Those of you who regularly follow my blog will know that main dishes are not my forte. And cooking for vegetarians, despite having spent 8 years as a vegetarian myself, really throws me into a tailspin. Add in a cookery book by Ottolenghi, whose focus is vegetarian, influenced by a Mediterranean and Israeli upbringing, and I am totally lost.
I was given “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi over a year ago and despite all the beautiful looking dishes have never made anything from it. Not only are there long lists of ingredients but many of them I either don’t have or have never heard of. I can’t read the ingredients and formulate an idea of what the finished dish will be like because the ingredients, flavours and styles of cooking are quite foreign to me.
So I have never tried.
Then a few weeks ago I met up with a friend in Islington for lunch and she suggested Ottolenghi. I had also thought it was an expensive restaurant so was really pleased to discover it wasn’t! We had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated (Wagamama style on a long table) but it was utterly worth it.
While we were waiting we got to look at the salads on the menu:
Then we had to choose between them! They tasted as good as they looked even though each of the three I tried had something in that I would have avoided given the option.
So when I got home I got my Ottolenghi cookbook out and admired all the dishes all over again. And I decided that they really had to be more delicious than I was giving them credit for. I still had no idea where to start, though.
So when I had some vegetable box ingredeints that I don’t really like and didn’t know what to do with, I had another look through the recipe book. I had carrots and parsnips that needed cooking so I settled on the Ultimate Winter Couscous recipe. As luck would have it I also had a butternut squash, onions (no shallots but I thought onions would work), most of the spices, a can of chickpeas and some couscous.
I actually made a trip to the shops for some Harissa, preserved lemons, dried apricots and star anise.
When I cook using recipes I often just use them as a base, start with only half the ingredients and substitute or ignore the ones I don’t have or don’t really like. I think this is part of my problem with cooking, I need to approach it with the same attention to the recipe as I would with baking, and adapt it after I have made the original version and know what I want to change and why.
Despite the ridiculously long list of ingredients, this is actually a relatively simple dish: and it is completely delicious.
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
8 shallots, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 bay leaves
5 tablespoons olive oil
half a teaspoon ground ginger
a quarter teaspoon ground turmeric
half a teaspoon paprika
a quarter teaspoon chilli flakes
300g pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
75g dried apricots, roughly chopped
200g chickpeas (cooked or tinned)
350ml chickpea cooking water or water
Large pinch saffron
260ml vegetable stock
20g butter, cut into pieces
25g harissa paste
25g preserved lemon, finely chopped
A handful coriander leaves
Set the oven to 190C. Put the carrots, parsnips and shallots (or onions, chopped into chunks) into a large, oven-proof dish.
Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, four tablespoons of oil and the other spices, and mix.
Roast for 15 minutes, then add the squash, stir and roast for 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened but retained their bite.
Add the apricots, chickpeas and liquid, then return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until hot.
Around 15 minutes before the vegetables will be ready, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the saffron (if using).
Boil the stock, pour over the couscous and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 10 minutes, then add the butter and fluff up with a fork until it melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.
To serve, fill the base of a deep plate or bowl with the couscous. Stir the harissa and lemon into the vegetables, taste, adjust the seasoning and spoon on to the centre of the couscous. Garnish with lots of coriander.
The desserts at Ottolenghi also looked amazing but we decided we would save ourselves for a coffee and a cake elsewhere: I will clearly be forced to visit again for more delicious salads and to try some dessert!