The Ottolenghi Influence

by Catherine Lawson

When it comes to trend-setting in the food industry, Yotam Ottolenghi, who recently celebrated twenty years in the business, is undoubtedly one of the biggest influences we’ve seen in recent years. His Middle Eastern and Mediterranean style cooking has brought exotic new ingredients to kitchens everywhere, shifting dishes which were once shrouded in mystery out of the shadows and firmly into the mainstream food scene. As a renowned chef and food writer with eight cookbooks under his belt, one of the things which stands out in his approach to food is the way he can take the simplest of vegetables and make them shine. For those on vegetarian and plant-based diets Ottolenghi’s recipes are so refreshing in their creativity and focus on flavour that they will make your heart sing.

So how does he influence us in our own kitchens? If you’ve found yourself using pomegranate, the chances are you’ve fallen under the Ottolenghi spell whether you know it or not – he’s a huge fan of these gorgeous ruby jewels and he uses them frequently and fulsomely. If you’ve been using pomegranate molasses then you’re definitely in the Ottolenghi gang; every true disciple should have a bottle of this sweet heaven in their cupboard for salads, dressings and marinades. It’s a Middle Eastern must.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of herbs and spices to explore when you enter the world of Ottolenghi. Dukkah, a nut and spice blend which carries the flavours of fennel, sumac, coriander and cumin is one such spice blend which you may have seen in a certain café near you. It can be used to finish many different dishes and is particularly good with hummus, roasted vegetables, smashed avo on toast, eggs of any kind and creamy soft cheeses. Another of his favourites is za’atar which typically combines the earthiness of herbs like thyme, oregano and marjoram with sumac, sesame seeds and cumin creating a fresh flavour bomb for rubbing on roasts of any kind, sprinkling on lightly oiled flatbreads, tossing through garlic mushrooms or finishing off dips.

Black garlic (rich and sweet with hints of balsamic), preserved lemons and rose harissa are just a few of the other ingredients he’s brought our way. With the unique flavour profiles each brings, it’s no wonder that sales of these products have rocketed in recent years as we strive to mirror the magic of the Middle East at our own tables. If you haven’t tried them yet you’re in for a culinary adventure. Swap out plain garlic for the soft black cloves in dishes like ratatouille and you’ll be in sweet garlic heaven. Add some very finely chopped preserved lemon rind to a tagine and you’ll never use anything else again. Brush a little rose harissa paste over some asparagus before you roast it… Delightful. These ingredients are trend-setters for a reason.

It’s not just on the savoury side that Ottolenghi shines either. If you follow him on social media you’ve no doubt swooned over the bright and colourful pictures of his deli shop windows laden with cakes and pastries which are the stuff of dreams. Imagine cake counters packed with lemon and bay leaf bundts, spiced date cakes with orange scented cream cheese, large pistachio and rosewater semolina cakes, chocolate and sour cherry financiers, baked ricotta and hazelnut cheesecakes and meringues the size of fists. We’ll stop there. You get the picture. Fortunately, his cookbooks are full of baking recipes too, so you can delve right in to a whole new world of flavours and textures on the cake front. There really is no end to the joy of Ottolenghi.

Whether you’re a professional or a novice in the kitchen Ottolenghi can change the way you relate to food in the most enchanting and delicious ways. Pick up one of his books, even if only for the sheer joy of the vibrant food photos, and you’ll soon fall under his spell.

Catherine Lawson is the founder and operator of Barefaced Food, an award winning plant-based bakery and coffee house based in Ayr. Catherine’s lifelong passion for food and nutrition inspired her to make the shift from a teaching career to entrepreneurship in 2020. Her aim is to create food which showcases the joys and benefits of plant-based eating.