Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pass the Peppers, Please

Here are two easy and pure things to do with the colorful bell peppers in markets now.  First, a simple roasted pepper and mozzarella salad that will carry you through to summer when ripe tomatoes can be swapped in.  Next, homemade vegetable cream cheese that packs more punch than store bought versions that charge $3-4.00 per container.

When you roast bell peppers, their sweetness is concentrated and they contrast nicely with fresh mozzarella.  A drizzle of flavorful extra virgin olive oil is all you really need to pull together a non-lettuce side salad.  If you'd like, you can add in other roasted vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms and plum tomatoes.  (Roasting concentrates the sugar in these hardy tomatoes too. See Pure Foods post for  April 16, 2012 for more information.) Salad leftovers can be tossed with cooked pasta for another pure side dish or quick lunch.

Cooking shows roast peppers whole over open flames.  I have a simple method that is less messy and takes less supervision.  By cutting the peppers into large pieces first, the pieces can lay flat under a broiler and the inside seeds and veins can be removed discarded right away.   See Pure Foods post for the January 13, 2010  to see this simple technique.

Before roasting, reserve a small amount of your raw bell pepper, about one tablespoon minced, for a homemade veggie cream cheese.  This is a real treat with a weekend bagel.  We also use it on rye crackers, rolled into ham or turkey cold cuts and on a cheese platter complimented by a hot pepper jelly.  You can also stuff this flavored cream cheese under chicken breast or thigh skin for a moist and crispy-skinned baked chicken dinner.

Along with the diced bell pepper, mince a scallion, half a small carrot and a small celery stalk. Mince is just a very small dice. The smaller you can get the vegetables the more successful this recipe is.  Add these vegetables to 4 ounces softened cream cheese and finish with a few grinds of black pepper and the zest of half a lemon. 

 You can customize your mixture to suit your tastes, the items in your refrigerator or your meal.  Try minced radish, jicama, even tart apple along with the bell peppers. Add herbs like dried dill, marjoram or basil.  A large pinch will do the trick.