Anyone called Yotam automatically earns lots of points in my book for having a cool name. His surname’s Ottolenghi to boot, the sort of name that makes you think he knows what he’s doing, and he does. In my house he is the saviour of all vegans.
Mikebeard is a longsuffering friend of mine. He accepts my invitations to lunch despite knowing that a meat-eater and a n00b cook doing the catering is only going to result in the same old veg casserole with the occasional different spice.
Not this time, as I discovered Yotam via the BBC Radio 4′s food program on vegetarianism. I Googled him and after reading a few of his recipes on the Guardian website, I decided that vegetarian cooking could be more interesting than various combinations of clumsily cooked veg and the odd roasted carrot. That having been said I’d never turn over a new leaf and ecome vegetarian, but it convinced me that joy can be found without meat.
I chose two recipes, thinking that one might not be interesting enough, a wild rice salad and a butternut squash with chard/spinach number. At it happened, the only squash we could get was a monster so we ended up doing a butternut squash soup too.
This Ottolenghi chap, he’s quite clever. The wild rice salad wasn’t just a good combination of flavours, it was also a texture thing. The flavours reminded me of that meal at Mitsukoshi I had. You get the rather pungent taste of the wild rice, and with it the sweetness of the apricot and only then do you get the rocket and lemon coming through. There’s a texture thing going on too. Wild rice is a bit chewy, despite having been boiled half to death, and in that chewiness you get the soft apricots and the leafy rocket. It was astounding. I never believed that cooking food that morphs in your mouth could ever have been this simple.
He sauté of chickpea, butternut squash and spinach went a little wrong. My oven behaves a lot like a hot shower. There is a tipping point at which it becomes “too hot”, and sadly the squash got a bit overcooked. When I combined it with the chickpeas it turned into a bit of a mash. This dish would have been a lot better had the squash been more solid, but as it happened the mash picked up the seasoning of cumin and caraway seeds really well. Again, it wasn’t what I expected. It was heavy, meaty and left me with a similar satisfaction than if I’d had a steak., quite an eye opener, as I never thought that vegetables could ever taste like this.
It seemed that the skill in these recipes is more in the selection of ingredients, the combination of flavours, textures and how the dish will eventually feel. To be honest the cooking of it didn’t seem too difficult, but I could just be too ignorant as a cook to realise exactly how bad I am. Nevertheless, Mikebeard, Annie, Jacob and I really enjoyed the food.
See, this has raised the bar not just for me but for every restaurant I go too from now. If I can do something that with my skill level, I start to wonder why professional chefs can’t do something like this, just a darn sight better. Even the salads on the side with most main meals could benefit from this sort of veggie cooking.
Wild rice £5
Rocket 70g = £1
Caraway seeds, cumin , garlic , lemon £1
Spring onions £0.75
Dried apricots 120g = £0.69
Butternut squash £1.29 per kilo – for 1.5kg = £1.94
Assorted other ingredients £3
This brings it to a grand goal of about £15 between three adults and a toddler. Not bad at all, and it pleased as cheapskate like myself greatly.