a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

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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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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