Had quite the busy day in the kitchen.
Somehow a few summer vegetables (okay more than a few, I tend to go overboard when it comes to food) — baby artichokes, colorful bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic…
A Greek-meze (mezethes) inspired feast.
Actually, this feast all started with an assortment of peppers I picked up at the farmers’ market last weekend. Spent the morning flipping through my ever-growing cookbook collection in search of an interesting recipe for bell peppers. Stumbled upon a red pepper/eggplant spread — piperia alesmeni — in Diane Kochilas’s The Glorious Foods of Greece. The recipe came to Kochilas through a women’s cooperative in the Prespes region of Greece. It’s definitely a recipe worth sharing.
This pepper spread is a (mildly) spicy condiment that you can serve with grilled meats or simply as a spread on bread. It requires a little bit of work. You have to first roast the peppers and the eggplant (which I did right on my stovetop, if you have a gas range; otherwise, you can roast in the oven), puree in a food processor, and then simmer for a good hour and a half. Time well spent. Am already planning on making another (bigger) batch.
As the pepper spread began to simmer, it seemed a bit bland. Be patient, the flavors need time to develop.
The end result is quite delicious! This red pepper spread is a bit sweet (from the roasted bell peppers), a bit smoky (from the roasted eggplant), and has a little hint of heat (from the serrano chiles; they were seeded, so not too hot).
This is my new favorite condiment…sweet, smoky, spicy…addictive.
The next dish I made for my Greek-inspired feast was gigandes (giant baked beans) in tomato sauce with lots of dill and dried oregano. As with the pepper spread, gigandes take a bit of time and planning — soaking the beans overnight and then baking for about an hour and a half or so.
Gigandes is one of those satisfying dishes that tastes even better the next day. This recipe yields a substantial amount…my lunch and/or dinner for the next couple of days.
Meant to garnish the gigandes with some freshly chopped dill…
The artichokes, simply crisped up in a cast-iron pan in olive oil (crazy how much olive oil I go through in a week)…
The baby octopus, simply boiled for 35 minutes or so, then crisped up in a cast iron skillet (a grill would be even better) with olive oil, finished with a squeeze of lemon…
You can’t have a Greek feast without the ubiquitous Greek (horiatiki) salad, with a nice sized slab of Greek goat’s milk feta. Also added purslane, lovely heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, thinly sliced red onion, and finished with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of dried Greek oregano.
For those of you have not heard of or tried purslane, it’s an invasive, pesky, edible weed. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, same as what’s found in chia and flax seeds), along with a bunch of other vitamins and minerals. Purslane can be eaten raw, cooked (steamed, stir-fried, etc.).
It has a tart, lemony flavor. You probably have some growing in your yard (although only eat if untreated).
Red pepper/eggplant spread (piperia alesmeni)
makes ~ 2 cups (recipe can be easily doubled)
2 pounds red bell peppers
1/2 pound Italian eggplant
4 to 5 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped, more or less to taste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt to taste, about 3/4 to 1 teaspoon
Note: while not traditionally, I added a pinch of hot smoked paprika, for a hint of smokiness.
To roast the red peppers: Place the whole peppers directly over an open flame (on a gas range), turning every few minutes with metal tongs, until charred on all sides. Alternatively, you could roast the peppers in the oven or on a bbq. Place the peppers in a paper bag for 10-15 minutes (to help loosen the skins). With a chef’s knife, scrape the charred skin (don’t worry if a few charred bits stick). Remove the seeds. Roughly chop the peppers.
To roast the eggplant: Place the whole eggplant directly over an open flame (on a gas range), turning every few minutes, until charred and very tender on all sides. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. When cool enough to handle, slice the eggplant in half and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin.
Puree the serrano chiles in a food processor. Then add the roasted bell peppers and eggplant. Continue processing until smooth. Combine the puree and tomatoes in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often, until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Simmer, stirring from time to time, until the sauce thickens and cooks down, about 90 minutes (if the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of water from time to time).
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the minced garlic, parsley, and season with salt (and a pinch of hot smoked paprika if you like). Continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has cooked off, about 15 minutes.
Let cool slightly and spoon into a glass jar. Let cool, tightly cover, and store in the refrigerator.