I find in cooking for friends, family and sometimes unknown guests a very satisfying pleasure, an achievement of a personal goal. Every time I ask people about their contentment of cooking at home, most of them mention that relaxing feeling they get once they step into their kitchen.
Of course, I appreciate that cooking could be an unpleasant experience for someone not really interested in it, but for people passionate about food, the idea of opening the fridge as the first step in the creative process takes this excitement to another level.
And, when the time comes to challenge yourself by cooking a menu based on your guests’ least favourite ingredients in order to prove them that they’ve got it all wrong, it’s heaven!
Following the Aubergine Challenge, in which our lovely @meemalee participated, I found myself a few weeks later in Mr. & Mrs. @laissezfare’s kitchen cooking a red pepper-based menu. Why? Well as you would have guessed, our knowledgeable wine and food lover friend seems to have had some issues with the ingredient in the past that needed to be solved. Call me psychiatrist, I listen and fix peoples’ problems, or rather let the problem fix itself.
As the best therapy is often to cure the disease by its cause (in this culinopathy, not homeopathy), the menu was the following: Red Pepper Velouté, Red Pepper Morrocan Pastilla and…Lemon Crumble (in case the first two dishes didn’t get through the door J).
While @laissezfare was trying not to run away as far as he could from the lovely red pepper fragrance wafting through his home, I was doing my best to create the ultimate medicine that would cure this imaginative broken relationship.
Look, your red peppers are all burnt! Surely this can’t be how it is supposed to be cooked?!
Well, sometimes it takes time to win a battle…
While the ‘burnt and undesirable’ red peppers were gently softened in a plastic bag to facilitate the peeling, @laissezfare was introduced to the crumble technique. Sometimes, there is no need to travel to the other side of the world to satisfy your need for adventure. Just pass through the door of the kitchen.
However, when came the time to choose the wines to pair the dishes, we were in much safer (and floury!) hands. After a few glasses of Crémant to start and then an amazing bottle of fruity Chilean Syrah (2005 Neyen, Limited Edition Syrah) wine on the table, we were ready to enjoy the red meal.
The chefs had cooked and it was time for the guests to judge. So, did the trick work?
I must say I was happy with the red pepper-phobe’s reaction to the first course:
I was pleasantly surprised by @mathildecusine’s opening course. The rich soup certainly exhibited the vibrant color of the peppers I was dreading, but the flavor was sweet and delicious. I suppose the taste of the peppers was there, but it was certainly enhanced by the ace mysterious ingredient up her sleeve – Boursain (like a whole pack of it)!!!
This particularly particular epicurean was even more complementary on my second course!
Well, I couldn’t believe what I was going to have to do next. I am a rather competitive soul, and admitting defeat is not often an easy task. But I had to hand it to the French chef (and her Belgian-Turkish Commis) who had invaded our kitchen for the evening – that pastilla was d*mn tasty.
It was the kind of dish you wanted to keep going back to over and over again. It was certainly sweet but the flavors were well balanced and worked together in concert: a perfect parcel of edible parchment paper encasing a mix of succulent chicken, almond flakes, coriander, and God knows what else…and lurking beneath it all, those sly little slices of the blasted red peppers! I could barely bring myself to admitted that they tasted good in this dish. I was a defeated (yet very happy) man!
Spicy vegetable paste
4 red peppers
1 tablespoon cinnamon
a pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
15g of ginger glace
200g of chopped coriander
150g Almonds flakes
3×4 filo sheets
50 g butter
Cinnamon and icing sugar, in small dishes
Making the filling
In a pan, cook the onions and the Ras-el-ahout spice in the olive oil on medium heat until transparent.
Add the chicken and cook until brown.
Cover the chicken with the chicken stock and cook on medium heat for about an hour until tender. Once done, set aside the sauce and debone the chicken. keep a bowl of cold water at hand while deboning the chicken to avoid burning yourself.
In the meantime, drizzle the peppers with olive oil and place in an oven at 210C for about 20 min until charred and blackened all over.
Remove the peppers and put them in a plastic bag for ten minutes to facilitate peeling.
Peel and chop the red peppers.
Peel and chop the tomatoes.
Cook the tomatoes on high heat for 20 minutes with a drop of olive oil, the cinnamon, a pinch of pepper and the honey.
Add the red peppers, cook for a few more minutes and set aside.
Slightly brown the sesame seeds in a pan with a drop of olive oil.
In a food processor, mix the ginger, dates, figs and sultanas. Set aside in a bowl.
Assembling the pastilla
Butter two pastry sheets and overlap them. Place one sheet in the centre for reinforcement.
Spread a layer of red pepper followed by the chicken, the ginger mix, the coriander, the sesame seeds and the almond flakes over the pastry.
Fold the overhanging edges of the pastry back over the filling, brush them with beaten egg and cover with another layer of pastry sheets.
Tuck the overhanging edges underneath (like making a bed).
Brush with soft butter and glaze with egg wash. Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes until brown.
Gently slide the pastilla onto a serving platter; decorate with a lattice pattern of icing sugar and cinnamon.