On the Plate: I see red, I see red, I see red
It’s true to say that during lockdown and isolating there seems to have been more time for me to read, read, read.
And I can truly say I’ve enjoying being so well ‘red’! My recipe clipping propensity seems to have revved up a notch or two, so I’d like to share a couple of new recipes I’ve tried out this past week.
Both these recipes feature red capsicums, roasted. The first was inspired by the fact that I’d had a very large jar of store-bought roasted capsicums in the pantry. I needed only a small amount for whatever I was cooking that day, but once opened, the contents needed to be used up within a week or so. Never wanting to waste anything I added strips of fiery red, silky, flavoursome red caps to my lunchtime salad or sandwiches, but still had quite a few left in the jar, preserved in oil.
Bingo: I chanced upon a recipe in the daily press that featured the aforementioned capsicums, walnuts, cumin etc., and with that combo of flavours it was a shoe-in for me to try it out. It was actually a recipe to make a capsicum-walnut paste to sandwich between layers of eggplant and haloumi – which I’m yet to try out, but the paste itself was delicious.
The paste is called muhammara and is a dip from Syria. The key ingredients are peppers (capsicums) ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, olive oil, but it can also include lemon, pomegranate molasses, mint and spices such as cumin. It is used to brush onto kebabs, either vegetable or chicken, before grilling; spread on toast (yum!); or served as a dip with flatbread.
I used about 1 cup (300g) roasted red capsicums, combined with 100g walnuts which are crushed in a mortar and pestle, 1 teaspoon each of chili powder and ground cumin, the juice of 1/2 a lemon – it’s super easy to make by hand, or use a food processor. I kept mine ‘rustic’ in that I kept a bit of crunch and texture to the mixture by just pounding the walnuts first, then adding roughly chopped capsicum and all other ingredients.
On the subject of roasting capsicums, I want to share my method, which I think is the easiest in that you’re not left tediously picking out all the tiny seeds. Cut the top off the capsicum, remove the green stalk, then cut or scoop out the whitish membranes to which the seeds cling and discard these. You’re left with a cup-shaped capsicum that needs to be subjected to really fierce heat. So, either heat the oven to hottest temperature and place the capsicums into that on a tray lined with baking paper. If you have a gas barbecue, heat it up and place the capsicums to the hot open grill, turning them from time to time as the skin blackens and blisters – this is the charry effect you are seeking. Another method is if you have an open fire, let the fire die down to red hot coals and place the capsicums either on a wire rack, or directly on the coals.
Once the capsicum is blistered all over, place them into a ceramic (heatproof) bowl and cover with clingfilm, or place a plastic bag over the lot to ‘sweat’ them as they cool. When cool enough to handle, rub the blackened skin off and discard. Do not wash the skin off under a tap! You’re sending all those delicious flavours down the sink!
The other ‘red’ recipe I tried out was from Frank Camorra of MoVida fame. I delighted in watching him cook at home in Lara, with his mum hovering candidly over his shoulder as he made this delicious, traditional Spanish salad to accompany a potato frittata. I’ve modified the quantity slightly. Try it out soon.
2-3 large red capsicums
1 large brown onion, unpeeled
½ or 1 whole head garlic (however much you use, leave cloves in papery skin)
2 tbsp EVOO
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, cut into wedges
1 handful coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
50 ml EVOO
75 ml sherry vinegar
1 tbsp cumin seeds, roasted
Preheat oven to 200C. Place capsicums, onion and garlic in a large roasting pan, scatter with sea salt and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil. Roast for 40 minutes or until brown and tender. Remove garlic to a bowl. Transfer capsicum to another bowl, cover, and when cool enough to handle, peel skin. Reserve the cooking juices, then return onion to oven and cook for another 20 minutes or until very soft. Tear capsicum into broad strips and place in a separate bowl. Cut the top off the head of garlic and squeeze garlic into the bowl with the capsicum. Add tomato and stir to combine. When onion is cool enough, remove skin and discard, then cut onion into wedges and stir through. Grind cumin seeds. Add 100ml of reserved capsicum cooking juices to capsicum mixture with remaining ingredients, mix and season to taste with salt and pepper.