If you want a short and sweet review of both Yotam Ottolenghi’s new vegetarian cookbook Plenty and his flagship London restaurant Ottolenghi in the lovely neighborhood of Islington, here it is. There’s a reason why this man’s name sounds kind of a lot like “Yoda.” Yotam Ottolenghi is a master of his craft. I hope he lives to be 900 years old, because he needs to keep feeding people for a long, long time. And that’s really all you need to know.
As I mentioned last week, we’ve been making a seriously concerted effort to eat very healthfully in the recent past. For us, that means lots and lots of unrefined and minimally refined plant products. (Yup, pretty much the same as we ever were, except more so. That’s what your thirties and forties are all about, isn’t it?) I think a lot of people, whether or not they’re really into food, tend to think of a heavily plant-based diet in terms of deprivation. What, no cheeseburgers? But for us, it’s about exploring the incredible variety of lusty, gorgeous vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains that both taste wonderful and make you feel fabulous. I’ve been discovering all sorts of new inspirations for that kind of cooking and eating, but I can’t think of a better one than Master Yotam. He and his restaurants are not vegetarian — but man, does that guy have a way with vegetables.
Here’s what I had for lunch this week at Ottolenghi in Islington:
- Roasted butternut squash and fresh sweetcorn with feta, coriander, pumpkin seeds and chilli
- Roasted cauliflower with red pepper, goat’s cheese and coriander sauce
- Char-grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic
- Giant butterbeans in sundried tomato and balsamic sauce with mixed herbs and leaves
Each salad was bursting with flavor and wonderfully balanced, just as I’ve found the recipes in the cookbook. The spiced red lentils adapted below are freakishly delicious. I hope you’ll try them. They’re a shining example of what a mostly-plants diet can be.
P.S. As always, Umami Girl is a proselytism-free zone. So much so, in fact, that it took me like three minutes to look up how to spell the world “proselytism” on my computer’s dictionary. My first guesses included -izations and even a -th, like maybe we were talking about a synthetic limb. Anyway, even so, there is one movie and one book that would really be worth your attention if you’re looking for clarifying principles amid all the terrible, contradictory advice on healthful eating.
I will say right away that you need to be in the right frame of mind to digest these, because they really indict our modern lifestyle. That’s true even if you’re not a frequent McDonald’s and TGI Fridays customer, as I suspect most of my readers are not.
The movie is Forks over Knives, which you can stream from Amazon. It stars a couple of charming septuagenarian doctors and is a totally entertaining 90 minutes as long as you’re feeling open-minded. The book, Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, lacks the production value of the movie but is brimming with information that you’ll wish someone had laid out clearly for you decades ago. I’m recommending it even though it uses both too many exclamation points and the term “perverted cravings.” In a weird way, that’s very high praise.
Recipe: Spiced Red Lentils
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list and the few unusual ingredients. This is a simple dish with a wonderful, complex flavor. If you can’t find fenugreek or asafetida, it’s fine to omit them.
- 2 cups red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 bunch cilantro (3 1/2 cups)
- 1 large onion
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3-inch piece fresh ginger
- 1 Tablespoon black mustard seeds
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
- 10 curry leaves
- 3 1/2 cups peeled chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (optional)
- Pinch of asafetida (optional)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
- Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
- Rinse the lentils well under running water, then place them in a bowl with the water and soak for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, finely chop the cilantro (including stems), onion, and garlic, and grate the ginger. Set the cilantro aside.
- Place the mustard seeds in a 5-quart Dutch oven or other pot with a heavy bottom, and cook over medium heat until they begin to pop. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and olive oil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, and curry leaves, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
- Add the lentils and their soaking water, the tomatoes, honey, fenugreek, and salt, and stir to blend. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are fully cooked.
- Stir in the butter, lemon or lime juice, and cilantro. Serve hot.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6