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!

olives and oven-baked feta

Since starting to make my own cheeses, I have begun experimenting with different ways to use it. Although feta goes great on toast with a drizzle of honey, I thought it was probably a better idea to push my abilities more than that, regardless of how good it might taste.

I have been pleasantly surprised with feta’s versatility; its creaminess allows for it to break down into a rich sauce, yet it is soft, spreadable and ideal for a snack of crackers or bread. It is also able to hold its form rather well when baking. And that is what I am doing with it in this recipe.

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Even though I have never been to Greece, I think that it is probably my food spirit country, a member of the long list of ancestors’ homelands, I have a hereditary love of olives and feta, don’t get me started on the correct way to make horiatiki or moussaka, and we have previously discussed how obsessed with baklava I am.

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This recipe is not a Greek dish per say, but it is inspired by Greek flavours, adapted from a recipe I found in an old cooking magazine recently. The proportions for this dish are very fluid, and my fluid I mean you can add as much as you want of anything. But here is what I used: one green and one orange bell pepper, one punnet of cherry tomatoes, one onion, about 200grams of feta (yours doesn’t have to be homemade, but mine was) and about ½ of a large jar of olives. I used Kalamata olives but any kind will work, if possible, try and avoid pitted olives because they won’t keep their shape when they cook.

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To start with, thinly slice your onion and combine it with a small dash of lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar. Thinly slice the peppers and place them in a large roasting dish with the onion and olives, you can also add some whole, peeled garlic cloves if you so desire. Season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with olive oil, a dash of red wine vinegar and add a bay leaf. Depending on your tastes, you can add a teaspoon each of chilli powder and fennel seeds, a dash of cinnamon and the zest of a lemon (I used dried lemon peel).

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Roast at 180°C for 25 minutes, stir is occasionally to get an even roast and cut the tomatoes in half while you wait. Break the feta into quarters, place on top of the vegetables and pour the chopped tomatoes over top, add more pepper if you think it needs it.

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Bake for another 10 minutes, the tomatoes will become tender and the cheese will soften and begin to crisp up slightly. It is best that the tomatoes do not become too tender and lose their shape, too long in the oven and this will happen to the feta too.

As a summer meal, serve the dish warm, with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the juices. This dish has all the makings of a delicious, comforting winter meal; add lamb fillets or chops to the dish before you begin cooking.

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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winter is coming, part two

After my last post, and the little speck of winter before the little speck of summer before the current (hopefully) little speck of winter we are in at the moment, I noticed that I was a little bit sniffily. Having just arrived in a new city and starting a new job, the last thing I want is to be getting sick so I decided to give my body a little bit of a vitamin kick to stave off any signs of a cold for as long as possible, and what better way to do that with a truckload of vegetables?

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This recipe for a vegetable chickpea curry is not really something that I have taken and adapted, well not so much in the traditional sense. Instead of taking a recipe and adding one or two ingredients, I think the only similarity this recipe has with the original is the rice and chickpeas. So the recipe is more of a guideline than anything else because you can really put in anything you like!

This curry is an easy way to make sure that you are getting your ‘5 plus a day’ and it can easily be prepared in advance or even in a slow cooker left to simmer all day long. Here are the guidelines to make four servings, since I was only cooking for myself I did about half of it but it could be doubled or tripled or even quadrupled.

You will need:
An onion
A few garlic cloves
An eggplant
A zucchini
2 capsicums; I used red and green because they were cheapest but any colours are okay
2 carrots
2 tomatoes or a big can of canned tomatoes
2 large potatoes
A large can of chickpeas or 2 cups of dried chickpeas
A can of lentils or a cup of dried lentils
A cup of rice
spices such as curry powder, cumin, paprika, harissa, nutmeg and cinnamon
About a litre of cold water

Obviously, you can chop and change the vegetables, but I would suggest vegetables that you would roast, I once added mushrooms and they went all rubbery so that is maybe something to avoid, unless you  enjoy rubbery mushrooms…

First things first: slice you eggplant into thin discs and sprinkle with salt, cover them and set them to the side. This is to help draw out the bitter flavours of the vegetable. Ideally you should leave it for about half an hour, the longer the better but if you only have 10 minutes then that is okay too.

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You will be able to see this reaction happening; little beads of liquid will begin to form on the top of each slice and the flesh will start to turn a slightly darker colour.

