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October 3, 2022
Is It Ottolenghi Enough?

A new cookbook harnesses the power of “extra good” sauces and sprinkles from the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen

A confetti cloud of pomegranate seeds. A shower of toasted pistachios. No Yotam Ottolenghi recipe is complete without a crowning culinary achievement. 

The London-based chef and prolific cookbook author has won millions of fans with vegetable-forward, Middle Eastern–accented recipes that expertly straddle the line between simple and bountiful, wholesome and indulgent. In Extra Good Things, his new cookbook with the Bahraini-born chef Noor Murad and the supercharged Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, those little finishing touches take center stage. 

“It’s a question we ask ourselves all the time in the test kitchen: How do we Ottolenghify this? Which is why, you know, we’re trying to make it a verb on Wikipedia,” Murad says with a laugh. The coauthor of Ottolenghi’s Shelf Love and head of the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen is well-equipped to answer the question.

In Extra Good Things, flavor-packed sauces and sprinkles anchor each dish. Quick-preserved lemon provides the finishing touch for both a bowl of herbaceous pea minestrone and crispy chicken cutlets, and the leftover jar bursting with salt and citrus is ideal for brightening salad dressings or roasted vegetables. Garlicky, jammy peppers appear in a comforting bowl of black beans and rice, with any extras finding a happy home stuffed into sandwiches or breakfast burritos. Make the whole recipe for a full meal, or skip ahead to the accenting “extra good thing” to use it however you please.  

“All the condiments are kind of like an Ottolenghi wardrobe, and you can accessorize however you want to give your dishes different outfits,” Murad says. Here, she talks about what it’s like working in the acclaimed Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, the UK’s embrace of black limes, and why funk might be the most underrated flavor in home cooking. 

Extra Good Things highlights the techniques or components that can take your cooking to the next level: the Ottolenghi level. What are the extra good things that you find yourself using the most these days?
As chefs, you go through phases of what you like and what you gravitate toward. We have a recipe for a quick chile sauce in the book, which is based on a Palestinian shatta, and I usually have something like that in my fridge. I always like to add heat on the side so people can add as much or as little as they want. 

I usually have a pickle as well, usually a red onion, to add acid. And then I like to add something fresh and vibrant that can use up the loads of herbs in my fridge that need a home, so they usually end up in some kind of pesto. The book has a spring onion pesto, an [arugula] pesto, but I’ll usually use whatever herbs, nuts, and cheese I have. 

What’s it like working in the Ottolenghi test kitchen?
It’s quite a fun place to work—a Willy Wonka factory of recipes, tastings, and ideas. The test kitchen is kind of like the creative hub of the Ottolenghi company, and we develop a lot of different things. Each chef works independently to see a recipe through from start to finish, but the tasting process happens as a team and is quite collaborative. You’ll put up a dish and grab someone—hey, can you come taste this with me?— to analyze it. 

Once a recipe is good and we don’t want to tweak it anymore, it goes to Claudine [Boulstridge], our cross tester in Wales. She tests everything in a home setting for her kids and neighbors to give us feedback on it—what worked and what didn’t. The recipe gets modified from there, and then it goes to whatever home it fits, whether that’s a book, online publication, or even one of the restaurants, if it’s not so home-cook-friendly. 

Yeah, I’m picturing the Willy Wonka factory behind the waterfall. Are there any recipes from the cookbook that changed a lot over the testing process?
Yeah, definitely. One that springs to mind for me is this recipe for Blooming Leeks with Ranch Dressing, which is based on the famous Bloomin’ Onion you get at an Outback Steakhouse. I remember testing that recipe when I was in the test kitchen, maybe two years or so ago. It was very frustrating because the inside of the onion was very soggy, and I couldn’t get the batter to stick. I was getting very annoyed, because it was this beautiful thing that I couldn’t get right. Then, randomly, this guy messaged me on Instagram who was part of the team that invented the Bloomin’ Onion, and he was like, “Oh, you know, you have to take out the core.”

I remember just having this discussion with the team: “Is it really worth having to core out these onions? Is anyone realistically gonna do that at home?” That’s always our question: Is this feasible for the home cook? Do we pursue it? Do we let this go? That’s where the idea of cutting a leek like a Bloomin’ Onion came about, and weirdly enough, we all preferred the leek in the end. It had a nice, delicate allium flavor without being too overpowering—and it kind of looked like a massive duck foot when you fried it. That was one of the many journeys we take in food.

There’s a whole section on “funk” in the book, which is a flavor some home cooks might have an aversion to, because it reminds us of something gone wrong. What does funk add to cooking?
Funk really livens up cooking for me, just like my music. It’s kind of like the crescendo. I think anything with funk adds a fun element of surprise, whether that’s from a blue cheese dressing or a pickled chile that’s really vinegary and sharp and a bit funky. Funk doesn’t have to mean long ferments. In the end, we want people to make these recipes, so we mostly did ferments that are a bit quicker. I think the longest one is based on the El Salvadorian condiment curtido, which is a four-day fermentation of cabbage and carrots, and in terms of fermentation, it’s quite quick. Used in the right way and as much as you can tolerate, funk is a really wonderful thing.

It’s been interesting to notice how the Ottolenghi universe has impacted how we all cook. Are there any trends you’ve noticed catching on?
Yeah, I think so. Black limes are something that I introduced to Ottolenghi because, where I’m from in Bahrain, black limes are like part of our DNA. We use them all the time, but it wasn’t something that was used so much [outside the area], and even Ottolenghi was using the pale green ones. I put a few recipes with them in Flavor, like the black lime tofu that people really love, which is based on a dish we make in Bahrain with chicken liver. In Shelf Love, there’s a big write-up on black limes, and quite a traditional recipe with beef skewers. Now black lime has become trendy all over the UK. You can find them at the local supermarket. 


Aliza Abarbanel

Aliza Abarbanel is a contributing editor at TASTE, the co-founder and co-editor of Cake Zine, and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Previously, she was an editor at Bon Appetit.