Every trip I have taken back home to London over the last year, family and friends have incessantly raved about Ottolenghi. The restaurant is meant to be incredible, and the recipes, largely vegetarian, are said to be seamless and full-flavoured. I had to see what all the fuss was about.
Although a trip to the Islington-based restaurant was out of my budget, I have been able to get a taste of Yotam Ottolenghi’s culinary creations thanks to the Guardian newspaper’s feature on the chef’s recipes. The Israeli-born chef, who trained at Cordon Bleu, has made a name for himself in the UK. And what they all seem to rave about is, largely, the flavours of Israel. Seasonal vegetables, simply prepared, and showcasing the beauty and flavours of nature’s creations.
England was paying a high-price to eat the relatively cheap, ‘street’ food of Israel. Versions of this dish, along with many other vegetarian small plates, which are served in humus and shwarma (kebab) bars, are getting the royal treatment in England, featuring on the menu of London’s hip restaurant chain.
My mother sent me over several of Ottolenghi’s recipes, including the one in this post, Fried Cauliflower with Tahini. As Ottolenghi describes in the Guardian article, tahini is a sesame paste used in various dishes across the Middle East. In Israel, this creamy paste is drizzled over various vegetables, including cauliflower, roasted aubergine, falafel, and meats. It is also blended with humus, roasted aubergine pulp, red peppers or courgettes, as a dip to serve with hot pita bread. In its simplest form, whisk the tahini paste with water, olive oil, garlic, s&P and lemon juice to turn the paste into a creamy, Middle Eastern condiment.
This recipe was fabulous, largely because it centres on the seasonal ingredients currently found in the shuk. We ate this on a hot saturday afternoon with various other vegetable dishes, a loaf of bread and a cold bottle of chardonnay.
500ml sunflower oil
2 medium cauliflower heads, split into small florets, weighing 1kg in all
8 spring onions, each cut into three long segments
180g tahini paste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
15g chopped parsley
15g chopped mint, plus more to finish
150g Greek yoghurt (in place, I added 3 tbs of olive oil to lighten the tahini)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pomegranate molasses, plus more to finish
Malden sea salt and black pepper
Roughly 180ml water
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Lay in a few cauliflower florets at a time and cook for two to three minutes, turning so they colour evenly. Once golden-brown, transfer to a colander with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and leave to drain. Repeat with the rest of the cauliflower. Next, fry the spring onions, also in batches, for a minute. Add to the cauliflower and leave to cool down.
Pour the tahini paste into a large mixing bowl and add the garlic, herbs, yoghurt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and seasoning. Stir with a wooden spoon as you add the water. The tahini sauce will first thicken and then loosen up as you add water. Don’t add too much, just enough to get a thick yet smooth pourable consistency, a bit like honey.
Stir the cauliflower and onion into the tahini bowl, taste and adjust the seasoning. You may also want to add more lemon juice.
To serve, spoon into a serving bowl and finish with a few drops of pomegranate molasses and some mint.
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