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Roasted Mini Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

Roasted Mini Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

Roasted Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

This may sound like a teaser to those of you living in the snowing states, but Los Angeles, my friends, is living an early summer in the winter month of January. It almost sounds unfair. I hope I could send you some sunshine from here.

The heat wave shifted my food cravings. Summer means wanting to eat summery foods, like colorful sweet peppers. I recently bought a big bag of mini bell peppers and roasted them, just I do in the summer, to go with main dishes, such as grilled meats. I jazz the tiny peppers up with garlic and dried thyme and off they go in the oven. Winter or summer, fall or spring, roasted peppers are a big hit. It sort of rhymes!

Roasted Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

Roasted Mini Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

This is one recipe where you basically eyeball the ingredients. Use as many peppers as you baking pan will fit and as many servings you want to get from them. Use as much garlic as you wish  - want a deeper garlicky flavor, add more, and vise versa. The same with thyme but do not overdo with it – we just want a nice subtle thyme flavor. Instead of thyme you can use oregano, or use both at the same time. Follow your palate demands.

Also, if you don’t have mini peppers, you can use large bell peppers of various colors – cut them in half, core, and seed, then arrange on a baking sheet cut side up. Proceed with the rest of the steps as in the recipe below.

Serves about 6

Ingredients:

About 1 pound red, yellow, orange mini bell peppers, washed and pat-dried
3-4 garlic cloves, passed through a garlic pressor
A tablespoon of crushed dried thyme (substitute with oregano or use both)
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the peppers on the parchment. Sprinkle with garlic and thyme. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your hands to coat the peppers with the rest of the ingredients. Spread the peppers to form one layer.

Roast until the skin blisters and the flesh is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the roasted peppers to a serving platter. Serve immediately as a side dish.

Roasted Sweet Peppers with Garlic and Thyme

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables

What fried? Saj-fried? You may ask.

And I will explain. Saj is a nifty kitchen utensil, my friends. And it has a long history.

Before the invention of frying pans and a gas stove, Azerbaijanis used a saj, a slightly dome shaped iron pan that resembles a shallow wok, both for cooking and bread making, depending on the side used. Rounded side up, saj was used for baking flatbreads, plain and filled, and Azerbaijani pancakes and crepes, while inverted to the hollowed side, it was used to cook various dishes. Actually it is still used for the same  purposes.

Traditionally saj is placed directly over fire or wooden coals. In the days of yore, ever traveling nomads used to carry it with themselves, using it when necessary to satisfying all the baking and cooking needs. First saj found on the territory of Azerbaijan was made of clay and dates back to as long as 4 thousand years BC. Beginning from the XVIIth century clay saj was replaced with a larger and sturdier cast iron saj, that is used today.

Dishes cooked in a saj are called sajichi, that can be literally translated as “inside the saj.” Meat, chicken, fish – anything can be fried on a good cast-iron saj. The oldest saj dish is called saj-govurma, in which succulent cuts of meat and sheep’s tail fat are browned in butter, with onion added. So delicious! (That recipe will be in my cookbook).

Saj cooked dishes are served hot right off the saj that is mounted onto a sajayag, a three legged stand. I don’t own a sajayag, so my saj ends up landing on the table without any “legs.” I use a 13-inch saj for cooking (you can replace it with an equally sized wok, or Spanish paella pan, or a good old non-stick frying pan, but remember the effect will not be the same).

Below is the recipe for chicken cooked in a saj with vegetables. A typical sajichi toyug will have pieces of chicken and slices of vegetables browned separately in butter on a saj then combined together right on it and served. This recipe, although it follows the basic principle, has a new flair to it – here, the chicken is cooked drenched in a piquant tomato sauce that adds nicely to the finished dish. I received the recipe from the charming Mehriban Alizada in Baku. Note that I cook this dish on a gas stove – a deviation from the traditional method, but better than nothing. Nush olsun! Enjoy!

Saj-Fried Chicken with Vegetables (Sajichi Toyug)


Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 medium chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into serving size pieces (leave the carcass for broth purpose, for other uses) or 2 pounds combination of chicken parts, such as legs, thighs, breast and wings
About 1/2 cup clarified butter (you can use regular unsalted butter with a few spoons oil added to it – this will prevent the butter from burning)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut lengthways into medium-thick slices
2 medium green bell peppers (you can use a combination of green and red), cored, seeded and cut into quarters lenghways
Handful of white mushrooms, wipe cleaned, sliced into half, or if big, into three
2 meduim dark-skinned eggplants, cut into medium-thick slices lenghways (remove bitterness: put slices in a colander placed in a sink, sprinkle generally with salt, put a weight on top, let sit about 20 minutes, gently squeeze the bitter juices, rinse and pat dry).
2-3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into halves or wedges (small tomatoes can be left whole)

For the Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth (from the recipe)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider
3 tablespoosn tomato paste
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

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