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How to Navigate Ottolenghi's Suite of Books

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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!

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11 Recipes from the Genius Yotam Ottolenghi
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11 Recipes from the Genius Yotam Ottolenghi

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?

Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty More

Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty More

From $35
NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully, Signed Copy

NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully, S...

$40

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.

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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.

  1. Ottolenghi
  2. Jerusalem
  3. Plenty
  4. Plenty More
  5. NOPI

Make it all the way to the end of the article and you'll get a little reward: news on Ottolenghi books to come!

Ottolenghi (2008)

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.

For the cook who...

  • Owns none of the books and wants to delight in the entire series—start here, before you know too much
  • Wants to play and experiment, to add on to, to jump off—there are ways to substitute and riff and break the dishes into its constituent parts, but the headnotes don't necessarily elaborate
  • Likes a book with a huge range of dish types (here, you'll get a recipe for Caramel and Macadamia Cheesecake, Roast Pork Belly Plus Two Relishes, Tamara's Stuffed Grape Leaves, and Chocolate Cupcakes, of all things!)

What you can expect to find:

  • Ingredient lists that are generally less daunting in size
  • ...yet not without components that are hard-to-track down, like samphire and Camargue red rice (we're told that these are worth seeking out and not given substitutes)
  • A lot of grilling (good for summer, a good reason for buying a grill pan otherwise)

Some recipes to begin with:

  • Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange
  • Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon
  • Chickpeas and Spinach with Honey Sweet Potato
 Portobello Mushrooms with Pearled Barley and Preserved Lemon

Portobello Mushrooms with Pearled Barley and Preserved L... by Yotam Ottolenghi

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing by Yotam Ottolenghi

Sweet Potato Galettes

Sweet Potato Galettes by Yotam Ottolenghi

Seafood, Fennel, and Lime Salad

Seafood, Fennel, and Lime Salad by Yotam Ottolenghi

Jerusalem (2012)

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.

For the cook who...

  • Likes reading through cookbooks as much as cooking through them: You'll get a brief history lesson in the beginning and mini-briefings (of what it means to keep kosher, of the political discussions surrounding hummus) throughout; the headnotes, also, are often divided in two, the first chunk explaining the meaning of the recipe in the city and/or the authors' lives, the second giving more information on the ingredients and techniques
  • Wants a mix of old classics (hummus, falafel, mejadra) and new interpretations (Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile, for example, is a play on Palestinian shishbarak and Turkish and Armenian manti)
  • Always keeps dried chickpeas soaking
  • Isn't afraid of mixing the sweet with the savory with the sour with the spicy (see: Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice)

What you can expect to find:

  • Ingredient lists and methods that are longer and more involved than those in Ottolenghi
  • Photographs that are not just of finished dishes (culture! context!)
  • Za'atar, pita, olives, preserved lemon, ras el hanout, lots of lamb
  • Stories from the authors in headnotes that are more than explanations of how the dish tastes

Start by making:

  • Sabih (Ottolenghi calls this combination of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, and chopped salad a "mumbo-jumbo" that's "one of the most exciting street foods you can come across")
  • Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt
  • Panfried Sea Bass with Harissa and Rose
  • Chocolate Krantz Cakes
Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus

Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus by Kristen Miglore

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Tomato-y, Yogurt-y Shakshuka

Tomato-y, Yogurt-y Shakshuka by Nicholas Day

Plenty (2011)

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.

For the cook who...

  • Is not lactose-intolerant (and who needs to use up a ton of yogurt, sour cream, and eggs)
  • Loves sauces and dressings ("I have a terrible habit of adding yogurt or sour cream to almost anything that's been cooking for a long time, has got a lot of heat, is slightly greasy or just seems a bit heavy to me," he says.) Hidden in so many of these recipes are creamy, herby mixes that will brighten up other, non-Ottolenghi recipes you're making.
  • Doesn't mind a trip or two to the specialty grocery store (for verjus and kirmizi biber)
  • Wants to start with a star vegetable and pick a recipe from there

What to expect:

  • Like Ottolenghi recipes across the board, many of these involve a fair amount of prep time, but there seems to be a fairer balance between the simpler (Baked Eggs with Yogurt and Chile) and more intensive (Black Pepper Tofu) methods here than in Plenty More
  • Lots of herbs, spice, oil, cheese

Try these first:

  • Green Pancakes with Lime Butter
  • Lentils with Broiled Eggplant
  • Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger
Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile
Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices, Lime, and Green Chile

Plenty More (2014)

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).

For the cook who...

  • Spent so much time with Plenty that you feel numb to its vibrancy; Plenty More cranks it up: You will feel again! (The price? The recipes are, on a whole, more ingredient-heavy and time-intensive than those in Plenty)
  • Will excavate tips and tricks hidden in the instructions (like how to smoke beets without a smoker) and experiment with them
  • Can't get enough miso, sesame, and soy sauce, and isn't offended when they're used in unorthodox ways

What you can expect to find:

  • A global influence: dishes from Sri Lanka, from Malaysia, from Iran, from The NoMad restaurant in New York
  • A whole chapter called "Cracked" on egg dishes
  • Curry leaves left and right (and Ottolenghi's implorations that you buy them fresh)

The first dishes to make:

  • Urad Dal with Coconut and Cilantro
  • Sprouting Broccoli and Edamame Salad with Curry Leaves and Coconut
  • Crushed Carrots with Harissa and Pistachios
  • Halvah Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce and Roasted Peanuts
Yotam Ottolenghi's Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa

Yotam Ottolenghi's Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnu... by Marian Bull

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Sweet Potatoes with Orange Bitters

Sweet Potatoes with Orange Bitters by Yotam Ottolenghi

NOPI (2015)

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.

For the cook who:

  • Used to work in a restaurant
  • Reads through the entire recipe, multiple times and many hours before getting started
  • Knows how to take the more approachable components of elaborate dishes and pair them with something simpler than the intended
  • Didn't find Plenty More or Jerusalem overwhelming: Ottolenghi himself cautions that “most of the recipes here will [...] be more challenging for home cooks”

What to expect:

  • Plated meals rather than family-style presentations
  • South and Southeast Asian ingredients that were visible in the previous books—dried shrimp, kecap manis, lime leaves, galangal, pandan leaves—are central here
  • A compromise between simplicity (if not in technique, than in flavors) of Ottolenghi and the heftier, more involved creations of his co-author and co-chef, Ramael Scully—even the recipes that seem simple might surprise you with the length of the methods and the number of pots you have to use
  • Truffle oil, lobster, baby chickens, and other pricy ingredients
  • Brunch recipes! (Not necessarily so much less complicated, however)

What to attempt first:

  • Chile Jam
  • Roasted Carrots with Coriander Seeds and Garlic
  • Farro Pudding with Caramelized Orange, Tahini, and Pistachios
Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully's Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Halibut

Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully's Pistachio and Pine N... by The Curious Pear

In the Kitchen with Ottolenghi and NOPI Head Chef Ramael Scully

In the Kitchen with Ottolenghi and NOPI Head Chef Ramael ... by The Curious Pear

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And, Ottolenghi's yet-to-be-released book...

Sweet

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!