I will always love you City Bakery . . .
But my heart has been stolen by Ottolenghi

One of my favorite places to eat in New York is City Bakery on West 18th. I love the selection of salads made from fresh mostly local ingredients and so always found a reason to meet friends or hold meetings there. The baked goods are irresistible but it’s the salads that inspired me, always different, seasonal and delicious. City Bakery is not your run- of- the- mill salad bar and I thought there was nothing like it. That was until a friend took me to Ottolenghi in Notting Hill, London a few years ago. Frank and I had first spotted the food shop while walking around the area. We thought it was just a bakery since its windows were filled with huge meringues, cakes and brownies and although the lines out the door were long, we just weren’t curious enough to go in or be tempted to eat something sweet. The next day I was meeting a friend who told me we were going to her favorite place for lunch – Ottolenghi – the very place Frank and I had walked past.

Not visible to the street was a counter groaning with the most unbelievable mouth-watering salads (and desserts) using combinations that I had never tasted before such as roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine (eggplant) and pomegranate molasses, cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt  and Camargue red rice and quinoa with orange and pistachios to name a few.

I naturally had to have the cookbook that was created by the 2 founders of Ottolenghi –  an Israeli , Yottam Ottolenghi and a Palestian, Sami Tamimi. Reading their story was good enough reason to buy the book. Both were born in Jerusalem in 1968, Sami on the Arab east side and Yotam in the Jewish west. Although they lived a few miles from each other, they lived in 2 separate societies and it was not until 1999, that they met by chance in London and after chatting for 30 minutes realized they shared a common history, language and love for food.  They opened Ottolenghi in 2002, creating food that reflected the flavors of their childhood and their unique culinary traditions.

This past May we were in London and our first stop – lunch at Ottolenghi. Please enjoy this recipe from their latest book, Plenty.

Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango (Eggplant and Mango)

Serves 6

½ cup rice vinegar
2 ½ TBS caster sugar (superfine sugar) – here I substituted with 1 TBS raw honey
½ tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chili, finely chopped
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil – here I substituted with extra virgin olive oil
2 aubergines (eggplant) cut into one inch dice
1 packet soba noodles
1 large mango cut into ½ inch dice or 2 inch thick strips
2 – 3 TBS basil leaves, chopped
2 – 3 TBS cilantro, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced

First make the dressing. In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar (or raw honey) and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the garlic, chili and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat the oil in a large pan and shallow fry the aubergine in three or four batches . Once golden brown, remove to a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5-8 minutes to become tender but still retaining a bit. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a tea towel.

In a mixing bowl, toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, aubergine, half the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1-2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.