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Monthly Archives: October 2013

ROASTED PEPPERS

I know people who actually hate bell peppers, and I like them despite this incomprehensible flaw. I have always liked bell peppers, even the green bell peppers which seem to elicit most of the hatred. My grandmother used them in her potato soup  and no one ever complained. That was back in the Dark Ages, children, when green bell peppers were all that was available. Well, you could sometimes get red bell peppers, but you had to take out a loan to buy them. Nowadays the sweet red bells are easily available (at least here in California) as well as yellow, orange, purple, brown, and good old green ones – and they are very frequently the same price as the green ones, sometimes even cheaper.

If you kind of sort of like bell peppers, you might like them better if you roasted them. They become sweeter and tender, and can easily be blended into other dishes such as soups, hummus, sauces (think red pepper Hollandaise), and so forth. Not just the sweet bells, but all kinds of capsicum are easily roasted. Unless I am making a very fast pico de gallo with fresh raw peppers, I always roast a variety of chili peppers when I make salsa.  They are all roasted exactly the same way – Jalapenos, Anaheims, pasillas, serranos, etc.  You can buy jars of all kinds of peppers already roasted, peeled, and marinated, but this is kind of fun to do and far cheaper than store-bought.

Here I am using the broiler unit in an electric stove, with the pepper just a few inches under the heat element. If you have a gas range, just put the pepper/chili directly on a low flame and turn it as needed until blackened in the way described. They can also be done on a barbecue (gas or charcoal) or over a wood fire.

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Turn the pepper as necessary so the whole thing blackens and blisters. Don’t freak if some spots are missed. It’ll be okay.

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When the whole pepper is more or less black, remove it and pop it in a bag, paper or plastic, and crimp the bag shut. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes while you go do something else.

You will find the the blackened skin comes off pretty easily under cool running water.

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When most of the skin has been removed (do not obsess about little tiny bits of blackened skin that won’t come off), cut the pepper open and scoop out the seeds. In hot chilis, the seeds and interior ribs are the source of the heat, so either wear gloves or wash your hands VERY well after doing seed surgery. Even after you wash your hands, avoid touching any sensitive body parts for several hours. Trust me on this.

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Then cut out the tough stem (if you haven’t already) and voila! You have a roasted pepper.

Nigella Lawson suggests slicing such peppers and immersing them in a piquant vinaigrette with anchovies. I have done this and it was a delicious little salad-y accompaniment to a hamburger, and the anchovies were not at all fishy. I also like these roasted peppers tossed into a green salad or mixed with sliced avocados and minced red onion. They are delicious spread out on a steak, combined with sauteed onions or mushrooms or alone.  Combined with decent diced tomatoes and fresh basil (I know it’s now autumn and such things are rare), they make a great garnish for broiled/sauteed fish such as salmon or cod. They’re sublime in an omelet with a spoonful of sour cream and some minced red onion. A puree of them with some chicken broth and perhaps canned coconut milk and cilantro (maybe a little Thai curry paste too) will make a fabulous soup.

Chili peppers of varying heat are done the same way, and I combine several types with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, onion, cumin, and whatever else is lying around to make salsa. Beware that some of the hotter types, especially if done over a flame, can emit fumes that will make you cough like mad, but do not let that prevent you from trying this method. They are worth the suffering.

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GREEN SOUP FOR HALLOWEEN

When I was a kidlet – that would be back in the early 1960s – the local 4-H club held a Halloween party at the IOOF Hall (that is the International Order of Odd Fellows, and before you start snickering, read about their long history here).  After kids got done trick-or-treating (which did not take long in a town with about 15 houses) they gathered at the hall for a costume contest, bobbing for apples (an activity that really isn’t as much fun as nostalgia makes it out to be), a fortune teller, various games, and a Spook House.  It was generally accepted that one aspect of the Spook House would be making little kids cry by forcing their hands into cold spaghetti and telling them it was worms. It grieves me in multiple ways that this way of observing Halloween appears to be as dead as the proverbial dodo, for reasons we won’t go into here.

