STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's time again for Cook Your Cupboard, which is our new food project on MORNING EDITION. You submit photos of food in your kitchen - stuff lying around in the cupboard, in the refrigerator; stuff you don't know what to do with. And then you get to come on air to get advice from a famous chef, if your submission is chosen.

Today's famous chef is Yotam Ottolenghi. He's an Israeli chef with a chain of restaurants in London that specialize in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. He is also the author of the best-selling book "Plenty." Welcome to the program.

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI: Hi. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: We're going to bring in, now, Laurel Ruma of Medford, Mass. ,outside Boston. She sent us a submission. Welcome to the program to you.

LAUREL RUMA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Pretty good timing for you, I guess, because you had just like - what? - renovated your kitchen, if I'm not mistaken.

RUMA: That's right. We actually took on a major project in August, and I have been slowly bringing in boxes of strange food that I picked up along my travels.

INSKEEP: You - what? - hear about different foods; people serve you different things; you check in local food stores - what do you do?

RUMA: Yep, all of those things. So when you come to Boston, the good place to go is the north end, where there are a number of Italian grocery stores. So while I was there, I picked up some chickpea flour. To my shame, I've hung onto it now for a while, and I just had no idea what to do with it.

INSKEEP: OK, so that is the first thing. Chickpea flour - what is it?

OTTOLENGHI: Basically, it's dried chickpeas that have been pulverized into a flour, and it's gluten-free. Chickpea flour has a wonderful flavor, and I particularly like using it in a - kind of Indian-inspired dishes; so for instance, fried cauliflower with mint. And I serve it with a tamarind dipping sauce. It's got garlic, many spices - ginger, cumin, ground coriander, mustard seeds, some curry powder - and some egg and water. And that mix of the cauliflower plus the batter with the chickpea flour is really, really, really delicious.

INSKEEP: Wow. I mean, as you talk, I can already just smell the Indian food.

OTTOLENGHI: (Laughing)

INSKEEP: This is the first of the ingredients that Laurel has come up with. You also have a couple of other ingredients that - mystery ingredients that have ended up in your kitchen.

RUMA: So also from the north end of Boston, harissa. I picked up a tube and promptly forgot about it.

OTTOLENGHI: Harissa is really, one of my favorite ingredients. It's one of the most amazing chili pastes around. It's aromatic. It's strong. So really, if you have one of these tubes that are imported from Tunisia, you can use it to marinade fish, to marinade lamb, to marinade vegetables; and then grill them or bake them in the oven. Really, it just gives the most fantastic, aromatic flavor. One other thing to do with it, it makes a wonderful salad dressing. I normally just whisk it briefly together with olive oil, with lemon juice, with some additional garlic, maybe salt and pepper; and it's just the best thing you can do.

INSKEEP: Laurel, are you getting some ideas there, in Medford, Mass.?

RUMA: Oh, absolutely.

INSKEEP: Pretty spicy as well, it sounds like.

RUMA: Yeah, love spice. Bring it on.

INSKEEP: Laurel, this is awesome. You have already taken us to India and to North Africa with random stuff from your kitchen, and you've still got one ingredient to go.

RUMA: So the last ingredient would be black chia seeds. And I know chia seeds are supposed to be very healthy for you, but I'm not really sure what to do with them.

OTTOLENGHI: Laurel, I have to tell you that you put me into trouble because there's not many ingredients in this world that I can say that I really don't like, and chia seeds are one of those ingredients. I really find the texture very off-putting. It's like - it's quite slimy. I don't know why anyone would eat that, but I guess...

RUMA: Well, I've been sprinkling them into my partner's oatmeal in the morning. So he'll have flax seeds and chia seeds...

OTTOLENGHI: Oh, good.

RUMA: ...so he hasn't mentioned the slimy bit of it yet, so we'll see.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Oh, well, that's another thing you can do with mysterious foods - just kind of...

RUMA: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...slip them into somebody else's food, and see what happens.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Yotam Ottolenghi, thank you very much for taking the time.

OTTOLENGHI: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And we also spoke with Laurel Ruma of Medford, Mass. Thanks to you.

RUMA: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, you can submit your own baffling kitchen items, with a chance to come on the radio with a chef. Head to npr.org/cupboard.

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