A review of Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully’s cookbook NOPI. Outlining the authors’ culinary influence, navigational clarity, and quality of recipes.
The all-day brasserie NOPI opened in London’s Soho in early 2011, the success of the restaurant led him and Ramael Scully to compile the tried and tested recipes in the cookbook by the same name: NOPI.
Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-English chef, restaurant and delicatessen owner, and food writer. A trailblazer in turning vegetables mainstream. He’s a self-proclaimed omnivore, but has a knack for creating fantastic, full of flavor dishes that present vegetables as their star ingredient; enlivened by his Middle Eastern and North African influence. Yotam Ottolenghi was busy in kitchens and independently for over a decade before bringing out this cookbook, a book fondly named after the restaurant which he opened together with Ramael Scully as head-chef. NOPI has become one of London’s most renowned restaurants thanks to the adventurous collision of Ottolenghi’s Levantine and Scully’s Asian influence, creating a bold blend of flavor.
Ramael Scully is a chef and restaurant owner (post NOPI publishing). He was born in Malaysia, born to mixed Asian-European parents which heavily influenced his flavor palate. His style of cooking leans very strongly towards high end restaurant quality (meaning it’s going to get very complex) while Ottolenghi gravitates to simpler, home cooking with a fine dining touch. These two different styles merge together along with their diverse culinary influence to create the menu at NOPI. The NOPI cookbook is an assembly of some of the most loved recipes that feature on their permanent and rotational menu.
With the robust flavors present in all dishes there’s also a demand for quite a variety of ingredients, some of which won’t be as easy to find for the home cook. Think black garlic, yuzu, banana leaves, pandan leaves, manouri, etc. and also, some of the recipes are a little more time consuming and complicated compared to your average cookbook. At the beginning of the book, there’s a section ‘Cooking Nopi At Home’ which is a must-read for anyone planning to embark on the NOPI cooking journey. In this section, Ottolenghi urges readers to read the entire recipe before getting started, which is pretty straight forward and recommended to do in any case, no matter how complex a recipe may be. Additionally, he explains there are shortcuts and alternatives mentioned throughout the book to make following the recipe easier and more flexible. Having a mise en place is definitely going to be a huge help as well, having everything laid out, cut, and ready before you get started so that you can focus purely on the cooking and assembly. There are also some recommendations for kitchen equipment that is worthwhile investing in like a blender, mandoline, ice cream machine, and spice grinder. For any cook looking to tread unknown waters in their kitchen, this book is filled to the brim with new methods, ingredients, and pairings that’ll excite you and your dinner table guinea pigs.
The layout of NOPI is an uncanny reflection of the establishment itself. A minimalistic, simple, and monochromatic back drop with contrastingly rustic and colorful photos of dishes that will make you want to devour the page. Most of the recipes have been categorized based on their place on the table: Starters, Salads, Sides, Dessert, Cocktails, Condiments and the Main Courses have been separated based on star ingredient: Meat, Fish, Vegetables.
Every recipe starts with a brief introduction in which a variety of things are mentioned; the inspiration behind the dish, recipe development and credit, and the possible shortcuts or alternatives one can undertake and use when making the dish. The ingredients are clearly listed within a bordered box with both US Standard (cup) measurements and Metric measurements. The instructions are written in numbered paragraph format, which makes reading an entire recipe thoroughly before getting started only more important. Nonetheless, the instructions are very clear and detailed. Almost all the recipes are paired with a very enticing photo of the finished dish, and occasionally an in-the-making shot. Nothing short of alluring. To top it all there are some meal suggestions at the back of the book so that you can put together a complete cohesive menu from starter to dessert. Moreover, there’s an ingredient list that provides short descriptions of the different ingredients used throughout the book, which is great for any cook interested in getting to know the components that make or break your creations.
A slightly altered recipe, replacing the sugar with agave syrup.
I have had a go at a fair share of the recipes in NOPI and I fell in love with every single one. The simpler ones like Paprika Oven Fries, Pea Soup with Rolled Goat Cheese Croutons, Roasted Eggplant with Black Garlic, Pine Nuts, and Basil, and Pickled Watermelon Rinds and some of the more elaborate recipes like Sea Bass and Turmeric Potatoes in Rasam Broth and Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard. All the recipes turned out extremely flavorful, beautiful to plate, and received unanimous regard from those I served it to.
The only point worth reiterating is the complexity of the recipes, for any passionate home cook, there won’t be an issue because the joy and preoccupation you’ll have when creating a dish will soothe any feelings of disdain towards the sometimes-lengthy processes of making them! The instructions are crystal clear so I believe anyone that feels comfortable, and most importantly: content in the kitchen these recipes won’t give you any problems. On the other hand, if you’re looking for meals to cook in thirty minutes’ time after a day’s work then this is not the right cookbook for you. The key to making this cookbook work for you is patience. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few very simple treasures in NOPI. Some examples being the aforementioned Paprika Oven Fries, the Pea Soup (minus the goat cheese croutons), Mixed Chinese Vegetables, Zucchini and Manouri Fritters, and the Whole Roasted Celery Root. This is a cookbook that’s going to take some planning ahead and most likely also some extra grocery shopping trips, but I don’t have the slightest reservation that it’s all worth it.
Do I recommend this book?
I recommend NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully to the daring, patient, and curious home cook. This isn’t a book for beginners, but it’s a wonderful addition to any home cook’s kitchen library, especially those in pursuit of a greater and grander culinary repertoire. Based on the aesthetic of the book alone, this book deserves a spot on your coffee table.
The bold, surprisingly intense flavors that became synonymous with [NOPI], the irreverent blends of ingredients, the vibrant colors on the plate, the generosity of spirit and big gestures, the curiosity and somewhat restless approach to food…
NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully
Recipes directly from the London all-day brasserie NOPI