September 3, 2012

Spicy roasted bell pepper peanut sauce


Avondale Saison at Epiphany in Tuscaloosa

This summer, I had a few opportunities to eat at Epiphany Cafe in downtown Tuscaloosa, AL. Epiphany sources and features Alabama grown produce on their menu (they also go local with their beers, meats, and dairy too). I like sampling the small plates, as they are generous portions to share. Now, I'm not a foodie critic, and I rarely write about restaurant meals, but this place just floors me each time. For someone that cooks a lot, I'm impressed when restaurant meals are something that I would not prepare at home. I want to be impressed. A quick glance at their menu, shows a description of foods and flavors - they really work it. 

Last week, they had a special 3-course menu for restaurant week: hay-smoked scallops served with coin-thin sliced cucumbers and drizzles of soy sauce, flash-fried and crunchy fish with radishes and slivers of dainty grassy chives served over potatoes, and to finish off the meal a rich (I would think brown sugar) pound cake featuring Chilton County peaches. All this for 30 bucks - no splitting though. I ate all of it. 

Each time I've gone, I try to sample new things. They tend to change the menu frequently. One dish that has stuck with me, and that I absolutely adored was a roasted okra with a red bell pepper coulis. If you love okra, you've got to try it roasted. 

After settling in and unpacking the kitchen, one visits the farmers' markets. There was a lot of good looking late summer produce around. Pretty purple and green okra pods, hot peppers, tomatoes, dimpled and firm summer squash, flowers, basil, eggplants. I knew I had to recreate that okra dish. I didn't want to view the menu to see what flavors I had loved so much, I wanted to go off memory, and what we had around. Turning the oven on in the middle of summer here was not the best idea, but so be it when you want roasted okra.  

I made a roasted bell pepper sauce/chutney, and served it over just roasted okra, and topped it with some fresh basil. I served mine alongside some couscous, which proved a bit boring, but was a key sauce soaker-upper. This is a delicious dish. Choose young fresh okra. If the okra is too mature, the seeds will be an unpleasant crunch, and the skins can get too tough and fibrous. Young pods should be 3-4" in length or smaller. 

Spicy roasted bell pepper peanut sauce served with roasted okra and couscous
Serves: 4, or 2 hungry people; recipe inspired from Epiphany Cafe, Tuscaloosa, AL

1-2 red bell peppers 
1-2 hot peppers, or jalapeños 
2 cloves garlic
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp water
2-3 tbsp parsley, cut off stems
juice of half a lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
large handful roasted peanuts

Roasted okra:
1-2 lbs okra (count 1/2 pound per person)
olive oil

1 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water

Turn the broiler on high, and lay out a few red bell peppers and hot peppers on a pan. Broil them until they are nicely charred. Rotating every few minutes until the skins look blistered. Once they are done, set in a heat-proof bowl and cover with a plate. You can set them in the fridge to speed up cooling down time. Boil 1 cup water for the couscous. When the water boils, add the 1 cup dry couscous, stir, and turn off the heat. You can leave the sauce pan with the couscous on the same burner. I think it helps it dry out more quickly. Now, the okra.  

In the same pan, lay out freshly washed okra. Drizzle with olive oil, toss to cover evenly, and roast in the oven at 375º F/ 190º C for about 25 minutes or until baked. Now, the sauce.

In a blender, add roughly chopped parsley, garlic cloves, olive oil, water, the juice of half a lime, 1 tbsp soy sauce, and roasted peanuts. Make sure the bottom of the blender has about 1/2 inch of liquid or more. Blend on low setting, incorporating all the ingredients. Depending on your blender, you might need to scrape the sides of the blender down to incorporate any fly aways. Now, the peppers.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the waxy papery skins, and discard the membranes and seeds. Use plastic gloves (or 2 sandwich plastic zip locks) to prep the hot peppers. Once, I rubbed my eye after ignoring the "use rubber gloves" and it was painful enough that now I try and protect my hands from the capsaicin found in peppers. Add the peppers to the blender. Blend until incorporated. Set aside until ready to use. 

Turn out the roasted okra in a nice serving dish. Spoon some of the spicy roasted bell pepper peanut sauce on top, garnish with basil leaves, and serve alongside the couscous. Voilá, lekkere eten! Een echt super lekkere hoofdgerechten die Jeroen Meus jaloers vindt zijn. 

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