Tag Archives: meal ideas

Sweet mini peppers stuffed with feta, spinach, edamame beans and gorgeous spices

10 Sep

Sweet mini peppers stuffed with feta, spinach, edamame beans and of course some gorgeous spices

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As teenagers my best friend and I went on our first holiday together, without family, to Bulgaria.  Not Ibiza, Sharm el sheikh or Tenerife, but Bansko, a town at the foot on the Pirin mountains.  We’d decided to deviate from the popular, bikini-cladded sun soaking and wild nights of clubbing and we’d also decided that we liked mountains.
We’d of course done no research.  Google wasn’t a word that existed in our lives back then and of course we didn’t buy travel books.  We just rocked up at the travel agent with about £300 as our budget and a clear ish view of what we wanted; no loud clubbers, beautiful mountain scenery, friendly people, a different culture and cheap.  I’d never contemplate contracting to a holiday under such exposed and ill-informed circumstances now, because obviously I’m not daring and old(er)
We really had no idea what we’d let ourselves in for.  Funnily enough, I’d kind of like to go back there.  There were no known brands being sold in the kiosks. There were no known fast food joints in the town.  Our guide wanted us to hang out with his daughter so that it would improve her English but of course we taught each other rude words in our respective languages.  Restaurants looked like huts and we sat on big timber tables.  Outdoor bands played in the moonlight as the residents of the town gathered.  Children climbed under the water features in the town and hollered at us saying, ‘look at the Spanish girls’ as they’d never seen an ethnically Indian person.  Donkeys walked with their owners through the streets and as we walked through the evening streets we were frightened as there was barely any street light, so we sang ‘nelly the elephant’ loudly.   As you may expect, I’m smiling as I write this.
I don’t even think we appreciated the scenery fully. We hiked with a guide and stopped to look at Viagra plants and beautiful rocky and vast mountains, cool whites, blues and greens. I remember the vastness and quietness of the mountains and the distant ringing of bells around the necks of cows. I remember drinking fresh spring water after crossing streams on logs.
I don’t think that the hotel we were staying at, or the restaurants that we ate in had encountered many vegetarians. They seemed baffled.  On the first couple of days we were served boiled veg.  We then negotiated a spaghetti dish with the non-English speaking chef, but it didn’t taste of much.  Once they realised that cheese was in fact an option for us they served us huge long peppers roasted with loads of moist and salty feta.  It tasted faintly of clay and we loved it.  The cheese was so fresh and spongy.  Oh and they served it with a beautifully simple and mellow bean soup served in a clay pot. Brilliant.
So this recipe isn’t as simple as the one I had in Bansko but it is absolutely uplifting and thoroughly sensual.   I picked up a 500g bag of mini sweet peppers from Tesco for £3 which I thought was good value for money. I’d eat the stuffing raw off a big serving spoon, but…
The colours of this dish are striking; sharp yellows and red against bright green.  The smell is a whole new thing…my kitchen smells gorgeously sweet and toasty right now as I’ve just made these peppers. I’ve used nutty edamame beans from the freezer, but if you can’t find them maybe use frozen broad beans instead? I’m putting these peppers on top of a salad, but you could put them on some cous cous, pasta or even vegetable rice.   I’ve used 1tsp of piri piri spices, but you could use more or less. Honestly, this is a fresh, juicy and toasty dish that I hope you will want to share.
Ingredients
Makes approximately 20 mini stuffed peppers
150g feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup finely shredded spinach (I put it in the food processor)
1 cup of edamame beans boiled for 3 minutes
About 20 mini sweet peppers, washed
Spices; 1 tsp cumin seeds toasted and lightly crushed, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1tsp piri piri spice
Method
1. Take a mixing bowl be crumble the feta into it.  Add the spinach and mix well before adding the edamame beans
2. Stir in spices and mix again
3. Place the mixture into a food processor and turn it into a coarse mix. We don’t need the edamame beans to be smooth,  chunky, is great.
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4. Remove the tops off thee peppers and place onto a lined baking tray
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5. With a teaspoon, fill the peppers generously and coat them lightly in oil. Roast the peppers on 180degrees for about 12-15minutes or until they look browned and you are able to pierce them.
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A Back Pocket Recipe – Roasted and Spiced Aubergine Pulp and Ricotta Conchiglioni

21 Dec

I’m thoroughly fatigued. When I squint, my eyes feel sore.  I am reassuringly, duck-feather cushioned on the sofa at home with my feet up, blanket thrown on my legs and scented candles are flickering whilst gentle aromas of sandalwood fill my head. The fire sizzles as the flames dance and lull me to sleep, or very nearly. That glowing pulse of the wood and coal always does it for me.

