The master of vegetables, Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi shares some gems of wisdom for creating delicious, plant-based meals.
Tell us about your new book, Plenty More…
In a sense it’s my work over the last four years since Plenty was published – all the new ingredients I’m excited about, my travels and all the rest. It focuses this time a little bit more on the cooking methods and techniques, because I think that’s really important when it comes to cooking vegetables. I think a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to all the various ways there are to cook vegetables, and I want to draw a little bit of attention to that.
What are the best ways of cooking vegetables?
I like roasting vegetables, and chargrilling them so you get really nice smoky flavour. I like marinating them in all sorts of spicy, herby marinades. And baking them – I have a recipe for a savoury cauliflower cake, a bit like a frittata that you cut into slices; it’s just gorgeous.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
Where to start? I’m a lemon fanatic; I do everything with lemon. I use the zest and the juice, and I recently started using whole pieces of lemon in salads. I have a recipe for roasted lemon slices with tomatoes. Anything that can get all the flavours from those wonderful fruits, I’m crazy about it.
I use a lot of tahini paste in my cooking, which I think is a wonderful ingredient. People know it from hummus, but it just goes well with so many things, in sauces, with meat, with vegetables. So many ingredients – I’m crazy for ingredients.
What are some tips for using spices to create flavour?
I like to infuse a lot of spices in my food. It’s always good to cook your spices, fry them a little bit before you add the rest of the food. I think you need to be careful not to overdo it, but also not to be shy – if you can’t taste the flavour of the spice you want to add a little more. Just try to get to know what goes with what, what traditionally works, and then those combinations are usually good combinations to follow.
How do you approach creating a new recipe?
I normally work in association, so I think about an ingredient I want to use – let’s say, for example, zucchini – and I try to think what I could do with it this time. I think about all my cooking methods; I can put it under a very hot grill and grill it on the outside, and then scoop out the flesh. Then I think, what would work with that? And I think of other things in my arsenal like spices and herbs and all sorts of Middle Eastern condiments I like using, and I put one after the other so eventually it makes sense and it becomes a recipe.
What’s your best advice for vegetarian cooking?
There’s so much out there, so in a sense the best advice is: don’t think of meat or fish when you’re cooking with vegetables, just think about the vegetables. Don’t think about what you don’t have. There’s nothing worse than trying to make vegetables look like meat. Just cook them with love, and then you get the best results. I think that’s the best advice I can give.
Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi is available now from Random House Australia.