London resident Yotam Ottolenghi, best-selling cookbook author and chef, has just released “Simple: A Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, $35). The book concentrates on simpler, quicker recipes that showcase his creative, flavor-packed take on modern Middle Eastern cooking. His streamlined approach to Middle Eastern spices and other ingredients is highly appealing. He eschews hours in the kitchen and instead offers up an amazing array of delectable dishes that include vegetables, meat, fish and poultry.
As a Seriously Simple cook, I was particularly thrilled to read Ottolenghi’s philosophy on simple cooking. He categorizes dishes into “Short on Time,” “10 Ingredients or Less,” “Make Ahead,” “Pantry Items,” “Lazy” and “Easier than You Think” bullet points for each recipe. This is such a helpful tip for the reader. Recipes are divided by courses (brunch, dessert) and ingredients (raw veg, cooked veg, etc.). In addition you’ll find a chapter on Meal Suggestions and Feasts.
It was honestly tough to select one dish to share with you from this colorful volume of simple recipes. This rice dish was calling my name. I like Ottolenghi’s technique for cooking rice. He explains, “Cooking rice perfectly is one of those things that shouldn’t be complicated but can be surprisingly difficult, for some, to get right. Baking it in the oven, on the other hand, as I do here, is a completely foolproof method (and one that worked, incidentally, when feeding 700 people during two sittings at Wilderness Festival in 2017!). This is such a great side to all sorts of dishes, such as roasted root vegetables or slow-cooked lamb or pork.”
Baked Mint Rice with Pomegranate and Olive Salsa
For the rice:
- 2 cups basmati rice
- Black pepper
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 1/3 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 ounces mint sprigs
- 5 1/4 ounces feta, crumbled into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
For the salsa:
- 1/3 cup pitted green olives, thinly sliced
- Seeds from 1 small pomegranate (2/3 cup)
- 1/2 cup walnut halves, lightly roasted and roughly broken
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 cup mint leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 475 F, or as high as your oven will go.
2. Place the rice in a high-sided ovenproof dish, measuring 8 by 12 inches. Season with 3/4 teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, then pour in the butter and boiling water. Top with the sprigs of mint, and cover the dish tightly with foil so that the rice is well sealed. Bake for 25 minutes, until the rice is light and fluffy and all the liquid has been absorbed.
3.Meanwhile, make the salsa: place the olives, pomegranate, walnuts, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, garlic, mint and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well, and set aside.
4. Take the rice out of the oven, and remove and discard the foil. Pull the leaves off the mint sprigs – the stalks can be discarded – then place them back on the rice and sprinkle with the feta. Just before serving, spoon the salsa evenly over the rice. Serve hot.
Note: To get ahead, the salsa can be made a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.