Its 3pm and the sensory treat of golden, orange and red colours and fragrances are a rare treat, before a 4pm meeting.

It’s worth it though, we had fabulous company for dinner last night and we laughed and chattered until the early hours. Unfortunately for them it’s a school night and they work in the city. Oops.

So yesterday, I had some energy for meal-making, but that’s purely from the love of doing it, rather than my physical levels of get-up-and-go. But you know me, I am not one for serving up a jacket-spuds, or fajita’s (I read that under a dinner party section of a food website!)  Some of the conversation at dinner, should revolve around the food, right?  And some of the fun of it all is in the food…correct?

Luckily, I keep a few back-pocket recipes for easy meals that can form part of a casual meal that’s more than a lasagne (again).  This is a recipe which I sometimes pull out because it looks like a lot of effort (I like to flatter guests) but really isn’t…and most importantly, it tastes gorgeous.  You can’t go wrong with huge pasta shells with a good stuffing in them.  Don’t worry about aubergine sensitive people, I have found that even they love it! Win-win.

I’ve bulk-made this one for parties, small and large get-togethers and the brilliance is that you can cook ahead the components and assemble it all at the last moment.  Pull it out during this festive period and kick back…

Recipe

Serves 4-6

25-30 conchiglioni shells

 A good couple of handfuls of your favourite hard cheese (I used mature cheddar infused with pickled onions and mixed herbs)

For the stuffing

A large red onion, thinly sliced and shallow fried

3 medium sized aubergines

A 250g tub of Ricotta cheese

The spices; salt to taste, 1 ½ tsp. curry powder, 1 ½ tsp. smoked paprika, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, ½ tsp. garam masala

For the sauce

2 tins of plum tomatoes

2-3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A handful of freshly chopped basil

1 tsp. sugar

The spices; ½ tsp. black pepper, salt to taste, 2 tsp. paprika

 

Method for the stuffing

  1. Lightly grease, stab and then roast the aubergines in a hot oven (pre-heated to aprox 180 degrees), until they blister and shrivel.  This should take about 40minutes.
  2. Allow the aubergines to cool, before skinning them and remove the pulp.  Smooth it out with a knife to given an even consistency
  3. Blend the red onion to a puree.  When you add this to the stuffing it will infiltrate a lovely sweetness that will help to lift the aubergine.
  4. Heat a deep pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil and then add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle. Then add the curry powder, paprika and allow them to infuse into the oil for about a minute. Don’t allow the spices to brown, they should just glow orange and red.
  5. Add the aubergine pulp and the salt, garam masala and mix through thoroughly. Stir in the sweet red onion and mix again.
  6. Let the mixture cool to a room temperature whilst you prepare the rest of it

Boil the conchiglioni until el-dente and in the meanwhile, turn your attention to the sauce. When the pasta is el-dente, drain and leave it to a side.

Method for the Tomato Sauce

  1. Heat two tablespoons of oil and then add the chopped garlic and the paprika and allow the garlic to soften for a couple of minutes on a medium heat
  2. Mix in the chopped tomatoes and the salt and simmer
  3. Stir in the sugar and the black pepper
  4. Reduce the sauce for 4-5 minutes before adding the chopped basil.

when you are ready for assembly, add the ricotta cheese into the aubergine stuffing and mix it through thoroughly.

Assembly

It couldn’t get an easier.

  1. Pour the sauce evenly between your oven dishes
  2. Take a teaspoon, stuff the pasta shells with the aubergine stuffing and place into the tomato sauce
  3. Top the trays with cheese
  4. Bake in the oven for about 7-8 minutes at 180degrees, or until the pasta is soft enogh to pierce through with a knife

See…I told you it was easy!

