how to: roast pepper hummus

The beginning of the year is always a hard time to get back into the swing of normalcy and even though we are almost a month into 2016, I am still finding it difficult to function.

The beauty of it being summer means that I can get away with running on 70% manpower; it’s easy and acceptable to focus dinners around salads, masses of raw vegetables and things easy to cook; like corn.

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I recently tried my hand at making hummus; it’s fun, it’s healthy, and because it doesn’t involve any cooking, its quick and stress-free to whip up and still elevates the flavour and vibrancy of even the simplest of dishes.

Here is the recipe I use; it’s the most basic of basic recipes and works as a great template for experimenting with a variety of flavours. I added slow roasted red bell pepper in these photos, but roasted eggplant, olives or even carrots could be used.

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Into the food processor we add: 400grams of chickpeas – that’s one can, 2teaspoons of tahini paste for a rich and nutty sesame flavour, a clove of garlic (or more!), ½ a teaspoon of salt, 3tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and the juice of ½ a lemon. Top this off with whatever additions you choose and whiz it up until it’s smooth and creamy.

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Summer is the time for cheese boards and meze platters in the sun; a vibrantly coloured bowl of hummus makes a brilliant addition served alongside toasted pita chips, dotted on a pizza or even added to your favourite salad.

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aubergine and sweet potato summer stack

Even though the in-between parts of seasons are problematic for guessing the weather forecast or planning a temperature-appropriate outfit, they are a great for a varying abundance of produce.

Unless you’re going to buy your produce imported or from a greenhouse, things that I try and steer away from, this recipe really is only viable while aubergines are in season. Even though it is warm and roasted, there are so many fresh and raw elements that it makes sense to limit it to the warmer months.

My aubergine and sweet potato stack is a dish stuck somewhere in between a roast vege salad and a plate of raw greens… in a good way! Layers of soft and warm eggplant, crisp discs of sweet potato and spinach leaves full of crunch, topped off with sweet smoked bell peppers, soft crumbly feta and capers for a salty pop.

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It’s so easy; the hardest part is stacking it all up without the tower toppling over!

Begin by roasting an entire red bell pepper under the grill of an oven, or, if you’re feeling dangerous, on a gas stove element. Roast on a high heat until the skin begins to blacken and blister; this will take a while but keep an eye on it and rotate it for even charring.

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Use this time to slice an aubergine into 1cm thick slithers, and one large sweet potato into 2cm thick discs. Getting a uniform consistency with the sweet potato will be difficult because they are such a beautifully ugly vegetable (one of the reasons I love them so!), but having nice even slices will make the stacking part a bucket load easier!

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Drizzle them in olive oil, turn the oven to bake, lower the temperature to 180°C and switch them the with pepper. If possible, bake the vegetables on different trays and place the aubergine on a lower shelf inside the oven. By arranging the trays like this, the eggplant slices will slowly bake without crisping, and by the time the sweet potato is cooked tender and golden, the aubergine will have garnered a soft texture; not too crisp but no longer tough and chewy.

Flip each rondelle after about 15 minutes and continue baking for a further 20 or until they look like they’re done.

In the meantime, slice the top off the smoky bell pepper and peel off the skin so you are just left with the tender red flesh. Slice into thin slithers and that component is complete!

Wash the leaves of one bunch of spinach and tear the leaves into manageable bite size segments. Fun fact: tearing the leaves, instead of cutting them, stops them from browning. Crumble some feta and once the eggplant and sweet potato are cooked, you’re ready to plate up.

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Begin with two mountains of spinach, on separate plates and pile alternate layers of eggplant, sweet potato and the remaining spinach with the utmost care – hold your breath so the tower doesn’t collapse if you think that’ll help.

Once you have exhausted your vegetable piles, dress with the snakes of red pepper and crumbled feta, top with a teaspoon of capers, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper.

Serve with a congratulatory glass of red wine – you deserve it!

place the peppers in the pan

I must be in a very Italian mood at the moment because last night I had the biggest craving for Peperonata that I don’t think I would have made it through the night if I hadn’t made it immediately… so I did. Peperonata is an Italian stew made with bell peppers, with a consistency somewhere between a pasta sauce and a chutney, it is a real comfort food that works well in so many situations.

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I wish I had a wonderfully exotic story for where I first came across this little beauty, but in fact I actually tried it for the first time at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in New Zealand many years ago. However I was reintroduced to it in Italy, where I learnt to make it, and it was surprisingly easier than I had originally thought.

What I love about this recipe is the simpleness of it; essentially one main ingredient – bell peppers, yet it is packed with so much flavour. The original concept of this recipe was to use a large amount of peppers at once, at times when they were in abundance or excess. This is not so much the case anymore with most vegetables being accessible all year round, but it’s nice to have these kinds of recipes in your arsenal when certain vegetables become really cheap.

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Start off by cooking one finely diced onion and several smashed cloves of garlic in olive oil. I sometimes add a tablespoon of sugar to give the dish a bit more sweetness, stir occasionally until the onion is soft and slightly caramelised. Cut five bell peppers into large square shape pieces; about eight per pepper. I used red peppers but you can use any colour, a mixture of different coloured peppers will give you a nice vibrantly coloured dish at the end. Place the pepper pieces into the pan, skin-side down until they begin to blister; this should take a couple of minutes. Add one cup of red or white wine, a dash each of apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar. Using red wine will give the dish a fuller flavour so it depends on how your plan on serving it. For a tarter taste, substitute the wine for red wine vinegar.

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Once the wine and vinegars have been absorbed, add pepper, a teaspoon of rock salt and your choice of herbs. I used rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf. Depending on the season, your timeframe or your pantry, add a can of tomatoes or six fresh diced tomatoes and simmer until it has reached a consistency that you like the look of.

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Serve with pasta, on toasted bread like bruschetta, or on the side of a juicy piece of steak or fish.

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