Wednesday 30 January 2008

Really Easy Roast Pepper and Caper Salad

This is such an easy, colourful dish to make, with knock-out flavours: sweet, smoky roast peppers, salty little capers, fresh basil, olive oil and just a wink of garlic. I used these beautiful long peppers, brought from Impala Fruiterers during my recent shopping spree. The secret to succulent peppers with skins that slip right off is to let them cool completely in the oven. Please use freshly crushed garlic for this dish - not that awful yellow paste that comes in bottles and makes your breath reek for days. Make well in advance so the flavours can develop.

Really Easy Roast Pepper and Caper Salad
6-8 red, yellow and green peppers
100 ml olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp (2,5 ml) Tabasco sauce
salt and milled black pepper
a scattering of capers*
fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Put the whole peppers, stalks and all, on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the skin starts to blacken in places. Now turn down the heat and roast for another 15 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and leave the peppers to cool down to room temperature in the oven. Cut off the stalks of the peppers and slip off their skins. Cut each pepper in half and, using the back of a knife, scrape out the seeds. Slice into long strips. Combine the olive oil and the freshly crushed garlic in a little bowl. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then stir in the Tabasco sauce. Now, using a tea strainer or sieve, strain the oil mixture over the peppers, pressing down on the garlic bits with the back of a teaspoon. Season with salt and pepper and scatter with capers and basil. Let the salad stand for at least an hour before serving.

Serves 6 as a side salad.

Note: I use dried, salted capers (available from good delis). They have to be soaked in a few changes of water first, but they are much nicer than the vinegary ones. A pounded anchovy fillet added to the dressing would be good (but my family don't like them).
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Brown & Wild Rice Salad with Feta and Herbs

Have you tried Tastic's Brown & Wild Rice with Lentils? An excellent wholesome staple for family meals (although you will get long faces if it comes up too often). Try it in this nutty, crunchy, deeply herbal salad:

Brown & Wild Rice Salad with Feta and Herbs
1 cup Tastic Brown & Wild Rice with Lentils
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 bunch fresh watercress, chopped (or parsley or mint, or both)
1 cup ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup baby carrots, sliced
2 discs feta cheese, crumbled
a handful of toasted sunflower seeds

For the dressing:
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (2- 3 lemons)
2/3 cup (160 ml) olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp (10 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) tahini (optional)
salt and milled black pepper

Cook the rice according to the packet instructions. While it's cooking, make the dressing by combining the ingredients and whisking well. Drain the rice and rinse under a cold tap for a moment. Tip the warm rice into a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients. Pour over the dressing and toss well to combine. Season well. Top with extra feta and a scattering of whole coriander leaves. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a side salad. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Impala goes Platinum -- the best fruit and veggie shop in SA? And, a recipe for Red Fruit Salad

Have you ever shopped at Impala Fruiterers in Northcliff, Johannesburg? What a banquet for the senses. I've only ever seen more beautiful fresh produce at a market in Italy. You can get anything - anything - at Impala: the crispiest, greenest organic lettuces and leaves, the most pungent herbs, the juiciest seasonal fruit, the ripest tomatoes and avocados, not to mention a huge array of fresh nuts, dried fruit, olive oils, preserves, grains and pulses. And a host of seasonal fruits and veggies that you won't see on the shelves of Pick 'n Pay: fat bulbs of fennel, kohlrabi, celeriac, pomegranates, prickly pears, starfruit, quinces, fresh porcini mushrooms, to mention a few. The produce isn't expensive: in fact, it's so reasonable that Woolies should hang their heads in shame.

I bought a gigantic carton of seasonal goodies today, for a mere R280. Most delicious of all are huge, juicy, ruby-red plums that are the sweetest I've ever tasted, and a big bag of purply catawba grapes. There is something about the taste of a catawba that just sends me into raptures: if you don't know what I'm talking about, try to remember the musky sweetness of the grapes you plucked off a vine growing over someone's stoep (that's a veranda) twenty years ago. In all likelihood, it was a catawba grape. This is the taste of dusty summer days and sun-warmed slasto patios (remember slasto?), a taste so evocative of my farm childhood that biting into one of these grapes actually brought a lump to my throat.

In fact, the produceI bought today was so utterly beautiful that I couldn't resist taking about 1000 photographs.

