When I last blogged about Ottolenghi’s gorgeous ode to vegetables, Plenty, I shared his recipe for Asparagus Vichyssoise and the revelation it is. It completely transformed my opinions about asparagus and cold soups. Now I want to make everything into a Vichyssoise, just to see if I can.
I acquired the cookbook Plenty to get some new, original ideas for a more vegetable-based diet, and to become more familiar with the flavor profiles of the Middle East. I am not a vegetarian, and until bacon is outlawed across the land, I never will be, but I have been wanting less meat and more vegetables on my plate for a while now. Sadly, I was starting to bore myself with my limited vegetable repertoire of steaming, sauteing, stirfrying and salading.
I never expected to have my mind blown. Above is Beet, Yogurt, and Preserved Lemon Relish. It is exquisite. My photo really doesn’t do it justice, and well, you can’t taste it from my photo, but you wish you could, you really, really do.
Beets are another vegetable that I had made limited use of, primarily in Beef Borscht, where once it’s all said and done, you can’t really tell they’re even in there, except for the vivid shade of maroon they lend to the soup. Eating them as the main star of a dish was a challenging idea for me. But I came home from the CSA with such a beautiful bunch of beets, I went flipping through Plenty, asking myself, “WWOD?” (What Would Ottolenghi Do? I think I need this on a t-shirt.). There is no photo for this recipe in the book, so I was left to imagine how it would look, as well as try to work out its flavors in my head, having no idea how coriander seeds or preserved lemon tasted. I also had no idea how they would elevate the fairly common combination of beets, dill, onion, tomato and yogurt into a complex, sweet, pungent, floral, completely fulfilling mouthful.
The preserved lemons were tough to find; I had never cooked with them before, and I ended up finding them at an Asian market that is not exclusively Asian. I am going to make my own for next time, as the Internet says it’s easy to do, and they keep for months. Other than that, all the ingredients were easy to come by, and best of all, mostly in season in New England right now. If you can’t find plum tomatoes in a can, it would work just as well with fresh, peeled plum tomatoes. You might want to increase the cooking time a bit, because you want the tomatoes pretty soft, like they came, well, out of the can.
Here’s a link to the recipe, as it was published in The Guardian in Ottolenghi’s column. I have decided not to put it here on the blog. While I was searching to see whether it was online anywhere, I discovered it was indeed; on an anonymous website without crediting the chef. I tweeted him to bring it to his attention; I don’t want to complicate matters by putting it here on my blog too. The measurements are metric, of course, but I’m pretty sure you can work that out. You’re all clever that way.
My brain is overflowing with ways I want to try preserved lemon in other dishes. It is a salty, sour, lemony, ingredient that is unlike anything I have ever tasted, and adds so much more than simply adding salt and lemon juice. The coriander seeds have an entirely different flavor than their leafy parts, aka cilantro; they are far more floral with a bit of bitterness. Ground coriander would not work here; rather than infuse the entire dish with coriander, you need that occasional burst of coriander’s notes to appreciate it here.
I brought Plenty into my kitchen to explore new horizons with my vegetables. I’m doing that and more. This is a road untraveled, but I’ve got an excellent map. I’m going on vegetable walkabout. I think I’m gonna like it out here.