I frequently get asked how I create or come up with dishes. There is no single answer, but
the most common one for me would be by inspiration of memories. I grew up watching and
helping my Palestinian grandmother in the kitchen from a tender age. The smell of spices while
being toasted or preserving foods take me right back to those cherished moments of my life.
We develop a particular fondness while getting exposed to some foods when growing up, which we can later share with others. We also incorporate other experiences like friendships, travels and exposure to different cultures to that memory bank.
I believe food is powerful not just for its nutritional value but also for its ability to take us
throughout time and space. The beauty of food relies on the energy that surrounds it, and the
time and care we spend preparing it, with our without company, also creates those memories.
When we are present, that intention allows us to come back to that moment with ease. It is a
practice I would like to share; in the end, we can all become "richer" and more connected that way. The borders and limits are only within us.
I created the following recipe inspired by a traditional dish from Arequipa, Peru. A city located
in the southern part of the country. My mother's side of the family is from this city, and my
grandmother also had a passion for cooking; it was a treat to go to her house and have wood
fire cooking dishes and traditional ones like this one. I have incorporated both heritages (Palestinian, Peruvian) and came up with this version.
Stuffed peppers with basmati rice
1/4 cup basmati rice
2 large eggs
4 small red bell or other sweet peppers
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon aji panca powder
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
5 Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons peanuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon golden raisins, soaked in water to cover for 10 minutes and drained
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated ricotta or other fresh cheese
In a small bowl, soak the rice in cold water to cover for 20 minutes, then drain into a sieve and
rinse with cold running water for 10 seconds. In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the
rice with water to cover by 1/2 inch, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook
until tender, 10–15 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork, and reserve uncovered.
In a small saucepan, gentle boil the eggs over medium heat for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a
bowl with water and ice. When the eggs are ready, carefully scoop them from the pan and
plunge them into the ice water bath until cold. Peel, coarsely chop, and set aside. Bring a large
saucepan filled with water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and blanch for 8
seconds, remove and when they are cool, cut off the top of each pepper with a paring knife and
reserve the tops for serving. Gently remove and discard the seeds from the peppers, being
careful not to split the sides, and set aside.
Position a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. In a small
sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring
occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, and aji panca
and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan. Add the
olives, peanuts, and raisins and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes longer. Add the butter,
let it melt, and then stir in the rice with a fork. Remove from the heat and season with salt and
pepper. Carefully stuff the peppers with the rice filling, dividing it evenly. Add chopped egg to
each pepper, then top each ne with 2 tablespoons of the ricotta. Arrange the
peppers in a baking dish, place on the top rack of the oven, and bake for 5 minutes.
Serve the peppers garnished with their tops and enjoy..