Ottolenghi. Need I say more?

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


  1. Rinse the lentils well under running water, then place them in a bowl with the water and soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, finely chop the cilantro (including stems), onion, and garlic, and grate the ginger. Set the cilantro aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  • Sara

    No, you need say no more. I love that post as I have probably said ad nauseam–my next blog post is adapted from a recipe in the other cookbook–though think I like Plenty more!ReplyCancel

    • He’s hard not to like! Somehow though, like Gwenyth and Jude and all my other new neighbors with first-name recognition, Yotam strangely did not come out and introduce himself when I ate there, nor did he call me later just to chat. Whatever. :)ReplyCancel

  • I have both his books and am intrigued by his recipes. If I ever make it to London, we must go eat there together!ReplyCancel

    • Kalyn, if you do come to London, you have to promise to let me know. In exchange, I’ll promise to take you there!ReplyCancel

  • I am a huge fan of Ottolenghi and as fas as I know he is a genius when it comes to combining flavours! This red lentil recipe is no exception – it sounds absolutely delicious!ReplyCancel

    • I think you hit on exactly what he does best of all. It’s pretty magical.ReplyCancel

  • More than just valuable recipes, I get to develop my vocabulary reading your blog too. You are fascinating!ReplyCancel

    • Hi Anna, you’re way too kind. :) I just read your bio on Fudo, and it reminds me of how much fun we had teaching sign language to our older daughter with the Signing Time DVDs (back in the day when they were just starting up). Do you know that series? We still use little bits of sign language all the time, and it’s incredibly helpful.

      Thanks for visiting!ReplyCancel

  • I’ve heard so much about Plenty and I really think I may buy it. (Problem is: I have too many cook books. As in way too many. But hey! I think this is a must have anyway…)
    Love your picture of the dish: gorgeous!ReplyCancel

    • Thanks, Denise. I know what you mean about cookbook overload, but I really think this one is worth it. Because he’s such a genius at balancing flavors, I actually cook from this book often, as opposed to most cookbooks, which I may refer to occasionally and mostly just enjoy having in my general vicinity. Plus, the book has sort of a squishy pillow-top situation for a front cover, so you could always sleep on it if you run out of room….ReplyCancel

  • I LOVE Ottolenghi. Every single one of his recipes I’ve done has come out just great. I haven’t tried this one though. Glad to hear it’s yummy.ReplyCancel

    • Hi, Jules! It’s lovely to meet a fellow Ottolenghi enthusiast in the U.K. Not that we’re exactly a rare breed, but still. Thanks for visiting!ReplyCancel

  • This sounds super yummy. Love this!ReplyCancel

    • I think warm vanilla sugar sounds super yummy, too, so we’re even. :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Carolyn of Umami Girl’s Ottolenghi lentils […]ReplyCancel

  • ooh I just bought a bunch of red lentils. Now I have a recipe to use them for! I bet I could even find the unusual spices at a local store.ReplyCancel

    • Hi, Rachel! I think this is an excellent use for your new red lentils. Also, if I may say so, this would make another pretty spectacular use for them.

      P.S. You and I must have birthdays very close to each other. Late September birthdays are the best. I am the teensiest decade older than you, but whatevs….ReplyCancel

  • You’ve included fenugreek in the ingredients…is that fenugreek leaves or fenugreek seeds? They are very different in flavor and I wouldn’t want to substitute one for the other. Please advise.ReplyCancel

    • Hi, Tanya. Good point, thanks. The original recipe didn’t specify seeds or leaves. That’s something to note about Plenty in general — in contrast to the way many cookbooks these days tend to spell out every last detail of direction, Plenty leaves…um…plenty to intuit. You kind of have to use your common sense to navigate the recipes, and then there will still be a few unanswered questions, such as this one.

      I used fenugreek seeds, and it turned out well. I smashed them up a bit in my mortar and pestle before tossing them in. To be honest I’m not familiar enough with fenugreek to be able to say how things would’ve been different with the leaves. Maybe someday I’ll give it a try and report back. It’s such a teensy amount, so it won’t make or break the dish, I don’t think.ReplyCancel

  • First of all, I love that you love Ottolenghi. I can only imagine how exciting it must be to eat his actual food given how much I adore the recipes in his cookbook. You’re a lucky lady.

    I also enjoy all your Britishisms, from sweetcorn to goat’s cheese to chilli with 2 Ls.

    I still haven’t seen Forks Over Knives. Thanks for the push, lady.ReplyCancel

    • My favorite part about eating his actual food is that it’s *just* like what’s in the cookbook. Makes it feel like such a genuine expression of a person’s point of view.

      Yup, I brazenly ignored my American spell-checker’s squiggly red lines under those chillis. (Hey, there’s one now….) My sister said she might murder me if I came back to the states with a British accent, so I won’t do that. But the spellings are kind of fun. And they do call them “spellings” here. Not a singular spelling or math to be found in the whole country.

      I think you’d like Forks Over Knives. For some reason I was really resisting watching it, but I’m glad I did. xxReplyCancel

  • Obsessed.
    i want those lentils.ReplyCancel

    • Thanks, Julia. It’s been a few weeks, so I want them again, too….ReplyCancel

  • I love lentils and I love that Yotam is your Yoda! (I am married to a sci-fi geek :) ). And I will most certainly be trying this recipe because it calls for about half of the spices in my pantry which I so need to use up. Oh and I believe the fenugreek in this recipe refers to the leaves because if they were the seeds you’d probably toast them with the mustard seeds first.ReplyCancel

    • Ah! Thanks, Pat. That makes a lot of sense. Now I need to hunt down some fenugreek leaves and see what changes. Hope you’ll give the recipe a try!ReplyCancel

  • Going to try making it today with the leaves…I LOVE the flavour of fenugreek leaves, so i like to use them whenever I get a chance. Yummy!ReplyCancel

  • […] I know, I know, again with the Ottolenghi. This is the priciest spot you’ll find on the list, but it would be […]ReplyCancel

  • […] eat? Smoky Red Lentil Stew by Sprouted Kitchen Smoky Paprika Baked Beans by The Spade & Spoon Spiced Red Lentils by Ottolenghi Pumpkin Chili by Never Homemaker French Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika in Let Them […]ReplyCancel

  • […] pretty good.  I got the idea from this recipe but then was going to make the lentils using an Ottolenghi recipe as it sounded exotically yummy.   However, after getting home from work past 5pm and having only […]ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *