18 things yotam ottolenghi can teach you about healthy cooking

my favourite things salad-4

The truth is, I hated the first Ottolenghi cookbook.

Call me superficial, but i just couldn’t get past the food photography. Even though most of the recipes sounded really lovely, every time I went to open the book I’d see another horrid photo and close it again.

So when I heard about Plenty, the latest book from the London restauranteur and Guardian columnist Yotam Ottolenghi, I didn’t give it much thought.

Then at Christmas time, my Irishman and I found ourselves stranded for a few days in London on account of the snow storms. And so it came to be that we got to eat at said London restaurant (the Islington outpost).

And wow, what a place.

Of course after being blown away by the delicious, vegetable-focused food, I couldn’t help but sneak a peak at one of the copies of Plenty. And to my surprise and delight I just loved the images on every page I flicked to.

Needless to say, a copy followed me home.

I haven’t actually cooked anything from the book (Ottolenghi isn’t exactly a minimalist – many of the recipes are in the 20+ ingredient category). But even so, there are some truly inspired ideas.

So today, I wanted to share with you 18 things Yotam Ottolenghi can teach you about healthy cooking.

1. You don’t need to be a vegetarian to love vegetables
Plenty is inspired by Ottolenghi’s newspaper column called The New Vegetarian. Apparently some of the readers were outraged when they first learned the New Vegetarian columnist did eat meat and fish, but the column has been going strong for over 4 years so something must be working.

I must say, I strongly identify with the concept that being an omnivore and loving vegetables is not mutually exclusive.

2. The trick for a deeply flavoured vegetarian broth…
is to add prunes to it. Who knew?

3. Use lemongrass and ginger in dressings
There’s a recipe for sweet potato wedges with lemongrass creme fraiche. Love the sound of a dressing made with sour cream, lemongrass, ginger and lime.

4. Great idea for a vegetarian Christmas main course…
Roast wedges of pumpkin that have been covered in a crust of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, thyme and lemon zest.

5. Tahini can be used to give a sesame flavour to Japanese salad dressings.
Actually I thought of this one all by myself last year. Great minds. If you’re interested there’s a recipe for Japanese salad dressing over here.

6. Purple sprouting broccoli makes a great green Thai curry
I’m keen to try this with some of the purple sprouting from my garden when it’s old enough. (Sorry… blatant smug veggie gardener comment.. but I couldn’t resist)

7. What to do with kohlrabi…
Combine with other root veg in a gratin, shallow-fry it in olive oil with garlic and chives, use it in stir fries or chop into matchsticks and use raw in a salad.

8. Cauliflower deserves more loving
Ottolenghi compares it to potato and aubergine (eggplant) for cauli’s ability to take on big flavours without losing its own unique character.

9. A good sauce for roast eggplant (aubergine)…
Is to combine buttermilk and yoghurt with a little crushed garlic.

10. Fresh coriander (cilantro) could fit perfectly into traditional Italian cuisine.
I never think to use coriander in Italian dishes, but love the idea of using it instead of basil in a salad of roast eggpplant, tomato and buffalo mozzarella.

11. Eggplant (aubergine) can explode if cooked whole under the grill (broiler)
This hasn’t happened to me but a good reminder to pierce eggplant before cooking them whole.

12. Use vine leaves instead of filo pastry to make a savoury pie.
Brilliant slow carb or gluten-free alternative. Ottolenghi uses a filling of yoghurt, pine nuts and herbs thickened with rice flour.

13. Not all cheese is vegetarian
According to Ottolenghi, European cheeses still tend to be made using rennet (enzymes from animals). I suspect Australia and the US is similar to Britain in that most cheese makers use vegetarian alternatives to rennet. But a good reminder to check if you’re cooking for a strict vegetarian.

14. Asparagus and beetroot go well together in a salad.
Two of my favourite veg, together at last! I can’t believe I haven’t ever thought of it. Ottolenghi uses roast beets and raw asparagus, I’ve taken it a step further and gone for raw shaved beets (see recipe below).

15. Middle eastern supermarkets stock frozen artichokes
A brilliant way to save heaps of time and effort with apparently, little loss of flavour.

16. Lovage is a herb that looks like parsley
and tastes like intense celery.

17. Edamame are young soy beans
And are high in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and more. Note to self to stock up on frozen edamame next time I’m near an Asian grocery store.

18. To convert a recipe from whole spices to pre-ground
Just halve the quantity stated for whole spices. A good rule of thumb since I got rid of my spice grinder and tend to just by small quantities of pre-ground spices.

my favourite things salad

a few of my favourite things salad
serves 2
takes 10 mins

I was going to call this a raw beet & asparagus salad with goats cheese. And while the descriptive name does sound appetizing, I just couldn’t resist getting a little more creative with the title.

I have Yotam Ottolenghi to thank for the idea of combining asparagus and beets in the one dish. Although it was my idea to get fresh with the miso & lemon dressing and to skip the beet roasting and go for raw beet slices instead.

Unfortunately I was a little short on goats cheese when it came to taking the photograph, the recipe reflects the quantity I would use if I had it in the house. For a dairy free or vegan salad, a little avocado would be a good cheese alternative or try some roast nuts. Pine nuts or almonds would be my first choice.

1 large beetroot
1 bunch asparagus
1 lemon
1 teaspoon white miso paste, optional
75g (3oz) goats cheese

1. Wash, trim and peel the beet. Then shave into super-fine rounds using a mandoline or a very sharp knife and a steady hand. Arrange beet slices on the base of a serving platter.

2. Snap the woody bases off the asparagus and discard. Halve the spears lengthwise if on the thicker side, otherwise leave them whole. Scatter asparagus over the beets.