While that’s happening, chop up the rest of your vegetables. I like to keep them chunky for the nice coloration of the dish and also so that you can really taste each one individually as well as part of the dish as a whole, it also saves a lot of time. I also didn’t peel any of them, once again this is something that depends on your preference but so much of the nutrients of these vegetables are in the skin. If you want everything to be cooked to the same degree, keep them all separate because the carrot is going to take longer to cook than the capsicum etc. I kept the onion, tomato and potato separate from the others.SAM_1451_edited

Once you have done this, rinse the salt of the eggplant and dry it off. It can now be added to the rest of  the vegetables and the cooking can begin!

In a large pot (and I emphasize the LARGE; I had to change pots in the middle of cooking because mine was too small and even in my biggest pot it was close to overflowing by the end) heat a dash of oil and add the diced onion and crushed garlic. I also add a sprinkle of sugar to caramelise the onions a bit as they cook and to add a hint of sweetness.

As the onions become translucent, add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. When they are beginning to get a bit softer, I add the tomatoes stir until the have begun to break down. Add the rice and mix thoroughly, add the chickpeas, the lentils and the potatoes. If possibly, I advice you to use dried chickpeas and lentils because
1) they taste better
and
2) when using dried ones, they will release their starch as they cook which will make the dish creamier
but I know it is not always possible to find them like this.

Add a generous amount of the spices; about a tablespoon of each should suffice. You could also add a can of curry sauce or butter chicken sauce and add a cup less of water later.

The next step is to add the water that will cook the rice, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. The amount of water you use depends completely  on the amount of each you are adding; I would suggest two cups for each cup of dry ingredient, if using canned lentils and chickpeas then a cup for a cup. As long as everything is submerged you should be okay. Stir and bring to the boil.

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The water will initially go a creepy brown colour, don’t worry about this as it is just the colour of the lentils’ skin. Once it is boiling, cover the pot and bring down to a simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. If you’re anything like me you will want to check on it every 10 or so minutes, but if you’re not so nosey you can leave it; do some yoga, watch an episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’ (although I admit that its hard to just watch one episode), clean up the mess you have made all over your kitchen.

If it looks like it is running out of water you can add more but by the time it finishes cooking it should be a nice creamy mixture and the water should have mostly been absorbed. I know that so many recipes always so that you should ‘serve immediately’ but with this I say let it cool for about 10 minutes, it is far too delicious to serve up and not begin eating right away but it will also be very, very hot. I have burnt my mouth on it quite badly before, all because I didn’t have the self-control to wait…

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loubieh bi zeit

Summer is my favourite season, for many reasons. Not only because I hate the cold and wish that I could spend my life lying on the beach, but also because of the variety of vegetables that are available during Summer; the other day I found green beans at the market that were so cheap they were almost giving them away. Green beans are my absolute favourite, I will them whenever I can, often even just raw as a little snack. When I was six years old, one of my birthday presents was a ginormous bag of green beans and it remains one of my favourite presents of all time.

So I left the market with a 500gram bag of beans which cost me all of 27cents, I was ecstatic! However, I got home and realised that I had half a kilo of beans all for myself and they did not look like they were going to last very long so I had to find a way of using them ASAP.

This is an adapted recipe of loubieh bi zeit, a Middle Eastern dish that I discovered a couple of months back (as you might be able to guess, it is basically entirely beans). This is so quick and easy that I think it makes a perfect lunchtime meal, as a side salad for dinner or as a dish to take and serve cold at barbeque or picnic at the beach.

For this recipe you will need:
a large quantity of beans (I probably used between 200 and 250grams)
half a green capsicum
half a red capsicum
a clove of garlic
half a diced onion
a can of tomatoes or a fresh tomato
a decent collection of herbs and spices

However this is completely a guide; I added the capsicum because they were other things that I had which I thought would go nicely, I didn’t use the tomatoes because I didn’t have them, so you can add or subtract anything you want.

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Firstly, thinly slice the capsicums and break off the ends of the beans. Place the beans in a pot of boiling water, after five minutes add the capsicum and boil for a further five minutes before draining and setting to the side. I added the capsicum later than the beans because I wanted them to retain their a firmer texture to contrast the soft beans.

While they are cooking sauté the onions and garlic in a dash of olive oil, by the time they are nice and soft and slightly translucent the other vegetables should be done. Turn the heat of the pan up and add the vegetables; they should sizzle! This is what is going to help make the beans to get a little bit fried and crispy which is what I like so much about this dish, beans that are both soft and crunchy.

After a couple of minutes add whatever spices and herbs you have.
I combined a teaspoon of curry powder
a teaspoon of paprika
a teaspoon of cumin
a teaspoon of sweet red pepper powder
a teaspoon of herbs de Provence
a dash of salt and pepper
I know this sounds like a lot but it needs to be in order to coat the beans well.

