Time moves swiftly, doesn’t it? I could cite every cliche in the book about how quickly 2012 is firing along; faster than a speeding bullet and all that.
As if we didn’t have enough on our plate with wedding planning, work and study, the Australian Man and I have added two more hats to our plates. Hard hats, to be exact.
After an adrenaline-fuelled few weeks, we are now the excited owners of a 1970’s apartment around the corner, just begging for a full renovation. New kitchen, here we come! Stay tuned for plenty of before-and-afters. Maybe even the occasional cry for mercy.
But just before that, we hosted two very VIP guests: my parents, visiting from the States. For three glorious weeks in February, we skulked through laneways, ducked into intricate arcades, critiqued coffees, and let ourselves be spoiled by many a spread fetched from Queen Victoria Market. After 18 months apart, it was beyond needed.
The crowning moment came when, nearly at the end of her trip, mom suggested we spend some time together in the kitchen. The result was one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes: fil fil mahshi. Plump, juicy bell peppers filled with savory spiced meat and rice.
I felt quite spoilt that she dedicated one of her last afternoons in Melbourne slicing and stuffing these peppers with me, nary a parental comment (even from dad) about maneuvering about our tiny apartment kitchen.
As with any family recipe, fil fil mahshi includes approximate measurements (a pinch here, a pinch there) and takes a few tries to get it just right by your own palate. A few inside tips from my family to yours: first, don’t be afraid to over-spice. fill the peppers loosely, to give the rice plenty of room to expand and stay fluffy. A light shake of each pepper after stuffing will do the trick.
6 medium-sized red or yellow bell peppers
1 cup short-grain (white) rice
5 pre-cut beef or lamb scaloppine (schnitzel)
1 can chopped tomatoes plus 2 fresh tomatoes OR 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped
Generous sprinkle each: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom
Generous pinch of saffron
Generous pinch of turmeric2 tbsp dried mint
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional but highly recommended: 6 lamb chops
Using a small paring knife, cut around the green stem of each pepper to create a circle just wider than the stem. Remove the seeds and pith from each pepper, replace the top of each one, and set aside.
Slice each piece of meat into long, thin strips, and then again crosswise to create small, 1cm pieces.
In a large bowl, make the hashweh: combine the rice, chopped meat, spices (generous sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom), the saffron, turmeric and 1/2 cup water to moisten. Drizzle in approximately ⅓ cup canola oil – or enough to coat each grain and piece of meat. Mix well, using clean hands, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss together again.
On a separate plate, season both sides of the lamb chops with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, salt and pepper. Place them in a single layer at the bottom of the pan.
Using your hands, loosely fill each pepper ¾ full with the rice mixture. Shake the peppers back and forth as you fill them to keep the mixture from compacting. Arrange the peppers in the pot, tilted diagonally (at a 45-degree angle). This will help the sauce enter each pepper to cook and season the rice.
Spice the tinned and chopped tomatoes with additional cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper, and pour over the peppers. If you have any remaining rice mixture, sprinkle it around the peppers. Add enough water to reach halfway up the peppers, then sprinkle a generous handful of mint over the top.
Cover and bring to the boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour, periodically basting the peppers in the sauce, until the peppers are tender and the rice is cooked through.
Serve immediately with minted yogurt and salad.