I’m no stranger to the food of Yotam Ottolenghi – I have all his previous books. My boys’ cooking club cooked beautiful turkey and zucchini burgers from Jerusalem and sweet potato galettes from Ottolenghi The Cookbook. My Cookbook Book Club enjoyed a whole Ottolenghi-themed meal a couple of years ago and I was lucky enough to eat at NOPI in London, in the summer of 2013.
So I was thrilled when I received an invitation to hear authors Yotam Ottolenghi and NOPI head chef Ramael Scully speak in Toronto late last year along with a review copy of the NOPI cookbook. The book is a collection of recipes from the restaurant – beautiful, bright and bold food that is most definitely what I would call “restaurant food” recipes. Ottolenghi prefaces the book by saying that “most of the recipes […] will be challenging to home cooks.” This is not meant to put you off in any way, it’s more of a nod to the fact that his previous books were “conceived in and for home kitchens” making the recipes much more approachable and “do-able” for home cooks. In NOPI, Ottolenghi and Scully have attempted is to “modify and simolify NOPI’s recipes without losing their essential core” […] allowing a nonprofessional to feel that this is an undertaking that is do-able at home, delicious and gratifying.”
Unlike Ottolenghi’s previous books and thanks to Scully’s influence, NOPI is Middle Eastern meets Southeast Asian food making for surprising flavour combinations and stunningly pretty food. You’ll notice curry leaves, yuzu, dried shrimp, lime leaves, pandan leaves, galangal and many more Asian flavours than you will be used to if you are familiar with Ottolenghi’s previous books.
If the sounds of some of these ingredients intimidates you, there’s a helpful section, Cooking NOPI at Home which is a must-read before you embark on any of the recipes. You are cautioned to read the whole recipe before you start – wise words which apply to ANY recipe, no matter how complex or simple but especially so with NOPI where many of the recipes are completed in stages, some of which take some time. To plan a meal, it’s always wise to work backwards in terms of timing, with these recipes even more so. Many of the dishes include components which either need to be or can be made in advance and simply assembled at meal-time. I appreciated that the book includes alternative routes for different cooks – “cheffy options” as well as simpler alternatives for those who want an impressive result but who can’t spend as much time. “Please don’t hesitate to choose our shortcuts, ready made alternatives and quick substitutes,” urges Ottolenghi. Finally, this section offers the very key advice to Do Your Mise en Place. This is something that I cannot stress enough – especially for less-experienced cooks tackling more complex recipes – and something they talked a lot about when they were in Toronto last year. When I am cooking with my own Petits Chefs, it’s one of the key things I try to teach them – organisation (or equipment and recipes) and when we are cooking together, I often will not start assembling anything unless all the mise en place is complete and everyone’s work stations are clean (I’m mean like that!). It’s definitely something to aspire to (it doesn’t always happen in my own kitchen, let alone with the boys!) and with more complex recipes it’s really the only way to go. As Ottolenghi points out (and I am sure we have all been there, right?) “You really don’t want to be left trying to finely chop 2 green chiles when they are meant to be thrown into a pan 2 minutes after the dices onion has gone in.” There are also some recommendations for some equipment you might like to invest in to make your life easier when cooking the NOPI food – a mandoline, a spice grinder, a blender and an ice cream machine, amongst others. There are obviously alternatives to these but they will definitely make preparing some of the recipes so much easier.
The book is divided into courses – Starters, Salads, Sides, Fish, Meat, Vegetables, Brunch, Desserts, Cocktails and Condiments. There’s a helpful Meal Suggestions section with ideas for recipes that work together to make a complete meal (as well as a list of dishes that can be served alone to make a full meal) and a complete list of the Ingredients A to Z which appear in the book “to help you navigate through the seas of unusual flavours [they] love to cook with.” If you’re wondering if this book is for you, I would definitely start in these sections so you can work out if these are flavours you’d like to cook with or dishes you’d like to eat.
If you’re like me, you will get caught up in the Ingredients section for a good long while reading about the flavours of NOPI and then you’ll head straight for the recipe headnotes before you look at the ingredient list. I love to know the back story of the recipes (the headnotes also include information about how far in advance you need to start – useful if it’s “the day before”). If I am not fussed about *what* I make, I’ve found it’s helpful to use the index to search for dishes via ingredients (especially when I am trying to find uses for some of the ingredients I am less familiar with that arrive in my organic box delivery each week) and go from there. To be honest, I have so many recipes marked in the “sides” and “salads” sections that I am not sure I’ll ever get to the meat and fish! The pictures that accompany many of the dishes are such a treat and make you want to cook every recipe – they do say we eat with our eyes and the two vegetable dishes featured in this post I chose based solely on what they looked like in the book (and, fortunately, I happened to have the ingredients on hand!).
On the whole, I am thoroughly enjoying my meander through Middle Eastern-Southeast Asian cooking with NOPI but it’s definitely not a book to reach for when you arrive home at 7pm and need dinner on the table in 30 minutes. NOPI is a book to savour and enjoy, a book to plan from in advance and a book to cook from when you have the time to enjoy meal preparation.
I think Ottolenghi’s earlier books might be better choices for more beginner cooks to cook from but those who are very familiar with his food and the way he cooks will find this a joy to work with. In this book, you’ll find inspiration. Be warned – you’ll need a lot of Post-it notes to mark those things you want to make!
Canadian readers – win a copy of NOPI. Details here.
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Disclosure: I attended Up Close and Personal with Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully as a guest of George Brown College and received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This article has not been reviewed prior to publication and I have not received compensation for writing about the book or the event.