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The No. 1 Way to Simplify Any Recipe

japanese broccoli-2

If you’ve been reading Stonesoup for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the power of simplicity in all areas of life. But especially in the kitchen.

And over Christmas I was reminded of just how complicated most published recipes are.

For our Christmas feast I decided to make a couple of salads from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s latest book, Plenty More.

I’m a huge fan of his books and if you’re looking for new ways to cook vegetables, I recommend having a look at Plenty More.

As with many chefs, the recipes I chose were super delicious. But when I was buying and preparing all the ingredients, I couldn’t help thinking that a bit of simplifying would make my life so much easier and I’m sure still totally tasty.

Anyway it got me thinking that while I did write recently about how simplifying my life has had such a positive impact, it’s been a while since we had a post focusing on simplicity in the kitchen. So at the risk of giving away all my secrets, here goes…

What is the easiest way to simplify recipes?

Easy. Remove any duplicate ingredients.

What do I mean by that?

I look at the ingredients which have similar form or function and then choose just one of each and replace the others with extra of my chosen ingredient.

It’s a bit tricky to explain in abstract terms so I have a real example of an Ottolenghi recipe I simplified for a lovely lunch over the holidays…

An example – Japanese Broccoli

Ottolenghi Ingredients List – 11 items
300g purple sprouting broccoli, broccolini or broccoli
120g French beans
180g mange tout (snow peas)
1 tablespoon ground nut oil
20g coriander (cilantro) leaves
2.5 tablespoons black and white sesame seeds, toasted
50g tahini
1 small clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Stonesoup Ingredients List – 5 items
2 bunches broccolini or 2 small heads broccoli
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

So what have I done?

1. The green veg are pretty much performing the same role, providing the bulk of the meal. So it’s easy to just increase the broccoli to replace the others.

2. The groundnut oil is tossed onto the cooked veg as an extra dressing. I just skipped this whole step. One dressing is enough for me.

3. The sesame seeds and coriander are acting as a garnish to make the dish look pretty and to add different flavours and textures. I chose to use just sesame seeds but could have easily gone the other way if I had coriander in the house.

4. Skipped the garlic in the dressing because I think there’s enough interesting flavours with the tahini, honey and vinegar.

From 11 ingredients down to 5. Easy.

(see below for the complete (simplified) recipe.)

Want to learn more?

If you’re interested in learning how to simplify not just recipes, but the whole of your life, then I recommend checking out A Simple Year.

It’s a 12 month program which focuses on simplifying different areas of your life each month. If you join us I’ll show you even more ways to simplify not only recipes but your kitchen and your approach to healthy eating.

You’ll need to be quick because registration for 2015 ENDS 10th Jan.

To make sure you don’t miss out, go to:


japanese broccoli-2

Super Yum Japanese Broccoli

The Ottolenghi version of this recipe is titled Broccoli with Sweet Tahini, but I think that name doesn’t do it justice. If you can get your hands on purple sprouting broccoli, by all means go for it!

enough for 2
2 bunches broccolini or 2 small heads broccoli, trimmed to bite sized pieces
3 tablespoons tahini 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar 
1-2 teaspoons honey
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1. Bring 2cm (1in) salted water to the boil in a medium pot. Add broccoli and cook with lid on for 4 minutes or until no longer really crunchy.

2. Combine tahini, vinegar, honey & 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl. season with salt.

3. When the broccoli is cooked, drain and allow to cool down in your strainer for a few minutes.

4. To serve divide broccoli between two plates and drizzle over dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).

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more veg – feel free to add in snow peas and green beans. Ottolenghi boils them separately but I’d add the beans at the same time as the broccoli and pop the snow peas in at the last minute. Frozen peas, spinach or sugar snap peas would also be lovely. I’m also thinking the sauce would be lovely with kale in the winter.

no tahini – use other nut butter such as almond, cashew or peanut butter. Or try sun butter (from sunflower seeds). Or grind your own nuts in a high powered blender. Commercial hummus could be substituted as the whole dressing.

sugar-free – just skip the honey and go for a more savoury sauce. I’ve recently got back into using a little honey after being pleasantly surprised when researching this article for The Yellow Bench.

carnivore – serve as a side to roast or grilled fish or chicken.

more substantial – serve with steamed white or brown rice or cooked quinoa.

different vinegar – sherry vinegar would be my next choice or white wine vinegar. Or use lemon juice.

herby – serve with coriander or mint leaves.

summery – Ottolenghi cools his veg and serves the salad cold, I prefer it at room temp but it’s up to you!

