01 June 2014

Sweet Pepper Salad

We have been going on a series of roadtrips around Algeria over the past few weekends. We want to see some more of the country as our time here comes to a close, and the weather over the past month has been absolutely perfect. Though you probably won't believe me when I say this, Algeria totally reminds me of California sometimes. From a climate and agriculture perspective of course (there's no burgeoning Hollywood industry here!!). But seriously, driving past rolling fields of wheat, pretty green hills, apricot farms, and gentle mountain tops, you could easily mistake yourself for being in Sonoma County. That is, until you pass a colorful Tizi Ouzou taxi, or get frustrated because every single car seems to be occupying all three lanes of the highway.


Every time we head out on the road, I realize how much potential is here -- that they could build up a big tourist industry if only the state decided to invest in the requisite infrastructure. The Roman ruins and Ottoman mansions and interesting cuisine are already here! But though there are many beautiful and interesting things to see here, it is so hard to figure out how to find them.

Case in point: I have been trying to find this special pan to make kesra bread for nearly a year now. (It is hard to describe but it's like the bottom of a tagine pan but with a raised design in the clay. It can also come in cast iron, called a tawa.) I kept finding an electric version, like a hot plate, and I found some not good quality clay ones, but nothing that was worth buying. Finally, in a big housewares store, I pointed to the electric tagine thing and asked if they had a more traditional version. After a few more questions, the lady finally realized what I wanted, marched over to a display stand, reached underneath, into a tiny 1 inch gap between the bottom of the stand and the floor, and pulled out just the pan I've been looking for. Of course! It was so obvious!


This recipe is for another Algerian pepper salad, much like this felfel (a.k.a. chlita) we talked about before, only this time made with sweet red and yellow peppers. I realized when looking back at that recipe that it's one of the very first things I posted from Algiers, and here I am posting another pepper salad in what will likely be one of my last few posts from Algeria before we leave. Funny how that works, isn't it? Looking back at the recipe, I thought, "oh man, my pepper chopping technique has really improved since then," followed by, "look! I didn't even know what to call the dish." So today, after two years here, we have a little more refined, more knowledgeable version of a pepper salad. Which I hope is also reflective of my own journey here, that I am more grounded, more experienced (I'll leave the knowledgeable and refined parts up to you to decide!) than the person who first showed up to Algiers and wrote that pepper salad recipe two years ago.


Sweet Pepper Salad 
This a great thing to serve as part of a mezze spread, or you can make a variation of chakhchouka by poaching eggs in the peppers. I also like it cold, stright from the fridge. 
The tomato sauce base is a very traditional North African way of making tomato sauce. Though you may find the grating annoying, it goes by very quickly, and is an easy fast way to get a tomato sauce with a smooth texture.

for the tomato sauce:
1 small white onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes
olive oil, salt

3 bell peppers, preferably a mix of red, orange, and yellow
mint for garnish

1. Halve the tomatoes (cut around the circumference, and not through the stem) and then grate the tomatoes on a box grater into a bowl. When you get down close to the tomato skin, simply discard the skin.
2. Chop the white onion. In a medium sized pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Cook until the onion starts to soften and becomes very translucent. Add the garlic and some salt and allow the garlic to soften for a minute. Then add in your tomato puree. Season more with salt and pepper and let the sauce simmer over low heat. It's up to you how much you want to reduce the sauce, but you do want it to thicken up and not be watery. I usually let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, grill your peppers over a grill or directly over a gas burner, turning with tongs, until blackened all over. Place the peppers in a ziplock bag, or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and allow to steam for 5-10 minutes.
4. Remove the peppers and core them. Scrape the blackened part off the peppers and then rinse clean with water. Slice the peppers into long strips.
5. Add the peppers to the tomato sauce. Taste for seasoning, and allow the peppers to simmer for another 10 minutes so that the flavors meld. Remove from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with mint.


icechip in nc said...

Why does everyone say to put peppers in a bag or especially cover with plastic wrap? I put them in a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate. Nothing to throw away; nothing wasted.

Mercedes said...

That's a great tip, thanks! (I notoriously re-use plastic wrap, which drives my husband nuts!)