I also added some sesame seeds and some ‘Orgasmic Buddha’, I have no idea what this actually is, I found it in the cupboard and thought that I was hilarious.

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Add the spice mix and turn the heat down, you don’t want to burn the spices or your smoke detector will not be too pleased. Stir constantly for a few minutes and it’s done! If you are using the version with to tomatoes add you still have a bit to do; add them and bring to the boil before leaving to simmer for about 10 minutes. Now you’re done.

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This dish is so simple, and so delicious. Perfect for any time of year, the spices will warm you up on a cold evening or get you sweating to cool off in the middle of Summer!

quirky quiche (or another q adjective?)

  Next week will mark three months since I arrived in France, wow it has gone so quickly! The other day I realised that in those three months I had not yet eaten a French quiche, a dish that I have always automatically thought of when I think of French cuisine.

Luckily, this was about to change as I am the only one in the apartment for the next week weeks and was given a carton of eggs the other day, and I don’t eat eggs by themselves and quiche is an easy way to use up a lot of eggs in one go.

There are literally a million different variations of quiche (okay, maybe not literally but there are a lot) so the first step after acquiring your eggs is to decide what else your going to fill it with. So I was bumbling around on the internet looking for a recipe that would use the ingredients I had waiting to be used in my fridge and I found a recipe for a ‘Rainbow Quiche’ which 1) looked delicious, 2) mainly used most of the things I had, and 3) was obviously a sign that this was meant to be a celebration quiche to celebrate the overturning of DOMA and Prop 8. And boy, this sign was delicious!

As you can probably guess, a Rainbow Quiche is a quiche full of colourful ingredients so feel free to pick and choose whatever vegetables you want. The recipe called for three small capsicums, each of different colours and finely diced, half an onion some broccoli and a cup each of spinach leaves and sliced mushrooms. I personally had a big issue with this part of the recipe, why measure mushrooms in cups? You can’t go and buy a cup of mushrooms or measure it out, so why say it? By the way, a cup of mushrooms is two medium sized ones.

I could not find any spinach at the grocery store and I hate broccoli more than I hate anything in the world, so I omitted these ingredients and replaced them with a diced tomato and half of an avocado. I also only had two kinds of capsicums so I switched the orange one for 100 grams of lardons (bacon bits) because they are almost the same colour and they are yummy.SAM_0803_edited

So here is what you need to do to make your Rainbow Quiche Lorraine…

Line a pie dish with savoury pastry, shape it nicely, poke it all over with a fork and put in in the refrigerator to chill.

In a large pan or skillet, heat a bit oil or butter (depending on what vegetables you plan on using, or really to your own preference) and add the onions. I also added some crushed garlic because I love it, and have recently discovered all of its amazing nutritional properties. If you are using lardons then add them when the onions start becoming slightly translucent. You know that the lardons are cooking nicely when they start to release all of their juices, the onions will start to absorb this and become full of flavour!

Next add whatever vegetables you have decided to use, sauté them until they are tender before seasoning with salt and pepper and some dried herbs. I added the tomato after I did this so they hadn’t gone too mushy when I assembled the quiche. I also didn’t add the avocado, along with a few sprigs of fresh parsley until just before putting the vegetables into the pastry. Remove the mixture from the pan and leave on a plate to cool slightly, this is so it doesn’t melt the pastry. I almost stopped right here, because it already looked amazing and I wouldn’t have minded eating it just like this!

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The recipe that I was loosely following called for 6 eggs and 1 3/4 cups of milk or demi crème whisked together with a dash of salt but I was scared that this would be too much for my little dish, and I also had a lot of vegetables so I used 5 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of milk knowing that I could always whisk another egg if I didn’t have enough. Spoon the vegetables into the pastry mold and spread evenly. Cover with a cup of grated cheese, basically any kind will do; mozzarella, nacho cheese, I wish that I had used crumbled feta but instead I used Emmental. I would probably advise not to use this as it didn’t go nice and gooey like I would have liked but rather went all crusty and crunchy.

Pour the milky egg mixture over top and place in the oven for 45 minutes on about 180°C. It is lucky that I used only 5 eggs because the mixture was this close to overflowing as I placed it in the oven!

You know it’s ready when you can stick a knife in it and pull it out without any egg sticking to it, it should be nice and golden on top. Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I served mine with a nice rainbow coloured salad. And ate half of it in one sitting, but it is supposed to be 8 servings, I guess for people with no appetites. Enjoy!SAM_0809_editedSAM_0814SAM_0817_edited