With love,
Jules x

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ps. Not sure if ‘A Simple Year’ would help you?

Here’s what Carole and Kathy said about their experience in 2014…

“Participating in A Simple Year 2014 has offered me the opportunity to focus on several areas of my life and reconsider, unclutter, and ponder changes that I would not have pursued without the program. The structure of the course allows you to dig in as little or as much in each area as you care to or can manage. For me it’s been life changing.”
– Carole

“Signing up for and participating in “A Simple Year” has been one of the best things I did in 2014. It has allowed me to make some significant changes in my life, each leading to other new changes and opportunities.Several months later, after doing much of the homework, my house was much less cluttered and so calming.”
– Kathy

Registration for 2015 is only open for a few more days.

Here’s the link again:

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Fiona 6 January, 2015, 7:40 pm

    Good advice I made the Shashuka tonight no Harissa just used chilli, no
    Labneh used Greek yogurt, still delicious :)

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 10:20 am

      Ooh I love Shashuka Fiona!
      Great work on your substitutes… You’re all over it! xx

  • Vanessa 7 January, 2015, 4:34 am

    This is such a fabulous, common sense idea. I got the first Plenty book on sale at Amazon, but have yet to cook from it. I have eyeballed Plenty More uh….plenty of times (sorry.) But I’ve yet to purchase it because the recipes are so complex and the ingredient lists so vast and sometimes obscure.

    I notice the ingredients are given in grams. Are there US versions available for the measurements, does anyone know? I don’t hate the metric system particularly, more of a general hatred of measuring ingredients.

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 10:19 am

      Hi Vanessa! If you already have Plenty there are some great recipes in there if you apply a bit of simplification. Im not sure if there is a US measurement version.. Amazon would probsbly have it if it exists :)

  • Susan 7 January, 2015, 5:53 am

    I really love the way you’ve simplified this recipe. The original recipe did nothing for me (that cookbook didn’t either, when I glanced through it recently), but yours sounds like a must make. Possibly one of the reasons I like the simplification is that I can read the recipe and know what it will taste like, which is difficult with the more complex one. Even though I make a lot of complicated recipes, I realized years ago that simpler would be better. So I’m looking forward to trying this. This way to simplify is a great lesson. Thank you.

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 10:15 am

      You’re welcome Susan!

  • Gillie 8 January, 2015, 6:33 am

    I am so looking forward to The Simple Year. I’ve long been a recipe adapter, usually because if you live in the back of beyond even menu planning and shopping often means you can’t get the ingredients on the list. Tonight there was a request for spiced parsnip soup. As I only had three parsnips it became spiced parsnip and carrot soup :)

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 10:14 am

      Great Gillie!
      Look forward to seeing you in A Simple Year :)
      And love the sound of your carrot and parsnip soup!

  • barry ozmo 8 January, 2015, 6:50 am

    to be fair one is about home cooking and a food presentation type recipe.judging a book by its cover.his philosophy looks to use different cooking methods to make the salad stand out as a standalone meal.i think both views work for different situations,like how hot is the surrounds,or a veggie dinner party.i for one would not have left out the tamari in the recipe but then i havn’t read the book either.nuffing wrong with simplifying.lebanese orange carrot salad is another example of less is more.

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 10:01 am

      I agree barry… Theres plenty of times a less simple approach works… I prefer that type whrn someone else is cooking (and cleaning up!)

  • Ann 9 January, 2015, 3:26 am

    I think another great reason to simplify ingredient lists is to avoid food sensitivities. I don’t think it’s good to eat the same foods every day and minimizing the ingredient list makes this a lot easier to do.

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 9:59 am

      Interesting perspective Ann… I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective… Variety is always a good idea!

  • Caroline 10 January, 2015, 4:12 am

    Jules, this lesson is amazing! Thank you so much for the real life example. This type of valuable info is one of the many reasons I’m such a huge fan of yours!!!

    • jules 13 January, 2015, 9:56 am

      So glad you found it helpful Caroline!
      Thanks for letting me know

  • Lisa 21 January, 2015, 2:02 am

    It’s great to affirm that recipes can be adjusted. The personal style of cooking is what makes a meal great, recipes are just a baseline to add your own spin. Great perspective!

    • jules 27 January, 2015, 9:12 am

      I agree Lisa!

  • Sofia 24 January, 2015, 12:53 pm

    everyday cooking is so boring sometimes…
    i always try to have short cuts to healthy food,
    wish my kids don’t get very choosy in their eating habits

    • jules 27 January, 2015, 9:04 am

      It doesnt have to be boring Sofia!

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