Ottolenghi | Around the World with Cookbooks

Happy Monday! It’s a beautiful, sunny, 50 degree day here in Chicago. While I love winter and the cooler months, there’s something about these first few warm days between winter and spring that make me happy. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin is almost therapeutic. Kind of like your body is soaking in vital nutrients it’s been missing for so long. As we’re about to turn the corner into March, I can’t help but think of how quick the month has flown by. Didn’t January feel like it lasted for a year and February was a mere minute? If it weren’t for all the snow we had, I’d almost feel like we completely missed out on winter! While today and tomorrow are going to be warmed up, nights and days on average are still pretty cold which makes this final cookbook feature in our Around the World series perfect.

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Ottolenghi was lent to me by a friend specifically for this series. I have more than a dozen cookbooks but the only cuisines I was able to pull out of them were Thai, Italian and French. I couldn’t believe that I had all these cookbooks and only three cultures to show for it. If you saw how many French and Italian cookbooks I had, you’d understand though. It appears I have a life mission to master French cooking through as many cookbooks as possible. So to add one more culture to the cookbook part of the series, a friend lent me Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi featuring recipes inspired by the Mediterranean.

Both Ottolenghi and Tamimi were born and raised in Jerusalem which is where their culinary roots are heavily based. They’ve since transformed their traditional dishes to include influence from California, Italy, North Africa and other destinations but at the heart, the recipes are true to their origins. Like any new culture or language, decoding the recipes to imagine what they would turn out to be was a bit difficult at first but a challenge I accepted with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Ottlenghi uses a lot of ingredients that are hard to find or expensive in my Midwestern suburban town so narrowing down which recipes I was going to feature turned out to be pretty easy. The end result ended up being a flavorful chicken dinner with a rice pilaf type side. It was a meal that everyone enjoyed (surprisingly considering the new spices I introduced my picky eaters too).

Kosheri is a lentil and rice dish traditionally from Egypt served both hot or cold. It’s not difficult to prepare but there are several parts and steps that need attention at the same time. It takes more concentration than anything. Since it can be served both hot or cold, you don’t have to feel bad about serving it room temperature! It takes a bit of the pressure off. There are a lot of variations to this recipe both in its home country of Egypt but also as a similar dish in other cultures such as Indian and even English. This particular recipe uses a spicy tomato sauce that adds another layer of depth to an already well-rounded dish.

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Kosheri is a mixture of lentils, basmati rice, and vermicelli noodles all cooked separate before brought together for the end product. The rice is seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon giving it a warm flavor that contrasts beautifully with the tangy and spicy tomato sauce. I prepared the Kosheri in about 40 minutes or so. It was enough time to clean up after the chicken dish and get the kosheri prepared before the chicken finished cooking. Because of the combination of spices, I won a few over with dish and lost a few. Turns out tang and warm spices are not an ideal combination for some people.

Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon
For the main course to serve along the Kosheri, I chose an easy roasted chicken recipe. It calls for one whole chicken cut up. To save money but also because I didn’t want to butcher my own chicken and the store was out of whole cut up options, I used only chicken quarters. Everyone prefers dark meat anyway, right? This recipe is a basic roast chicken recipe with an intense marinade and lots of spices. I love it because it’s hands off too. The chicken marinades all day or at least for a few hours in a plastic bag with a myriad of spices, lemon and a few other ingredients. Once it’s time to roast, dump the bag onto a baking sheet or into a roasting pan and pop it in the oven. While the chicken roasts, prep the Kosheri and if you’d like, a side salad for a touch of freshness. The chicken becomes super tender and flavorful thanks to the long marinade and it pairs perfect with the Kosheri.

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I’m sad to see this series come to and end but we’ve got a ton of great stuff coming to you in March! If you missed any other posts in the Around the World series, check them out. If you’re interested in a specific culture or cuisine, besides Jerusalem we covered FranceGreeceItalyMexicoNorth AfricaPoland and Thailand. Happy eating!