Cookbook Club: Plenty by Ottolenghi


Becky’s lovely home on the southeast corner of Bowen Island overlooking Howe Sound and the city of Vancouver beyond was the setting for our third Cookbook Club evening featuring Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi.

image6We started with a French 75 cocktail, so named after the French 75 millimeter field gun used in World War I. Apparently, that’s a thing! The cocktail itself consists of 3/4 ounce of lemon juice mixed with 1 1/2 ounces of Hendrick’s gin bought by Becky at 3 in the morning at the airport in Mumbai, and a tablespoon of simple syrup (50/50 water and sugar) and then topped off with a spot of champagne.

Tart, lemony, bubbly with lemon threads adding a tangy citrus crunch served in beautiful tall, thin glasses — definitely a winner even if I’m not a huge gin fan.

image5Helen made the appetizer — a Fattoush salad from Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook. I had never heard of this dish and now I’m a major fan. Yogurt and whole milk are mixed together to make buttermilk and then spiced with mint, allspice, chilies, and cinnamon. Chunks of Naan bread are then soaked in this delectable dressing and tossed into a salad of spinach, radishes, cilantro, cucumbers, and baby tomatoes. The soaked bread tastes incredible–lemony and slightly spicy with the mint giving it a delectably fresh taste and the allspice and cinnamon adding a comforting warmth. Consensus? A major winner! we all agreed that the Fattoush salad would go marvelously with roasted meats at a BBQ, particularly lamb. I know I plan to make it for summer soirees.

Three dishes were served for the main course–Brussels Sprouts and Tofu made by Jacqui, Roasted Onions made by me, and Green Couscous made by Corinne.

image3Jacqui was determined to prove to Helen that tofu can taste good (Helen loathes tofu) and with Brussels Sprouts and Tofu, she succeeded. I also am not a huge tofu lover and so I was pleasantly surprised by a dish that combined tofu marinated in a sweet-spicy sauce made with chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, maple syrup, sesame oil and hoisin sauce and then fried. The result are sweet and spicy, slightly crispy chunks of tofu blended wonderfully with fried Brussels Spouts.

Everyone loved the dish!

image4.jpegMy baked onions were also a hit. They have the advantage of looking like they took hours to make but the reality was they were relatively simple and quick to put together. I poached the outside layers of large white onions in a white wine and vegetable broth, then stuffed each pliable layer with a delectable mix of breadcrumbs, garlic (lots of it), feta cheese, green onions, and olive oil. The stuffed onions look like fat cigars nestled together in the pan where they turn golden brown after baking for about 50 minutes. A few people said they were worried about the onion dish because they were not huge onion fans, but the consensus was that the dish did not taste unduly onion-y and again we all thought it would be a great side dish for a BBQ.

image2Corinne added her sparkling Green Couscous to round out the trio of main course dishes. Made with a herb paste of parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, pine nuts and sauteed onions all tossed with couscous produced an exceedingly light and tasty dish.

I could have eaten it all evening if I wasn’t already getting full with Brussels sprouts, marinated tofu, and stuffed onions.

The grand finale was Chef Becky’s offering of Sticky Chocolate Loaf. All I can say is O.M.G. Other, less polite words were exhaled as everyone discovered new heights of taste bud pleasure. Seriously, this loaf has got to be one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. Prunes and cherries are soaked in Armagnac, mixed with yogurt, eggs, molasses and 70% chocolate, and then baked. A simple syrup (sugar and water) was mixed with more Armaganc and poured over the loaf and then seared with a blow torch to form a crunchy crust. The final piece was a topping of simple whipped cream slightly sweetened with icing sugar.

image1Dark, bitter, chocolate, fruity, dense, crunchy, creamy — and not too sweet. Perfection on a plate!

Helen: “I want to be alone.”

Jacqui: “Friggin’ amazing!”

Corinne: “This is the best!”

Carol: Too busy eating to leave room for coherent talk.

The evening was considered a great success and Ottolenghi is our new star chef. I know I’ll be buying at least one of his cookbooks, maybe more.

What’s next? We decided to explore Indian food and what better way to do so than with any of the cookbooks written by Vancouver’s own Indian Chef Extraordinaire – Vij? I have his cookbook “Vij at Home” which I already know contains many awesome dishes. I’ve already made several of them, but for the Cookbook Club, I’ll search out something new. Experimentation and exploration is what it’s all about!

Vij at hom