Nostalgia and Grilled Peppers

Last night, I found myself cooking in my grandmother’s kitchen.

I have not prepared many meals in this kitchen, but I spent a very large part of my life there until I moved to Switzerland, and significantly less time since she passed away a few years ago.

While cooking in this kitchen, with my little assistant, I stood back and saw present and past coming together in a bittersweet way, as it tends to be when the past was sweet but many of its conditions can’t be summoned anymore.

One of the last times I was here with my grandmother, she grilled sardines for me, after telling me off for asking the fishmonger to clean the sardines and remove the innards. You never clean sardines! – she told me and I will never, ever repeat this mistake again, because they will dry when you grill them!

So, yesterday we did not clean the sardines, and we grilled them in her garden, while my little assistant ran around playing with the dog and the cats, filling the air with her chatter and laughter, a sound that was very much loved by my grandmother.

Before grilling the sardines, I grilled some peppers to make a grilled pepper salad which has become my specialty in our sardinhadas.

It is very easy. You just char the peppers on the grill while it is still hot. When they are charred, their skins black and blistering, you close them in a plastic bag (traditional way) or in a bowl with a lid (my way, because plastic and heat makes me uncomfortable). The peppers must look tender, even slightly mushy; if their flesh is still firm, they need to cook a little more.

I let the peppers sit for a while in the covered pot, and the steam helps the skin release itself from the flesh. While this is happening, I make the sauce: one small clove of garlic, a few tablespoons of vinegar, a few tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of honey, salt and pepper to taste, whisked with a fork.

When the peppers have cooled off enough, I peel and clean them, and cut the flesh into straight strips.

Wilted peppers loose a lot of volume, so to make enough you have to peel and chop quite a few peppers, which takes a little time. Yesterday, I used six green and red peppers for four people. How many peppers you should use really depends on how much you love the salad.

In our house, we love it a lot. It feels like home, accompanied with some fresh and fleshy sardines, from the fishmonger who lives next door to my grandparents, and with some broa de milho. And, knowing that small children are not especially fond of sardines, it gives me a little extra satisfaction to see little O. wolfing them down and asking for more, mais peissinho.

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