Chef Yotam Ottolenghi, renowned for his Middle Eastern food, experiments with new dishes for his restaurants in his test kitchen under a railway arch in north London. Noor Murad has been working closely with Yotam there since 2018, after a few years working at Ottolenghi Spitalfields.
The pair have collaborated on a new book, Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love, featuring tried-and-tested recipes with room to modify them depending on what you have close to hand. We speak to them about the idea behind the book, the development process and how best to reduce waste in the kitchen.
How did you both start working together?
Noor: I started working at Ottolenghi Spitalfields when I moved to London from Bahrain five years ago. The first time I’d met Yotam he’d come to the deli for a tasting, and he greeted me with the warmest of smiles. We then started working together closely when I started at the test kitchen in 2018!
What sparked the idea for Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love?
Yotam: Shelf Love was initially born as a result of lockdown. The test kitchen team had dispersed to different parts of the world, and we started sharing recipes via Instagram that were both flexible and didn’t involve many hard to find ingredients. The response was overwhelmingly positive and also changed the way we cooked and presented our recipes. We found that accessible recipes are our most popular and that you really can create magic from humble ingredients. And so, Shelf Love was born, where we aim to help people navigate their way around their kitchens, showing everyone a kitchen trick or two along the way.
What did the recipe development process involve? Were there any challenges to overcome?
Yotam: As always, our recipe development process at the test kitchen is quite rigorous. We’ll test a recipe several times before sending it to our colleague Claudine in Wales, who tests it once again in her home kitchen. Our main challenge was breaking down the more involved recipes, such as the za’atar parathas, which require minimal ingredients but quite a bit of technique. We’ve found that pictures often say a lot more than words, so we made certain to make these recipes more picture heavy, which in turn makes the book a lot more animated!
Shelf Love is rooted in using whatever ingredients you have to hand. What research was involved to make the recipes adaptable?
Yotam: Often at the test kitchen, we’ll run out of an ingredient or will need to swap something with something else. It’s because of this that we’ve learned over the years how and when to substitute ingredients in a recipe where it won’t have a great effect on the overall desired outcome.
Did you discover anything surprising as you researched and developed this new book?
Yotam: One of the more positive outcomes of 2020 was the influx of people cooking and eating at home! This meant people being more open to trying out new flavour combinations or food projects (hello, sourdough!). Mostly though, we found that comforting recipes that are somewhat familiar are the ones people truly want to make which is why we included recipes in the book such as the “Magical chicken soup”, “Curried cauliflower cheese pie” and the ultimate guide to creamy dreamy hummus.
Do you think Middle Eastern cooking particularly lends itself to working with a limited list of ingredients?
Yotam: That’s hard to say as it really depends on the recipe. Toum (an Arabic garlic dip) for example, is the punchiest of condiments and only involves three ingredients. To have that with some grilled chicken and bread is a Middle Eastern feast that doesn’t really ask for much. Then there’s things like the celebration rice with lamb and chicken and that does involve a lot more work and ingredients. Middle Eastern food, much like many cuisines of the world, can be as simple or as complicated as you make it, depending on the recipe you tackle.
How do you ensure ingredients are used and waste is reduced?
Noor: My biggest tip is to arrange your shelves so that the newest purchases are stored in the back and the older ones in the front. That way everything you need to use up will be right in front of you when you go to open your cupboards!
How has the past year shifted the way you cook, and what positives can we take from this?
Yotam: It has definitely pushed us all at the test kitchen to think of our recipes as a framework that we present to the home cook, making sure we leave enough wiggle room to make changes or substitutions if needed. In turn this has created a more relaxed approach to cooking, where we don’t sweat it if someone tweaks the recipe to suit their needs. On the contrary, we encourage these changes more than we ever have!
Which ingredients would you suggest stocking up on, so you are always able to create uplifting dishes without unnecessary trips to the shops?
Yotam: We wouldn’t be the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen if we didn’t say tahini, especially as it’s the fastest way to add something creamy and nutty to whatever you’re making. Beyond that we encourage you to stock up on staples that you enjoy eating and that have a long shelf life, like good-quality jarred chickpeas (to make the confit tandoori chickpeas in our book!) or rice, to bulk up any meal. Lastly, it never hurts to stock up on your favourite spices, like cumin or Aleppo chilli, as this is the surest way to liven up a meal.
Confit Tandoori Chickpeas
These chickpeas have had their fair share of Insta fame for a multitude of reasons. The first being that the simplicity of the dish makes it really quite attractive: throw everything into a pan and pop it into the oven, leaving it to its own devices (and you to yours). The second being that slow-cooking the chickpeas in oil without added liquid makes them super soft, allowing all the aromatics to break down into the oil. Lastly, this dish can easily be made ahead and served later; it only improves with time. Swap out Greek yoghurt with a non-dairy alternative for a completely vegan meal, and serve with rice.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes
2 tins of chickpeas
(800g), drained (480g)
11 garlic cloves, peeled
10 left whole and 1 crushed
30g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
400g datterini or regular cherry tomatoes
3 red chillies, mild or spicy, a slit cut down their length
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cumin seeds, roughly crushed with a pestle and mortar
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a pestle and mortar
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp red Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp caster sugar
200ml olive oil
180g Greek-style yoghurt
15g picked mint leaves
30g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
2–3 limes: juiced to get 1 tbsp and the rest cut into wedges to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C fan.
2. Put the chickpeas, whole garlic cloves, ginger, tomatoes, chillies, tomato paste, spices, sugar, oil and 1 teaspoon of salt into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and mix everything together to combine. Cover with the lid, transfer to the oven and cook for 75 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the aromatics have softened and the tomatoes have nicely broken down.
3. Meanwhile, put the yoghurt, mint, fresh coriander, lime juice, crushed garlic and ¼ teaspoon of salt into a food processor and blitz until smooth and the herbs are finely chopped.
4. Serve the chickpeas directly from the pan, with the yoghurt and lime wedges alongside.
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by Elena Heatherwick, from Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi, published by Ebury Press.
Recipe also from Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love.