Choosing green capsicum (bell pepper) over red is some kind of step into true, post-30 adulthood. All through my younger years I barely took any notice of green, always making a beeline for fire-truck red: so happy and sweet. But now I see that green capsicum isn’t just an unripe version of red, but a brilliant thing in itself – its sweetness balanced out with zing and depth. It’s become my go-to for paella, and I love it in this salad.
The recipe has grown from Claudia Roden’s ‘Salata Meshwiya’, from my well-used copy of her classic A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. She says it’s popular all over North Africa, particularly Tunisia. Unfortunately I’ve never been there, but can confirm through ‘cookbook travelling’ that lots of green capsicum features in another classic Moroccan book I have. Claudia doesn’t specify which colour to use, but green feels good to me.
The dish usually creeps onto the menu when our chickens are laying and egg cartons are stacked high in the pantry – no longer just the domain of baking/pancakes/weekend breakfasts. Eggs in sandwiches, eggs for dinner, recipes using 10 eggs, why not?! After having no eggs from our chickens for months, spring is wonderful.
North African grilled capsicum and egg salad
You can take this salad in various directions – add tomatoes if they’re in season/you have them on hand. Add tinned tuna if you want to, which also makes this a more substantial, stand-alone dish (and I wouldn’t stand in your way if you wanted to add seared fresh tuna!). Also use whatever herbs/onion you have on hand.
4 green capsicums (bell peppers)
4 garlic cloves
juice of ½ medium lemon
2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
big pinch of dried chilli flakes
¾ teaspoon salt
4 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced (or ¼ red onion)
big handful of parsley or coriander (cilantro) or a combination, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
(optional additions: 3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges; a small/medium tin of tuna in oil, drained)
Boil the eggs in advance, even the night before. Here is my technique: bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and lower the eggs in with a spoon. Put the pan back over the heat and put the lid on. Time the cooking from when you hear the eggs rattling around, which is a sign the water is boiling again. Turn the heat down to low and cook according to size: about 4 minutes for small–medium eggs; 5 minutes for large (this should give just-set centres). Remove the eggs from the water and leave to cool a while, then transfer to the fridge to chill before peeling. This makes the eggs easier to peel, especially if they were fresh (older eggs peel easier than fresh eggs).
Heat up a griddle pan or the grill of a barbecue to low–medium. Put on the whole capsicums and cook them on each of their four sides for 5–8 minutes per side, or until blackened with grill marks. (You can also roast capsicums in an oven, but doing it over a flame adds smokiness and the capsicums don’t soften completely, staying a little crunchy.) While grilling the capsicums, also grill the whole garlic cloves in their skins until they feel soft (watch them more closely and turn them so they don’t burn).
Transfer the grilled capsicums to a bowl and cover with an upturned plate to steam for 5 minutes, loosening their skins. Meanwhile, peel and mash the garlic cloves in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes, salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper.
Peel the loose skins from the capsicums (don’t worry if the skins don’t come off entirely). Open them up and remove the seeds and core. Slice the capsicums in 1–2 cm slices and add to the bowl of dressing. Add the remaining ingredients including tomato or tuna if using (if using tomatoes, also add a little extra salt). Combine well. Cut the eggs into quarters and add to the salad, mixing briefly. Taste for seasoning and acid, adding a little extra salt or lemon juice if desired. Serve straight away, or let sit at room temperature until you’re ready to eat.