12 Weeks Of Christmas | Week 6: Baked Peppers And A Series Of Kitchen Flops

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So this past week has been somewhat of a disaster for me in the kitchen. A week where I planned and prepped but crashed and burned, literally. I had specific recipes in mind to test and photograph, and not one of them turned out right. I lost my kitchen mojo.

I wanted to bake bread and make rosemary potatoes, neither of which worked out. The bread dough didn’t rise properly, and I left the potatoes unattended, which led them to burn to blechness.

Then I tried Sarah Britton’s cumin roasted carrots, but I didn’t slice them well enough and they came out all wrinkly and gnarly, hardly appetizing.

And then I thought I’d make some strawberry jam, because I’ve done it before and jam is always Christmasy. I went and bought a box of strawberries- and when I was ready to make jam, I opened the fridge to discover my toddler had eaten all but 3. Oh well.

Sometimes plans go awry. And the perfect post you plan in your head doesn’t materialize. So I decided to forget the recipes altogether and just go impromptu. Make something that I would like to share with friends, something I’d rustle up for a last-minute dinner. I took inspiration from Nigella Lawson’s baby aubergines recipe from Nigellissima, and from Simon Hopkinson’s Piedmontese peppers recipe.

So here I give you an “unrecipe,” something that works for me when I mess up in the kitchen. And I think it would be nice with some crackers and feta for holiday party.

I took a handful of baby eggplants, one large red pepper and sliced them up. (I removed the stalks of the eggplants.) Then I tossed everything with olive oil, sea salt, garlic, red chilli flakes and some dried herbs  and poured everything into a baking dish, drizzled more olive oil and baked at 200 C for about 45 mins. A squeeze of lime/lemon over the top once done, and fin.

DSC01174Here’s hoping the week ahead will turn out better.

 

Marcella Hazan’s Braised Leeks With Parmesan

A little crooked. Oh well.

A little crooked. Oh well.

The first time I became interested in leeks was when I read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. In it, she shares a recipe for “Magical Leek Soup,” which she drank in an effort to get back in shape. The leeks are boiled with salt and pepper, drained, and the liquid is drunk as a broth every couple of hours. It sounded interesting- and the author says her love affair with leeks began because of it- but I merely dismissed leeks as a vegetable I’d never get to cook with in India.

But as it turns out, one does get leeks here. Maybe not all the time and at every greengrocer, but you do. And in Pune they are easily available, so I’ve been cooking with them on and off. I attempted braised leeks for the first time a couple of months ago, and both my husband and I enjoyed them.

I made braised leeks a few more times after that, and all but forgot about them until I found this poem, A Leek Haiku on Eat This Poem. I am going to make this post short and sweet, much like the inspiration behind it: a haiku. Just 17 syllables, but this poem describes the little leek so, so beautifully. The author  calls leeks slender stalks of “ribbons and roots,” and, when you think about it, leeks are quite a pretty vegetable! I think they make a nice sight, the jade green tops peeking out from your shopper as you carry your groceries back home.

Leeks are full of flavour and I feel braising is one of the best ways to enjoy them- a little fat, some seasoning, and enough water to cook them till they are tender. This recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials Of Classic Italian Cooking. It takes little effort, and seems almost too simple to warrant a recipe, but it’s simply delicious. Her recipe says, “do not cut off the green tops,” but I had to trim a little because I didn’t have a pan large enough to accommodate.

BRAISED LEEKS WITH PARMESAN CHEESE (From Essentials Of Classic Italian Cooking)

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large or 6 medium leeks
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

METHOD

  • Pull off and discard any withered, yellowing leaves from the leeks and trim the bulbous ends off the roots and the dark green parts of the leaves, leaving only white and light green parts.
  • Slit the leeks lengthwise into two.
  • Wash the leeks under cold running water to get rid of any hidden grit.
  •  Lay the leeks in a pan long and broad enough to accommodate them.
  • Add butter, salt and enough water to cover the leeks.
  • Cook covered on a medium low flame for 15-25 minutes, or until the thickest part of the leek at the base is fork-tender. (Turn them over with tongs every now and then as they cook.)
  • When the leeks are done, remove the lid of the pan, turn the heat up to high, and boil away all the juices in the pan, allowing the leeks to get lightly browned.
  • Add the grated parmesan, flip the leeks over to coat, and serve.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beet Salad With Mint + Scallion Pesto

Since I have posted wayyy to many sweet treats, I thought I’d take a break from it and serve up something lighter. Both in tone, taste and preparation. This one’s from- hold your breath- Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen’s cookbook It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.

