In the kitchen, I have lately found myself stuck in a box, a Jean in the Box, if you will. The lid is tightly closed and I wait for someone to turn the crank so I can spring out and be freed from my limited views on dinner. I have been serving conventional dinner items–soup, salad, rice, fish, chicken, pasta–one or two of them served at a time, the combinations varying from one meal to the next. Why I feel the need to prepare a complete meal when my husband makes no demands on what I serve puzzles me. Dinner does not have to be complicated–there are no rules (except those that I seem to have imposed on myself).
In the spirit of breaking free of this self-imposed bondage, I yielded to a craving for tapas (“little dishes”) and had them for dinner. To have a meal made up of small plates is common in Spain, so I did the same earlier this week.
I was so happy to find marinated white anchovies (boquerones in Spanish) at the market recently that I snatched up a package (20-30 fillets) without a second thought. I knew that some would be served with Caesar salad but that would still leave quite a bit for one or two more dishes. In case you haven’t ever had this variety, white anchovies are not salty like their tinned cousins. The former are marinated in vinegar so they are tart and liven up everything they are served with. I challenged myself to create an accompaniment complementing the qualities of the anchovies.
Ultimately, I decided to make a simple dip out of a jar of peri peri peppers. Pickled in a bit of spice, the peppers are slightly sweet, slightly spicy and just a little tart. I scoured the web for a red pepper dip and found this one which immediately caught my eye for its addition of almonds. I went heavier on the almonds to better balance out the flavors but whether or not it was a good idea to pair the dip with marinated anchovies remained to be seen.
I will be the first to admit that this is an unusual combination but I quite liked it. It is undoubtedly different, using the pickled peppers for the dip–already bold on their own–but this worked for me. Upping the quantity of ground almonds made the dip creamier, holding its own against the marinated anchovies. Served with marinated white beans and wine, I was very happy to have my very own tapas night.
* I know that some of you may cringe at this dish if you detest anchovies but I think you might like the dip by itself. It would work as a dip for vegetables or even marinated mushrooms.
Peri Peri Pepper-Almond Dip with Marinated Anchovies
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 1 cup jarred peri-peri peppers, chopped (I used this)
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (maybe more if you use more almonds)
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup almonds (1/3 cup should be enough, try this amount first)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (you may need more if you use 1/2 cup almonds like I did)
- marinated white mushrooms (optional)
- baguette slices
- Cook the garlic, shallots, peppers, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil on the stove over medium-low heat. The goal is to let the shallot and garlic soften so stir occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from the stove and let cool a bit.
- Grind the almonds in a food processor. I found that for this small amount, my mini processor worked better to achieve finer pieces. After pulsing once or twice, add the remaining three tablespoons olive oil and process until the almonds are creamy.
- Stir together the almonds and cooked pepper mixture in a serving bowl. If the dip is too thick for you, add a bit more olive oil. I added one or two more tablespoons of oil and one more tablespoon of vinegar to get a slightly thinner consistency.
- Serve with baguette slices and marinated anchovies or with vegetables.