Category Cookbooks

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

My copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook Plenty, bought just over two weeks ago, is already splattered and some of the pages are sticking together. And I haven’t even tried all of the recipes that I marked with Post-It Notes. Before I go  on about Ottolenghi’s best-sounding dishes, I need to apologize. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. The Professor must eat, after all. But I’ve had a few too many projects. And a few too many dishes in a row turned out …. just OK. And it left me feeling a bit uninspired. Until, that is, I opened Plenty.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ottolenghi, he is the co-owner of four eponymous restaurants/take-out joints in London. He is from Israel, and his creative partner is from Palestine, and the two are united by their love for bold flavors and interesting ingredients from all cultures.

The Cook here at the Roasted Beet admires Ottolenghi especially because, while he wasn’t a vegetarian himself, he wrote a popular column for the Guardian‘s Weekend magazine called “The New Vegetarian.” (Plenty includes some recipes from his column, and some new ones — all vegetarian, and roughly half vegan.) Because he wasn’t a vegetarian, he approached vegetarian cooking with a focus on taste and flavor, which is the same way that this cook approaches vegetarian cooking for The Professor. Every dish needs to be yummy in its own right.

While a handful of the dishes sound delicious but familiar — a recipe for black pepper tofu, for instance, or one for mushroom ragout with a poached egg, that reminded me of this dish — many are inventive and surprising: chard and saffron omelets, savoy cabbage and Parmesan rind soup, soba noodles with eggplant and mango.

So far I’ve tried the stuffed portobello mushrooms with melted Taleggio cheese and the sweet winter slaw — both of which you’ll be reading more about soon.

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

I recently stumbled upon Lukas Volger’s Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful & Healthy Vegan & Vegetarian Burgers Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns & More.

Despite the ridiculously long subtitle, the cookbook is small, focused, and filled with appetizing photos. I’m serious. Volger’s patties — from his Sweet Potato Burger with Lentils and Kale to his Chipotle Black Bean — look nothing like the frozen discs you find in the veggie burger section at the grocery. I couldn’t decide which one to make first!

Ultimately I settled on Spinach-Chickpea Burgers, in part because I thought I could make smaller, crab-cake-sized patties and “sell” them to The Professor as being “like falafel.”

And well … err …

My Spinach-Chickpea cakes could have used more garlic (which the original recipe didn’t even call for!), but flavor wasn’t really the problem. They were just a bit or maybe a lot dry. An aioli I made for The Professor and a spicy yogurt sauce I mixed up for myself helped, but didn’t change the basic problem. They were dry — in part because the smaller patties needed less cooking than the 4-inch burgers the recipe called for, but how much less I wasn’t sure.

“I think it’s worth trying again,” The Professor kindly said as he helped clear the table. “Though maybe make the patties a bit bigger next time.”

I will make the Spinach-Chickpea Burgers again, and I will make them bigger.

In fact, I’m thinking about instituting a weekly “burger night” over the summer, so that I can try all of the recipes from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way that I’ve tagged. Armenian Lentil Burgers. Thai Carrot Burgers. Beet and Brown Rice Burgers. And more. Maybe I’m just experiencing a heat-induced burger fetish. Maybe The Professor will put his foot down. But that’s my plan.

I’m also adding Lukas Volger’s web site to my blog roll. He’s someone I need to be reading regularly, as he writes about more than burgers. His about-to-be-published book is called Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. And it sounds right up my alley.

Yotam Ottolenghi

There’s an interesting profile of the London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi in The New York Times today. Ottolenghi wrote a popular weekly column for The Guardian called “The New Vegetarian,” though he is not a vegetarian himself. Still, he loves vegetables and vegetarian dishes, and his column led to a best-selling cookbook, Plenty. Plenty is about to be published in the US by Chronicle Books, and I’ve already ordered my copy.

If you’ve eaten at one of his four eponymous restaurants in London, tell me how it was!

What Good to a Nook Is a Hook Cook Book?

The New York Times‘ recently predicted that, while books aren’t going anywhere, “there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks.” The article continues:

Martha Stewart Makes Cookies a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).

Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.

Yet cookbook sales rose 10% in the US and Europe last year, and 20% in Asia and Latin America, according  to Fast Company,. Moreover, the best-selling non-fiction title of 2010 was a cookbook — Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals!

I must admit that I’ve been on a bit of a cookbook-buying streak of late, though maybe when The Professor’s iPad2 arrives I’ll make the digital leap. In the meantime, here are a few of the titles I’ve bought to help me meet The Professor’s cooking challenge:

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. Madison is, of course, the founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco. She’s also the author of some nine cookbooks, including this bestselling classic.


Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

Power Foods: 150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients. I’m not sure I’ll ever convince The Professor to like quinoa, but it’s worth a shot.


