Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's Now or Never

It's the time of the year to bottle up summer in a jar. Grab the first bushel of luscious, ripe, red peppers you can get your hands on folks! The spirit of summer can well be preserved in a jar of thick tomato sauce, but roasting a tray of red peppers will also preserve summer without taking too much of your time. Although you can buy roasted peppers, they are easy to make, and the flavour will definitely be better. Any pepper can be roasted, including chilli peppers, but do try to avoid green peppers, as roasting them will intensify their bitterness instead of enhancing their non-existent sweetness.

Roasted Peppers

Ripe bell peppers
vegetable oil, for cooking
olive oil, for preserving
1 peeled garlic clove for each pepper, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 250 °C/500°F.
Line a baking tray with foil, and pile on the peppers. 
If using garlic, cut a slit into each pepper, and stuff with a clove.
Drizzle with oil.
When the oven is nice and hot, turn on the upper grill, and place the tray of peppers just above the middle of your oven.
Roast until the peppers become charred and begin to blister, about 5 minutes. 
Using tongs, turn the peppers over, and roast until they are more or less blackened on all sides. It will take about 25 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the peppers to a heat-proof bowl, and cover with cling film or a lid. 
Set aside until the peppers are completely cooled.
Once cooled, the charred skin should slip off easily. Discard the tail and the seeds. 
Keep the garlic cloves.

The peppers will keep in a jar, covered with olive oil, for at least two weeks. However, for long term preservation, it is best to freeze the peppers. To really extend the summer warmth, try the following recipes: Romesco sauce, or a luscious mayonnaise. For something less ordinary, whip up a batch of Muhammara, a regular on North African and Middle Eastern mezze platters. You might have met it under different guises -and with a different name- all over the Mediterranean. In fact, the Spanish Romesco may well be a descendant of the Moors' muhammara...

Yields about 250ml/1 cup

6 roasted red peppers
3 cloves of garlic, roasted if possible
100g/1 cup shelled walnuts
1 dried chili
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, optional
2 Tbs bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste 
olive oil

In a dry pan, toast the spices individually until they are fragrant. The seeds should be a few shades darker, and the chili should be pliable (no longer brittle). Grind the spices in a mortar or a food processor.
Add the garlic, and reduce to a paste. The walnuts are added next, and roughly crushed.
Roughly chop the peppers. Mix in with the other ingredients, and reduce to a chunky purée.
Season with salt, pepper and the pomegranate molasses, if using.
Add just enough breadcrumbs to make a sturdy, but not overly stiff, mix.
Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Serve muhammara with fresh or crisp pita wedges, along with some babaghanouj, hummus and perhaps a sprinkle of dukkah. Muhammara is lovely instead of tomatoes on pasta or a pizza base, and is wonderful dolloped over new potatoes -instant potato salad! It will keep for about a week in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer. If the breadcrumbs are an issue, add a few more handfuls of walnuts to keep the muhammara nice and thick. Although the pomegranate molasses is not an essential ingredient to this recipe, it does lend a pleasing sweet-tartness, but it can be left out if sourcing is difficult.

Bon app'!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

As Good As It Gets

Something happens to the air in August: summer is far from over, the sun still beats down on you with great vigour, but as soon as night dims the light, a chill just settles in. The windows are no longer kept wide open throughout the evening, cardigans are dug out from the back of the closet...I'm still in denial of the imminent demise, and I have found the culinary equivalent of that too short summer dress I wear over leggings just to feel like Summer and I are still hanging out.

It's called dukkah. Hailing from Egypt, this condiment has several different spellings, and can take all sorts of forms, but it is essentially crushed nuts with spices. It is traditionally served with bread and olive oil, but it has infinite uses. It can be sprinkled over any and all matter of foods that need a kick of exoticism, or simply a bit of added crunch. The nuttiness twined with spiced warmth feels like a lazy summer day, and we can all use more of those!

Although, I've only recently been introduced to dukkah, it's been all the rage in Australia and New Zealand for a while and has greatly evolved from its original incarnation made with hazelnuts. The version below combines a few different nuts and seeds, but you can play around with the ingredients and proportions to suit your taste and cupboard content.

Yields 250g or about 1cup

50g/ ¼cup each blanched almonds, pistachios, cashews, and white sesame seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp back peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 clove garlic
2 lemons, preferably unwaxed or organic

Heat a frying pan until nearly smoking, and dry toast the seeds and nuts individually. Alternatively, the seeds and nuts can be toasted in a hot oven until golden brown.
Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, crush the toasted nuts until most are reduced to a fine dust and others are still coarse chunks.
Crush the toasted spices along with the salt until fairly fine. Leave the sesame seeds whole.
Zest the two lemons, and grate the garlic clove. 
Mix all the ingredients together.

Sprinkle over anything immediately, or keep in an airtight jar indefinitely -if it actually hangs around for that long. Dukkah is great for jazzing up hummus that is a little too blah, or adding a hint of nuttiness to a salad. But I think my favourite thing so far is to have dukkah simply sprinkled over a tomato. Divine!

Bon app'!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Salt of the Earth


Have you noticed any changes lately? It was so subtle at first that some of you may have missed it.... Yeah, I thought so, nothing gets past you! The days are getting shorter. It was hardly noticeable at first: one day, you're puttering about the garden until ten; the next, you slink out of work and it's pitch-black. And yet, August is far from being the end of Summer. For those of you who live in places where the night sky still offers unfettered views of the stars, there are the Perseids to look forward to on  August 12th. Can there be a better excuse for organising a midnight picnic? I don't think so.

I would normally suggest that a late night nosh be kept simple -more along the lines of liquid nourishment...-but if you need something a tad more substantial to sink your teeth into, how about a quick pickle to munch on? This pickle was inspired by a summer snack my mum often dishes out: cucumber sticks and miso. Instead of eating some gloopy, creamy dip with crudités, we would get a salty, savoury hit with each bite of cucumber. It is rather addictive.

Any miso paste can be used for these pickles, however, if you are a bit of miso novice, start with white miso. It tends to be sweeter and milder than the darker miso. In fact, I would stay away from the really dark miso (such as buckwheat) for this recipe, as their pungency may overpower the other flavours. While I normally use lemons for this pickle, you can play around with other citrus such as yuzu for a more authentic twist or even grapfruit.

Misozuke Pickles
Yields about 2cups/500ml

100g/4oz radishes
½ a cucumber
3 Tbs miso paste
1 lemon

Top and  tail the readishes, and cut in half.
Quarter the cucumber lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Chop into chunks more or less the same size as the halved radishes.
Zest and juice the lemon.
Mix all the ingredients together.

The pickles are ready to eat right away, but are best if they are allowed to rest for at least 20 minutes before being eaten. They will keep in the refrigerator for about three days. Serve these pickles alongside any Asian themed meal, or as an accompaniment for drinks.

 Bon app'!

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