The London restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi is at least partially responsible for why vegetables are getting more attention than ever before (at restaurants, and in cookbooks, and maybe in your home), why you own a bottle of pomegranate molasses, and why you go through the trouble of soaking chickpeas for hummus.
You'll find many of his recipes circulating the internet—on Orangette, on Bon Appétit, and right here on Food52—but hundreds more lay in waiting in his five (yes, five!) books. They're there for you to discover!
But with an actual handful of books to choose from, how can you decide which book to buy—or just, to open—first? And do you need the whole set or will one suffice?
When we asked the man himself how he chooses, he told us that:
It depends on the occasion and the time of year. "Jerusalem" is full of a lot of hearty and slow-cooked dishes, which I love to kick off autumn with. "Plenty" has lots of ideas for dishes which are great for quicker summer meals. The binding on my first book, "Ottolenghi," is pretty broken around the poultry and large cakes chapters and "Plenty More" has a number of go-to recipes for mid-week meals: the pot barley and lentils with mushrooms and sweet spices, for example, or the miso vegetables and rice with black sesame dressing.
We decided to take his answer one step further. Here's a breakdown of each of the books: what they're about, who they're for, and what to cook first:
Click the links below to jump to a particular book, or read through the whooooole thing for a more comprehensive comparison.
Make it all the way to the end of the article and you'll get a little reward: news on Ottolenghi books to come!
Flipping through Ottolenghi is like rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone after you've finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: You can delight in the fact that the book once delighted you while understanding its nascency in the context of what's to come. You can't unlearn what you've learned, after all.
Ottolenghi is a "nonrepresentative collection of old favorites, current hits, and a few specials" at the eponymous London restaurant: "So many customers asked for it that we simply had to do it," Ottolenghi writes in the updated introduction, republished in 2013.
And so the selection (as well as the focus of the photographs) feels a little random; it's the beginning of the story of a chef and a restaurant bringing livelier, louder, funner (yes, funner) food to the scene, evident in the flavor combinations that'll repeat themselves in later books (as in the Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Eggplant and Pomegranate Molasses). There's plenty of garlic, lemon, and olive oil; you'll still have to stock up on bunches herbs at the market.
In the book's introduction, Ottolenghi calls the book, co-written with Sami Tamimi, "a self-indulgent, nostalgic trip into our pasts." Though the book covers the undeniable food tropes of the city—chopped salads of cucumber and tomatoes, baked pastries stuffed with cheese, burnt eggplant salads, meats with dried fruits—it's not meant to be encyclopedic or historic (it would be impossible to assign ownership, Ottolenghi explains, to these dishes). Instead, it's geared as much towards personal exploration and the comfort foods of childhood as it is towards a particular place in the world.
More than any of the other Ottolenghi books, this one tells a story—both of a place and of how that placed shaped the authors. It's the most consistent book thematically, and you'll come away feeling like you've learned something about more than cooking.
If the vegetable chapters from Ottolenghi were both expanded and refined, you'd get Plenty, the freshest, brightest parts of the earlier book sharpened into focus. Techniques that were unclear in Ottolenghi (like exactly how to get the seeds out of a pesky pomegranate) are here again, but with more explanation. The best parts of Ottolenghi—unexpected flavor combinations, vegetables given more attention, more oil, more time than we'd seen before—is now at the forefront. And the international influence and mish-mash—pear crostini from Tuscany, green "gazpacho" from the Balkans, tagliatelle with Moroccan-style butter—is even more apparent.
It's as if the authors (and editors) saw the success of Plenty and decided to dial up the saturation. And it works! Every single time I flip through Plenty More, I bookmark a new recipe to add to my list. Yes, the photographs are stunning, but even the combinations of words in the recipe titles make me think: Parmesan rice, saffron crumbs, pickled walnut salsa, zucchini "baba ghanoush."
There's a whole gang of new ingredients to play with, some of which are exciting (umeboshi purée, pomelo, nigella seeds, black sesame), others which may be just as exciting though frustrating to find ("Creton dakos, pandan leaf, black glutinous rice)—and the techniques are expanded on, with photo series that show you exactly how to steam rice on a sheet pan (!) and caramelize oranges on the stove (for salad, of course).
Where the recipes in Ottolenghi might require a bit of imagination in how to make additions and substitutions and pairings, NOPI needs that same power but to the opposite effect: to tone the recipes down, to pick out what's doable for (and inspiring to) you as a home cook and apply them to weeknight cooking. It's a restaurant cookbook, meant for people who can find small ideas (like the savory application of lavender) and run with them, or who have the skill and patience to carry out a lengthy, complex recipe.
And, Ottolenghi's yet-to-be-released book...
The name of this baking and dessert-focused, to be published here October 2017, is still tentative. And after that, there'll be another book in the fall of 2019.
Want to see a breakdown of books from any other author? Ina Garten? Martha Stewart? Deborah Madison? Tell us in the comments!