In this week’s How To Cook Healthy for Beginners, guest writer and cooking newbie Hannah Strader attempted a roasted peppers recipe with fennel from Weight Watchers One Pot
For Americans in London (like me), the 4th of July is a day of cheeseburgers and hot dogs, gross and greasy staples of American culture. I was more than willing to spend two months in London working and studying British culture to earn credit for my journalism degree, but I refuse to give up the 4th of July. Usually I spend the day earning myself a farmer’s tan at various fairs and carnivals in Kansas City, Missouri. You’d find me throwing back a beer and watching a fireworks display over the Missouri River while I sing along to Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA.
This year, I had a paper due and two classes to attend. I took a tour of Brixton and tried not to look at any menu advertising fish and chips lest I let my homesickness consume me.
I survive on fast food and frozen meals I can heat up in the microwave
I always say I never cook because I don’t have the time. This is because I work 20 hours a week, take classes for 15 and balance a social life with my on-campus activities. I didn’t even know where to begin. At home, I survive on fast food and frozen meals I can heat up in the microwave. If I’m feeling frisky, I might cook some shrimp with my pasta. I had never even heard of a fennel. I had to text a friend asking the difference between a garlic bulb and a garlic clove.
What I found about living in central London is there are no full-sized grocery stores
Let me be clear: I’m not an idiot. Or at least, I’d like to think I’m not. I can Pinterest recipes, read instructions and follow them. I just don’t like the process and preparation. I tend to forget when I have fresh food because I only run to the grocery store once a month in America. That’s easy to do when I can take my car half a mile down the road to the nearest super grocer, buy a cart full of items at once and not have to carry it further than my parking space. But what I found about living in central London is there are no full-sized grocery stores to stroll down at your leisure. I found myself staring blankly at a wall of pre-packaged produce at the Sainsbury Local.
Finding the right ingredients was a huge struggle, so I did what any quick-thinking girl on a budget and time crunch would do: I improvised. The recipe I chose needed two red peppers and fresh thyme. My mind’s eye envisioned the produce selection at Hy-Vee, which is roughly the size of a Tesco Express on its own. What I found instead was half of one aisle featuring an empty cardboard box on a shelf labelled ‘thyme’. I bought a spice jar instead.
I don’t know how to cut a fennel
Additionally, it was physically impossible to buy the two red peppers the recipe called for due to the restricted access to produce. My only option was a three-pack of different pepper varieties.
I was halfway back to my flat when it occurred to me that student housing may not have even supplied my kitchen with a roasting tray. The panic began to set in with the realization that I had just purchased ingredients for a meal that I had no idea how to prepare. When I entered the kitchen, I turned to a roommate and said, ‘I don’t know how to cut a fennel.’ She nodded once in understanding before demonstrating for me. Had I actually been cooking alone, I would have YouTube searched it. This was going to be interesting…
Fennel roasted red pepper recipe
- 2 red peppers, halved and deseeded
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into thin wedges
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- 1 red onion, cut into thin wedges
- 4 garlic cloves, skin on
- Calorie controlled cooking spray
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Handful of rocket, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC, fan 180ºC, gas mark 6. Put the peppers, fennel, tomatoes, onion and garlic in a roasting tray and spray with the cooking spray. Scatter with the thyme and season to taste, then roast for 30 minutes until the vegetables are softened and beginning to char.
- Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze out the flesh, discarding the papery skin. Combine the soft garlic with the balsamic vinegar.
- Fill the pepper halves with the other vegetables and serve drizzled with the balsamic dressing and some rocket leaves.
My lack of knowledge about veggies aside, the cooking part was actually quite easy. I was promised simplicity and that’s what I got. As the peppers were roasting in the oven, I had time to change into a dress and apply a full face of make-up in preparation for a night out. I was given a strict time table of an hour and a half to prepare, cook, eat and be ready to leave. I did all of those things with a half hour to spare and felt as if I’d conquered the world.
It wasn’t riverside Kansas City barbecue, but it was still satisfying
Admittedly, the tray I pulled from the oven was a little lacklustre. The peppers appeared more wilted than roasted and some of the onion was burnt. Looking at the photo in the book and the real-life product before me was almost comical. It smelled amazing though, so I plated the peppers and heaped on the onion, fennel and tomatoes. What I bit into was not disappointing.
This plate is a veggie lover’s dream. I may be biased because I adore peppers, onions and anything with garlic involved, but the soft texture mixed with the rough flavour of the charred bits made a great combination . The meal was light but filling and full of flavour. It wasn’t riverside Kansas City barbecue, but it was still satisfying.
Will I make it again? Possibly, in a world where oven temperatures are in Fahrenheit. I feel as if this was actually an exercise in how ill-adjusted I am to British culture, even if I have been here for a month. I’ll probably never get used to having to buy groceries in small increments and more often. At least next time I’ll understand garlic anatomy better and know what a raw fennel looks like.
Three things I learnt:
- Save time by texting your flatmates to turn on the oven for you, then make them do all the work because you don’t know how to handle vegetables.
- Garlic cloves are the little things inside the garlic bulb.
- Despite ambitions to live in London, I actually miss home just a teeny bit
Buy Weight Watchers One Pot for £7.95