Have you ever loved something so much you struggle to articulate what you love exactly? You find yourself discussing different variations of your feelings, but fall short in capturing the specifics about ‘it’? I’ll admit I’ve been stalling about writing about cookbook ‘Plenty More’ by Yotam Ottolengshi for this very reason. I feel I can’t actually convey to you exactly how extraordinary I find this cookbook to be and in the shadow of that possible failing, it has seemed better to say nothing at all. But that wouldn’t be fair, now would it?
I didn’t realize Plenty More was a cookbook about vegetables. Vegetables, legumes and grains really. Perhaps I’m superficial but I fell in love with the cover; the styling, the smooth feel that is slightly padded and absolutely the photograph. It’s what I love in a food photo, deeply colorful in a serious sort of way and somewhat purposefully wild looking and organic. As would a child before they can read the written word, I flipped from photo to photo inside the book, spending time with each image as though I was looking out a train window at a beautiful passing landscape that was asking nothing from me but perhaps to stop for a moment and soak the beauty in. The book projects a feeling, a vibe, an essence that feels like a place I definitely would like to spend time if not move there indefinitely.
Yotam Ottolenghi is the author of best seller Plenty, co-author of Ottolenghi and Jerusalem. His books are New York Times Bestsellers, and have received awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the James Beard Foundation. He’s an accomplished restauranteur and lives in London. He’s the real deal. Plenty More starts with a forward describing his start down the vegetarian path via a column he penned in the Guardian. He describes his angst about taking on this regular column for fear of running out of recipes to make. Like many, the world of vegetables felt finite, unable to be built upon as is the case with meat.
The depth of his initial fears transformed Ottolenghi’s path to see past the perceived limitations in vegetarian recipes, to realize opportunity through broadening ingredients with inspiration from his travels as well as the expanding on methods of preparation. In fact that is what Plenty More is, how to exist in a border-less relationship with vegetables. Its chapters are organized by method: Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened. Already that served to open my sense of opportunity past the staid methods used by most.
In reading the forward I realized my surprise about Plenty More being a ‘vegetarian’ book. Somehow through the beautiful photographs and enticing recipes such as Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg, Smoky Polenta Fries, Pot Barley and Lentils with Mushrooms and Sweet Spices, Set ‘Cheesecake’ with Plum Compote, it escaped by own sense that vegetables could not be nearly as interesting as meat dishes. The recipes in Plenty More stand on their own whether the reader is vegetarian or not. You will want to make and eat these recipes.
Plenty More is sophisticated yet not pretentious. It’s homey and earthy, layered with flavors, ingredients you can pronounce and want to make in your own kitchen. The food is elevated because it is thoughtful and special. It’s approachable and for people who love good food, culinary travelers who revel in trying new approaches and ingredients. It is avant-garde, inviting anyone to join in. Whether one wants to build on a vegetarian repertoire, step up their trail horse vegetable side dishes, learn new methods, admire gorgeous food photography, Plenty More delivers. A note of caution however, you won’t miss the meat.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. I have not personally prepared any recipes in this cookbook at the time of publishing this review. I was provided a copy of the cookbook for the purposes of this review. All opinions, as always, are my own.