A few years ago I invited some family and friends to join me for a special dinner on Easter Sunday. The table guests included my mom Kitty, a former Catholic nun for whom Easter celebrations were dear and her from church, Dorrie, who is like an aunt to me and the kind of person who stays to help out in the kitchen until the last fork is washed, dried and put away. Next there was my older brother Jerry, a strong supporter of medical marijuana, and his son Tyler, who is autistic and rarely sits at the table for long. Last, there was my uncle, a Vietnam veteran with a heart of gold. All of these people were very dear to me, so creating a feast that would be memorable and special for everyone was a big priority. I thought to myself, “How on earth am I going to bring together in harmony this diverse group of people with such varied backgrounds and world views?”
The task seemed daunting, but I saw it as the perfect opportunity to do what I do best: To bring people together through my bright and colorful cooking. Although my guests didn’t share the same beliefs, I knew that they would all share a love of food, especially food that was prepared with heart and soul.
For inspiration, I turned to one of my favorite chef’s, Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi’s story is a great example of the power of food to bring people together. The son of Jewish-Italian and Jewish-German immigrants to Israel, he was born and raised in Jerusalem before moving to London to start a career as a professional chef. After working at some of the most celebrated restaurants in London, he met his business partner, Palestinian born Sami Tamimi. It turned out that the two men grew up at the same time on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border, but never met until they moved to the UK, brought together by a shared love of food and culture. Over the next decade they opened five dining establishments across London, all widely celebrated as some of the best food in the UK. I admire Ottolenghi not just for his colorful and vibrant recipes, but also for how he’s brought peace and understanding to the world through his food.
For the menu I decided to make several dishes from Ottolenghi’s 2011 cookbook “Plenty,” a collection of Middle Eastern inspired recipes. The photos in the book really inspired me and set me on a forward trajectory with my food photography. Even though Ottolenghi is of Jewish descent and probably doesn’t celebrate Easter, I felt that he would be happy to have his recipes featured at my Easter dinner party.
To start out with I knew I had to make the cover recipe, a gorgeous roasted eggplant dish with Greek yogurt and pomegranate seeds. I learned a very useful technique from the book about how to remove the seeds from a pomegranate by cutting it in half, then knocking the seeds out with a spoon while holding it cut side down over a bowl of water. It worked like a charm.
Next I made not one, but two quinoa salads. You could say I had a bit of a quinoa obsession at the time. For the first salad I blended together some fresh spring herbs with olive oil and lime juice, resulting in a creamy, vibrant green dressing with an incredible fresh herb flavor. I also added some arugula, sweet golden raisins, crumbled feta, pistachios and pomegranate seeds, one of Ottolenghi’s favorite ingredients, for a pop of color and some tartness. To the other quinoa salad I added some roasted golden beets and red heirloom spinach, the red and yellow colors complementing each other nicely.
Next, I made a roasted asparagus dish, a recipe of my own invention based on some of my favorite ingredients: raspberries, feta cheese and hazelnuts. In addition to these ingredients I drizzled some reduced balsamic vinegar over the top of the asparagus, giving it a complex array of sweet and savory flavors and textures.
I also made another roasted vegetable dish, this one consisting of roasted rainbow carrots. The carrots are given a boost of flavor from a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and cumin. I served the carrots with a bright green pesto made with toasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro drizzled over the top. The sauce was so good I could have drizzled it over just about anything.
For the main dish I made a roasted chicken, which I brined overnight in a mixture of buttermilk and fresh lemons, resulting in one of the most tender chickens I’d ever made. Before putting it in the oven I coated the outside of the chicken with ras el hanout, a spice blend popular through out North Africa consisting of turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom and cloves. I served the chicken with roasted butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, cured olives and red, yellow and orange bell peppers. I drizzled a yogurt tahini sauce over the top that was nutty, tangy and creamy. The sauce really complemented the roasted vegetables and spiced chicken, making it incredibly flavorful.
