Gjelina cookbook by chef Travis Lett skyrocketed the sizzling hot stream of foodies to the Abbot Kinney road stretch, where the upbeat restaurant dwells. Gjelina is still my favourite California eatery in Los Angeles. I eat at its rustic meets cool, beards hiving, but utterly edible Venice bar restaurant each season when visiting the Sunny State.
California cuisine is a blend of immigrant influences, welcoming to anything that can be grown or raised in this “Fruit Basket Of The US”. In love with perennial change, never bored with its food, such open lifestyle hides inside the Gjelina cookbook so peak in and salivate.
As an eclectic recipe manual, this is a compendium of over 150 edible items blends Italy, France, Middle East, but mainly the neighbouring Mexico. Its biggest contribution is showing the decadent side of vegetables, encouraging you to cook with more seasonal greens, ochres, Treskilling yellows, and other hues of edible plants. Far from boring salads, the many vegetable-centric recipes included in the Gjelina cookbook are generous, rich, grilled, seared, sautéed or uplifted with Gjelina’s own condiments and spice blends (included in the book).
From the condiments that open up the Gjelina story and form base for many recipes, the fermented leeks, pickled red onions, cherry tomato confit, shallot and garlic confit (same recipe so can be made in the same batch), crispy shallots and shallot oil were imprinted into my regular kitchen routine.
Travis Lett, the chef at Gjelina, GTA (Gjelina to go), and Gjusta has assembled his Venice kitchen’s favourites in their honesty. Photos by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott display the rawness of cooking to raise your confidence and boost the integrity of the inherent messiness of cooking. Opening the book with boxes with dad rabbits, birds, squids on ice, but also the kitchen staff portraits. We love watching the mostly Mexican kitchen staff in action – through the glass window or peaking in when rolling into the restrooms – tossing pizza, rolling and cutting pasta, making sausages et al. Challenging visually the supermarket waxed produce, the photos capture the local farmers ingredients in real life (beaten, not too staged, with chipped edges).
A short introduction to each chapter reveals the kitchen stories, but also includes general ingredient tips for buying, storing and handling, possible substituting, all next to the specific cooking tips.
I do not cook meat at home, therefore the brief meat chapter escaped my critical fork. These are my favourite vegetables-highlighting recipes in the Gjelina cookbook that I prepared in my home kitchen:
Arugula and radicchio salad with crispy shallots and shallot oil-sherry vinaigrette
Baby radishes with black olive and anchovy aioli (similar to anchoiade in the South of France)
Bloomsdale spinach salad with honey-garlic dressing, pine nuts, croutons & feta – use any spinach since some ingredients are interchangeable (in some recipes like with tomatillos, green chickpeas, Hawaiian Kona Kampachi, it might be hard for you to find this fresh produce locally)
Chickpea stew with tomato, turmeric, yogurt and harissa
Dandelion greens with lemon
Tuscan kale salad, fennel, radish & ricotta salata
Tomato, beet and carrot soup
Mixed lettuces with yogurt dressing and warm croutons – chef Lett loves croutons
Pizza with spinach, feta and garlic confit (I made a focaccia with same toppings as I do not have a pizza stone or wood-fired oven to bake the perfect pizza crust)
Roasted beets and avocado, orange, toasted hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette – use Piedmont hazelnuts if possible and ripe California avocado, sherry is produced in the Southern Spain and the vinaigrette is more intense tasting
Grilled chicories with crispy fried eggs without bacon vinaigrette – get top naturally yellow eggs from free-grazing chicken, incredible!
Grilled kabocha squash with mint-pomegranate pesto – super fall dish
Grilled kale with shallot-yogurt dressing and toasted hazelnuts
Grilled jumbo asparagus with gribiche and bottarga – hello Mediterranean!
Oven-roasted parsnips with hazelnut picada
Roasted acorn squash with hazelnuts, brown butter and rosemary – the butter cannot be substituted here, savour!
Roasted baby turnips with their greens and chimichurri
Roasted baby carrots, orange, cilantro, sesame and spiced yogurt
Roasted beets with tops, herbed yogurt and horseradish
Roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and vinegar – can be served with brown rice and/or green rocket
Roasted fennel with orange and crushed red pepper flakes – the sweetness of oranges is marvellous with the spicy kick of crushed red pepper
Roasted purple potatoes with aioli, horseradish, pickled red onion and dill – winter dinner time!
Sweet potato hash – simply yummy
Pan-roasted Romanesco with golden raisins, tahini and sumac – tahini dressed Romanesco when in peak season shines in this Middle-Eastern take
Roasted prawns with garlic, parsley, crushed red pepper flakes and lemon – so simple, get best quality prawns (Carabinieros, from Palamos, …)
Snapper with citrus chile paste, cilantro flowers and olive oil – raw fish beauty
The pasta like Squid ink chitarra, agnolotti, orecchiette, buckwheat pasta gratin, the instruction is detailed enough to make and shape the dough from scratch. Grains like farro (barley) make for great cool weather or chilly Cali evening eats. Nose-to tail recipes utilising chicken hearts, pork scraps for sausages, stocks, etc. please the no-waste of an animal’s life supporters.
I found disappointing the Grilled eggplant, mojo de ajo and basil salsa verde (anchovies in the sauce did not dance in sync with eggplants), Roasted sunchokes (too oily), Roasted yams with honey, espelette and lime yogurt (too sweet), Roasted artichokes with Calabrian chile, anchovy and crispy shallots (leave out anchovies, perhaps). An approximate cooking time could be included, while I welcomed the conversions to grams. Food preparation is more fun with less algebra. Index at the back not just by recipe names, but also by main ingredient helps when you are looking what to do with these sunchokes, tomatoes, yams in your pantry.
The desserts in the Gjelina cookbook mostly include tempting sorbets (Raspberry rose; Blackberry-ginger; Coconut;…) and some gelato (Olive oil; Ginger) so you better have the machinery at home. Some are used with the other desserts, but you can indulge in the cakes on their own or substitute as I did i the superb Strawberry-rhubarb polenta crisp served with local crème fraîche and poured over with fruity olive oil. Chocolate tart or Warm date cake with ginger gelato anyone?
When I sit at the back, stargazing by the centrepiece fire patio, Gjelina epitomises the ultimate high-quality bohemian spirit of Venice Beach. Its aesthetic integrity embodies the generosity of the superb comfort food served there. The Gjelina cookbook travels you into this hipster beachside of California through food, the stories and the local street-life capturing photos. Chill and eat!