Ottolenghi Cookbook Aims for Maximum ‘Flavor’
Book FestivalArts & Culture

Ottolenghi Cookbook Aims for Maximum ‘Flavor’

The Israeli-born author and chef looks far beyond his home country for inspiration.

This is the eighth best-seller from Ottolenghi, who won critical acclaim for his examination of Arab and Israeli food in his birthplace, Jerusalem.
This is the eighth best-seller from Ottolenghi, who won critical acclaim for his examination of Arab and Israeli food in his birthplace, Jerusalem.

Yotam Ottolenghi has come a long way since he opened a small deli in London’s trendy Notting Hill neighborhood 18 years ago. The Israeli-born and educated writer and chef has a half dozen eateries scattered around the British capital and writes a weekly food column for The Guardian, the country’s famed national newspaper in England, the New Yorker magazine and The New York Times in America. His latest cookbook, “Ottolenghi Flavor,” is a welcomed addition to what has become a regular stream of best-selling cookbooks cementing his fame.

The book, published this month in the United States, pays homage to vegetable cooking, international style, with visually impressive recipes as much influenced by the spices and seasonings of Italy, Brazil and Mexico as his own native Jerusalem. As he described the work earlier this year in a promotional video, his aim is to glorify the eggplants, zucchinis and other produce he has chosen to highlight.

A page from “Ottolenghi Flavor”

“’Flavor’ is a book about vegetables in all their glory, their beauty. We really kind of push the flavors to the limit to shine the best possible light on vegetables.”
Ottolenghi, who co-authored the book with Ixta Belfrage from his test kitchen staff in Britain, embraces a wide range of flavors and textures and isn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of vegetable cookery. Expect to find tamarind, coconut and orange oil mixed in with the za’atar and coriander seeds in the recipes that Ottolenghi emphasizes. His focus is in bringing out outstanding flavors from fine produce.

“We’re inspired by Middle Eastern food, Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food and some food with no name. There’s no rules about what, in our opinion, can go together. And I think a lot of the recipes in ‘Flavor’ play with different cultures and different ingredients for us.”

The book is built around three sections: process, paring and produce. They seek to demonstrate how maximum taste can be coaxed out of the garden by using cooking technique and flavor partnerships to bring out new approaches to developing maximum taste. In a YouTube video introduction to the book, Ottolenghi emphasizes premixed flavored oils and spice combinations as “flavor bombs” to give a quick lift to recipes for the home cook.

A page from “Ottolenghi Flavor”

“My first vegetable book, ‘Plenty,’ was the honeymoon period,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “a great big party where certain vegetables — peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, mushrooms — got a whole chapter to themselves, ‘Plenty More’ was all about process; recipes were divided into the ways in which the vegetables were treated: mashed or tossed or grilled and so forth. ‘Flavor’ is the third book in the series; it’s about understanding what makes vegetables distinct and, accordingly, devising ways in which their flavors can be ramped up and tasted afresh.”

Ottolenghi’s previous books have been big-time award winners. His book on the food of Israeli Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem was selected as cookbook of the year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals; two others won prestigious James Beard cookbook prizes; and his previous work “Ottolenghi Simple” was chosen in 2018 as a best book of the year by NPR, The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters by Brandeis University.

Ottolenghi, who once worked as an editor for Israel’s well-regarded newspaper Haaretz, clearly loves his words as much as his veggies.

Yotam Ottolenghi discusses his new book, “Ottolenghi Flavor,” Oct. 16 in the fall lineup of the Book Festival of the MJCCA.

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