Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Goat and shriveled up black lemons. It's what's for dinner."

So said Amy on her Facebook page. And it is what's for dinner today. See, awhile back a friend of mine (who's great Thai Drunken Noodle recipe will be featured here in the coming months) told me about a fantastic soup he'd had at a local Persian restaurant. Said it was made with dried limes. The gears in my head started whizzing, one thing led to another, and now I've got me some dried lemons (or limes, I'm not sure which; I've read that even though they're sometimes labeled as lemons, they're actually limes) and some goat, and I'll be whipping up my own version of a Persian stew.


Omani/Dried lemons

They weigh next to nothing. My understanding is that they're made by first boiling the limes in salt water and then putting them out in the sun to dry. Needless to say, I probably won't be trying a homemade version of these, especially since they're so cheap- around $5-6/lb. The tan colored ones are about the size of a nutmeg; the black ones are slightly larger. The tan ones smell, as you'd imagine, citrus-y. Lemon-y. The black ones have a similar citrus-y smell, but much more of a deep, robust background, almost raisin-y. I had planned on using the black ones originally, but after my first taste of goat today (seared in a hot skillet with a pinch of salt; it tastes somewhat similar to beef to me, but lighter and with a subtler flavor. Also tougher.) I think I'm going with the lighter-colored ones. Being that I've never even had Persian (Iranian) food before, this ought to be interesting. I'm planning an update sometime next week (hopefully with an actual recipe, or something like one).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stuffed Red Bell Peppers, Two Ways (Part II)

Ok, at long last The Cohort has written her version of the stuffed bell pepper throwdown! As you'll see, we have differing recollections of how things went down in the Asian market, but this is Amy's guest post, so aside from some very minor editorial suggestions, I'm leaving it virtually untouched.

Take it away, Amy!


So, as John mentioned in the previous Stuffed Bell Pepper post, he and I were prancing about in the local international food store, K&S, when I saw the most stunning red bell peppers from afar. Immediately, angels began singing and wind started blowing through my hair as I pointed in slow motion to the marvelous display. John's jaw dropped and tears came to his eyes when he saw their beauty. Upon arriving at the pepper display, I knew at that moment what we should do with them: Stuffed Red Bell Pepper Throwdown. Neither of us had made them before, and any I had ever seen in the past were green and looked like a baby had done its business in them. When I mentioned the throwdown idea to John, he instantly dropped to his knees and thanked me for having such a brilliant idea, but also said he was afraid of losing. He begged me to be easy on him, but I told him to suck it up and take his loss like a man. He really started to sob at that point; he was making a spectacle of himself. People were starting to gather around us, so I quietly assured him I wouldn't break out the big guns so he would have a chance at winning. So, we made our purchase and went home to start the war. (By the way, I totally broke out the big guns. You have to when competing against John, yo. He is serious competition!)

Our basic ingredients were similar: we both used red bells, of course, and we both used sausage instead of beef. I had done a bit of research about stuffed bells, and every recipe I saw had beef. Beef has its place, but I thought in the peppers its only purpose would be texture. So, while we were shopping, I suggested we use sausage instead. We decided to go with regular ol' Jimmy Dean sausage, rather than getting anything flavored; we wanted all the flavors of the stuffing to be our creations. We also both used onion and garlic, and a few other spices as well. Our recipes turned out to be quite similar to each other's, but in the end our minor differences really made for unique taste experiences.

My ingredients were the following (any herbs listed here were fresh):

4 red bell peppers, tops cut off
1 lb regular Jimmy Dean sausage
rice vinegar for deglazing
1 ½ – 2 cups slightly undercooked rice
¼ cup of diced red bell peppers (from the tops)
1 small yellow onion, or ½ large yellow onion, chopped
10 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup green onion, chopped
¼ cup Thai basil
¼ cup cilantro
2 tbsp Sriracha
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (I used Hunts with no added salt)
4 tbsp soy sauce (only use LaChoy if you are a complete idiot)

The spices I used were the following (any herbs listed here were dried):

3 tbsp dried sage leaves
3 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp thyme
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sumac
a pinch or two of coarse sea salt (none of that iodized crap)
2 or 3 turns from the black pepper grinder

And then the finishing touches:

1 tbsp sour cream powder (this turned out to be the ingredient that really made these peppers awesome.)
¼ cup bread crumbs (I don't recommend getting any kind of crazy flavored crumbs. Just get plain ones.)
4 tsp of unsalted butter (and I mean butter, not Blue Bonnet, not margarine. BUTTER, people. There is no substitute.)

