I first heard of Yotam Ottolenghi when I bought Jerusalem: A Cookbook, which he co-authored with Sami Tamimi, the head chef of Ottolenghi’s eponymous restaurant in London. I purchased the cookbook as a gift for my father, who is a bit of a foodie. I decided to make the lemony leek meatballs from that cookbook one day, and they were delicious. When I saw Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, I knew I had to try it. This cookbook explores vegetarian dishes that have their roots in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food traditions. Ottolenghi grew up in Jerusalem, and his experiences there, especially in food and cooking, have had a large impact on his style of cooking. As he explains in the introduction to Ottolenghi, he was “exposed to the multitude of vegetables, pulses and grains that are celebrated in the region’s different cuisines” (7). The process of cooking and prepping three dishes form this cookbook not only resulted in a delicious meal, but also raised questions of identity, convenience, and responsibility, as related to Warren Belasco’s food triangle.
Of all of the recipes in Plenty, I decided on the leek fritters and Itmar’s bulgur pilaf. From their ingredient lists, these seemed to be foods that I would enjoy eating and, from the directions, seemed to be ones that could make with the cooking skills that I have. Some dishes, such as the lemon and goat cheese ravioli, seemed too labor-intensive and time-consuming, though they looked delicious. Other recipes seemed too far outside of my current level of cooking, such as the goat cheese soufflés with vanilla-poached pears, even though, again, the recipe and accompanying picture made my mouth water. I also considered money in choosing my meal, and the recipes I picked had ingredients that I thought would be easy to find at prices I was comfortable paying.
I followed Ottolenghi’s advice in the description at the top of Itmar’s bulgur pilaf: “You can serve it with Leek Fritters and their sauce to create a light meal from heaven” (Ottolenghi 242). Ottolenghi describes the pilaf as “full of little surprises” and “comforting” (242), and its ingredient list promised the same: onions, red bell peppers, peppercorns, coriander, and cumin, to name a few. The leek fritters are inspired by a dish Ottolenghi’s aunt made that he remembers fondly from his childhood. He also writes that, “You don’t have to make the sauce” (Ottolenghi 36, italics in original), though the formatting suggests that he recommends doing so.
By shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market, I was able to buy good quality, fresh produce, which kept in line with Ottolenghi’s priorities in vegetarian cooking; he writes in the introduction of his memories of being able to get “real fruit and veg” that “look real, taste real and are grown by real people” (Ottolenghi 8). I easily found the leeks, shallots, cilantro, parsley, onion, and red bell pepper that I needed, but surprisingly I could...