Thursday, 21 June 2012

Cooking from Ottolenghi's Plenty

Although I eat in a meat-free manner, I'm not a proper vegetarian as I'm rather keen on fishfingers (as well as fish and chips). But I still often eat completely vegetarian meals, so am always keen on finding new things to put in them. I'd heard quite a bit about Yotam Ottolenghi, and in fact cooked his black pepper tofu recipe last year. So I was quite excited when some lovely friends bought me his vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, and I've recently tried out a few recipes from it.

Firstly, some sweet potato cakes. The recipe, which initially appeared in Yotam's Guardian column, can be found here and rather unusually I don't think I changed anything about it at all. The recipe is pretty straightforward, as it's basically just mashed potato with some added seasonings, but I did like the idea of steaming the potato (presumably to avoid it getting water-logged through boiling). The cooked cakes were very flavourful, with an excellent combination of sweetness from the potato, and chilli and spring onion savoury-ness. I definitely had to cook these longer than the recommended six minutes though, and they were also a lot less robust than they looked, which made flipping them over a bit tricky. But the end product was worth the careful prodding, and they went very well with the garlicky yoghurt sauce that's suggested accompany them.

Next up were mushrooms stuffed with Taleggio cheese. This recipe is essentially the same as this one which appeared in the Guardian, but Plenty swaps the fennel for a small onion and a stick of celery and also adds a little taragon to the stuffing too. The mix also contains some sun-dried tomatoes, which I've generally found to be little chewy bullets of bitterness, but either they've really improved in quality or else cooking them for a while really does transform them. I made a minor adjustment, which was using the smaller portobellini mushrooms rather than portobello ones, as I prefer these. Again, this is quite a simple and straightforward recipe but used ingredients that I wouldn't think to put together. And for me Taleggio cheese was a new discovery too, as I've somehow never tried it before.

So overall I thought Plenty was an excellent book. I'd not read Ottolenghi's Guardian column, so these recipes were all pretty new to me. I liked the organisation into chapters on different vegetables, and though many of the recipes aren't the quickest to prepare they all seemed quite original and interesting. I have a list of additional dishes from the book that I'd like to make and, unusually for me, I might well stick to the recipe.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dishoom, London, UK

One of the slightly annoying things about not being based in London is that I hear of lots of great sounding places opening there, but it takes me an age to get round to going to them. To be fair I'm only a 45-ish minute train ride away from Zone 1, but the idea of travelling down just to get some lunch seems a little over the top even for me. So when a good friend suggested a catch up in the big smoke, I immediately thought of where we could go to eat (as well as being delighted I'd be seeing her soon obviously).

I heard a lot about Dishoom and their 'Bombay cafe' concept, when it first opened. The idea immediately appealed, I added it to my list of places to go, and a mere twenty-two months later I've finally made it! I've only been to Bombay once but the interior of Dishoom did seem quite evocative of some of the small restaurants we went to (mainly because of the ceiling fans and loose cabling). The menu is mainly made up of lots of smaller savoury dishes, which I quite like as it makes it easier to taste a range of things, as well as lots of types of chai and lassi.

I ordered a tikka paneer, which came nicely charred (rather than burnt) and skate cheeks koliwada. I hadn't even realised that skate had cheeks, let alone that they were edible, so I was quite keen to try these. What arrived was a generous portion of fishy nuggets in a properly spicy coating, and an accompanying tamarind dip. I really liked the heat and spices in this dish, which didn't overwhelm the fish at all. And it worked really well with the coriander chutney that was provided too. To balance out the protein, I also had a fresh and zingy 'slaw and a roomali roti which was soft and pliant, just as I had hoped it would be.

To finish things off, we ordered a couple of malai kulfis, (which came on sticks). The kulfi was rich and creamy, with a hint of cardamon, and the perfect size for fulfilling a pudding craving. All of this along with some soft drinks, a lassi, and a paneer roll for my friend only came to around £40 (including service). I think this would be excellent value anywhere, but especially so in central London.

So overall, Dishoom really lived up to expectations for me and I would be very happy to go back again. It offers a few interesting and different dishes, the chance to eat Indian food in a slightly more casual setting, a nice atmosphere, and some of the nicest kulfi I've had for ages. My only minor gripe was that a combination of Indian-style piped music and a packed room, meant that it was quite loud and a bit difficult to hear what the staff, and indeed my friend, were saying. However, I guess it did contribute to an authentic Bombay atmosphere, and as I have started complaining about pensions and the weather, it may also indicate that I am getting a bit old.

12 Upper St Martin's Lane
London WC2H 9FB