Saturday, April 12, 2008


Stir-Fried Capsicums, Tomatoes and Capers with Hummus on Pita

This morning I had my heart set on making pecan pie. This is not the sort of dessert my angelheart Eric would have expected on his birthday (he is of the group of humans who either wants chocolate in a dessert dish, cake or ice cream - and, often, both), but the chill in the air begged to be buffered by the richness of this buttery-tasting nut, with additional depth provided by a good Canadian or Vermont maple syrup (my preference is for the dark amber syrups). Of course, today, I could not find pecans anywhere. And in the course of shopping, I was presented with another problem - forget the cake for now, what about lunch?

Recently Lucy of Nourish Me asked her readers what they tucked into their weekday lunchboxes. This morning, a Saturday, the very same question struck me. While I do not have to worry about the constraints of a lunch box or other vessel to take to the office, I could technically make anything. That thought is overwhelming to my somewhat rigid (selectively flexible) nature - parameters are nice at times.

The luxury of weekend lunches, though, is that one has the time to cook, if he or she chooses. But what to cook? I did not really feel like cooking for any great length of time, and I had it fixed in my mind that I would not just pick something from the fridge or grab something ready to go from a bakery or delicatessen either (I'm bloody difficult at times, I know). I wandered the market aimlessly, thrown off by not achieving the only plan I had for this morning (to find pecan nuts). I halted in front of a display of shiny capsicums (bell peppers).

I love the solanaceae family, not only because the members of its clan have the coolest names in the botanical world (datura and deadly nightshade - the belladonna genus is the deadliest of the bunch with high levels of alkaloids) but because the plants that are edible produce either fruit (like capsicums, aubergines and tomatoes) or berries (such as wolfberry) - and you know of my looooooooovvvve for aubergines.

I do not like capsicums in their raw state, say in a standard salad offering, but cooked in any fashion, they impart a smoky and sweet quality to any dish. It was only a few weeks ago that I made a Moroccan salad of roasted capsicums and tomatoes (Chakchouka), and I suddenly felt like having it again. I decided on a shortcut to get around roasting the capsicums; thus, I could also work on my version of hummus - and the two would be combined in a warm pita pocket.

Stir-Fried Capsicums, Tomatoes and Capers
(adapted from the recipe for Chakchouka in Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane's The Scent of Orange Blossoms)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 capsicums, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely diced
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed

1) In a saute pan over medium-high heat, warm up the olive oil, then add the capsicum slices.
2) When the capsicum has softened, add the garlic.
3) When the garlic is fragrant but has not coloured, add the tomatoes (the point is to warm them through).
4) Let the sumac hit the bottom of the pan for a few seconds before turning it into the other ingredients.
5) When the capsicum slices have completely softened, take the pan off the heat, add the capers and season the dish with salt and pepper

With respect to the portions of ingredients, think one capsicum and one tomato per person. The presence of sumac should be subtle, adding a slight citrus spike to the capsicum and tomatoes, heightened by the capers. Using this recipe as a stand-alone salad is a great possibility for busy gatherings, for it is traditionally served at room temperature, which allows you to get on with other things.

My version of hummus is a combination of recipes for Hummus Habb (chickpea puree) and Hummus bi Tahini (chickpea puree with tahina). It is a cinch to make and preferable to many prepared ones because the fresh citrus juice is allowed to sing beautifully, accenting the richness of the puree. Also, I have found no significant difference in making hummus from scratch with chickpeas in their raw state and soaked overnight to making it from chickpeas in a can.

(Adapted from recipes for Hummus Habb and Hummus bi Tahini in Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

450g canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 large clove garlic, minced
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup tahina (a paste made from hulled sesame seeds)
1/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil, approximately

1) In a blender mix the above ingredients. The liquid is to encourage the puree to become creamy. If you find the above liquid measurements do not work for you, add more olive oil (or argan oil). Add seasoning or more lemon juice to your liking.

Slice a warm pita such that you create a pita pocket, slather the internal walls with Hummus, and fill with the stir-fried goodies. Each mouthful should be warm and rich. While an incredible stomach-filler, the acidic and salty additions clear the way and encourage continued bites until one has had too much (I had two and could not bear a light dinner until very late). While this is the perfect lazy, weekend lunch for me, I hope it is not too long before I can satisfy my sweet tooth with a great pecan pie. Bring on Autumn!

(And happy birthday to my angelheart Eric.)

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There's little worse than a raw capsicum in my book. But cooked until silky and smoky, things change dramatically. This is a great lunch dish, one you could easily make and transport to work and would last well for more than one meal. Gorgeous!

Glad to have got you thinking!

Happy Birthday to Eric, too - I liked that you snuck that in right at the end.
Oh that looks so delicious! Don't you hate it when you go to the store and they don't have what you want? Drives me nuts.
Happy Birthday Eric!
Happy Birthday Eric! :) Hope he wasn't too bummed about the lack of cake!

And, for the record, I had never heard of capsicums before reading your post. Off to google it!
I'm with Eric ... GIMME CHOCOLATE!
Happy Belated Birthday to the Angelheart!

Shaun, it is so good to see you.
Dear Shaun - So good that you could celebrate Eric's B-Day in person with him. I trust that his visit has been a romantic and memorable reunion for both of you.

I'm rather partial to nightshades myself (for obvious culinary purposes), as well as fascinated that parts of their plants can dilate your pupils into another world. (No, not even obliquely interested in going there, BTW.)
Yes, these magical, nay Medieval, botanicals *do* have "cool" names. I'm also fond of monkshood and mandrake, but my respect for these plants prevents me from getting w/in 10 miles of them. Had a exquisite bouquet of monkshood once, but lived in terror of it until it hit the dustbin.

I'm not keen on raw bell peppers, either, but a smart-arsed serrano or Hungarian Waxed, is another story. Love your simple, yet heady dishes.
Shaun, please drop by my blog, I have something for you :)
Oh, and happy belated birthday to your Eric!!

Lucy ~ Like you, some things do taste infintely better and more complex when cooked, and capsicums are among this group. This is a hearty and flavourful lunch, easy to reproduce and build upon at a whim. As for sneaking in Eric's birthday greeting at the end, I figured everyone's tired of listening to me moping on my life without him, but I could not let his day go unrecognised on my blog.

Sara, darling ~ Yeah, it can drive me nuts but because this blog has really forced me to seriusly look at what I'm cooking and when I'm cooking or baking it, I feel that I have become more flexible and can call on substitutes where necessary. It would be nice to make something according to the intention of a recipe sometimes, just to know how one would tweak it next time.

Neen ~ Eric appreciates the birthday greeting - thank you. He, of course, did not go without cake; he just didn't have one made with the love of the antipodes. Nevermind. I believe capsicums are known as bell peppers in the US.

Cynthia ~ Thank you for wishing Eric a happy birthday. It is always wonderful to see your messages.

Susan, lovie ~ Did the person who gave you monkshood know of their toxicity? What a hoot! I agree with you about not getting too close - though beautiful, they're not worth risking one's life. Hungarian Waxed is a favourite pepper here, too, and I do love the juiciness of capsicums.

Vonsachsen ~ I will drop by! Thank you for wishing Eric a happy birthday.
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