Deena’s Stuffed Okra

27 Nov

As a child I used to diligently peel back the layers in quarter-sections lengthways, and then nibble at them one by one. Only then, with a scoop of chapatti, would I eat the stuffing of that individual okra, with a warm, smug glow of self satisfaction. And then repeat the process. My tailored technique did slow down mealtimes, but personally I think my parents were just pleased that I was eating something green: and that okra too! We didn’t know many other kids who would eat them, at least not as happily as I did. In fact I remember one of my cousin’s being close to tears when encouraged to be sensible and eat their portion….”Deena does?” This made me feel like a very sophisticated little kid – did I have good taste or was it just that I was more willing to try? I revelled in my mother’s cheerful flaunting of this fact to my aunts as well as her friends. “She eats okra you know! In fact it’s one of her favourite meals and she even eats an extra chappati when we have this particular curry”. Parents! Kids! In fact, I think stuffed okra was indeed one of my favourite curries. Sometimes I would just roll it whole in the middle of a chapatti and then have a mighty mouthful. They’re quite a fun vegetable to eat you know. Why is this exquisite curry not served in restaurants?
 
It was, and still is, especially important to me that they sit in a mild, but pretty garlicky curry base. Not watery, but thick and happy. A luscious coating shall we say. Enough to add a tang of tomato, but I don’t want them drenched; no that would be awful. And I certainly can’t have them sticky-that’s neglectfully tragic. Simmer gently on a light flame, don’t rush.

I adore the way they are stacked in the Indian grocers, mounds and mounds of ladies fingers. I’ve always found that name so off-putting. Long green bullets being bent and scraped by scanning, analytical grocery shoppers. I’m always amused by the conversations around okra stands…people run their fingers like pensive ploughs over and through them, tutting and clicking their tongues; a distinct sign that they are unimpressed. Not woody, not browned. Green and slender, that’s how they should be…that’s what they’re discussing, scattered amongst talk of daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws.
 
I’ve experienced okra diversely, cooked in soups, Gujarati yogurt soups (kadhi), African stews, American-style breaded and fried, stir fried with sugar and then there’s the shredded and fried variety as found in Mumbai. I’ve tasted them in a ratatouille and also stir fried in soy sauce and chili. Nevertheless, one of the okra recipes that sits closest to my heart is this one.
 
Although the traditional recipe calls for the stuffing being bound with oil, I simply can’t bring myself to do it. My father and I have regular enthused discussions about this. He buys into the idea and will go along with it, but pushes my version of this stuffing, which is slightly stickier, in my direction… “You do it”. So here is how I do it;

Stuffed Okra Curry by Deena Kakaya

Ingredients

250g of okra
6 tbsp of gram flour
2 tbsp of corriander powder and 1 tsp of cumin powder
salt to taste
3 tsp of lemon juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
2tbsp of water for the stuffing and 1/2 cup hot water for the curry base.
Chili powder to taste, I use about 2 tsp
1/2 can of plum peeled tomatoes
1-2 chilies
2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
 
Method
 
1. Wash the okra and dry them individually with kitchen paper and then leave the to stand and dry completely.  This will help to avoid that gunky texture.
2. Toast the gram flour gently for about 1-2 minutes, but dont let the gram flour burn
3. Combine the gram flour, cumin powder, corriander powder, salt and turmeric and mix thoroughly
4. Add the oil, lemon juice and water to the spices mix and form a dough.
5. When the okra are dry, create a slit vertically from top to tail in the centre of the okra but avoid touching the bottom and top tips. 
6. Stuff them each generously and close them firmly.
7. In a deep set pan, heat a splash of oil and add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop.  Stir in the chopped garlic and chili and saute until golden, before mixing in the tomato and salt. Bring this to a simmer and then place the okra in gently.
8. Coat the okra with the mixture gently and simmer on a low flame for about 5 minutes before adding 1/2 cup of hot water.  Bring to a simmer again and cook on a medium flame until the okra are soft enough to pierce all the way through.  This should take about 15 minutes.
 
I suggest devouring these okra with lots of natural yogurt of raitha and hot buttery chappati’s or naan bread. 

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