It is about this time of year that I start doing quite a lot with locally grown peppers. They crop up at the farmers markets everywhere and it is pretty much impossible to walk through without picking up at least one bag. Over the years I have started to stray away from the usual red bell peppers, in search of more interesting shapes and colors. I actively hunt out the odd looking ones. Those deformed ones seem to have more character and I think they taste better to boot – or maybe just photograph with more charm..
My food takes an odd turn when it hits late summer, early autumn, as I am sure it does most peoples. One night I might just eat some lightly grilled vegetables, a slice of cheese and some salami. The next I am braising oxtail with polenta or potatoes. Light one night and heavy the next – depending how the unpredictable weather fairs this time of year.
These past few weeks I have been plagued with a nasty hit of gastritis and not a lot of food has sounded good. Strangely enough I almost totally lost any passion for cooking and preparing food. It was starting to worry me some I have to say. Meat certainly didn’t sound that great at all and seafood was only just palatable. Rather out of sorts you might say. Thankfully all that stuff seems to be done with now, and my hunger has returned with much vigor.
One good thing to come out of that mess was this lovely little stuffed pepper recipe. I have been a long time fan of millet. For some reason I always compare it to quinoa for no other reason than the fact that the two look pretty similar. I prefer millet. It is nuttier, more interesting and has better texture. I am sure some hippies with grubby hair will most likely at this point stop singing kumbaya around a campfire to start yelling things about quinoa being an almost complete protein, food of the Inca’s and all that crap. Sure, but millet tastes better and photographs better too.
I like my grains pepped up a bit and this case is no exception. Recently I have really been enjoying the Egyptian spice mix Dukkah (also Dukka, Duqqa). It has a real complexity and interest to it and just brings a lovely warm happiness to a lot of things (try it on some good feta, drizzled with olive oil for instance). Dukkah goes quite merrily it turns out with grains mixed with soaked raisins and apricots and hazelnuts. VERY WELL one might say. If you were to top this off with a dip of cool yogurt with spices and lime zest then it would make the whole thing even happier. These peppers use a somewhat bastardized version of the spice mix, just based on what I had in the kitchen and my own personal taste.
When doing stuffed peppers I like to go “open face” which is the exact opposite of how I like a good sandwich. I like to roast the peppers a bit first, cook the filling separately, then combine it all on a baking sheet. This gets finished off in a very hot oven for 10 minutes just to get things sizzling. That way I can prep everything the day before, and focus a bit more on individual components.
It might look like this recipe has quite a bit going on, but it is really just a marry of warm and cool. All the spices and nuts great this great intensely flavored warmth throughout the dish – with sweetness brought about by the peppers and fruit. This all gets cooled down by the yogurt which has been pepped with a little of the spice to help things blend, and a good job lot of lime zest. Be sure to use unsweetened yogurt for this one. In Seattle we have a great local producer Grace Harbor farms that makes my favorite yogurt of all time. Strauss also makes a good organic variety that is free of sugar and other junk.
One tiny addition that is also rather swell is a quick sauce made from tahini paste and some olive oil – simply scoop a big dollop of tahini in to a bowl and start mashing in some olive oil. Use a whisk if you want – you want the tahini brought down to a sauce consistency. Spoon some of this on to a plate, top with a pepper and some of the yogurt.
Roasted Stuffed Peppers recipe
6 peppers – look for some interesting shaped ones
1 cup of millet
small handful of hazelnuts, toasted and skin removed
small handful of dried apricots
small handful of raisins
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon sesame seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
salt to taste
small handful fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup of yogurt
zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of tahini paste
olive oil – about 1/4 cup
lime juice to taste – 2 limes or so.
Preheat the oven to 450F
Put the millet in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook partially covered until the grains are soft – about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain any remaining water from the millet. Meanwhile toast the coriander seed in a heavy pan. Crush it coarsely when cooled. Toast the fennel, cumin, sesame, mustard seed but leave those whole. Grind the black peppercorns. Mix all these spices together with a generous pinch of sea salt.
Soak the raisins and apricots in hot water for about 10 minutes until they soften and puff up. Chop the apricots relatively coarsely. Chop the hazelnuts coarsely also. This is a dish of texture as well as flavor. Finely chop the mint leaves
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove core and seeds. Toss with olive oil and a little salt. Arrange on a baking sheet, skin side up. Roast for about 15 minutes until softened and blackened in places.
In a large bowl mix the cooked millet with the spices, nuts and apricots and raisins – reserve some of the spice mix (1/2 teaspoon for the yogurt if you wish). Pour in a good amount of olive oil to lubricate the whole thing. Add in the chopped mint leaves. Squeeze in some fresh lime juice to taste. Give it all a good mix up.
Flip the peppers over and fill the cavities with the millet mixture. Back in the oven they go for 10 minutes just to heat through.
Mix the yogurt with the lime zest, and add a little of the spice mix to it if you wish.
To serve – spoon out some of the tahini sauce on to a large serving plate. Place the peppers on top. Serve with the yogurt on the side, because some freaks apparently don’t like yogurt.