What my fruit bowl looks like now.

What my other fruit bowl looks like now. The beautiful smoke-fired platter is made by my uncle David Walters, master potter of Franschhoek.

Had enough of gratuitous fruit and vegetable pictures? Okay, here's a recipe. Well, not really a recipe, but what I did with some of the fruit I bought. (If you've read my last post, you'll know that I'm craving red food at the moment). Sorry the picture's a bit blurry: it was getting dark.

Red Fruit Salad

- ripe red plums, pipped and cut into eighths
- seedless red or black grapes
- pomegranate seeds (as IF you have these in your fridge. I've ranted at length about recipes that call for exotic ingredients already. Sorry.)
- frozen cranberries (Ditto. But look, I had them in my freezer. Use strawberries or raspberries, or even tinned black cherries, instead)
- little cubes of watermelon
- 1 T (15 ml) sugar
- juice of half a lemon
- fresh mint or lemon balm leaves

Tenderly combine all the fruit in a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon juice, and tuck the lemon balm leaves into the salad. Chill for at least an hour. Serve with cream.

A fruit salad of these gorgeous plums would be delicious with this spicy sugar syrup. I didn't have time to make syrup, but if there are any plums left over tomorrow (hope springs eternal) they will find themselves dressed in this:

Spicy Sugar Syrup

1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
a long shaving of lemon zest

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently, swirling the pot occasionally (don't stir it). When the mixture boils, add the remaining ingredients, turn down the heat a little and simmer for fifteen minutes. Set aside and allow to cool completely. Strain the syrup over the plums. Chill well before serving.

There are endless variations on this recipe. You could add any of the following ( in appropriate flavour combinations): grated fresh ginger, a vanilla pod, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, crushed coriander or cardamom seeds (odd, but it works), orange zest, white wine, rooibos tea, lemon grass, a sprig of thyme or rosemary, rose water or a few whole cloves. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Roast Red Pepper & Tomato Soup

I've got such a deep, greedy need for piping-hot, peppery tomato soup at the moment - what could my soul be craving? The colour red? A bit of acidity to balance out my natural sweetness, har har? Or perhaps a hefty dose of healthy lycopene? Woolies and Pick 'n Pay both make very tasty tomato soups, and variations thereof - with basil, with sun-dried tomatoes, with red peppers - but they are somehow not quite peppy and zingy and livid enough for my starved tastebuds. So this is what I made:

Roast Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
5 big, ripe red peppers (capsicums)
10 ripe, sweet tomatoes
a little olive oil
a tin of Italian peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) white sugar
2 T (30 ml) tomato paste (or 4 T, 60 ml, tomato sauce/ketchup)
water or stock to thin
2 tsp (10 ml) Tabasco sauce (to taste)
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika
1/2 cup (125 ml) cream (optional)
a handful of fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Preheat the oven to its highest setting (my oven goes up to 220°C. ) Halve the red peppers, remove the stalks and seeds, and any really huge bits of white pith, and arrange, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Halve the tomatoes and place, cut side up, on another baking sheet.

Brush the peppers and tomato halves with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a grinding of black pepper. Place the baking sheets in the oven (if they won't fit side by side, put one sheet on the top rack, and the other on the bottom, and swop them over a couple of times during roasting). Roast until they are soft and beginning to blacken on the edges (about 30-40 minutes, depending on the ferocity of your oven)

Now turn the heat down to 140° C and allow to bake for another 20 minutes or so.

This is how mine looked after a thorough roasting:
Rub off any deeply blackened bits of skin off the peppers (don't worry about flecks of black) and tip them and the tomatoes into a food processor fitted with a metal blade (you might need to do this in batches). Add the tinned tomatoes and their juice, the garlic, the sugar and the tomato paste. Whizz at high speed until you have a thick, slightly chunky purée. Tip into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, skimming off any foam as it rises. Thin to a soupy consistency with a little water or stock (I like soup quite thick and chunky). Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Now add the cream (very slowly, in a trickle; very acid tomatoes may curdle the cream), Tabasco sauce and paprika. Season with salt and pepper and serve very hot, topped with torn fresh basil and a swirl of olive oil.

By the time I'd remembered to take a picture of the finished soup, I'd eaten it all. Sorry for that.

Serves 6.

