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Posts Tagged ‘capsicum’

roast summer vegetables with feta & couscous

In summer, vegetarian on 31 December, 2011 at 1:42 am

Funny we’re less than 24 hours away from 2012, in what should be the middle of summer (here in the Southern Hemisphere, at least), and I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket, drinking cups of tea, listening to the rain and wind beating against the side of my house. Really, what is this?! Bring back the sun!

I’m back now from Christchurch, where I’ve been sitting around at my grandma’s house, exploring what’s new and/or relocated (using Neat Places as my guide), eating turkey and leftover turkey and puddings and ramen and catching up with family, hearing funny stories for the first time about my grandpa mailing his beard to my grandma before they got married (she wasn’t going to marry him with a beard, she said), breaking into fits of giggles over the cheap plastic toys that come inside Christmas crackers.

And of course when my plane landed in Wellington this morning it was raining, and not the fitful blustery stuff that spits and blows but doesn’t get you too wet and miserable, but the full-on pouring-down rain that’ll hit you in big splotchy raindrops even if you’re just crossing the road or running out to your car.

So I wanted to eat something for an unseasonably cold summer’s day, something vegetable-based (and thus close enough to almost count as a salad) but hearty at the same time. I was thinking about summer vegetables (in particular, courgettes and tomatoes) and then I remembered that, somewhere in between daydreaming and looking at old family photos at my grandma’s house, I had written a little list of memorable meals I wanted to recreate at home.

Near the top of that list were these baked eggs I had about a month ago at Birdman Eating in Melbourne. The eggs were baked in a skillet with roast capsicum, tomato, red onion, courgette and big, chewy, pearl-like mograbieh. The whole thing was flecked with bits of rosemary and served sizzling hot with sourdough toast and the best bloody mary I’ve had in a long time.

That morning was the first time I’d tried mograbieh, and it was one of those wide-eyed revelatory moments where you want to tell everyone around how absolutely delicious the thing you’ve just eaten is, except in my case I was eating alone, feeling slightly less than 100 percent after a night out, trying to regain some semblance of vitality before meeting up with my mum who was flying in later that day.*

But anyway, the mograbieh was incredible, especially with those roast vegetables. And it was something I vowed I’d try recreating at home. So today, having returned from Christchurch and family Christmas and not having cooked anything for the better part of a week, I headed to the shop to pick up some mograbieh.

I found it all right, but after seeing the price (twelve dollars for a bag, sigh) and doing some mental calculations (and giving myself an internal lecture: you cannot buy a twelve dollar bag of oversized couscous after overspending at Christmas, no matter how good it’s going to taste) I was about to give up, when I remembered the bag of Palestinian couscous I had picked up at a Trade Aid event a while back.

It’s no mograbieh, but I enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more: it’s wholegrain rather than refined like most couscous, which makes it a darker tan colour, a bit nuttier, more textured, somewhere in between pearl barley, bulghur and Israeli couscous. Definitely worth trying if you can find it (I think it’s also called maftoul).

This is one of those immensely satisfying dishes which has so many different flavours and textures going on: the sweet-melty roast capsicum, acidic tomatoes, smoky charred courgettes, deeply earthy mushrooms, near-caramelised onions and garlic. It’s multifaceted enough that you almost don’t notice it’s totally vegetarian (and can be easily made vegan by omitting the feta and butter) but if you want meat it’d also be great with pieces of chicken or sausage mixed in with the vegetables.

*By the way, if you’re planning on a night out in Melbourne I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip down Gertrude St in Fitzroy the next morning, either for the baked-eggs-and-bloody-mary breakfast at Birdman Eating (only $20!), or for limeade and arepas from Sonido. Yes.

ROAST SUMMER VEGETABLES WITH FETA & COUSCOUS

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Slice 1 capsicum* and 2 portobello mushrooms into strips, 2-3 cm wide. Cut a smallish red onion into vertical wedges and 6-8 cherry tomatoes into halves. Peel a few cloves of garlic (if you can get fresh, new season garlic, use it by all means!). Place on a baking tray (with the capsicums skin side up, tomatoes cut side up), drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter rosemary leaves on top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked and the skin on the capsicum’s wrinkled and starting to blister.

Meanwhile, cook 1 cup couscous. Follow the instructions on the package**, but use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water, and stir in a handful of chopped parsley and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin while the couscous is soaking. Once it’s done, drizzle with olive oil and stir in a chunk of butter; fluff with a fork before serving.