3. Zest half the lemon and keep the zest.

4. Combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice with the miso, if using and 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Whisk and taste.

5. Drizzle dressing over the veggies. Crumble goats cheese on top and finish with the lemon zest.


video version of the recipe


more stonesoup?

For those of you who missed it last week, I’m experimenting with keeping a kitchen diary over at The Stonesoup Diaries.

Here’s a taste of the most recent diary entries:
§ 4 reasons to love my new favourite ingredient
§ 5 pantry items to guarantee you’ll always have something to eat
§ the art of asian salads
§ how to help japan with tales from high mountain

Be warned, there aren’t any pretty pictures or videos.

Just good old writing with tips and recipes.

Jules x

ps. I’ve popped a link to the diaries up the top of Stonesoup, on the right.
To subscribe by email go to:


  • Heh, I am actually really smitten with the Ottolenghi Cookbook, although the photography isn’t my favourite style. I ended up getting both and I kind of wish all the vegetable and meat recipes were in one book, with a smaller book dedicated to patisserie. I often forget which book a certain recipe is from, and it’s not easy to find sometimes.

    Love your simplified adaptation here, I too find myself poring over the book for an hour for something to make where I have all the ingredients on hand and it’s not often I can just whip something up. However the books are really great at inspiring and opening one’s culinary mind, as it were :)

    Thanks for the lessons too, definitely didn’t read about the prune thing anywhere! My secret ingredient tends to be roasted garlic.

  • Prunes – I add them to a lot of dishes (poached with carrots & sweet potatoes) added to braised beef, etc.

    American Cheese – from my experience, a lot of it is not vegeterian.

  • & By American, I was talking about all of the varieties made in America, not that yucky yellow stuff called “American Cheese.”

  • I love the book, ‘Plenty’. I know that you couldn’t exactly call Ottolenghi a minimalist, but I think that despite the fact that some of his recipes are lengthy when it comes to ingredients, his style of cooking is still quite a simple one – great ingredients, elevated with simple twists. I’ve made and been inspired by a good few of his recipes in the book. The latest thing I made was the caramelised garlic tart, which sounds as if it would be overwhelming in taste, but in reality, it is delicious – cloves of garlic cooked in a balsamic reduction until sweet and syrupy and intensely flavoured, while not being overpowering. His salads are great too, some quite basic ingredient-wise. The photography is also beautiful – half the battle!

  • Great advice! thanks for sharing them… Yes I agree about the prune, I once added deep red plums in the veggie broth… no one knew but the color and taste was so enhanced that they loved it.

  • Great post! However In my local Woolies about 90% of the cheeses do not use Vegetarian alternatives to Rennet.

  • Erin
    I know.. prunes… thanks for the BBC link… love the name :)

    Now I’m loving Plenty, I kinda wished I had kept my copy of the first book.. maybe I could have gotten past the photos… you’re right… there’s plenty of inspiration in both!

    You made me laugh about the ‘American cheese’… actually I think there’s a really wonderful cheesemaking culture in the US.. so bring on the American cheese

    thanks for the editing Jude… spelling isn’t my strong suit… so appreciate the help

    Thanks for the Aussie update… I hadn’t even thought to ask the question before

  • I’ve never been a huge fan of ottolenghi – his recipes always seem so fussy though alluring (even though I don’t cook in a minimalist way like you do) but this is a great list

    I agree with Cathy. I try to eat cheese without animal rennet but it is really hard in Australia. Having lived in the UK I wish we had a Vegetarian Society which was so active or powerful or both as in the UK – over there the labeling of vegetarian products is much clearer – living in Australia now I get narky about the amount of cheese with animal rennet and yoghurt with gelatin because in the UK these are mainly vegetarian whereas here it is the opposite!

  • We visited the Islington cafe in June this year. We really enjoyed our breakfast and the coffee was yummy. I loved the presentation around the front counter area. Must go dig up my pictures from there to post. A great review and I agree that I wouldn’t cook the more complicated recipes all the time.

  • oh yes, plenty is very, very beautiful, although i disagree with the publisher calling lovekin’s work in it “daring”. i think his photos here are charming because of his long-standing working relationship with slater. you know, slater likes a process sort of shot (if that makes sense). BUT, the photos on the first one were challenging, most def. daring. (i liked them just ‘cos they weren’t like anything else i’d seen.)

    hey jules, have you seen the clatter of forks and spoons by richard corrigan? gorgeous and very brave photos in that and lots of inspiring food…your lovely irishman would no doubt love it.

  • Lucy
    Thanks for making the connection of Jonathon Lovekin for both plenty and Nigel SLater’s books…it all makes sense
    And my Irishman actually gave me a copy of the Clatter of Forks and spoons for my birthday last year – so you’re right he adores it!

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the Australian rennet situation.. and I hadn’t even begun to think about gelatine in yoghurt – although I guess it’s easier to detect from the labelling :)

  • Hi Jules! Just thought I’d tell you that I love the way you write and explain things, especially when you make lists like this. I also like your videos. Being a rather reluctant veggie-eater when I was smaller, I’ve had a difficult time learning to like and eat veggies without being forced to. Now I like them quite well, but it’s lovely to read about interesting ways of preparing them and making the delicious. Gives me a lot of encouragement. So thank you!

  • Thanks for the tips! I have Plenty on my wishlist … but given how much I’ve just spent on books from Amazon (and I *still* have to get them back to Australia from the US … ) I’ll be waiting for awhile.

    At least your list – and your lovely blog, in general! – will tide me over till I earn more buy-heavy-books credits ;)

  • I love Plenty. Bought it in Hong Kong since it’s not available in Dubai. I’ve made several recipes from it and all are gorgeous. Love the photographs and love what he does with veg.

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