The food at NOPI restaurant is a heady mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours with additional influences from around the world – just the kind of cooking my friend and fellow blogger Lisa aka Cookwitch adores, so I asked her to review this new cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi and NOPI’s head chef Ramael Scully on my behalf. I am sure you will enjoy her guest post below; to learn more about Lisa read my recent Meet The Blogger interview with her, here.
Most people have heard of Yotam Ottolenghi, the gently spoken Israeli of the big brown eyes and welcoming smile, wandering around the world in search of beautiful food. Many may not have heard of Scully.
No, this is not a foray into X-Files alien food, this is a wonderful partnership – sometimes more of a tug o’ war – between the more familiar Mediterranean influences of Yotam and the still slightly mysterious Eastern zing of Scully, a chef raised between Australia and Malaysia.
“The Mediterranean influence is still strong in our cooking but we are as likely, these days, to be reaching for the mirin and miso as we are towards the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and date syrup. The cupboard is wide, the menu ever-changing and the experiments ever-underway. We continue on with both a boundless enthusiasm and an unswerving dedication to detail. The result is some very merry-making food.”
Merry-making food? Bring it on, I say.
The book is an utter joy right from the start. The voice of it is extremely loving, and slightly teasing, telling of the differences in approach between Scully and Yotam, plus properly highlighting the brilliance and dedication of the rest of the staff. To paraphrase;
Scully: How about we put a chilli/salt/pickle garnish there?
Yotam: Do we even need a garnish?
It is a restaurant cookbook, yes, with the most popular dishes from NOPI, but everything in it seems achievable. If extra time is needed, it tells you. If an ingredient is hard to source, it tells you what you can use instead.
It also doesn’t talk down to, or over you, or assumes that you already know everything. For me, it gave me that bit more confidence in making some of the recipes.
Every photo almost glows on the page. There are simple dishes, with just a few ingredients, and there are long and involved ones, but you never get the sense that the author is telling you not to attempt them because you’re not a chef.
There are some I wouldn’t do unless I had a week off, and some I could probably do in an evening, if I was organised (or motivated) enough, but in the main I would put them down as being Weekend with Nothing To Do cooking. (Other people count a weekend spent cooking as relaxation too, don’t they? Not just me? Anyone?)
Having spent a week buried in the book, I finally decided on the courgette fritter recipe.
I’ve been on a real vegetable kick lately, and though the Mixed Cauliflowers with Golden Raisins, Ricotta and Capers called to me, I had overdosed on cauliflower the week before, so I felt a nice, green change was needed. Plus it has cheese in it, so that was a done deal.
I admit that I am NOT a recipe book cook. I am a recipe book reader. I honestly find cooking from someone else’s recipes quite tiring, as I think I get nervous that I’m going to do it wrong, or miss a step. If I try a recipe that I know I will want to make again, I write it down in a small notebook, and list the steps in the order that I would cook them. Once I’ve done that, it makes it easier. I know, I’m weird.
I really did want to give this a try though, so I persevered. Even though I read the recipe countless times, I still managed to forget things when I went shopping. I also changed some ingredients. One out of necessity and another because I loathe the original.
Courgette and Feta Fritters
Adapted by Lisa from Nopi: The Cookbook
For the fritters
3 courgettes, coarsely grated, then popped in a colander with 1 tsp salt to drain
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60 g self raising flour (might use chickpea flour next time, lower the carb count and make it GF friendly)
2.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground cumin (original was ground cardamom, but I really dislike it, and 1.5 tsp is a LOT)
2 small shallots very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated (I used a garlic press)
Finely grated zest of two limes
150g feta, crumbled into 1cm bits (original recipe calls for manouri cheese which is hard to find unless you have a Greek grocer near you)
For the sauce
200ml sour cream
5g chopped coriander (I had none, so I used chopped celery leaves that I had in the freezer)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (nope, not me!)
grated zest and juice of 1 lime. (I totally forgot the juice)
- When the courgettes have sat for 10 minutes, squeeze all of the water out and put into a large bowl.
- Add in the spices, flour, shallots and zest, then mix in the egg.
- Gently mix in the crumbled feta so that it doesn’t disperse too much.
- (The book says to put oil in a frying pan to a depth of 2-3mm but with a good non-stick pan, you probably won’t need that much.)
- When the oil is hot, drop in dessertspoonfuls of the mixture, 4 at a time spaced well apart. Flatten them a bit with the spoon.
- (I formed mine into loose and slightly lumpy quenelles, to see if I could, but that is really not necessary.)
- Cook for 6 minutes, until they are browned and crispy on one side, then turn them over and cook the other side.
- For the sauce, mix together all the ingredients.
- Drain the fritters on paper towels, and serve hot with the dip, though they are equally good when lukewarm. I would reheat them in the oven, they should crisp up again.
The second recipe of the day was the result of misreading another recipe further into the book. There’s a recipe in the book for lamb rump with vanilla braised chicory. I parsed it as vanilla braised lamb. When I realised I thought, well, why not? So this happened.
“Ooh, lamb with vanilla. No, wait, that’s lamb with CHICORY braised with vanilla.
Although…[goes to shops] What would you braise it in? I’ve got red wine, but would rosé be better? Marsala perhaps? Nobody’s got that. No, I’ll have to stick with red. Maybe the butcher has venison! That would work.
[goes to butcher] No, the lamb leg looks nicer. Still not sure about this cooking liquid though.
Hang on…[mentally catalogues shelves] Tea. I have vanilla tea. And cinnamon sticks. Ok…this might work. ”
What was actually said out loud:
Vanilla & Red Wine Lamb
Inspired by Nopi: The Cookbook’s Lamb Rump with Vanilla Braised Chicory
1/2 small leg of lamb, bone in, FAT ON, in a covered casserole dish
2 small bottles red wine (18.7cl)
2 small bottle’s worth of water
1/2 cup Vanilla Ceylon Tea
5 dried rosehips
1 shallot, cut in half (not peeled)
1 small stick cinnamon, snapped in half
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways
2 tbs honey
1 tbs date/carob/fig molasses – or blackstrap molasses
- Put all the above in a pan, bring to the boil, then lower the heat right down and simmer for an hour.
- Take off the heat, leave to cool, then pour it all over the lamb. Place the vanilla pod on top of the lamb joint.
- Cover, place in a hot oven (200C) for 1/2 an hour, then turn the heat down to 150C and let it cook for a good 3 hours. Test it for tenderness at the 3-4 hour mark, and if it’s tender (it fell off the bone for me) then keep the meat warm and reduce the sauce down in a pan on the stove top until it is thick and jammy.
- Serve it with roasted squash or mashed parsnips, or perhaps a puree of white beans because that sauce, oh that sauce, needs a transportation vehicle. Or maybe just a loaf of good bread…
I am still reading through the book.
Venison fillet with Date Labneh, Blackberries and Peanut Crumble anyone?
NOPI: The Cookbook is published by Ebury Press, who provided a review copy to Kavey Eats. Currently available from Amazon for just £12.99 (RRP £28).