As usual, I’m unfashionably late to the party. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi came out in 2011 but I’ve just discovered it, and have been cooking from it like mad. Although I have over fifty cookbooks at last count, this one is a bit different for me because it’s vegetarian focused. In fact, it’s composed of mostly vegetable recipes. It’s been a long time since I identified as a hater of vegetables, but I don’t always know what to do with them. This book has taught me that adding a bit of richness in the form of good quality dairy, some nuts, some herbs, can do a lot for a plate of carrots. In fact, there are a lot of recipes here that can make a whole meal. I’ve gone through the book and marked the recipes I want to try most and there are so many. Like the saffron tagliatelle with spiced butter, a grape leaf, herb, and yogurt pie, and crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream.
The book is divided by vegetable for the most part (mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers etc) but also has sections for pulses, pasta, and fruit with cheese. The goat cheese souffles with vanilla-poached pears are definitely on my to-make list, as are the pear crostini. The arrangement of the chapters reflects the way Yotam Ottolenghi purports to write his recipes–with a single ingredient as the focus, such as eggplant, or a botanical group like brassicas (cruciferous vegetables).
You definitely do not have to be a vegetarian to get a lot out of this book. Meat is only one part of a meal. I find that as my repertoire in the kitchen expands, I eat meat less and less, as my diet expands to include a wider variety of foods, particularly vegetables and protein options such as tofu. I was never a fan until I tried the Agedashi tofu at my local sushi joint, and now I regularly add it to curries, stir fries or cook up dishes like this Black Pepper Tofu, which I’ve been making on a regular basis. I love melange of flavours–sweet, spicy, tart–and the thin crispy crust which gives way to a soft and creamy interior. Be sure to serve it immediately so it’s as hot as possible and doesn’t lose that delicious texture.
One note: the recipe calls for vegetable oil. I use coconut oil for its health benefits and avoid vegetable/seed oils as much as possible.
Ottolenghi’s Black Pepper Tofu
1 3/4 lbs firm tofu
vegetable oil for frying
cornstarch to dust tofu
11 tbsp butter
12 small shallots (12 ounces), thinly sliced
8 fresh red chiles (mild), thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
16 small and thin green onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch segments
1) Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come 1/4 inch up the sides and heat. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1×1 inch. Toss with some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. Fry the tofu in batches so they become crispy, not stew in the pan. Turn them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel.
2) Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then melt butter in the pan. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger; sauté on low-medium heat for about 15 mintues, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft.
3) Add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then incorporate the crushed black pepper. Add the tofu to warm up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot, with steamed rice or noodles.