Susan Jane Murray: Nurse pepper
Need a little pepping up? Susan Jane Murray suggests a hearty bowl of chillies, juicy peppers and tortilla chips
This is the only vegetable that sounds like an exciting substance. Maybe that's why everyone loves a pepper. Most other veggies are used in a pejorative sense.
Pumpkin is one of the clumsy twits from a children's novel. Aubergine belongs to a thousand bridesmaid dresses. And tomato is the shade many of us sport from May to August. That's if you're a ginger.
Pepper's hell-raising nephews and nieces, the chillies, are indeed responsible for pepping up moods with their ability to release natural endorphins in our body. The larger equivalent, however, is juicier, sweeter and sensationally flavoursome minus the sting. Don't ignore the plain pepper on your next supermarket trip, especially if you're a smoker. Peppers contain plenty of beta-carotene, protective carotenoids and vitamin C to toughen up your immunity. Go for the yellow, orange and red ones raw. Green peppers are a little shy and therefore best roasted, grilled or ignored.
A Big Bowl of Mexico
Finally, the days are no longer half-eaten by darkness. Yet I haven't quite managed to shake off a yearning for bowls of soupy stews. They're the ultimate comfort food intended to feed indolent limbs and massage achy heads. Not very spring-like, I know, so here's a compromise. Here you'll find feisty chillies, juicy peppers, fresh and fragrant coriander -- a goblet of goodness. The recipe actually belongs to my beau. Every time he makes it for me, my chest swells. He uses tortilla chips the way you would use croutons in a French soup. Let them soak up the soup and carry extra flavour. Do try sourcing organic tortillas by RW Garcia. Heavenly. These particular tortillas don't carry nasty fats or unpronounceable ingredients. You'll find these in most health food stores, or at www.organicsupermarket.ie.
For the soup, you will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into mouth-sized chunks
2 green peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 yellow peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
1-2 teaspoons dried paprika pepper
2 fresh bay leaves (pinch them from a neighbour's tree)
2 organic chicken stock cubes
Unrefined sea salt flakes, and freshly ground black pepper
For the best bit, you will need:
2 ripe avocados
1 lime, zest and juice
2 fresh green chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
1 large handful of fresh coriander, torn
2 large handfuls of organic tortilla chips
Put a large, deep-based pan on a low heat and splash in some of the olive oil. Add the diced onion, the crushed garlic, the carrot chunks, and the roughly chopped green and yellow peppers. Gently heat for 10-15 minutes until softened. Stir every so often.
Add the tinned tomatoes, the chopped fresh tomatoes, the dried paprika pepper, the fresh bay leaves, and crumble in the organic chicken stock cubes. Pour in 2-3 tomato tins of water, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
While the soup is gurgling away, peel and dice the ripe avocados. Grate some lime zest over the avocado chunks, and squeeze on the juice to keep them from turning brown. Put in the centre of the table in a bowl, next to a bowl of deseeded and finely sliced green chillies, torn coriander leaves and a plate of organic tortilla chips. You can also heat the tortillas in the oven with dried sage and olive oil for five minutes at 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.
Have a taste of the soup, season with sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, and call in the troops. They can sprinkle their soup with as much, or as little, diced avocado, sliced chillies, coriander and tortilla chips as takes their fancy