Finally, for dessert I made chocolate mousse, one of my favorite desserts. I gave the mousse a Spring makeover by serving it with some rose water infused whipped cream, fresh raspberries and edible rose petals, a truly beautiful Spring dessert and the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
As we all sat down at the table together, the beautiful dishes set before us and smiles on everyone’s faces, I felt a great sense of fulfillment. I had accomplished my goal of bringing this diverse group of people together to enjoy a gorgeous meal inspired by an amazing chef. I hope that these recipes will inspire you to cook a special meal that brings your family and friends together as well.
Recipes for the Ottolenghi Easter Dinner:
Roasted Eggplant with Buttermilk Greek Yogurt Sauce
- 2 large eggplants
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 sprigs thyme
- Sea Salt & freshly cracked pepper
- 1 pomegranate
- 1 tsp zaatar (Middle Eastern spice blend available in Middle Eastern markets & on Amazon)
Greek Yogurt Buttermilk Sauce:
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder (or 1 small clove of garlic, minced)
- Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, leaving the stem intact. Using a small knife, score the surface of the flesh on the cut side of the eggplant by making three parallel lines at a diagonal going in one direction and three more lines going the other direction, creating a diamond pattern. Place the eggplant cut side up on a sheet tray lined with foil and brush the tops with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the thyme leaves. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until well browned and tender.
To remove the seeds from the pomegranate, carefully cut the pomegranate around the middle just through the tough outer skin but not all the way through the fruit. Tear the pomegranate in half. Over a medium sized bowl filled with water, hold the pomegranate cut side down in one hand while hitting it with the back of a wooden spoon until all of the seeds have fallen out. Drain the seeds out of the water and set aside.
To make the yogurt buttermilk sauce, mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust the flavors if necessary.
Place the eggplant halves on a plate. Spoon some of the yogurt sauce on top of the eggplants, then sprinkle with the zaatar and top with the pomegranate seeds.
Quinoa Salad with Caramelized Onions & Fresh Herb Puree Vinaigrette
- 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- sea salt & freshly cracked pepper
- 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 golden raisins
- 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 cups fresh arugula
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- Additional cilantro for serving
Fresh Herb Puree Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 2 tbsp chopped mint
- 2 tbsp chopped tarragon
- 2 tbsp chopped dill
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
Bring the quinoa, cumin salt and pepper to a boil with 2 3/4 cups of water in a medium sized pan. Cover and lower heat to a simmer for 15-18 minutes. Remove from the heat and spread the quinoa out on a sheet tray to cool.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sized cast iron skillet. Add the sliced onions and cook on medium low heat for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and caramelized.
For the vinaigrette, put all of the ingredients into a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
Put the cooled quinoa into a large bowl and stir in the vinaigrette. Set aside a few of the pistachios, raisins, feta and pomegranate seeds as a topping. Add the caramelized onions, arugula and the remaining pistachios, raisins, feta and pomegranate seeds to the quinoa and stir until well mixed. Spoon the quinoa salad onto a platter and top with the remaining ingredients. Top with the extra cilantro.
*Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty https://ottolenghi.co.uk/green-couscous-shop
Roasted Asparagus with Raspberries, Hazelnuts, Goat Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 1/2 lbs asparagus
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts
- 3 oz. feta cheese
- 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the hazelnuts on a sheet tray lined with foil and roast for 5-8 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and rub them vigorously with a towel to remove the skins. Roughly chop the nuts and set aside. (I like to put them into a plastic bag and hit them with a hammer a few times to crush them). Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Trim the tough ends off the ends of the asparagus. Put the asparagus on a sheet tray lined with foil, coating it with the olive oil and sprinkling it with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until it just starts to brown. Remove from the oven.
Put the balsamic vinegar into a small glass bowl and microwave for 1 minute intervals until it begins to boil, about 2 minutes. Set it aside and allow it to cool. (It will thicken as it cools. Microwave it for additional 30 second intervals if it isn’t thick enough).