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Thursday 24 January 2008

Commentless: is this the world's least popular blog?

I suppose I'm asking for a bit of support, a tiny crumb or crust (which you might rub with a clove of garlic, sprinkle with sea salt, and then toast on an open fire), by giving this post that title. But, can you blame me? This blog has attracted 3 (three) comments since it opened months and months ago. Shall I give it up? Pull the plug? Throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Breaking news: this blog has changed is name. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 18 January 2008

Easy Power-Failure Sweet Chilli Jam

I bought a gargantuan box of sweet, deep-red tomatoes from my greengrocer yesterday, for a mere thirty ront (R30). What a bargain, I thought as I staggered to my car. Every household needs 5000 tomatoes that promise to reach a pinnacle of ripeness within the next 20 minutes. It only hit me when I got home, and had to hire a forklift to get the box of tomatoes out of my car boot, that perhaps not everyone would appreciate gazpacho for supper for the next six weeks. So all the scarlet lovelies ended up in a Sweet Chilli Jam.

Here's a pic of the finished product
 (I think pictures might enliven this blog a bit,
don't you?)
I didn't have a recipe, and couldn't look for one on the Net, because there was yet another power failure in our area (luckily I have city gas, so I can at least use the hob) so I improvised a quick cheat's recipe, using some old chutney recipes as a guide.

 Stirring and scraping a cauldron of spitting red goo was a good way to while away the hours until the lights finally came on just after darkness fell. I've scaled this recipe down so it makes about 3 jars of sauce.

Excellent on a Cheddar sandwich, in stir-fries, or poured over a disc of ripe Camembert.

Power-Failure Sweet Chilli Jam

12 large, ripe, red tomatoes
2 big red peppers (capsicums)
4 (or more, depending on how hot you'd like your sauce) fresh red chillies
1 thumb-size piece fresh ginger, coarsely grated
2½ cups (625 ml) white sugar (or more, depending on the wateriness and acidity of the tomatoes)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) Balsamic or white wine vinegar
salt to taste

Roughly chop the tomatoes, peppers and chillies (skin, seeds and all) and place in a liquidiser, or a blender fitted with a metal blade, together with the grated ginger. Whizz on the highest setting for a minute until processed to a foamy, thinnish liquid: don't worry if there are pips, or bits and pieces of pith and peel bobbing around. Pour into a large, deep pan and tip in the sugar and the vinegar. Add salt, to taste. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Now turn the heat right up and boil vigorously for 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the mixture from catching. Use a large flat metal spoon to skim any foam or scum from the surface of the sauce.

In the meantime, rinse three small glass jars (or bottles, or Tupperware blikkies) in very hot water. If you're fastidious (which I am not) you can sterilise them first by microwaving the wet jars on high for three minutes, or by placing them, and their lids, in a clean saucepan of rapidly boiling water for five minutes. Drain upside down on a paper towel.

Taste the mixture - if it's too sweet, add a little more vinegar. When the mixture darkens a little, becomes syrupy and spits angrily when you stir it, it's nearly ready.

If you have a sugar thermometer, bring the mixture up to a few degrees below jam point. Or, much easier, take an ice cube from the freezer and drop a large blob of the mixture on to it. If the mixture, once it's cooled for 20 seconds, slides enthusiastically off the ice cube, you're not there yet - carry on boiling it for a little longer. If the sauce sets to a wobbly, trembling gel within 20 seconds of hitting the ice cube, it's ready.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes.

Put a sheet of newspaper under the hot jars and use a ladle to fill each jar almost to the brim. Screw on the lids tightly. If the jars are sticky on the outside, give them a quick rinse under the hot tap before you put them away.

Makes about 700 ml.

POSTSCRIPT: Store the jam in the fridge once you've opened it. I left two open jars in the cupboard and they lasted a month before they started to ferment, and I had to chuck them in the bin. This is probably because I neglected to sterilise the jars properly. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Mango and Cheddar Toasties

I hesitate to post this recipe, because it's so peculiar. But it's very, very good, especially if you like the combination of cheese and fruit. This was made for me by a friend many, many years ago, in a tiny little flat in Dublin, and was the perfect pick-me-up after a long, gruelling, overnight ferry trip across the Irish sea. I won't go into details, suffice to say that it was lucky I had a big plastic handbag, because the crossing was so rough and nauseating that there was no chance of making it to the... well, that's enough for now.

