cut it down to three thighs. It calls for mirin, maple syrup, soy sauce, cilantro and onions. And we put it with sticky rice. Doesn't that sound good?
What will probably turn out to be a favorite is the Cornbread with Cheddar, Feta and Jalapeno, (and corn, cumin, cayenne, brown sugar, instant polenta, sour cream, scallions, cilantro). Does that not make your mouth water? I substituted some Navajo Aztec blue cornmeal for the instant polenta, because I'd never seen instant polenta in any of my grocery stores.That recipe is in the Brunch chapter. And a picture of it is in the "Look Inside" feature on page 18.
While you are waiting for this cookbook to arrive, make sure you have these items in your kitchen, in addition to your usual pantry staples and fresh vegetables: Yogurt, sumac, Za’atar, Urfa chile flakes, Rose harissa, tahini, preserved lemons, pomegranate molasses, and cardamom. And think seriously about barberries and black garlic. Have some or all of these on hand, and you can hit the ground running the day the book arrives.
I’ve seen some other early reviews that mention poor book binding. I’m having no issues with that.
I am really happy to have this book. I already love it, and I find it easy to embrace the concepts in it—and I can elaborate on them. I’ve got the experience to be able to say that a LOT of these recipes will be “keepers”.
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