That looks like a lot of ingredients, yeah? I guess it kind of is. But I'm telling you, it's worth it. You have never in your whole life ever had stuffed peppers as delicious as these. Well, except for maybe John's, but I am speaking the truth when I say they were equally spectacular. We were both so amazed at each other's creations, there was just no way to pick a winner. Anyway, let's cook these bitches, shall we?

First, preheat your oven to 400 F. Get a large pot, one you would make a big batch of chili in, and fill it a little over half with water. Salt it with 2 or 3 generous pinches of coarse salt and bring it to a boil. While you are waiting for the water, you can prepare your vegetables and fresh herbs; chop that shit up! Now, be sure when you cut the tops off your peppers to cut out the veins and remove the seeds. You probably already knew that, but some people... Anyway. Once your salted water comes to a rolling boil, remove it from the heat and drop your peppers in. Leave them there until you are ready to stuff them.

In a skillet, crumble up your sausage and brown it completely. Drain the fat off, and rinse the sausage in a colander. Then, deglaze the pan with about 3 tbsp of rice vinegar. You might want to use a bit more or less, depending on how much of the sausage is still stuck to the pan. Now, don't go and rinse that out. There is lots of flavor in there! Return the sausage to the pan on medium-high heat. Next, get your dried sage leaves. You should have a nice palm full. Then, rub them vigorously between your hands and drop them into the sausage. Please, for the love of God, watch out for stems! That wouldn't be pleasant to bite down on later! Then add your onion and red pepper. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, then add your garlic. Cook for 2 more minutes, then add parsley, green onion, thai basil and cilantro. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomatoes and rice. (As far as cooking the rice goes, I recommend cooking that in advance. Just use the package instructions, or if you want to be super awesome, use a rice cooker like we do. If you don't have one, get one right now. It will be one of the best investments of your life.) Stir the rice and tomatoes in with the sausage mixture until it is blended well.

Ok, here is where the magic happens. Add the rest of the dried spices, which are salt, black pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, chili powder, and sumac. Stir it all together, then add the Sriracha and soy sauce. Oh yes, it smells like Heaven now, doesn't it? I bet you want to rub that shit all over your body. Well, don't do it yet. Wait until the peppers are stuffed, then you can do whatever you want with the leftover mixture. If you find the concoction to be a bit dry, you can add a bit more soy sauce. Don't make it too wet, now. Then it will be a soggy mess you will be embarrassed to serve. Basically, you don't want any excess liquid, but you don't want the mixture to be crumbly. It should be just wet enough so it sticks to itself. Now, have a taste. Isn't it grand? Or perhaps you think it needs a little more pepper, or whatever. If you feel it needs a little something, go ahead and add it. All I'm gonna say is this: you really shouldn't have to add anything. This stuff is almighty bad-ass awesome.

Ok, now let's stuff those peppers! Take them out of the pot and shake the water off and out of them; you don't want any excess water to be inside the peppers when you stuff them. Put them in a 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Sprinkle the insides with salt and black pepper. Then stuff the peppers with that super luscious sausage and rice mixture you just made. Pack them nice and full, and level them off so they are flat on top. Then, sprinkle the top with some sour cream powder. Don't use too much, just a light sprinkle should do the job. Then put a thin layer of bread crumbs on top of that. By thin, I mean about 1/8 inch. Not much. Then put one pat of butter (1 tsp) on top of each pepper. This will make the crust nice and crunchy and golden brown. Put them in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are, like I said, golden brown. Then, take them out and let them cool for five minutes. The finished product should look like this:

This is what a stuffed bell pepper should be. I really think red is the only way to go; the sweetness of the pepper really makes this something special. I would like to try yellow sometime too, but I don't think green could ever compare.

Here is a shot of the inside:

Well, now you have seen both of our recipes for the almighty Stuffed Red Bell Pepper. I suggest you try making them both so you can judge for yourself: whose pepper is better? We certainly can't decide! They are both that damn good.