Vegantine’s Menu: Piquillo Peppers with White Bean Puree and Orange Dill Tapenade
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and although traditionally V-Day is a celebration that I would rather spend wearing sweatpants in the dark and pulling the petals off of dead flowers, perhaps I’m feeling softer in spirit since I married my sweetheart last year. Or perhaps not, considering that he’s been avidly anticipating a thick, juicy rare steak and some succulent seafood, and instead I’ve planned a vegan feast.
What? Why are you looking at me like that? Vegan food can be sexy, you know. Seriously. I cross my heart and swear on the block of tofu that I have in the fridge (which will not be making an appearance, fear ye not).
Every year for Valentine’s Day I plan a sexy and often elaborate meal, but it’s starting to feel rather monotonous. The starter historically involves some iteration of a luscious and often rich seafood dish (mussels with white wine and tarragon, scallops in a champagne sabayon, and Grand Marnier chili shrimp all come to mind from past years), and to appease my carnivorous mate they’re followed by either a rare and bloody steak (rib eye is always a good choice) or slow cooked and meltingly tender cut of beef (Port braised beef shanks or lamb shanks in a red wine and chocolate sauce are both a way to get a ‘leg up’, if you know what I mean).
Traditional Valentine’s feasts for us are delicious, and a surefire way to get me laid, but this year I wanted a challenge. I thought to myself, what is the type of cuisine which people often get the least excited about, and how can I tramp it up a little? Apologies to vegetarians and vegans the world over, but let’s be honest with ourselves: there are very few omnivores in world who think, “Finally, this is my chance to seduce that juicy little harlot from the office who always wears a push-up bra 3 sizes too small! I know, I’ll make a vegan rice bowl with seitan!“ Nothing screams celibacy in quite the same way as chicken-fried-tofu, so clearly there was a lot of opportunity here.
Might I just mention that when I told Mike that I was going to make him a sexy, sultry, titillating vegan Valentine’s Day dinner, he aped a man getting kicked in the gonads and proceeded to writhe around on the ground for 2 minutes until I got tired of protesting and just walked away. However, when you see what we’ve got in store for you this Valentine’s Day, I’m sure that you will agree that this is far better than a rice bowl. After all, sexy food is all about flavor, texture and intrigue, and vegetables can be pretty hot.
I’m talking to you, asparagus.
Now then, let’s get started on the appetizer for our vegan meal, a sweet and smoky piquillo pepper stuffed with smooth and creamy cumin scented white bean puree on a slather of salty black olive, orange and dill tapenade. Who said this was going to be boring??
Piquillo Peppers with White Bean Puree and Orange Dill Tapenade
serves 4 as an appetizer or 6-8 as tapas
Orange Dill Tapenade
- 1 cup kalamata olives
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1.5 tsp orange zest
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- small handful fresh dill (1/3 cup chopped)
White Bean Puree
- 2 cans (14 oz each) navy beans *
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 orange, juice only
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 tsp ground cumin
- pinch cayenne pepper (~1/8 tsp)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2-3 tbsp water, optional
- 12-15 fire roasted piquillo peppers **
*Navy beans are sometimes sold as Great Northern beans, and the small, thin skinned and white fleshed legume is one of my absolute favorites. If you can’t find navy beans, the starchier white kidney bean is an adequate substitute.
** Piquillo peppers are small red peppers from Northern Spain. The name “piquillo” means little beak, and the small, sweet peppers are generally fire roasted before getting packed into jars or cans in water or oil. The flesh of the piquillo is rather thin and delicate compared to other roasted red peppers. Although the peppers can usually be found in a specialty or upscale grocery store, if you can’t find good quality Spanish piquillo peppers you can substitute with your favorite tender fire roasted red pepper…as long as it is whole and stuffable! In Spanish tapas, the peppers are usually stuffed with Manchego cheese and jamon, or a Portuguese influenced potato and salt cod puree, but in true vegan style we’ve kept the creamy, salty flavors, but built around fiberlicious bean goodness instead.
This elegant dish requires no cooking at all, and with the help of your trusty food processor the hands-on prep time is quite minimal. That’s always a good thing in my book!
Grate 1.5 tsp of zest from the orange and set it aside for the tapenade. I say this from experience, because trying to zest an orange after you’ve squeezed it is a Devil’s jest.
Drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Shake them dry and place in your food processor along with the garlic, olive oil, cumin, cayenne, and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Squeeze in the juice of an orange (4-5 tbsp) and puree the mixture until it is smooth. Depending on how soft your beans are, you may wish to add a splash of water 1 tablespoon at a time. You want the texture to be a smooth puree but still rather thick and more like well mashed potatoes than a dippable hummous.
When your bean puree is smooth, taste it and adjust the salt and pepper as you see fit. White beans love seasoning, so don’t deprive them of this small glory. Set the puree in your fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes which will encourage it to firm up slightly.
Select piquillo peppers that are a good size and don’t have any tears or ravages (the ones that do can be set aside for another use, like a piquillo pepper and caramelized onion confit to go on top of quinoa…or lamb, because I’m not a vegan by trade, you know). If your peppers are packed in oil, give them a quick rinse under cold water and pat them dry. Pipe the bean mixture into the peppers until they’re plump and full. I’m usually far too lazy to break out a piping bag (not because it’s unavailable, just because I don’t want to wash it afterward), but a stuffed plastic sandwich bag with the end snipped off works just as well.
Stone the olives and discard the pits. The fastest way to do this is to press down firmly with the flat side of a knife and then remove the seed.
Finely chop the olives and garlic and then pound them together into a paste. You can use a mortar and pestle for this, or a mini food processor will make short work of the tapenade. Add the olive oil, orange zest and hot pepper flakes and continue to pound or process until it is evenly combined. Finely chop the dill and stir this into the medley. Et voila, orange and dill tapenade is yours.
The white bean puree and olive tapenade can both be made up to 3 days in advance, however the peppers should not be stuffed until a few hours (at most) before you serve them. Give the tapenade a quick stir to redistribute the oil before you continue.
Dollop a few tablespoons of the tapenade onto your plate and smooth them out using the back of your spoon. Lay a few stuffed peppers on top and garnish with a slice of orange and some fresh dill if you’re feeling fanciful.
The creamy and gently spiced white bean puree is absolutely luscious against the slightly smoky flavor of the sweet piquillo pepper, and the orange and dill tapenade lends an influence of salty sophistication which is undeniably Spanish. Hey, Spain is as hot as your Valentine, right? I thought so too.
Quick to prepare but chic and sultry, this first course is a sexy start to a sensual vegan feast. Next stop…the soup course!