Towards the end of the cooking time, slice 1-2 smallish courgettes on the diagonal and grill until cooked through and a bit charred on both sides.

Peel the skin off the capsicum (it should come off easily) and place in a bowl, along with the other vegetables. Add a bit of olive oil to the vegetables if they look a bit dry. Add some torn mint and parsley and as much or as little chilli powder and crumbled feta as you like; toss to combine. Taste and season with more flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Serve the vegetables on top of the couscous. This is one of those dishes that’s great both hot and at room temperature.

*Any colour is fine, though you may prefer to use the sweeter red, yellow or orange.

**I used this one, which is whole wheat and needed a bit more cooking time than usual.

Red bell pepper bisque

In autumn, late summer, soup on 20 March, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’m conscious that I’ve been eating a lot of sugar lately (just look at the last few blog posts for proof). Call it disaster-triggered comfort eating or whatever, but over recent weeks I’ve been victim to one too many cake-batter-induced tummyaches and sugar-overload sore throats. Dessert for dinner just doesn’t have the same appeal when you do it several nights in a row.*

Things came to a head last week when I made this amazing semolina-cashew slice and Could Not Stop Eating it. I swore I’d lay off the sugar the next day and was doing so well at work, passing up cookies at morning tea, having a salad for lunch, not reaching for that bar of emergency chocolate hanging out in my desk drawer. I was full of this triumphant sense of accomplishment until I got home and… oh hello leftover semolina slice!**

So I’ve been trying to balance out the sugar with reasonably healthy things. Like soup. I know I’ve been whining about the end of summer for the last few blog posts*** but I’m actually harbouring this secret excitement for cooler weather and autumn (I won’t dare say I’m excited for winter, but close enough) and SOUP.

If there’s ever a soup that can be both spicy and soothing at the same time, it’s this one. It adeptly bridges the gap between summer and cooler weather: the flavours are bright and bursting with height-of-summer-ripeness, but at the same time it’s earthy and robust and the cayenne pepper adds enough heat to warm you from the inside on a cold rainy day. (This soup is also really good served cold at lunchtime, ideally on a sunny deck or balcony, maybe garnished with some chopped parsley.)

The recipe is from this book my mum got me called Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. It’s full of consistently accessible (and good!) recipes and informative sidebars full of tips and tricks but no photos, which is somewhat unusual for cookbooks these days but, you know, all good. It’s been one of my favourite cookbooks over the years and this is one of the first recipes I ever made from it.

Though the page is dotted with bright orange splatter-marks I hardly need to look at the recipe anymore, it’s so simple: red capsicums cooked with the holy trinity of carrot, onion, celery, plus a bit of cayenne pepper for heat and a bit of cream for… creaminess. You don’t really need to think much while making this, which makes it the perfect recipe for getting back into the soup groove.

*Dessert for dinner is still awesome though.

**I am going to start over this week, er, well, after the waffle breakfast we’re having at work tomorrow!

***although summer is clearly still not over, seeing as I’m typing this sitting on my balcony, no sleeves, bare feet.

RED BELL PEPPER BISQUE (serves 3-4):
recipe from Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

You will need:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
cayenne pepper
4 red capsicums, seeded, deribbed & roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock (ideally homemade, but anything goes)
1/4 cup cream
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
crème fraîche

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a decent-sized pot over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and saute for several minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and the capsicum, give it a good couple of stirs and let the capsicum cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock (you may not use the whole litre, the idea is you want enough stock to cover all the vegetables in the pot). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer about 30 minutes.

At this stage the capsicum and carrots should be nice and soft and cooked. Take the pan off the heat and blend until smooth (a stick blender works perfectly here but do as you please), then strain through a medium-mesh sieve.* Smush the pulpy bits with a spatula or ladle to squeeze the last bits of liquid out.**

Add 1/4 cup cream and salt and pepper to taste. If you want it spicier go ahead and add a little bit more cayenne pepper but beware that this stuff increases exponentially in heat (this book is full of these fun facts!). Garnish with a big spoonful of crème fraîche***, drizzle with olive oil, crack some black pepper over the top, eat!

If you have any left over the next day, it is just as good (if not better, depending on the weather) straight out of the fridge.

 

*If you’re feeling lazy you can skip this step but the silky-smooth texture of the strained soup is totally worth it.

**For what it’s worth, I found this step oddly reminiscent of making pâté…

***OK, so it’s just a garnish, but the crème fraîche definitely takes this to another level. Especially if you strained the soup. The combination of the silky-spiciness and the silky-cool-creaminess is so ridiculously dreamy.

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