This dish is for you folks that like it hot, some heat in a dish. Everyone in my family enjoys hot peppers in a dish but no one as much as a my dad. We’re talking about a man from the Prefecture of Florina, located in the northwestern province of Macedonia. My mom is from a town that neighbored my dad’s town and they both love peppers and especially hot peppers.
We all like hot peppers to some degree in our dishes but no one as much as my father. My mom’s best friend can (and will) eat a handle of long, thin hot peppers like they were a bag of potato chips! Once at a wedding, I sat beside an uncle (now dearly departed) who would pull out some small red chillis out of his lapel pocket and snip it into pieces and add it to each course served (save for dessert).
I like heat in a dish to add more complexity to a dish, some zing, character and ultimately (yes), some flavour. I’ve never been the type that will add a whole bunch of heat just for the sake of getting that adrenalin rush from eating extremely hot or spicy food. A basket of Buffalo chicken wings without some heat is just plain bland and those same chicken wings coated in “suicide sauce” is just plain overkill.
The dish I am showcasing today is very rustic and to try and make this into a high-rent looking dish that was crafted by a student at Le Cordon Bleu would bastardize the dish’ and pay insult to it’s humble place in the diet of this northern Greek home. We’re talking about a stew of vegetables simmered in grated tomatoes until soft, sweet and spicy from those hot peppers. The whole point of this dish is to break bread and swoop and scoop-up this sauce.
There are many varieties of “Mantza”. My dad’s version would start out with adding olive oil into a pot along with lots of sliced onions, garlic, a mixture of sweet and hot banana peppers, some fried chunks of eggplant and finally, some grate tomatoes. All this simmers until the sauce is think, the onions have broken down and the sauce is thick, sweet and red with the green peppers still evident in the sauce.
My dad’s recipe is a whole pot-full, enjoyed hot or room temperature. This dish will often be brought out as one of the offerings at the table. A serving of Mantza, some homemade crusty bread and a side of Feta all are interchangeable. Mantza can and will be made differently from home to home. This dish appears in the kitchens of Macedonia homes from the area around Naoussa, the towns of Florina and neighboring Kastoria.
In my presentation of this dish today, I’m offering it as an appetizer and one that will appease the hot pepper lover at the table and the shy one who avoids the heat. I’ve also incorporated another fave of my Dad’s, which are fried peppers. There’s a little “splits-splats” going on here but it’s worth the trouble.
To fry peppers, the most important thing to remember is to poke the peppers all over with a fork so as to reduce the prospect of hot oil hitting you. Investing in a screen to cover your skillet is a good suggestion for making this dish. It’s an easy one, one that is rustic, easy and complex at the same time.
Olive oil, fried peppers and eggplant, lots of onions and garlic, grated ripe and sweet tomatoes are simmered until the sauce is thick and sweet. A final touch of dried Greek oregano is added and all that’s left is to serve with bread and Feta cheese. To make this dish special, I fry the peppers and before I re-introduce them back into the sauce, I stuff the peppers with crumbled Feta cheese. Seal-up the peppers, place back into the sauce and the stuffed peppers will continue to soften and the cheese will soften, melt and wait for your fork to cut, open and reveal a softened, creamy Feta that just has to be added to that piece of bread you just dunked into the sauce.
Hot peppers, sweet tomato sauce, briny and tart Feta and pungent Greek oregano, ready to make some Mantza?
(makes one appetizer serving)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 hot banana peppers, poked a few times with a fork
4-6 sliced of eggplant (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic
3-4 ripe tomatoes, passed through your box grater
1 sweet banana pepper, seeded and sliced
approx. 1/2 cup of crumbled Feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. of dried Greek oregano
- Rinse your hot peppers and pat-dry. Prick with your fork a few times and set aside. Add your olive oil into a skillet over medium heat and then add the peppers (not the one sweet pepper). Fry on both sides until just golden and set aside. Now add your slices of eggplant and fry on both sides until just golden. Reserve.
- In the same skillet, add the sliced onions, sliced sweet banana pepper and garlic and saute for a few minutes to soften and sweat. Now add the grated tomato puree and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer. Add some salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer.
- In the meantime, Carefully cut open the stem-end of your fried hot peppers (keep part of the attached so you may re-seal the pepper well) and push the crumbled Feta into the cavities.
- When you see that almost all the water in your sauce has evaporated and the sauce is almost thick, add the reserved slices of eggplant and the stuffed hot peppers and now cover with a lid. Reduce to low and simmer for another 5-7 minutes or until is just start to see the melted Feta ooze out out of the peppers.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, sprinkle with dried Greek oregano and serve with lots of crusty bread and some more Feta cheese on the side.
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