Power Foods

On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. This tome about cooking contains no recipes, but is filled with little-known facts about the science of cooking, the history of eating, and the etymologies of common food names. It might not make me a better cook, but it will enable me to distract you, dear readers, with the history of ketchup and an explanation for why almonds don’t taste like almond flavoring.


On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee

The Very Best Recipes for Health

I just bought Martha Rose Shulman’s book, The Very Best Recipes for Health. I’m an avid reader of her column for The New York Times, “Recipes for Health.”  In fact, it’s where I found the recipe for beet risotto that launched this blog, so I consider her a sort of Patron Saint of The Roasted Beet.

The Very Best of Recipes for Health, by Martha Rose Shulman

I’ve already gone a bit Post-It-crazy, marking recipes that I want to try — White Beans with Pesto, Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells, and a Spicy Tunisian Carrot Frittata, among others. The book includes a whole chapter on vegetarian main courses!

A mortar and pestle is the perfect tool for pureeing garlic

I’ll write about the recipes  as I test them, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a helpful tip (one of  many that Shulman sprinkles throughout the book) on using a mortar and pestle to puree garlic.

“Don’t pound the garlic with and up-and-down wrist motion. That’s too rough, and the garlic will become too pungent as you pound out the volatile oils. After gently mashing the garlic with your pestle to break it down, the motion should be more of a grinding action, circular around the inside of the bowl.”

I love my mortar and pestle and often use it to crush garlic. Now I know the right way to do it!

Rice and Beans

Last night I cooked rice and beans, though I didn’t realize it until after the fact. And neither did The Professor.

I’d decided to try a recipe from one of the cookbooks I’d borrowed from my mother. The cookbook was Risotto: More than 100 Dishes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy,by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. The recipe I’d picked out was called “Risotto con Fagioli,” and when asked what was for dinner, I told The Professor that I was cooking a bean risotto.

Risotto, one of the cookbooks pilfered from my mom's collection.

“It’s an experiment,” I added, as I saw his brow begin to rise.

“So I see,” he replied.

Though it was only an experiment in that I’d never tried the dish before. And somehow the idea of “bean risotto” sounded novel. But it wasn’t really. The dish could just as well have been called “Beans and Rice, Italian-style.”

The recipe called for a “soffritto” (Italian for the things you saute that will add flavor to the rice) of onion and tomato. I skipped the tomato and used onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. I also added a whole can of cannellini beans, roughly double what the recipe called for.

The result? See for yourself.

Risotto con Fagioli, aka "Rice and Beans, Italian-style"

“It had more flavor than I expected,” The Professor admitted. He suggested increasing the amount of onion next time, and adding something crisp — perhaps slices of zucchini, tossed in at the last minute — to play against the soft texture of the beans and rice. But all in all, he was satisfied. Since he doesn’t grade first-time dishes, I’ll have to wait until next time to find out whether it was satisfying enough to earn an A.


Cookbooks are a relatively recent obsession for me. Since The Professor laid down his challenge, I’ve been browsing for new ones when I have a spare minute. But setting aside the dozen or so currently in my Amazon shopping cart, I probably own less than ten. I’m no Heidi Swanson … yet.

I managed to last this long with so so few cookbooks thanks to recipes in magazines (magazines being my long-time obsession!) and my mother, the latter being more important. Mom’s the one who shared her recipes and answered the phone when I had cooking questions, dilemmas, and emergencies.

Which got me thinking: Is the recipe on the splattered index card titled “Mom’s Pesto” really Mom’s? Where does she get her recipes? What cookbooks has she turned to to put vegetarian meals on the table for four decades?

This past weekend, to give The Professor some much-needed silence, I packed up the kids and drove to my parents summer house. While The Professor thought deep thoughts at home, I raided my Mom’s cookbook collection. And here’s what I learned:

First, Mom might own thirty cookbooks all told, but only a half-dozen or so get a slice of the prime kitchen real estate on the shelf above the stove. The rest live on shelves alongside family photo albums and yet more heavy academic texts. (Did I mention that my father is also a philosopher? Yes, well. That’s another story, I suppose.)

Second, her collection contained just one “vegetarian” cookbook — a  well-used and slightly charred copy of The Vegetarian Epicure, the Anna Thomas bestseller originally published in 1972.

The sight of the cover took me straight back to my childhood. The book was a bible of sorts as my Mom found her footing in a meat-free kitchen. But she hasn’t used it in years, and I found it on a shelf in my Dad’s office.

The rest of her cook books were ones you might find in the library of any curious cook. There was Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook, Jody Adams and Ken Rivard’s In the Hands of a Chef, Marcela Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book, and no fewer than three cookbooks by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray  — the duo behind London’s River Cafe. In other words, as US Weekly might put it, vegetarians — they’re just like us!

I am now working my way through her collection, looking for recipes I already know by another name and new ones worth trying.