Tuesday, November 22, 2011


If there's one chef in England whose name keeps springing up on food blogs, it's Yoram Ottolenghi. A Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem to a German mother and an Italian father, his food bears a decidedly middle Eastern influence, and a broader Mediterranean one as well.  He moved to London in 1997, ostensibly to study for a doctorate degree, but got sidelined along the way to study at Le Cordon Bleu instead.  A business partnership with Sami Tamini, a Palestinian also raised in Jerusalem,  led to the opening of four shops in London, one of which I had to check out on my recent visit. My friend Mariana and I went to the Islington location, the only one of the Ottolenghi shops that has an area where diners can actually be seated.

Still, we decided to choose take-out from the bountiful offerings available and transport our booty home to eat in the comfort of Mariana and Carlo's living room  -- much easier than keeping four little ones happy in hard plastic chairs in a cramped seating area.

We got something to please all appetites - the children's less adventuresome palates were happy with the tender beef filet and potatoes, while the adults marveled at the range of flavors in the vegetarian dishes - winter slaw, eggplants with turmeric yogurt, cauliflower and lentil salads, and a melange of snow peas, asparagus and water cress -- oh and foccaccia too, plus a delicious selection of desserts I forgot to photograph in the frenzy of eating.

Having flipped through his two cookbooks, Ottolenghi and Plenty, and now eaten his food, it's apparent that Ottolenghi loves to give herbs and spices a starring role, including ones that may be unfamiliar to most Americans, like zatar and sumac. Back at home, I knew I had to try to cook some of the bold and flavorful dishes I had eaten. Italian food is my first love, but I do step out to other cuisines too. I chose to recreate a hybrid version between the eggplant dish I had eaten from the restaurant, and an eggplant recipe in one of his cookbooks. Although I tucked a small jar of that sumac in my suitcase, you won't need any esoteric spices for this recipe, but what you'll still achieve is a new and fresh flavor sensation that's a far cry (at least for me) from the food I've been eating all my life.

Ottolenghi-inspired Eggplant 

2 medium to large eggplants
olive oil to brush on the eggplant
1 small container (6 oz) Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
salt, pepper to taste
toasted pine nuts
pomegranate seeds
cilantro leaves

I peel eggplant "stripes" leaving on some of the skin. Cut into 1/4 inch slices and grill, brushing each slice of eggplant with some olive oil. If you don't have a grill, place the eggplant slices on a cookie sheet that's been greased with olive oil. Brush the top side of the eggplant slices with oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven until cooked through and golden, flipping once.

Let the eggplant slices cool, and arrange on a platter. To make the sauce, grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle - or if you have a small electric coffee grinder, use that. Mix all ingredients together except the last three. Spread the sauce over the eggplant, then sprinkle on pine nuts that you've toasted a little to give some color, and some pomegranate seeds. Top with some cilantro leaves. Serve at room temperature.
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  1. This eggplant dish looks incredible - I love new ways to prepare eggplant!

  2. A beautiful dish! Ottolenghi is really inspiring.



  3. I love his book PLENTY, it's amazing, how great you got to dine there. The eggplant is gorgeous!
    Happy Thanksgiving Linda!
    PS I didn't know he served meat dishes too!

  4. che ricetta originale Linda, mi piace ed รจ molto bella da portare a tavola durante le prossime feste, grazie! un abbraccio

  5. Dear Linda: Please stop by posting engaging recipes from delicious cookbooks. I am trying to not bring anymore cookbooks into the house.
    P.S. I will be making this. The spices are wiggling on the shelves as I read this.

  6. I have both books and adore them....
    wonderful post Linda!

  7. This looks so pretty at first glance I thought it was a desert! I love Middle Eastern flavors and spices and I know I'd love this wonderful eggplant!

    Have a happy Thanksgiving with your family {{ Hugs}}

  8. His dishes are inspired and he inspires us to create amazing vegetarian dishes just like this one.

  9. I love this kind of food and your take out feast looks wonderful! I started using zatar a few years back after finding a recipe in a NIgella book. I just might need Ottolenghi's book!

  10. What a treasure this place must have been. It all look wonderful. I am also very much taken with your eggplant. That demands to be tried. I hope you have a wonderful holiday. Blessings...Mary

  11. Ciao Linda,

    Thanks for the view into the world of Ottolenghi. Just as you wrote, his name pops up a lot lately, and I knew nothing about him. Thank you for the enlightenment! It sounds like a veritable feast. And I am DYING to know more about sumac. Let's hear about how you use it... I await a post. And I hope you and yours had a lovely Thanksgiving; I extend my warmest wishes for a joyous holiday season to all.

  12. What an interesting back story to this place Linda. I will have to see if I can learn more about Ottolenghi. The food looks delicious!

  13. This gorgeous Ottolenghi-inspired dish looks delicious, not to mention, perfect for the season!

  14. His food always sounds wonderful to me, so interesting that you sought him out and shared-Thank you!