Place the roasted asparagus on a plate, top with the crumbled hazelnuts, feta cheese and raspberries, drizzling the reduced balsamic over the top.
Recipe by Kathleen Phipps
Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Cinnamon and Cilantro Sauce
- 2 lbs. rainbow carrots, peeled (cut them in half lengthwise if they are too large)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Sea salt
- 4 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Cilantro Herb Sauce:
- 1 1/2 cups (1 3/4 oz./50 gm) cilantro, leaves and stems, plus extra for serving
- 4 tbsp olive oil (or extra if needed)
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder (1 fresh garlic clove, minced)
- Sea salt & pepper
Yogurt Honey Sriracha Sauce:
- 1 cup greek yogurt
- 1/2 tsp honey
- 1-2 tsp sriracha sauce
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the carrots on a large sheet tray lined with foil. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the cinnamon and sea salt. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until tender.
Turn the oven down to 350 F. Lay the pumpkin seeds on a sheet tray and roast for 4-6 minutes until browned. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool. Reserve 1 1/2 tbsp for the topping.
To make the cilantro herb sauce, add the remaining 2 1/2 tbsp of pumpkin seeds, cilantro, olive oil, garlic powder and a few pinches of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to a small food processor. Process until well combined, adding additional olive oil if necessary.
For the yogurt sauce, mix together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust for taste if necessary.
Place the roasted carrots on a large plate. Drizzle with the cilantro sauce and yogurt sauce and top with the remaining pumpkin seeds and cilantro.
*Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty https://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/squash-with-chile-yogurt-cilantro-sauce.html
Roasted Chicken with Ras el Hanout and Roasted Vegetables with Tahini Yogurt Sauce
For the chicken:
- 1/4 cup salt
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 lemon cut into 8 wedges
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 3 1/2 lb. whole chicken
- 2 tbsp ras el hanout (available at Middle Eastern markets & on Amazon)
- Salt & pepper
- 1/2 lb. butternut squash peeled and cut into 2” wedges
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 2” wedges
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 2” wedges
- 1 orange bell pepper, cut into 2” wedges
- 1/2 cup cured olives, pitted
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste available at Middle Eastern markets & on Amazon)
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp water (or more as needed to thin the tahini)
- Pinch of Sea salt
Put the ingredients for the brine together in a large bowl or a 2 gallon plastic ziplock bag. Add the chicken to the bowl (or bag) and brine overnight, or for at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the butternut squash and bell peppers on a large baking tray lined with foil. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally with a metal spatula until browned. Place the tomatoes in the oven on another sheet tray lined with foil and roast until they just start to wrinkle and burst, 10-15 minutes.
For the tahini sauce, mix together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Add water to thin it out if it is too thick.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rinse the brine off the chicken and pat dry. Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out. Rub the ras el hanout all over the chicken. Place the chicken on a roasting pan and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the skin begins to brown, covering the chicken with foil if it gets too brown. Turn down the oven to 375 F and roast it for another hour or until a meat thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the leg registers 165 F. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and rest for 20 minutes to keep the juices from running out of the chicken. Put the roasted vegetables back into the oven to warm them, then serve them on a platter with the chicken, olives, parsley and tahini yogurt sauce.
*Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/21/stuffed-quail-salty-sprouts-recipes
Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries & Rose Water Whipped Cream
- 6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 egg whites at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp rose water (available in Middle Eastern markets and on Amazon)
- 1 pint raspberries
- Rose petals (unsprayed) or dried rose petals (available at Middle Eastern markets and on Amazon)
Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium high speed until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Add one tablespoon of the sugar, whisking for 1 minute, then add the other tablespoon of sugar and whisk another additional 2 minutes until the egg whites become thick and glossy. Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate with a spatula. Whip 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream in the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate and egg white mixture. Spoon the mousse into 6 dessert cups and refrigerate until set. Whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream with the powdered sugar and rose water until soft peaks form. Serve the mousse with the rose water whipped cream, raspberries and rose petals.
*Recipe by Kathleen Phipps