The red, orange and yellow peppers—Revolution, Gourmet, and Flavorburst—in my kitchen garden are ripening finally, their dark green giving way to bright colors, and with these colors come their sweet and spicy flavors. They are delicious raw, sliced length-wise for snacks or lunch, as scoops for dips or piled into a bowl as a quick side dish for a casual dinner. The other night, though, I wanted a more interesting presentation than the simple slices so I turned to a source that never fails me: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996).
I’ve used this cookbook for years but it still surprises me with new recipes that I’d overlooked. This time, the discovery was pepper salad. It’s one of those recipes that Waters in her introduction classifies as a snapshot: “narrative descriptions that leave much to the imagination and intuition of the cook.” In this “album of possibilities for vegetables,” these snapshots are scattered among more formal portraits that list specific quantities of “ingredients and step-by-step instructions.” (p. xx)
Under the title “Pepper and Onion Salad” she writes: “Seed and slice thin some peppers of different colors and varieties. Slice a small to medium sweet red onion very thin and toss together with the pepper slices, some pitted nicoise olives, and a spoonful of capers rinsed of brine. Make a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar and good olive oil, and season with chopped garlic and jalapeno pepper and red pepper flakes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cut basil leaves into a chiffonade and sprinkle over the salad. This salad should be spicy and robust.”
My dining companions and pantry shaped my first version of this salad. I left out the raw onion because some people dislike it and used capers but not nicoise olives because I didn’t have any. I added lots of red pepper flakes and garlic but no jalapenos because, again, I didn’t have any. And I added lots of basil. I used my food processor to slice the peppers. The 2 mm blade made thin but still crunchy slices, and the pepper juices released by the slicing blended wonderfully with the vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and olive oil. I took the salad to a potluck where the featured dish was crab rolls, an end-of-crab-season treat. This beautiful and delicious pepper salad was a perfect substitute for coleslaw.
Next time I make this salad, I’ll try adding red onion, perhaps pickling it first before mixing it with the peppers and I’ll add some kalamata olives if I don’t have nicoise. I might also toss it with some green beans, boiled three to five minutes until tender and cooled. The colors and flavors would pair perfectly.
As the pepper harvest continues, I’m going to look more carefully at Waters’ other pepper recipes. The Stuffed Roasted Red Peppers with breadcrumbs, herbs and sheep’s milk cheese tempts me. It’s a formal portrait recipe but I’m anticipating that there will still be plenty of room for the cook’s imagination.