‘Ottolenghi SIMPLE’ seemed like a bit of a contradiction in terms until Yotam hit upon a winning formula. ‘How to keep the number of ingredients in a dish down’, went the culinary conundrum, ‘whilst still ensuring that it was distinctly “Ottolenghi-ish”’? ‘How to create recipes which are big and bold and bright at the same time as keeping the amount of time spent in the kitchen really in check?’.
The answer, for SIMPLE, was in these 10 little flavour bombs. If the time spent in the kitchen needed to come down and the number of ingredients used in a recipe needed to be limited, then the amount of flavour expected from each individual ingredient needed to be dialled right up.
Limits on time and ingredients is one thing but no such limit should be put on the amount of sheer flavour which can be injected into a dish with one single clove of (black) garlic, for example, tablespoon of sweet-sour pomegranate molasses or sprinkle of astringent, tangy sumac. Time and again, in recipe after recipe, these little ‘flavour bombs’ are used to great effect in SIMPLE: tahini enrichening all that it touches, Rose harissa giving a gentle kick to all its added to, dried barberries bring a pop of sweet-sour surprise.
Enter, stage right, our 10 ‘Ottolenghi SIMPLE ingredients: the flavour-bombs which do so much of the work behind the scenes to make what is happening in the kitchen seem, well, so very simple!
1. Pomegranate Molasses
Pomegranate molasses bring a sweet-sharp, fruity depth to everything they are added to. They are the secret something to many-a meatball, sticky glaze and rich stew.
Tahini The church of tahini is something which Yotam is always trying to recruit new members to. Once you’re a signed-up member, there is no looking back. This is the secret to many a dressing and sauce, whether it’s being paired with vegetables, salad, meat or fish. It’s a nutty, creamy, vegan way to enrich your cooking. It’s also uncommonly good poured over vanilla ice cream. We are evangelical about the Al Arz brand (or any other Middle Eastern brand) with apologies to our Greek and Cypriot friends.
3. Black Garlic
Black garlic is the black magic of the SIMPLE pantry. It tastes something like a liquorice allsort if it were to meet a wine gum and get a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Black garlic is what the word umami has been waiting to describe. Mellow, sweet and rich: these cloves can either be finely chopped and stirred through a risotto, for example, or else blitzed up with yoghurt which then gets spooned over roasted vegetables. These are a little revelation to those who have not yet discovered them.
4. Rose Harissa
Rose harissa is a very clever way of taking 40-or-so herbs and spices and jarring them up, along with chopped chillies, into one neat jar. The rose petals soften the kick somewhat and allow for this spice paste to be added to so many things: a teaspoon in some scrambled tofu, for example, or in an omelette with manchego.
5. Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemon Another real little flavour bomb. Yotam often says that he wants his food to ‘surprise and delight’ as well as to comfort. Finely chopping the skin of a preserved lemon is a shorthand way to bring about the surprise party of all parties. It can be added to all sorts of leafy salads, dressings and sauces.
Za’atar ‘If in doubt, add za’atar’ might read the Ottolenghi company tea-shirt, if we had one. Few eggs escape without a sprinkle, roast chicken never feels quite complete without a dash, roast vegetables, fish, spreads and dips: they all thirst for a little bit of this first-in-line Ottolenghi ingredient made from dried and ground za’atar leaves, sesame seeds,sumac and salt.
Sumac Another little flavour-bomb here, in powder form, with the added bonus that it makes everything it is sprinkled on look so pretty. This deep red ground spice, made from the dried and crushed berries of the sumac shrub, has an astringent, citrusy flavour and can be sprinkled over all sorts of dishes. As with za’atar, eggs love it, roast chicken adores to be paired with it (particularly in the form of onions which have been caramelised and then mixed though with it) and lentils feel just that little bit less worthy when paired with this lip-smacking spice.
8. Ground Cardamom
Ground cardamom One option is to spend an age cracking open whole cardamom pods and finely grinding the little black seeds inside until fine. The other is to start with ground cardamom, as we do in SIMPLE, which gives you everything you want in terms of distinct flavour with none of the elbow grease required. Clever shopping is not the same as outright cheating, right?
9. Urfa Chilli Flakes
Urfa chilli flakes Just because it is chilli, doesn’t mean it is hot. Urfa chilli flakes are more smoky and chocolate-like than they are spicy which means that they can be sprinkled liberally over all sorts of things. Avocados love them, eggs love them, your regular cheese sandwich loves them, Ottoleghi SIMPLE loves them.
10. Dried Barberries
Dried barberries These taste a bit like raisins which have been soaked in lemon juice: they have the sweetness, yes, but it’s balanced out with a welcome tartness. They are great in rice-base salads, fritters and frittatas. They also look like little jewels, to boot.
Stock up your shelves with these 10 ingredients and you’ll too feel like a magician of sorts. And the biggest secret of all: just how simple it all really is.