As what would a weblog be without the at least occasional, melodramatic confession, today — a morning after which not a single new thing was prepared in the Smitten Kitchen last night (Tuesday’s yoga and volleyball night, and I’ll let you work who does what. Always such mystery!) — seems the perfect time to dislodge one of mine: Sometimes I cook things, love them to pieces, but hate the photos I took of the dishes so I never tell you about them. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? The pictures make me cringe so much that it upstages the deliciousness within! Could I be a little more crackpot, a little less rock-and-roll?
But as we’re in the midst of NaBloPoMo meaning that I won’t have to see these poorly-lit, blurry and color-jinxed photos on top for more than a day, let’s dig in, shall we? Because really, you should make these stuffed peppers. If anything could convert a stuffed pepper hater, it would have to be this. The filling was so good, possibly a new favorite couscous dish, that we ate the extras (there was a bit) freely and eagerly. As it makes four peppers, it’s the perfect two-night meal and they keep wonderfully in the fridge. For the feta component, we’ve developed a strong liking for both French and Bulgarian fetas – they’re a little softer and less salty than their readily-available Greek counterparts, and enmeshed wonderfully with their surroundings. I also added a few tablespoons of tomato paste to the mix, because I love it, and because it helped all the flavors come together. Ugly picture be damned, I want more of this right now. (See how this exercise has forced me to grow?)
The second cringe-inducing, color-warped picture is of something for a more niched palate: pickled red onions. After making giardiniera, which I confess, did little for this not very pickle-smitten girl, I wanted to focus on something I knew we could love equally. The recipe is a cinch, cinch cinch, makes the prettiest pink jar of rings and keeps for weeks and weeks. However, the onion flavor was a little too drained for me, and next time, I would skip the first step. Otherwise, as a condiment at a barbecue or a little something-something for your salad, these are an unusual treat.
And now, I will spend the remainder of this gray, soaked, damp-wool suit panted but otherwise terrific (Team Britney, like you have to ask) afternoon dreaming of steamy soups and watching the news reels, wide-eyed.
Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Epicurious
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2/3 cup couscous
4 large bell peppers, mixed colors
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 ounce zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
6 ounce yellow squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
15 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a small baking dish with cooking spray. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the couscous, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the stems and top half inch off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Boil trimmed peppers for 5 minutes*, then drain them upside down. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet. Add onion, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel seeds, oregano, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and tomato paste. Using a fork, scrape the couscous into the skillet and toss with the vegetables. Stir in the crumbled feta. Place peppers upright in the baking dish and fill them with couscous. Bake 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
* A reviewer noted that they skipped this step, and the extra dishes, by pre-roasting the peppers until they were soft, then stuffing them and finishing up the baking time. I didn’t do it this way, but am sure it would work.
Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from Epicurious
2 red onions, sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Blanch* 2 sliced red onions in a small saucepan of boiling water to cover for 1 minute and drain in a colander. Then return them to the pan and add a cup of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, and just enough cold water to barely cover the onions. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer the onions 1 minute. Transfer the onions and brine to a glass jar and chill. The onions will turn the color of a pink piñata and will get crisp as they cool. They’ll keep for weeks in the refrigerator.
* If you want to retain more of an onion-y flavor, you might want to skip this step. Next time I will and see if it works the same.