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18th October 2018

Yottam Ottolenghi and the power of the vegetable

Catrin Stewart discusses Yottam Ottolenghi’s influence on the rising numbers of people choosing plant based diets in the UK.
Yottam Ottolenghi and the power of the vegetable
Photo: Catrin Stewart

This week, the environmental benefits of plant based diets have been all over the news as the IPCC report on climate change was released. One of the key points taken from this was that choosing a Mediterranean or ‘flexitarian’ diet is one of the most valuable things an individual can do in order to benefit the environment, if they are not willing to be fully vegetarian or vegan.

Enter Yottam Ottolenghi: one of the most popular rising chefs in the past few years. Ottolenghi has played a vital role in this movement towards vegetarian diets because of his unbiased attitude towards food. An Israeli-British chef with an Italian father and a German mother, his food celebrates multiple cultures. This results in incredible fusion food and unique blends of flavours, but also a mixture of plant based and meat based dishes, with no favour toward either.

Ottolenghi’s vegetarian dishes celebrate vegetables, pulses and grains in their own right, without displaying them as a ‘meat substitute’ or a side dish. When flicking through one of his successful recipe books such as ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Plenty’ or most recently ‘Simple’; you will find yourself salivating over roasts on one page, and butternut squash salad on the next.

He is responsible for so many recent food trends. The introduction of sumac to our spice cupboards, scattered pomegranate seeds on everything, and the popularity of what Ottolenghi likes to call ‘the mighty aubergine’ to name a few. However, I see his influence on vegetarianism as the most important change he has made to British diets. Commissioned to write The Guardian’s food column ‘The New Vegetarian’, Ottolenghi managed to avoid isolating readers by often commenting that some recipes would serve well as a side dish to certain meats, whilst also celebrating vegetables in a way that never made the dishes seem second best.

This attitude is what will bring more people to the way of flexitarian or vegetarian diets. Pressure and ‘all or nothing’ thinking only serves to discourage those who enjoy meat, whilst seeing both diets as equal in flavour and nourishment will help in reducing our meat intake, and in turn, benefit climate change.

I encourage you to try some of his recipes (especially the vegetarian ones) and see how full and wholly enjoyable they can be. With Ottolenghi, you always discover new techniques, ingredients, and flavours, with incredible meals as the outcome. His restaurants and delicatessens are based solely in London, but if you’re in the capital they are definitely worth seeking out.

And lastly, learn more about the joy in cooking with Ottolenghi’s new podcast ‘Simple Pleasures’. It sees Ottolenghi interview guests such as Michael Palin or Nadiya Hussain about their relationship to food over a delicious meal made from recipes from his new cookbook.

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