Have you seen any of Rotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks? He is an Israeli chef based in London who has written several books (also runs several restaurants and also a take-out deli in some of the swankiest parts of London) but my favorite are the two vegetarian cookbooks called Plenty and Plenty more. What I really love about his style of cooking is that he draws inspiration from Middle Eastern, Indian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Indonesia and East Asian cuisines (Korean, Japanese and Chinese) cuisines and then makes up recipes that are simple to follow and they are absolutely delicious. In the past few years, Ottolengthi, has become quite a celebrity in the food-world. I bought his book “Plenty” some years ago and when I read it, I realized that my own cooking style is very similar to his. I am Indian and so that comes into play in cooking style just because I must have inhaled the Indian spices when I was growing up in Delhi. Then I have traveled extensively in South East Asia (I’ve lived in the Philippines and Indonesia and traveled in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong-Kong, Singapore etc…) and so that influences my cooking as well. And most importantly I absolutely LOVE Mediterranean ingredients (especially those frequently used in Moroccan and Greek cuisine such as olive oil, olives, feta cheese, figs, nuts, fish and all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables) and so I tend to use them very often. The result is that the amalgam of all my influences is very similar to Ottolenghi’s style of cooking. I have been cooking like this for years and when I finally saw his books, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit (still, haven’t met him but you know what I mean). At Ottolenghi’s delis in Islington and Notting Hill, specialize in making hot and cold salads for eating at a communal table or for take-out. These dishes are made with the freshest of ingredients, some spices and with a view to highlighting the taste of the vegetables that are being used. If you look at his books, you’ll notice that the pictures are very vivid and they tend to highlight the colors and textures of each of the vegetables. Also the majority of these are nutritionally balanced – they almost always have a good balance between protein, carbs and fiber. This is surely my kind of food!
During the summer months, I search through local farmer’s markets and local food stalls to look for the freshest of vegetables because the fresher the vegetable the better it tastes. But in the winters (especially since these past two-three winters have been so harsh in the Washington DC area, finding fresh vegetables gets quite difficult. So in winter I often end up going through the aisles of Whole Foods, looking for organic fresh vegetables (often even this search turns out to produce mealy looking drab vegetables). Recently I found a great looking head of Romanesco cauliflower. It isn’t a vegetable that is commonly used in the US but I love its crunch and nutty flavor. The nuttiness gets enhanced if you roast this vegetable with a little bit of olive oil. Today I made a dish with Couscous, some roasted Romanesco cauliflower, a red bell pepper, an ear of corn and a little bit of crumbled feta on top. The colors from the pale green Romanesco, red from the bell pepper, yellow from the corn and the white from feta cheese made this dish very attractive to look at and added to it was the fact that it made for a great vegetarian balanced and healthy meal in one bowl.
1. 1/2 cup of fine couscous
2. 1 cup of vegetable or chicken broth
3. 1 small red bell pepper
4. 1 head of Romanesco Cauliflower
5. ¼ medium red onion
6. 1 ear of sweet corn
7. 2-3 cloves of garlic
8. 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
9. A pinch of salt
10. 2-3 ounces of fresh feta cheese (preferably Greek feta). For a vegan version, omit adding feta cheese at the end.
1. In a medium sized saucepan, pout the broth and ½ tablespoon of olive oil and bring the liquids to a boil.
2. When the liquid begins to boil, add a pinch of salt.
3. Also add the couscous and stir everything. Cover the pot with a tight lid and switch the heat off. This will cook the couscous to perfection.
4. While the couscous is getting done, preheat the oven to 350F.
5. Cut the Romanesco cauliflower into florets and spread them on a large cookie sheet.
6. Peel the cloves of garlic and place them on one side of the cookie sheet.
7. Pour one tablespoon of olive oil over the florets and the garlic cloves and spread it evenly.
8. Place the cookie sheet in the heated oven and roast the vegetable for 20 minutes (or till the florets get lightly browned.
9. While the Romanesco florets are roasting, peel and chop the onion in small pieces.
10. In a small saucepan, add a bit of olive oil, and heat on low heat.
11. Add the diced onion to the oil and cook on low to medium heat.
17. Using a knife, mash the garlic cloves and add that to the couscous. Stir everything gently.
18. Pour the couscous and vegetables into a serving dish and add a bit of crumbled feta on top. Serve while it is still hot or at room temperature.