Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jerusalem And Plenty -- Cookbooks Where Everything Is Imaginative, Nothing Is Difficult

Chicken, fennel and clementines

Yotam Ottolenghi just cooks better than I do.

You shouldn't be surprised since he is an internationally-known chef, but I was surprised at how much fun I've had in his cookbooks Plenty and Jerusalem.

Mrs. HowChow bought the books.  I actually passed when I saw them at Sweet Elizabeth Jane in Ellicott City.  The pictures are too pretty.  Ottolenghi is a restaurant chef.  I pass on celebrity chefs, and I've been happy in recent years with Mark Bittman and some ethnic cookbooks.

Mrs. HowChow saw the brillance.  She wanted the eggplant with pomegranates on the cover of Plenty.  She saw lots of vegetables. She saw combinations that sing.  As soon as I opened the books, she added a few dozen stickies to show the dishes that she'd like me to make.

Everything that I've made has been spectacular.  Everything seems imaginative, but nothing has been difficult.  These are terrific books for anyone who wants a healthy mix of vegetables, grains and meat -- but with flavor.

Barley and pomegranates -- really!
A salad of lentils, tomatoes and Gorgonzola.  A hearty eggplant with pomegranates and a buttermilk-yogurt sauce.  Chicken roasted with fennel and clementines.  Jerusalem draws a mix of recipes from co-author Sami Tamimi's hometown.  Plenty collects vegetarian dishes heavy on the Mediterranean, but running from Italy to Indonesia.

These recipes are terrific for me because my simple can be bland.  I can eat lentils straight from the pot, and Mrs. HowChow has had to point out that they're not inspiring even if they're healthy.  Ottolenghi make lentils enticing with some oven-dried tomatoes, that Gorgonzola, and generous dashes of herbs.

That variety runs through the books.  Jerusalem does traditional recipes, but Plenty is a riot of modern variety -- eggs baked over arugula and topped with yogurt, barley tossed in a salad with celery and pomegranates.  Ottolenghi uses spices and herbs available anywhere, but his dishes taste fresh and exciting -- even when the preparation is as simple as "cook the barley, then mix with a bunch of stuff that you chopped or poured from bottles."

These books are some of the best fun that I have ever had with thyme, dill, parsley and chives.  Ottolenghi must live near Lotte or H Mart because he'll suggest three or four different herbs in a recipe.  You can't buy $10 in herbs for just a few tablespoons of each.  So I have bought them at one of the Asian markets -- and planned for several Ottolenghi recipes so I can use the purchase over an entire week.

Go try these books. Check them out at the Howard County library.  Buy them from Amazon from one of the associate links.  Just go explore the mix.

Check out all my cookbook reviews.  Most are available at the library if you want to check them out.  (Update: And check out the Fiercely Fresh post about Jerusalem and a butternut squash recipe.)


Anonymous said...

I recently checked out "Jerusalem" from the library (uh, I'm a little late returning if you're looking for it there). I featured a recipe on my blog a couple of weeks ago for butternut squash with tahini and I'm sure I'll be featuring more. Wonderful book!


Katherine said...

I received PLENTY as a Christmas gift. I'm embarrassed to post that I have not made one thing. I am the only one in the family who will eat these dishes. To me they sound fantasic! To my husband and kids...they would rather have hamburgers. What a shame it would be to have left over food.

Billz said...

You might also like a new cookbook with some Howard County connections just hitting the shelves, "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey".

It's by Laila El-Haddad (who lives in Columbia with her family) and Maggie Schmitt (who lives in Spain but happens to be my niece). They will be giving a talk and book signing this Saturday, 3/23, at 5pm at Dar Al-Taqwa Islamic Center in Ellicott City, part of a nationwide book tour.

The book has received praise from the likes of Anthony Bourdain. It contains lots of great recipes from an under-appreciated cuisine, mixed with fascinating background stories and pictures of the people and traditions of Gaza.

Annie Rie said...

I downloaded Plenty on iBooks after HoCoRising emailed me that he gave it to his wife who loves it. He told me he thought it fit my style of cooking with CSA veggies that he read in my blog.

Another blog I read regularly also just wrote about Jerusalem this week. Coincidence?

So, I had to download it. Incredible cookbook. I got oranges in the CSA box this week, have fennel in the fridge and a free range chicken in the freezer. That recipe you show with the clementines would be great to make.

enzymatic said...

my daughter bought me both books as a birthday gift. The concept behind Jerusalem is phenomenal, considering that his partner is a Palestinian. Claudia Roden ( the Julia Child of Middle Eastern Cuisine, or the Diane Kennedy of Mexican Cuisine) wrote a fascinating piece in the New Yorker about Pre- Israel Palestine. The relationships she describes align pretty closely with the views of Ottolengi.