We conclude this introductory section with a list of Flavor’s essential ingredients. By “essential,” we don’t suggest that you necessarily need to go out and buy them all before you start cooking, or that you just can’t do without them. In fact, you will be able to reproduce many of the dishes here without a single one of these ingredients. What we mean is that the twenty ingredients we highlight, as well as popping up regularly on the pages alongside our beloved vegetables, capture the essence of this book, its particular spirit. If you open a jar or a bag of any of these ingredients, edge your nose close and have a little sniff, you should be able to smell flavor.
Since we champion veg and the numerous ways in which you can dial up their flavor that one extra notch, it is no surprise that many of our essentials are aged or fermented. In fact, there is a whole section dedicated to dishes that rely on aged ingredients to make them as delicious and special as they are. There is also a long introduction explaining the superpower of aging and how it generates layers of flavor. Aged ingredients are shortcuts to jars of flavor that, we believe, should sit on every kitchen shelf.
Chiles, as well as umami-rich ferments, form another strong grouping on our list of essentials. Though celebrated for their spiciness (see chile heat, this page, and recipes, starting on this page), our chiles do much more than that. They bring to the table a whole set of sub-flavors and fine aromas that you simply can’t find elsewhere, a different kind of sweet, smoky, leathery, chocolatey, or tart. They also have an incredible ability to marry together with other flavors to create a new, singular harmony. We always think of the combination of garlic, ginger, and chile, which sits at the heart of so many dishes, and try to imagine it without the chile. Impossible.
Chiles, like ferments, run across cultures like busy diplomats. Practically every region in the world to which we are drawn has its own unique take on chile sauce, or oil, or marinade. A little bottle or jar with deep-scarlet liquid inside signifies a flavor bomb of a very particular kind.
In Flavor, Mexico is where we frequently go for our fix of chile heat. This has as much to do with the incredible range of chiles that come out of this country as it does with Ixta’s childhood memories of Mexico and her infatuation with its food.
Chiles, as well as masa harina, hibiscus flowers, and all the clever feasts that you can create with them, are the latest additions to the ever-expanding Ottolenghi pantry. We urge you to try them out, but please don’t ditch the old favorites. Some of them—rose harissa, black garlic, Aleppo chile—are on this list; others—tahini, za’atar, preserved lemons, pomegranate molasses—aren’t, but they are dotted throughout the recipes, busily doing their now-familiar magic.
Aleppo chile (aka pul biber) is a dried and flaked chile, common in Turkey and Syria, named after the city of Aleppo. While the flakes themselves are dark red, they impart a bright red color when infused. We use Aleppo chile to add medium heat to lots of sauces and marinades, such as our nam jim (see this page), nam prik (see this page), rayu see (this page), and chamoy (see this page). It’s also great in salad sprinkles (see kohlrabi “noodle” salad, this page). You can find Aleppo chile in some supermarkets, but better yet, visit a Middle Eastern grocery store; you can find it under the name “pul biber” for a fraction of the price. Use the same amount of Gochugaru Korean hot pepper flakes, or half the amount of regular chile flakes, as a substitute.
Ancho chile is the dried version of the poblano chile. Poblanos are green when fresh, and become very dark red when dried, developing fruity and sweet notes with mild to medium levels of heat. We use them in both sweet and savory contexts here—see tangerine and ancho chile flan (this page) and black beans with coconut, chile, and lime (this page).
Anchovies don’t need much of an introduction, but we should note that we do mean those that have been aged in salt, rather than marinated or pickled, and we would urge you to get anchovies kept in olive oil, rather than sunflower oil. Anchovies give a savory depth to the dishes you add them to. They are only particularly fishy if you use a fair amount. We are aware that vegetarians and vegans don’t eat anchovies, so they are optional in all the recipes. They can be substituted with extra seasoning, and by that we mean anything from salt, miso, and soy sauce to finely chopped olives and capers.
Black garlic is garlic that has been gently heated for 2–3 weeks, causing the Maillard reaction (see this page) to render it black and a bit licorice-y, with notes of balsamic vinegar. It brings a distinctive sweetness to olive oil flatbreads (see this page) and dirty rice (this page). You can find it online.
Black lime is a lime that has been sun-dried until it has lost all its water and turned rock-hard. Popular in the Persian Gulf, it is intensely sour and gives dishes a uniquely earthy and slightly bitter type of acidity. There are different versions across the region, with different names, such as Omani limes, Iranian limes, and noomi basra, and they can range in color from blond to dark brown to black. You can use any of them in our recipes, but we prefer the small black one. You can harness the lime’s flavor in different ways: pierce holes in it and add it to a broth or stew to impart milder flavor, grind to a powder, or soak and finely chop the whole lot to add an intense hit of earthy acidity. You can find them online or in Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find them, regular fresh lime zest and juice can be used as a substitute.
Cascabel chiles are, we think, the best dried chiles out there. We’ve used them in countless dishes in our restaurant, ROVI—the butter beans in smoked cascabel oil (this page), for one, and in the rub for oyster mushroom tacos (see this page). On first inspection they are black, but if you hold them up to the light, they are in fact a deep and seductive red. They are nutty and mildly chocolatey, which makes them work wonderfully in both sweet and savory contexts. However, if you can’t find them, anchos make a fine substitute.
Chipotle chile is the dried and smoked version of the jalapeño chile. It gives medium heat and is, unsurprisingly, smoky. We steep chipotle flakes in warm oil for a very quick but extremely effective chile oil to drizzle over cheese tamales (see this page), and blitz them into a coating for peanuts, which play a starring role in radish and cucumber salad (see this page). To make chipotle chile flakes, mince a whole chipotle chile using a sharp knife or blitz it in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder.