Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Ottolenghi Detox



Lose half a stone. Don’t lose my iPhone. Take part in a sponsored ‘fun run’ (I’m trying to ignore the oxymoronic resonance of that phrase). Those are mine, and I imagine you might have some too: New Year’s resolutions. The most popular? Ah, of course - get healthy. You can almost taste it in the air at this time of year, the sense of deep, hungry despair as men and women go about their daily lives on a January detox, heavy-lidded with caffeine-withdrawal symptoms and lumbered with a telltale gym-induction limp.

Now in no way am I a pessimist, but I give mostly everyone – including myself – a month. It’s not that I question people’s resolve, but I do question the exclusion of fun from your life for an entire year. Nobody wants to end up sitting on the sofa alone at home, avoiding the pub, watching repeats of The Biggest Loser and nibbling on a corner of Vogue for some dietary fibre. So do feel smug for a few weeks, then please, retoxify as soon as possible - you’ve earned it.

However, there is one New Year’s resolution I intend to stick to: to cook my way through the latest Ottolenghi book, Plenty. Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi’s four delicatessen-cum-cafés, dotted around the yummy-mummy districts of London, are vegetarian meccas. Whether marinated in oils, deeply chargrilled, rubbed with herbs or sprinkled with spices, the Ottolenghi approach to vegetables is anything but boring. There is meat and fish on the menu too, but here, for once, roots, pulses, grains and leaves are the star attractions rather than the side dishes - and there isn't a quiche in sight.

Since receiving Plenty for Christmas, I’ve basically slept with its softly padded cover under my pillow every night, so seductive are its detoxifying dishes. The recipes are the perfect antidote to any junk-food cravings – they just exude health, but in an intensely delicious, mmm-my-God-ing manner. Last night I gave the celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint dish a go. Oh my. No, seriously. Mmm-my-God. The comforting nuttiness of celeriac paired with the earthy puy lentils, the soft crunch of roasted hazelnuts with the mint biting through in the background. It's heaven. I urge you to try it before all the resolutions go out the window and it’s back to Thai takeouts. Find the recipe below the here's-one-I-made-earlier photo...


Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint (taken from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 4 (or 2 depressed detoxers)

60g whole hazelnuts (skin on)
200g Puy lentils (I cheated and used Merchant Gourmet’s ready-made packets)
700ml water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 small celeriac (650g), peeled and cut into 1cm chips
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp hazelnut oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp chopped mint
Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/ gas mark 1. Scatter the hazelnuts over a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool down, then chop roughly.

Put the lentils, water, bay leaves and thyme sprigs in a small saucepan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are al dente, then drain into a sieve. Remove and discard the bay leaves and the woody sprigs.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring plenty of water to a boil, drop in the celeriac, along with some salt, and simmer for 8-12 minutes, or until just tender. Drain.
In a large bowl, mix the hot lentils (make sure they don't cool down - lentils soak up flavours much better when they're piping hot) with the olive oil, two tablespoons of the hazelnut oil, the vinegar, a few grinds of black pepper and plenty of salt. Add the celeriac, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
If you're serving this straight away, stir in half the mint and the hazelnuts, then pile in a big heap on to a suitable serving dish. Drizzle the remaining hazelnut oil over the top, then garnish with the rest of the mint and nuts.
If you're planning on serving it cold, wait for the lentil and celeriac mixture to cool down, taste again, then make a final adjustment to the seasoning. Add the rest of the hazelnut oil, the mint and the nuts just as you do when serving it hot. 

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