Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Plenty

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
Chronicle Books, 2011 (originally published 2010); 288 pages

I always feel a bit weird writing cookbook reviews when I haven't made any of the recipes. Considering how messy a cook I am, I don't like to cook from borrowed cookbooks.

The number one thing I noticed about Plenty is the sense of joy that pervades the entire book. Every couple of pages, I kept turning back to the picture of some sort of uncooked greens on the title page, because the picture was so beautiful and just made me so happy (I'm a sucker for photographs of green plants... don't ask). There's just such a sense that food is meant to be enjoyed with all the senses, that beautiful, good-tasting foods provide a sustenance beyond mere nourishment, that makes this such a brilliant cookbook.

As I took notes for this review, I think I used up my entire quota of exclamation points for the next three months. A brief sample looks something like this:

Garlic and goat cheese tart!
Harissa! Not since that little Middle Eastern restaurant in Paris!
And a whole section on mushrooms!

I also like that the recipes don't look overly difficult, although some reviewers said they did look difficult, so I guess everyone should judge for themselves. Personally, I emulate Julia Child, who said "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude." I'm really quite fearless in the kitchen, which is funny, because I'm not at all a risk-taker in any other aspect of life. But when it comes to food and cooking, I'll try anything once.

In one of the recipes in the book, I saw a vinaigrette that called for capers and maple syrup. I have no idea what that vinaigrette tastes like, but I love capers and I love maple syrup, and I really want to try that recipe. Ottolenghi does a lot of "odd" combinations in the book; pairing foods and spices from different cultures that seem strange, but grow on one. He even makes eggplant, zucchini, and sweet potatoes look appetizing (and I don't really care for the last two, and I HATE eggplant with an unspeakable passion). There's this recipe where an eggplant is broiled, and in the picture it looks more like fresh beef liver than anything else, and that intrigues me, because (like I said) I hate eggplant, but I love beef liver, and I love working with raw liver (I don't eat it raw--too bloody--but I like cutting it up because it's so smooth and shiny and smells funny... and is rambling on about raw meat weird? Because I like raw meat. I promise I'm not a psychopath and I'm not going to move on from cutting up chickens to cutting up people...

Okay, so that got a bit off topic. Anyhow, Plenty went on my Wishlist, because it is just that good, and I'm picky about cookbooks, so that's saying something. I guess I should also note that it's a vegetarian cookbook. I'm not vegetarian, and neither is Ottolenghi, but I really think if I were vegetarian I would have gone online and ordered the cookbook the minute I got done reading it. It's seriously that good, and books are one of the few things I don't impulse buy (which is weird, but good for my budget).

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