When my husband and I first moved into our furnished rental house in Harare, we discovered a heart-shaped plaque on the wall that featured two kissing mice and the slogan "mouse-to-mouse resuscitation." We took it down. Immediately. And hid it in the farthest corner of the closet. I am not a fan of the tacky or the twee.
I do, however, take pleasure in the occasional gimmick. Gimmicky is at the seedier end of the tacky-classy spectrum, I’ll admit; although I hope you’ll agree that it doesn’t quite approach the excess of plastic mice attempting to cutely feign a life-saving procedure. Predictably, my gimmicks typically enlist the assistance of food and drink. I’ve dyed cookies all colors of the rainbow to match holiday hues. In college, my roommate and I turned our apartment’s thermometer up to 80 and held a July in Winter party, complete with umbrella-ed margaritas. A year-and-a-half ago, when the Zimbabwean government dropped three zeros from the currency, my husband and I hosted a “zeroes” fiesta featuring zero-shaped food, including bagel pizzas. And, over the past two weeks, I have been obsessed with preparing red and green food. Roasted red pepper soup with a dollop of avocado cream for garnish? Made it. Spinach lasagna? Check. Watermelon and feta salad with mint? Yep. And, for breakfast on Christmas morning, testira (sometimes written tastira) – a Tunisian egg and pepper dish. Red and green peppers, of course.
Although some recipes call for the egg in testira to be poached, the egg is scrambled in the recipe I use from Kitty Morse’s The Vegetarian Table: North Africa. In any case, the egg is really beside the point because what makes this dish a standout are the peppers – roasted until sweet and spiked with harissa (also spelled harisa), a traditional Tunisian condiment of chilies, garlic, spices and olive oil that makes you breathe like a dragon.
Hmm….maybe I could have a party where the gimmick is that everyone brings a food combination that they like, but that other people think is strange; or maybe the gimmick could be egg dishes from around the world, or maybe…
Adapted from The Vegetarian Table: North Africa
Serves 3 as a main dish
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
1 red or green chili pepper
4 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters olive oil
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters ground coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters harissa (See note below)
Roast the peppers and the tomatoes, using the roasting method you prefer. Here’s what I do: I preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and put the vegetables on one tray, with the tomatoes on a piece of aluminum foil with the edges rolled up so that the juices they emit during roasting don’t spread. Place the tray on an oven rack near the top. Turn the peppers every 5-10 minutes. The chili pepper will only take about 20-25 minutes to roast. The tomatoes and peppers will take about 35-40 minutes. The peppers are done when their skins have blackened and separated from their flesh.
Set aside the tomatoes to cool. Place the peppers in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with a plate. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel and seed them, and cut them into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) pieces. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel, seed and chop them.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and thicken a bit – about 5-6 minutes. Add the peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes. Stir in the coriander, salt, pepper and harissa. Add the eggs and stir gently until they are cooked. Serve immediately with toast and some extra harissa on the side for those who like spice!
Note: I’ll write about harissa in a future post. In the meantime, in some countries you can find prepared harissa in a jar at the store. These two recipes also look quite good, and are similar to the Madhur Jaffrey recipe that I use. If you don’t have harissa, you can add a teaspoon of chili powder when you add the ground coriander, although it won’t pack the same punch.
P.S. Happy 2008!