Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+ Join today!.
With nine cookbooks as author or co-author, a beloved and long-running newspaper column, three cooking shows, and seven currently-operating restaurants, Yotam Ottolenghi is unquestionably a culinary powerhouse – and the Ottolenghi “brand” has become associated around the world with an elevated-yet-approachable, Mediterranean-leaning, vegetable-forward approach to cooking. This month he adds book number 10 to the list, OTK: Extra Good Things. Co-authored with Noor Murad, it is the second in the OTK series, highlighting the work of the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen team. These books show the collaboration that goes into developing dishes and focus on recipes that a home cook can easily master and adapt, often using things they’re likely to already have on hand. We reached Murad and Ottolenghi at their homes in London to discuss the series and talk about how they work and eat.
Your known for your vegetable-forward recipes. Can you tell us a bit about what you find inspiring about vegetables?
Yotam Ottolenghi: This goes back quite a few years. I started publishing vegetarian recipes for the Guardian newspaper here in the UK more than 15 years ago. And they asked me to write a vegetarian column, which I did for many years. Then it became not necessarily a vegetarian column, but it’s still mostly vegetarian. And it comes back to what we do in our company. Our menus have always had vegetables in the center.
Also going back to the way I grew up, which is in Jerusalem where vegetables were in many ways at the center of many meals and there was a wide variety and interesting ways of cooking vegetables. So that’s kind of always been around for me and I’ve never left it. It’s not a new thing. And if you go to our restaurant, you’d always find essentially the menus are always focused on the vegetables. There’ll be other elements, but the vegetables are always be at the center. […] I think it’s perhaps coming back or it’s starting to come back in many ways where people are, even if they’re not vegetarians, they want to eat more vegetables. I think that’s definitely what we are seeing now. So I think vegetables are going back into the center of the plate.
In the book, there’s a discussion of “Ottolengh-ifying” recipes, adding extra elements or touches that make something special. What is your approach to finding those flavor and technique combinations?
Noor Murad: A lot of the way we develop recipes in the Test Kitchen – there’s a lot of creative freedom here. We have a very diverse group of people from all corners of the world.
Sometimes our recipes are very ingredient led. So we just think, “oranges are in season, I need to come up with a recipe that really highlights the orange.” Other times it’s like a theme-led. So a lot of the time we’re testing recipes for the holiday season, so Thanksgiving or Christmas. And other times we’re just so inspired by something. You’re going out to eat and having something that really tastes amazing, or you’re inspired by something from your childhood and you really want to put it into a recipe.
And that’s generally how we come up with our recipes and then take these ideas into the test kitchen and then we work very collaboratively. A recipe’s your own, you see it through from start to finish, but also you taste it and talk about it and have conversations with your colleagues, which is a really special thing.
I would love to talk a bit more about that collaborative process. Sometimes a cookbook or restaurant can give the impression that everything is the sole creation of a single chef, but in reality recipe development and cooking in general is much more of a team activity. It seems special that the OTK books really highlight everyone on the Test Kitchen team. Is that something that you set out proactively to feature or did it just come about organically?
Yotam Ottolenghi: I think it became more and more part of the way we work over the years because it reflects just the way things have evolved. So for me, historically, I did used to test the recipes myself, and then I started adding people. And many of my books are collaborations either with one person or with a group of people. And I tried to get the books to reflect that.
I don’t know why other chefs wouldn’t do that, but I only just would say for myself, that’s just the way I work. And I would feel it’d be quite weird if everybody else who were involved in the project were not part of the project.
And for instance, so this book and the last book, Shelf Love and Extra Good Things, Noor was very much at the forefront of putting the recipes together and getting the team behind them et cetera. And so I think it wouldn’t have been the same book if Noor was not deep in the creation of the book itself.
And I think it’s a better book for it as well, because in some ways it is much more wholesome. It just tells a story which is real. So I think that for me, that feels like the right thing to do. And it works for us because I think people enjoy this kind of teamwork. They benefit from it. It’s a really nice way to work. Everybody takes part and the story is quite a diverse story, it’s an interesting story, yeah.
Would each of you like to spotlight a recipe in OTK: Extra Good Things you particularly love?
Noor Murad: Yeah, actually one that is fresh in my mind that is a recipe I really love is for a baked polenta. You kind of spread it quite thin on a baking tray, and then you top it with a béchamel and then sprinkle over some feta and oregano and then you bake it in the oven and then you top it with these slow cooked tomatoes that have been cooked in the oven with olive oil and za’atar and vinegar. And that’s the special piece. The missing piece of the puzzle is these za’atar tomatoes. And it’s just such a beautiful pie. It’s a very happy looking pie and it’s a great thing to share and serve up. And it’s also quite accessible as well. And these za’atar tomatoes are the extra from the book that you could carry over into another meal. You could put it on some toast with a ricotta, spoon it over your eggs, or however you want to use them.
Yotam Ottolenghi: I wanted to mention another recipe that’s the kosheri. It’s an Egyptian dish that we make with giant couscous. It’s got giant couscous and split peas cooked together also with fried onion, and it’s just one of those kind of dishes that are for me like so comforting, and you know, you can swap the different elements. You could use rice, you could use bulgur wheat, you can use lentils, you can use dried peas like we use here. And for me that is just a wonderful thing to eat. And you can finish it off with yogurt or you can eat it with what is traditionally eaten, it’s eaten with this, it’s a daqa, which is a kind of vinegary sauce with spices and it just adds that little sharpness that it really needs. So it’s deep and it’s acidic and it’s a wonderful thing to have. And I think for vegetarians and vegans, it’s just such a powerful tool to have because you can create so many meals based on this kind of fried onion or caramelized onion and those legumes. It’s just a wonderful thing to highlight.