Nopi: The Cookbook is the latest book from Yotam Ottolenghi. It is a collection of recipes from one of his newest restaurants of the same name. Nopi is more of a grown-up restaurant than Ottolenghi's others; the food is a bit sleeker, a bit more chef-y. In its introduction, the book has a disclaimer that it's a bit different from the other books Ottolenghi is well known for. The recipes take a bit more work, it's restaurant-style cooking with a lot of preparation – sometimes days in advance.
I've been so busy lately I thought I could get away with picking something easy from Nopi and settled on corn cakes with a beetroot salad. I realised that wouldn't really be a good representation of the book, so I begrudgingly went back and looked for something more interesting.
There are plenty of impressive mains and delicious looking salads but I always get excited about venison and couldn't look past the plating and colours of the Seared Venison on purple-tinted Date Labneh. I also had no idea what labneh was so I thought that could be interesting.
Before I could get started on the labneh I had to make date syrup because, somewhat understandably, no one stocks it. Fortunately, it was pretty easy. I boiled dates in water until they broke down, then blended them with water before straining them through muslin. I put the strained liquid back into a saucepan, reduced it by about half and then left it to cool.
Labneh is yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey, so the yogurt becomes thicker, closer to the consistency of cream cheese, but still with that yogurt flavour. In the restaurant they apparently serve this dish with caramelised yogurt which, according to the internet, can be achieved at home, but involves boiling yogurt in a glass jar for 24 hours in the oven!
I mixed together the date syrup, yogurt and pomegranate molasses and left to strain out the whey from the yogurt through muslin over a bowl in the fridge overnight.
The next day, I made the blackberry sauce, boiling together red wine vinegar, red wine and port until only 200ml remained (I weighed my saucepan before putting anything in so I knew what weight it'd be when reduced enough). Then I added the blackberries – I couldn't find frozen blackberries on their own but two little punnets of fresh blackberries were probably about the same price as a big bag so I went with fresh. I boiled them for another six minutes and left them to chill.
Then I roasted the cacao nibs (you can find these in most health food shops) maybe a little too long, fortunately I had just enough to try it again, I lowered the temperature from 160°C to 150°C and roasted them for about three minutes. I think the cacao nibs I had bought were already roasted. Then I added them to the chopped up peanuts and stem ginger and left it aside.
I don't have a spice grinder or a blender but I thought I may be able to get away with using my trusty old food processor to grind the salt and junpier berries – it didn't do anything except spin them around a bit. I had to do it the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle, which didn't take long.
I couldn't get venison fillets in time but I managed to get backstraps (a similar cut). However, I didn't ask for a price at the time and didn't look at the Eftpos machine and realised when I got home that I had accidentally spent $80 on venison! The rest of the ingredients were not cheap either: port, red wine and other annoying ingredients like pomegranate molasses and stem ginger that you only need a little bit of but have to buy in large quantities. I spent a lot of money on this recipe.
Anyway, I had left the venison out in the fridge overnight to dry out a bit. I pulled it out of the fridge and sprinkled with the juniper salt. I seemed to have way too much – I put a healthy layer over all of the venison and still had a tablespoon left. I poured the rest of the salt over the venison but most of it didn't stick and was left on the tray.
The next few minutes were a blur as I ran around trying to organise plates and spoon Labneh onto them while not overcooking the $80 venison and running into the garden to grab the thyme and rosemary I had forgotten, quickly weighing butter and then rushing back to the recipe to check if the frying pan needed to go into the oven.
Somehow, I managed to pull it off. I sliced into the venison (after letting it rest of course!) and it was cooked just right.
I spread the labneh out on the plates, I only just had enough for all of the plates, in the photo it looks like a more generous portion than I was able to serve too. Then I sprinkled a teaspoon of the peanut crumble on each plate, topped it with the Venison, spooned over the blackberry sauce and sprinkled over the remaining crumble. I garnished it with fresh blackberries and basil.
It came out really well, it was delicious. I served it with the crushed new potatoes from Nopi (so good) and one of my friends said it was the best meal anyone had ever cooked for them. The venison was tender and juicy and savoury. The blackberry sauce was just the right level of sweet to offset the slightly sour labneh. The labneh – despite not looking as delightfully purple as the labneh in the book – was definitely more pomegranate than date flavoured but I'm not complaining. The peanut crumble gave great texture and occasionally you'd get a bite of a larger piece of cocoa nib with it's nutty earthy chocolate flavour.