He’s the man that reinvented the salad, made giant, cloud-like meringues famous and did for middle-eastern cuisine what Antonio Carluccio did for Italian food many years before – made it both accessible and desirable. It’s Yotam Ottolenghi, one of the nicest men in the food industry and the pin-up boy for vegetarianism, despite not being one himself.
After the world-wide success of his latest book and TV series Jerusalem, Ottolenghi is back with a new show on More 4, taking us through the culinary highlights (and foodie pioneers he meets along the way) of four countries: Morocco, Istanbul, Tunisia and Israel.
Eager to recreate his unique cooking style at home? We asked Ottolenghi for his tips and tricks on adding middle-eastern flair and Mediterranean style to your cooking.
What are the stand-out dishes that you think symbolise each one of those countries you visited when filming the show?
For Israel, it was a salad made out of chopped tomatoes, pomegranate seeds and red onions. It’s got pomegranate molasses in the dressing, and it’s really beautiful. It’s very sharp and crunchy, one of the freshest things I’ve ever cooked.
For Morocco, it was some filo pastry cigars that were stuffed with walnuts and almonds, then fried and glazed with lemon icing and some saffron, so they just look stunning, great for a Christmas party.
Tunisia is all about spices and fish. It also has a lot of Italian influence. In the show I do a seafood pasta with tonnes of seafood, prawns and calamari and fish and I make a green harissa – which is green chillies, parsley, coriander and garlic and drizzle that on top.
In Turkey, I made a fantastic vegetable dish. I travelled far outside Istanbul and gathered tonnes of fresh vegetables straight from the ground, aubergines and courgettes and tomatoes, parsley and coriander, everything fresh from the soil. And all I did was lightly fry the vegetables and mix them with yoghurt so it was a luscious salad of mixed vegetables and yoghurt and herbs.
What larder staples do we need to have to create your kind of food?
Cumin – used in almost all North African cuisine. Especially in Morocco and Tunisia. In Morocco when you sit down for a meal, instead of salt and pepper you get salt and cumin.
Preserved lemons are key to Moroccan and Tunisian cooking, they put them in almost everything. Chilli paste, or harissa – in every one of the countries I’ve visited they always have a form of chilli paste. There are different varieties, all of them have chillies, but some are dry, some are fresh, some are dehydrated but still with that tasty texture. Some use green, some use red. Some with sweet spices like cumin and garlic. You would always find spice paste, so I think harissa which you can buy, is a really good staple.
Flaked chillies are really big in Turkey, they tend to finish dishes often by melting some butter and cooking flaked chilli in it. So the butter becomes hot and turns red from the chilli. They spoon it over soups and stews.
Lastly, scented water; orange water, rose water, that’s another key ingredient. Also make sure you have a constant supply of Walnuts, pistachios and almonds to finish off sweet and savoury dishes.
What’s your best insider food tip?
When you’re making cous cous, instead of letting it steam in a covered bowl or saucepan, put it in a warm oven and leave covered for the same amount of time as you would normally. This will create more steam and make it much lighter and fluffier.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feasts is on tonight and next Monday, 9pm, More4