Lentils With Broiled Eggplant

Cookbook Review & Recipe from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Let me cut to the chase of this book review. Are you looking for vegetarian meals, or just more vegetables? Want to bring more whole grains and legumes into your meals? Want to get inspired by bright, interesting food that doesn't break the bank or stretch your time too badly? This book, folks, is the nearly magic answer to all of those kitchen yearnings. Just trust me, and go buy it.

Here's a little more about this startlingly good cookbook, and a recipe I can't wait to make.

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Yotam Ottolenghi owns a group of delis and restaurants in London, England, and his establishments have gained a reputation for fresh, creative vegetarian food. Ottolenghi is not actually a vegetarian, so his column at The Guardian, "The New Vegetarian", raised some eyebrows. But he has won people over with his fresh, Israeli and Middle Eastern-inspired style of vegetarian salads, frittatas, and rice dishes. (We've mentioned one of his recipes before, these Ricotta Pancakes with Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes, and Emily also included this book in her roundup of recent books from the UK.)

Plenty, which was published last year in the UK and was just released here by Chronicle Books, takes his signature style and many of his columns from The Guardian and assembles them into a loose collection organized by vegetable or main ingredient. So, for instance, there is a chapter called "Funny Onions," which includes Stuffed onions and Garlic soup and harissa. There are recipes in the "Green Things" chapter that include asparagus, caramelized fennel, and wakame. There isn't a limp salad in the bunch, though; every recipe has a punch of something interesting, unexpected, and intensely flavorful. (Cucumber salad with smashed garlic and ginger? Yes please!)

The book is absolutely packed with full-page photos that aren't coy about showing the dishes in all their colorful, vegetal glory. They show the recipes head-on; the eggplant dish pictured on the cover is a good example of the style of the photos.

But the real selling point, for me, is that I simply want to cook and eat everything in this book. I receive a lot of books every year and review a fraction of them. While the books I review always have some useful aspect or niche they address (I wouldn't review otherwise) none have induced the absolute visceral response I had to this book. The colors, the grains, the flavors — I'm salivating right now, looking at a photo of Fried lima beans with feta, sorrel and sumac.

Ottolenghi does a particular good job using citrus to punch up vegetables, and dairy to make them feel a bit more luxurious. I think the recipe below is a good example of his style, and it's a fabulous weeknight dinner. This recipe appears in the chapter "The Mighty Eggplant," which also includes such gems as Eggplant with buttermilk sauce, and Soba noodles with eggplant and mango. All recipes I really must try, and soon.

Buy the book: Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi , $23.10 at Amazon. Published in the United States by Chronicle Books.

Have you peeked at this book yet? What did you think? Did it satisfy your vegetable cravings?

Lentils with broiled eggplant

A most delicious main course for any occasion, formal or casual. After the recipe appeared in the Guardian I received two anxious letters from readers who had experienced mini-explosions in their kitchen. Apparently – and I didn’t know it then – in some cases eggplants under the broiler can explode with a thunderous boom, the flesh spouting everywhere, rather than deflate gradually as the skin burns and breaks. I sincerely apologize to all who had this experience. So please make sure to pierce the eggplants!

Serves 4

2 medium eggplants
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy or Castelluccio), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 tbsp crème fraîche (or natural yogurt, if you prefer)

To cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop, which is the most effective way, start by lining the area around the burners with foil to protect them. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. For an electric stove, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife in a few places. Put them on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used an oven broiler, change the oven to its normal setting. Heat the oven to 275°F. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and only then season with plenty of salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar.

While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stalk into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay leaf, thyme and onion, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for up to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away the froth from the surface from time to time. Drain in a sieve. Remove and discard the carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and onion and transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside somewhere warm.

Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 3/8-inch dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, the sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender but still firm.

Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt. Finish with a trickle of oil.

(Images and recipe courtesy of Chronicle Books. Images by Jonathan Lovekin.)

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