But the spirit of serving ghastly-themed foods at this time of year still survives. Melted chocolate chips in cookies drawn out to look like spiders, marzipan green fingers, tombstone cookies.  If you’re an adult looking for something weird to serve at a Halloween-themed dinner, this green soup might fit the ticket. I’ll leave it to you to make up a name.

This is actually from Love Soup by Anna Thomas, the woman who brought us the best-selling series of Vegetarian Epicure cookbooks. I made a couple of adaptations. Even if it isn’t Halloween, this is a really delicious soup that is extremely nutritious, low-fat, gluten-free, vegan if you so choose, and easy to make. It could be a good way to introduce veggie-phobes to dark leafy greens.

 About Vegetable Broth:

Most people buy boxed or canned vegetable broth instead of making it, and that’s fine as long as you read the ingredients and adapt your recipe accordingly. They may contain gluten, sugar in one of its many forms, or assorted preservatives.  Almost all of them are salty. They vary wildly in taste, color, and texture. One Thanksgiving I bought three different brands to make vegan gravy/stuffing with. One was very thick and carrotty, one was brown and earthy like mushrooms and potatoes, and one was thin, green and grassy.  You might like them all – or none of them, in which case you would do well to pick up a copy of Love Soup and follow one of the recipes for vegetable broth.

From top left clockwise, cilantro (coriander leaves), curly kale, green onions (scallions), spinach.

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GREEN SOUP

  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 bunch kale
  • small bunch green onions (scallions)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons rice
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • olive oil
  • cayenne
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable broth

In a skillet, very slowly saute the chopped onions with a sprinkle of salt in a very small amount of olive oil, stirring often, until the onions turn soft and golden. Do not hurry this – it could take 30-45 minutes. When they are very soft, add the chopped shallot and cook another five minutes, stirring the shallot into the onions now and then.

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While the onions cook, wash and chop the spinach and kale, discarding the tough stems of the kale. Leave the spinach stems on.  (The best way to wash often-sandy spinach is to fill a large bowl or sink with cold water, place the spinach in the water, and plunge it up and down several times. The sand will sink to the bottom. Repeat until no sand appears.) Put the greens along with the rice, the chopped green onions, and chopped cilantro in a large pot with three cups of water and a sprinkle of salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. You will see that what started as a big pot of greens cooks way down.

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When both onions and greens are done, scrape the onions into the greens pot and simmer another ten minutes. Add broth as needed so the mixture pours from a ladle.

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Puree the mixture in a blender in batches until quite smooth.  Start on low, then gradually increase the blender speed. (Anna Thomas suggests that you could use a handheld blender. I did this the first time I made this soup. Only do this if you have all day and infinite patience. It takes forever and really doesn’t do a very good job.) Or use a food processor.

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Return pureed soup to the soup pot. Add freshly ground pepper, the juice of half a lemon, about 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (don’t be afraid of cayenne!), and let simmer about five minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings as you like.

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Anna Thomas says she always garnishes this with a drizzle of olive oil, and you could do this if you have really good olive oil on hand. My preference would be some crumbled blue, cotija, or feta cheese, shredded aged Cheddar, Swiss, or Gouda,  or some crisp crumbled bacon and chopped seeded tomato, or any sort of freshly made croutons or sauteed bread. A spoonful of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream with chopped green onions would be luscious too. For greens lovers, try a shot of hot pepper vinegar.

Changes and substitutions:

Use chicken broth, or a combination of vegetable broth and chicken broth. Homemade light stock would be best if you have it. Avoid Campbell’s. It’s nothing but salt.

Add milk, half-and-half, or cream.

Use olive oil and/or butter.

You can use any leafy greens you like: any kind of kale, beet greens, chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards, spinach, water spinach, cress, arugula, and so forth. Tougher ones like collards may need longer simmering, and stronger flavored ones will make a more assertively-flavored soup.

Substitute freshly chopped garlic for the shallot. Substitute very well-washed leeks (including the green part ) for all or part of the sauteed onions.

Cilantro haters;  you cannot taste the cilantro in the finished soup. If you must, you can substitute flat-leaf parsley.

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