Thursday, January 24, 2008

CSA week eight - Moroccan-flavor stuffed pepper

Note please that that's not Moroccan-style; I don't think there's a north African tradition of stuffing peppers. This is one of those let's-try-to-do-something-interesting-with-what-I've-got-in-the-refrigerator type of recipes. What I happened to have is leftover charcoal grilled chicken and onions from a Colombian barbecue restaurant and a bottle of harissa, the Moroccan hot pepper and preserved lemon spice mix. You could grill real shish kabob I suppose but if you're going to do that just cut up the pepper, add it to the skewer and forget this silly recipe. If you're in need of appropriate leftovers I recommend Al Carbon at Coral Way and 23rd. There's a middle eastern market a few blocks east too where you might find some harissa. The particular bottle I've got actually came from a TJ Maxx in Wilmington, Delaware (Thanks Mom!). You can find some real oddities hidden in their food section.

For the most part, the recipe is as straightforward as any stuffed-anything recipe. Get all of the ingredients that need to be cooked cooked, chop everything up small, mix them in with a starch (in this case couscous) and pack it into the vegetable to be stuffed. Of the chopped items in this particular case, I kind of regret the olives. Black olives are a traditional match in Moroccan cuisine with hot peppers and preserved lemon, but I don't think I had the right sort.

The one interesting thing here is a trick I came across while looking up what to do with the harissa. In some recipes, instead of just dumping it into the dish, it's mixed into a beaten egg which is cooked into an omelet which keeps the sauce nicely sequestered. Modern molecular gastronomy does something similar using various chemicals to trap sauces in sheets or caviar-esque balls. Today I had the heat a little too high, screwed up the omelet, and ended up making goopy mess I was hoping to avoid after mixing it into the couscous but I've done it successfully in the past and it was pretty neat. If eggs didn't go with the dish you're making (as they do here), you could use just an egg white and control the sauce without adding any extraneous flavor. It's an idea to keep in reserve anyway.

So, I mixed everything into the couscous, packed it into the pepper, sprayed it with olive oil, sprinkled on some salt, and baked it at 350 for 25 minutes. If I had a gas grill I might have charred the pepper for some extra flavor, but this is Miami so I'm more likely to have a charcoal barbecue handy.

The end result looks about the same as it did when it went into the oven but the pepper is nicely tender but not collapsing (one benefit of not dousing it in sauce and then over-cooking as many Italian stuffed pepper recipes call for). Other than the olives, I think everything worked well together. Still and all, I'll probably just chop the pepper up and char it in a pan next time.

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