I first heard of Yotam Ottolenghi about four years ago, at an all-ladies, vegetarian dinner party (if you needed proof of my G-rated social circles, there it is). Arriving after a long day at work and an interminable commute, I gave a few quick hellos before making a beeline for the appetizer table, zeroing in on a bowl of dip nestled in a ring of pita chips. Thinking it was baba ganoush, I was expecting something neutral, familiar, and a little inert. But after the first bite, I got sucker-punched by something altogether different – a mix of tangy and sweet, bitter and earthy, creamy and light. I never thought I could get excited about dip, but this stuff was a revelation. Omagah wha iv dis schtuff? I asked my host, mouth full, with a second chip already half-submerged in the dip. Have you heard of this cookbook called Plenty?, she asked. By Ottolenghi? I shook my head no. She found the cookbook and flipped through it until she came to the recipe for Burnt Aubergine with Tahini. This is what you’re eating. Isn’t it great?
That would mark the beginning of my love affair with Ottolenghi, now four years strong. It’s rare that I want to cook all of the recipes in a cookbook (in fact, I collect more cookbooks than I actually use), but when I flip through my copies of Jerusalem, Plenty, and Plenty More, they’re bookmarked with so many Post-Its they look like fringed piñatas, ready to burst, becoming some of my most reliable, well-thumbed kitchen companions. Recent Ottolenghi discoveries include honey-roasted carrots with tahini yogurt, grilled lettuce with farro and lemon, urad dal with coconut and cilantro, brussel sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon peel, and alphonso mango and curried chickpea salad (which I actually just made last night and completely demolished in one sitting).
Through his cookbooks, I’ve learnt how delicate plays on flavour – like adding za’atar or sumac to roast chicken, or lime zest to a salad – can elevate a dish without overwhelming it. He strikes that tricky balance between what’s familiar and novel, what’s subtle and bold. Nothing in his cooking is explicitly for show. There are no obvious fireworks; no molecular gastronomy on display. Just well-balanced, unfussy, honest food that is delicious and gorgeous and can be made easily with your own two hands.
In short, my kind of food.
Below is one of my favourite Ottolenghi recipes to make in the spring – Herbed Rice Salad with Fava Beans and Pistachios. This salad is great on its own, but would also pair up nicely with a piece of fish. Don’t skip the lime zest – that subtle pop of citrus is what makes this salad what it is.
Be sure to make it when fava bean season is at its peak.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Herbed Rice Salad with Fava Beans and Pistachios – serves 6 as a side
- ½ cup wild rice
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1 dried Iranian lime (optional)
- 1 cup fresh shelled fava beans (from about 1 pound of pods)
- ½ cup chopped dill
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup unsalted, raw pistachios
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp finely grated lime zest
1) Cook wild rice in a medium pot of boiling salted water until tender and grains start to split, 35–40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
2) Meanwhile, combine basmati rice, lime, if using, and 1 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover; let sit until water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Let cool and discard lime.
3) Cook the shelled fava beans in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain again and peel them, by “pinching” the opaque, light green skins between your fingers until the bright green beans pop out.
4) Toss wild rice, basmati rice, dill, parsley, pistachios, oil, lemon zest and juice, lime powder, and fava beans in a large bowl. Season with salt and serve.
Note: Fava beans can be cooked and peeled 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Wild and basmati rice can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill.