| Dear Friends,|
In order to distract my body from the horrendous fact that it is no longer being fed chocolate and cake nearly as often as it would like – and it is a body that is extremely good at letting me know that it WOULD like a
chocolate brownie – I have been tirelessly searching for things to eat that shock my taste buds into forgetting they are not getting what they want.
I have recently discovered a wonderful Moroccan food writer, Nargisse Benkabbou (http://www.mymoroccanfood.com) and her book Casablanca.
It’s full of wonderful recipes that are easily adapted for a more Pointless life. The blast of spices and flavours doesn’t so much shock my taste buds as get them dancing with such delight that I don’t hear a peep out of them for hours on the subject of chocolate brownies.
This chickpea dish is inspired by two of her recipes.
Roasted Red Pepper and Preserved Lemon Salad with Chickpeas and Chermoula.
Serves 4 – but you don’t have to share it.
Although I am a demented cook-from-scratchatarian (yes, I do make my own oatcakes. And yes, I have seen somebody about it but it didn’t help), I am a complete slut where chickpeas are concerned: I almost always get them out of a tin. This is a) because I have usually forgotten to soak them the night before, and b) the tin seems to cook them a great deal better than I do – although sadly in Britain it is very hard to get them with salt in.
Why chickpeas should be singled out for total salt-elimination in a country that pours it all over everything else is both mysterious and tragic.
This salad uses preserved lemons.
I am not always in favour of preserved lemons – I can never quite decide if they are delicious or taste of loo-cleaner (No, I haven’t actually tried loo-cleaner: the woman who didn’t help about the oatcakes was very insistent that I shouldn’t) – but chopped up finely, and mixed with the roasted red peppers, they come within a millimetre of being disgusting, but at the last moment are triumphantly delicious.
And on the subject of red peppers: do not substitute green peppers; they are an abomination foisted on humanity by an uncaring world. Have nothing to do with them unless they are the small Tuscan friggitelli peppers.*
Although in this case, have nothing to do with them either: they wouldn’t work as well, are not available in this country, and are not quite worth flying to Italy for if you are not already there.
Unlike Amalfi lemons.
But we are not talking about the grande passione of my life just now. Yes, I did try talking about all that to the oatcake-woman, but she didn’t understand at all. Seemed to think it was odd for the love of my life to be a lemon. Thought I should concentrate on finding a real person.
I told her I hadn’t actually tried grating the skin of a real person over my salad, or pasta, or pretty much anything else, but I was fairly sure it would be disgusting.
Next time I went there was a panic button sitting on her desk.
* Other small, sweet, green peppers are available in other European countries. Perhaps all over the world. Just not in Britain.
2 tins of chickpeas
3 red peppers
1 – 2 preserved lemons, finely chopped.
1 – 2 tablespoons chermoula (see recipe)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic
Deseed the red peppers and cut them lengthways into 6 pieces. Put them into a bowl and add a good pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
Mix it well with your hands – this way a very little oil can completely coat them and the salt starts to draw out the juice, ready for caramelising during the roasting.
Put them on a baking tray large enough for them to have plenty of room to lie flat, and put them in a hot oven – about 200º – for about 50 minutes.
Peppers need to be either raw or really well done – and cooked long enough for their juices to begin to caramelise. Anything in between is insipid and unpleasant.
So far my MP has ignored my suggestion to make serving half-cooked peppers a criminal offence. And that oatcake-woman thinks I should see someone about it. But please, please not her.
They do not want to be burnt and crispy either.
The peppers that is; not those responsible for half-baking them.
So quite a lot to have a nervous breakdown over.
But don’t book your room at The Priory just yet: people all over the world cook them every day and it’s really quite easy.
Precisely how long they take will depend on the peppers and your oven, so check them after about 20 minutes – turning them over if they have browned a bit – and then check on them every 10 minutes or so (more often when they are nearly done), turning them when needed.
When they are glistening and streaked with brown, and looking limp and on the verge of crinkly, take them out, put them in a bowl, and drizzle a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar over them.
Take a moment to admire your culinary brilliance. And cancel your room at the Priory.
While they are cooling, open and drain the tin of chickpeas, finely chop the preserved lemons, and make the Chermoula
A good bunch of parsley and /or coriander, finely chopped.
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A generous teaspoon of smoked paprika, ground cumin, and salt.
Juice of a lemon
A teaspoon or two of honey and olive oil
Mix it well
You can add it to salads, pulses, potatoes, meat and fish – Anything you want to give a blast of flavour. Store it in a jar for up to a week in the fridge.
* For the parsley and coriander: you need a proper bunch, not the pathetic excuse of a bunch peddled by the supermarkets.
Street markets sell great big bunches – the sort you need a wheelbarrow to carry home – but there might not be one nearby, so you may need to take time off work, and perhaps lose your job, and then, of course your home, but do you want to make a decent fist of chermoula or not?
Although in fairness, as you only need a tablespoon or two for the salad, you could make a smaller amount and leave risking your livelihood and home in pursuit of culinary excellence for another day.
And to think the oatcake-woman had the nerve to say I didn’t care about other people.
And she keeps saying I should tell my readers that I often burn my peppers, but I am going to do nothing of the sort.
* Amount of paprika you use depends on how hot you want it. As does whether you add cayenne to it or not. Yes, I know it’s not on the list of ingredients, but it’s not my job to spell out every tiny detail.
Oh, apparently it is.
Well, she was no use about the oatcakes, but she seems to know her onions regarding recipe-writing:
Add some cayenne if you want to blow your head off, but don’t blame me if you do.
No, I am not going back to add it to the list of ingredients: it’s one thing admitting one’s mistakes, it’s quite another to do anything about them.
And if that woman can’t help with a simple thing like oatcakes, I don’t know what makes her think she’s qualified to diagnose complex psychiatric disorders.
Mix peppers, chickpeas, lemons, chermoula, salt, and 2 teaspoons olive oil really well together.
It can last in the fridge for a week, but it almost certainly won’t.
The Downsizing Diva
This fresh and zingy salad is one of my absolute favourites and I eat it by the bucket-load. It keeps for a good week in the fridge. At least it would if I didn’t eat it by the bucket load.
Joining Weight Watchers was a new departure in my relationship with being fat and trying not to be. It has been a long relationship – this year dieting and I are heading for our Ruby Wedding.