I loved the first Ottolenghi cookbook so much that I couldn't wait to plunge into this one!
It's lived up to expectations so far, I'm happy to say. Unusually - since it's author isn't one - it's a totally vegetarian cookbook, which is fantastic. The cuisine of the Middle East (Yotam is Israeli) is one of my very favourites....and the book also has Far Eastern influences, which makes for mouthwatering descriptions & photographs! I can't wait to work my way through it, but wanted to share the first recipe I made with you to give you an idea of the wonderful flavours you can expect! I made a few changes (as always - I can't resist tweaking!) to the recipe below, but I'll give you the original first and then let you know what I did slightly differently. But I'd urge you to try it - especially as the weather gets warmer, it's the perfect outdoor lunch food!
Lentils with Grilled Aubergine
from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi
2 medium aubergines
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
200g small dark lentils (I used Puy)
3 small carrots,\peeled
2 celery sticks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil + extra to drizzle
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, coriander & dill
2 tbsp creme fraiche ( or natural yoghurt)
salt & black pepper
Cook the aubergines first. If you have a gas hob, put them directly over 2 moderate flames and cook 12/15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs until the f;lesh is soft & smoky & the skin burnt all over. Alternatively, pierce with a sharp knife in a few places, put on a foil lined tray & place directly under a hot grill for 1 hour turning a few times until completely deflated & the skins are burned and breaking.
Remove from the heat, cut a slit down the centre of each & scoop out the flesh into a colander avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 mins, then season with plenty of salt & pepper & 1/2 tbsp vinegar.
While aubergines are grilling, place lentils into a medium pan. Cut one carrot & half a celery stick into large chunks and throw them in with the bayleaf, thyme & onion. Cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until the lentils are tender (about 25 mins) Drain in a sieve, removing and discarding the onion, carrot, celery, bayleaf & thyme and transfer lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tbsps olive oil and plenty of salt & pepper and set aside.
Cut the remaining carrot & celery into 1cm dice and mix with the remaining oil, the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp brown sugar and some salt. Spread in an oven-proof dish and cook in oven at 140 degrees/Gas Mark 1 until carrot is tender but still firm.
Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon onto serving plates, pile some aubergine into the centre of each portion and top with a dollop of creme fraiche. Finish with a trickle of oil.
The things I tweaked:
I used sherry vinegar (didn't have red wine)
Instead of cooking the vegetables in the oven, I sauteed them in olive oil until softened slightly, adding in the aubergine flesh and an extra finely sliced half onion....then I piled it all into a baking dish and mixed in the herbs (substituting fresh mint for the coriander as there was none at the market) and added some good feta cheese broken into rough chunks. I then drizzled the olice oil over the whole, ground some extra black pepper and baked in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 mins. I omitted the creme fraiche.
Looking at my tweaks, I'm wondering if I did, in fact, make a rather different dish in the end?? But the inspiration was wholly there thanks to Ottolenghi! And that, surely, is the point of a good cookbook? To inspire the creative passion in us and drive us to produce wondrous food...and this truly was!
A highly recommended book. Enjoy! xoE