This cookbook has been quite polarizing on the interwebs, much like Gwyneth herself. (I’ll admit I am not a big fan of her personality, her crusade as a lifestyle guru or her consciousness spiel, but I do like visiting her website Goop.com to browse through recipes- they have some good ones!)

Now the inside flap of the book starts off talking about Gwyneth’s “clear eyes, glowing skin and fit body…,” none of which I care for. I’m quite happy with my eyes (they are neither bloodshot nor cloudy,) and my skin is pretty ok for someone who does not apply much of anything to it, and as for my body, it’s definitely not Tracy Anderson Method-approved, but I manage to get some exercise each day and I am at peace with it. (I’m not walking any red-carpets, so I don’t feel the need to get my body “red-carpet ready!!!”)

Oh yes, back to the book.

image courtesy | eater.com

image courtesy | eater.com

Now, there are some paragraphs that are pretentious, along with some cringe-worthy pictures that don’t really make sense. Like, for instance, GP riding a Vespa, and another one where she is sideward-glancing while wrapped in a blanket. And of course, there is name-dropping: recipes from her ‘besties’ Cameron Diaz and Gavin Rossdale…but she’s a celebrity, and celebrities befriend celebrities, so it is but natural that they swap recipes, no? So yes, there are few portions you’d want to skim over, but once you do, you’ll realize that there are some pretty neat recipes beneath it all.

image courtesy | eater.com

image courtesy | eater.com

The book is based on GP’s elimination diet and many, many everyday products are avoided, like dairy, gluten, sugar, coffee. (I don’t have any issues with dairy or gluten, so I used whole wheat pasta where brown rice pasta is called for, and cow’s milk where a recipe called for almond/rice milk. The flavours are great, and since I’m not planning to get on a diet, I tweaked away.) 

Having said that, the salad, vegetable and grains sections have plenty of wonderful recipes that can be recreated with ingredients that are easily available in India- and many are naturally vegan and gluten-free. Sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant, beets, leeks, carrots, mushrooms, daikon radish (regular desi mooli.) Most of these vegetables can be found in markets in India. There are of course, some veggies and grains (romesco, kale, quinoa) that I don’t have easy access to, but even without those recipes, there is enough variety to choose from.

This beet salad is one of them. Easy, delicious and can be made ahead and assembled before lunch/dinnertime.

Scallion mint pesto from It's All Good

Scallion mint pesto from It’s All Good

The mint+scallion pesto is a keeper- I used it on toast, tossed in pasta, in omelettes, as a topping for crackers- versatile, like pesto should be. The raw garlic gives it a pungent, almost spicy punch, and the toasted almonds add great depth. And nibble!!

 

Drizzle the pesto over the beets, or just gob them on like I did.

Drizzle the pesto over the beets, or just gob it on with a spoon like I did.

BEET SALAD WITH  MINT +SCALLION PESTO (From It’s All Good)

The Beets

500 grams steamed or roasted beetroot, skins removed and cubed/sliced into discs

The Pesto

  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • A dozen scallions (spring onions) white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves (pudina)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (the book calls for extra-virgin, I used regular)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (I used desi nimbus)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (the cookbook calls for coarse sea salt, which I had, but I think table salt would be just fine

Puree all the ingredients in a powerful blender until smooth.

 

To assemble, arrange the beets on a plate and pour/drizzle/dab the pesto all over it.

Yes, that’s all it takes 😀