Mangoes are in season in Johannesburg right now, my goodness, it is a bumper season - the shops are filled with the most beautiful globes in riotous sunset colours.

Mango and Cheddar Toasties

8 slices white or brown bread
2 firm, ripe mangoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
a block of sharp matured Cheddar, thinly sliced
milled black pepper

Preheat the oven grill for 10 minutes.

Put the slices of bread in a single layer on a baking sheet and place under the hot grill. When they're nicely toasted on once side, remove from the oven and turn over. Spread a thin lick of mustard on each slice. Top with two or three slices of mango. Now cover with thin slices of Cheddar, making sure that the corners of the toast slices are covered in cheese. Grind over plenty of black pepper.

Put the baking sheet back into the oven and grill until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to turn golden brown. Cut into quarters.

Serve hot.

Serves 4-6 as a snack

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Wednesday 9 January 2008

Durban-Spiced Prawns with Coconut Cream

I am in raptures at the idea of crunching down on a garlicky prawn, and then shlurping the buttery, lemony, shellfishy juices from its head. I got the chance to do this twice in December, while on holiday on the KZN South Coast. Am I the lucky one?

Yes, I jolly well am. I'm lucky because I can occasionally (very occasionally, ie, once a year) afford to buy 2 kg of beautiful big pink Mozambiquan prawns, and cook them on a griddle, over a campfire, under the stars, in the singing bush, close to the beach, in the company of good friends and fine wine... oh, I wish it was December again.

Even though they're bought frozen, and so aren't as springy-fleshed as the expensive beasts you get in top-notch South African restaurants, Mozambique prawns are very, very good. A quick griddling and a bowlful of lemon-garlic butter is all you need, but if you're in the mood for something utterly delicious, try them in a mildly curried, garlicky, creamy, zingy, coconutty sauce. I call this recipe 'Durban-spiced' because of the fragrant, spanking-fresh spices it contains. Although I buy them from a wonderful spice shop in the coastal town of Shelly Beach, they come to South Africa via Durban. And if you haven't tasted a Durban curry, well.....

If you can't find freshly ground spices, buy the seeds and roast and grind them yourself: it makes all the difference.

Durban-Spiced Prawns with Coconut Cream

2 kg prawns, in their shells
olive oil
4 T (60 ml) black mustard seeds

For the marinade:

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
juice and finely grated rind of two fat lemons
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
2 T (30 ml) freshly ground coriander
2 T (30 ml) freshly ground cumin
1 T turmeric
1 T paprika
1-4 t (5-20 ml) cayenne pepper or fresh chilli powder (depending on how hot you'd like your prawns)
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
a handful of curry leaves, fresh or dried
salt and freshly milled black pepper

To finish:

350 ml tinned coconut cream (or more, if you'd like plenty of sauce)
1 big bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
thin lemon slices

Devein and clean the prawns and put them in a deep plastic bowl. Add all the marinade ingredients to the bowl and, using your hands, toss the prawns so that they are well coated in the marinade. Cover with clingfilm and set aside in a cool place for at least an hour.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a large, deep frying pan, or on a flat griddle or ridged skottel placed over a wood fire or a gas braai. When the oil is very hot, but not yet smoking, add the mustard seeds and fry until they begin to pop and sputter. Tip into a bowl, drain off the oil, and set aside. Add more olive oil to the pan and turn up the heat. Remove the prawns from the marinade dish using a slotted spoon and fry them, in batches, over a high flame, until they are just cooked (about 4-5 minutes). Don't overcrowd the pan. Set aside and keep warm.

When the last batch is done, tip the remains of the marinade into the frying pan or griddle pan. Now add the coconut milk and the reserved mustard seeds, and stir or scrape briskly to dislodge the golden-brown residue on the bottom of the pan. Allow to bubble for a minute over a high flame. Now tip the reserved prawns back into the pan, and toss well to coat. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and, if necessary, season with more salt and pepper.

Tip the prawns into a heated platter and top with thin lemon slices and fresh coriander.

Serve as a main course with Basmati rice, or as a starter.

Serves 6-8 (main course) or 12 (starter)

*** Or am I the angry one? Read my rant about holidaymakers plundering this coastline for a handful of miniature mussels. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly