Sunday, January 27, 2013


I've been feeling overwhelmed by all the recipes and photos and favors that I have accrued over the last few months and owe in posts. So going with the theme that has been working wonders in my personal life, I am starting with baby steps.

And here you are, a very simple and very different recipe that I was taught at least five different times during my two weeks in Algeria last fall. Each cook had their own take on the dish, as can be expected with something so ubiquitous. Felfela. The word actually just means bell pepper, or even just pepper and can be all the different colors possible, which says something about its permanence of the dish on the dinner tables at which I sat. No proper name even necessary; it's just the requisite vegetable dish.

One technique that american cooks - and I would venture to say european cooks as well - use very little is grating. We grate cheese, sure, and the French even grate carrots to use on salads, but in lots of Persian, Turkish and Algerian cooking to which I have been privy, grating things such as garlic and onion is a first step to most dishes and wholly replaces the concept of chopping, dicing or any specific julien technique. Perhaps there is a whole study of the different effects of the technique, but I'm going to skip straight to the recipe. This recipe includes grating the tomato garlic as a first step.

3-5 Green Peppers
1-2 juicy big tomatoes (if good ones are not available, I might suggest experimenting with ethnic tomato pastes, but not the yucky american canned ones)
olive oil... maybe 1/2 a cup, maybe just 1/4...
1-2 cloves garlic

The actual recipe is super easy. Once you have grilled and peeled the green peppers and tomatoes, grated the garlic and thrown all into a pot to simmer, you're there. But I'll start with grilling the bell peppers, which takes the most time.

In my roasted red pepper soup from grad school, I learned to coat peppers with oil before grilling- with detailed instructions about the burning points of different oils - but forget all of that. Turn your oven up to 400ºF (205ºC), wash and dry your veggies and toss them in a big cake pan. Any pan works, but this catches the juices and leads to easier cleanup.

Put them in the oven, turning them every 15 minutes or so when the top side starts to crisp and turn black. Once they are starting to sag and collapse with the poke of a knife, immediately throw them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until they cool. This will make them "sweat" and you can fairly easily peel of the skin. I say 'fairly' because it is still tedious and I highly suggest having a bowl of water at hand for getting skin off your hands and generally dealing with the seeds.

In traditional Algerian villages, I'm told, everyone sends their daily rising bread and veggies over to the neighborhood brick oven. Though not everyone did so where I was, I got to tag along once and see both the traditional oven and the daunting stainless steel newer version. Baklava and bread were stacked in pans around the ovens waiting to go in.

Meanwhile, grate your tomatoes and garlic into a large flat pan and drown in oil.

Once you have recuperated the flesh of the grilled bell peppers, cut into bitesize strips and throw them in a large flat pan with the tomatoes, a generous pour of olive oil, and using a grater grate in 1-2 cloves of garlic.

Turn this on low heat and stir as it melds. Each time I asked how you know when it is ready, the response was, "you'll be able to smell it." Though I believe this 100%, I bet it will take a lot of smelling to figure it out. I'd guess between 15 and 30 minutes.

Great warm, amazing cold as a 'mezze' after a night in the fridge, and ideally eaten by dipping fresh bread into the plate to extract the oil and a few bits of veggies.