If I’m called on to cook any sort of fancy or special meal for a few people then there’s a pretty good chance that the starter will be a meze-style selection of dips and other little dishes. That’s partly because I can make them in advance but it’s also because that’s just the way I like to eat. I often use peppers in dips and this particular version has developed a stronger flavour over time. It started out as vaguely North African, then suffered a bit of Spanish influence and now has a hint of Mexico, I suppose. I don’t use green peppers very often in cooking – I’m really not that fond of them - but in this dish the sour qualities are essential.
Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog has set an interesting task for the February We Should Cocoa challenge: a savoury, vegetarian dish including chocolate. So this should fit the bill. You could add some chillies for heat and other flavours such as garlic or more spices. They would work in this dip, but I prefer the purer flavour of peppers, especially since I’d probably serve hotter and spicier dishes alongside it. Softer, salty cheeses such as feta also work really well with the intense pepper flavour.
Since this dip is strongly flavoured you may not need to serve very much, especially if combined with other dishes, so this amount should serve 6 or more.
3 red peppers
2 green peppers
1 red onion, chopped
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
400 g can tomatoes
A small handful of blanched almonds
3 tsp maple syrup
Around 10 g dark chocolate
Core and deseed all the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Place in plastic bag, seal and leave to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the blackened skin and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside a few pieces of chopped pepper for decoration on the finished dip. (Peeling the peppers under running water is sometimes recommended and, although this does make the job a bit easier, I think it washes flavour away.)
Fry the onion very slowly in a little oil until it’s completely soft and starting to caramelise. Add the roughly chopped peppers, the cumin, paprika and the tomatoes. Season and simmer the mixture gently for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool a little before the next stage.
Toast the almonds lightly in a dry frying pan, place in a blender and process briefly. Add the tomato and pepper mixture and process until smooth. Pour back into the pan, heat gently and stir in the maple syrup. Gradually grate in the chocolate, stirring and tasting as you go. Stop adding the chocolate when the flavour is suitably intense – the chocolate is there to intensify the flavour and not to make the dish taste of chocolate. Cool and refrigerate until needed. Ideally, allow the dip to come to room temperature before serving and decorate with the reserved pepper pieces.