Eating & Drinking

QUEST: Pick a Peck of…

This was originally published in the September 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine. Words by Cindy Deachman. Photo: SOCA’s scallop crudo by Ben Welland

Is the pepper a vegetable or a fruit? The latter, say botanists, although you would never eat the sweet ones out of hand or bake them in a pie for dessert, would you? Oddly enough, peppers are cousins of berries, classified in the pepos family of berry-like fruits with leathery husks. Included are squashes and — surprise! — watermelons.

Given the origin of the fruit, Spanish-speaking countries have enthusiastically taken up the sweet peppers in myriad variations when cooking. Find, for instance, turbot and txakolí (a sparkling white Basque wine) with green peppers. Then there’s the Venezuelan arepa de caraotas negras — corn cakes filled with black beans and anchos. Or the Mexican dish huevos en rabo de mestiza, left behind by Spanish conquistadors, which sees eggs poached in tomatoes and poblano peppers, though the name means “in the rags and tatters of the daughter of a Spaniard and an Indian.” And so the romantic stories of sweet peppers continue …

Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Salad
“This is a dish we even eat in the morning,” says Chantal Erdogan, co-owner of Turkish restaurant Topkapi. Although they do play second fiddle in this aubergine meze (appetizer), the sweet red peppers give lovely crunch. Co-owner Nail Erdogan (and husband of Chantal) is the one who makes the dish, grilling both vegetables (ahem! fruits), then chopping them very finely. A nub of garlic, a squirt of lemon juice, and there’s the salad, served alongside Chantal’s straight-from-the-oven pide bread, fluffy like naan. Respect to Nail’s father, who showed him all the tricks of the dish, traditionally known as közlemiş biberli pattlican salatasi. $7.95.

Topkapi, 484 Preston St., 613-230-8828

Scallop Crudo with Rocoto, Avocado, and Black Olive Powder
When inventing a dish, says Daniela Manrique, “I think about all the elements: sweet, sour, spicy.” Manrique, co-owner and chef at Soca, has certainly thought long and hard about the flavours of her scallop crudo. Since opening a year ago, the restaurant has offered ceviche in one way or another. Instead of lime juice, though, Manrique uses the acid of tomatoes to “cook” her sea scallops, turning them opaque. The brilliant burnt-orange sauce of sweet red peppers, with barely a sliver of the ever-so-spicy rocoto pepper, swirls ribbons around the seafood. Avocados, dense and meaty, provide sweet contrast to the slippery-smooth scallops. Fine flavours here. $16.

The Soca Kitchen & Pub, 93 Holland Ave., 613-695-9190

Beef-Filled Piquillo Peppers
“I’ve seen them stuffed with cheese, I’ve seen them stuffed with
anchovies,” says Phil Lussier. These red beak-shaped piquillos, the size of jalapenos, are actually sweet. In the kitchen at 222 Lyon Tapas Bar, chef Lussier fills his with braised beef slow-cooked with Rioja wine, tomatoes, and saffron. The dish is smoky and so sweet. $15.

222 Lyon Tapas Bar, 222 Lyon St. N., 613-238-0222