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Recipe: One Pan Merguez with Red Peppers & Crispy Chickpeas
This post was created in partnership with BRITA. Today I want to mark the end of my single-use plastic free week challenge with a delicious, easy, weeknight dinner made without generating any single-use plastic for the recycling bin. While usually I use one-pan recipes to empty the fridge of some veggies and grab some protein from the freezer, they’re so easy to throw together on a weeknight I can’t resist planning ahead for them too. Don’t skimp on the quick pickled red onions here as they really brighten the dish and add a bit of punch, and possibly serve it with some fresh crusty bread if you don’t have a dessert planned.
Not really something you can find in the supermarket (though you do sometimes get lucky on the meat counter), a good merguez sausage is something you’ll need to get to know your local butcher for. For those of you who live local to me, you can get fantastic ones from Parson’s Nose in Parson’s Green (West London), and from The Black Pig in Deal (Kent). They really are worth seeking out for this recipe as lamb sausages are slightly more unusual than pork or chicken, and their spicing is simply beautiful. However, if you can’t get hold of them raw cooking chorizo would be a good substitute; I think I’ll be recreating this again next week with some jumbo chorizo sausage swirls I have stashed in the freezer.
I think before I sign off on my single-use plastic free week challenge it might be a good idea to take a look inside my fridge, where my single-use plastic free buys are nestled among some of my regulars. Starting on the top shelf, while there are still several tubs of my regular yogurt in the fridge, I’m glad I can now switch out my plain one for River Cottage’s one which both tastes better, and comes in a jar. Sadly spreadable butter is something I’m never going to be able to find single-use plastic free, but I can make an effort to re-use the tubs. The cherry tomatoes I got at the market are sitting in a cereal bowl, without a plastic carton to protect them in the vegetable drawer.
The second shelf is generally the home of the masses of jars that seem to be constantly taking over my fridge, but there are two things of note, where I make a habit of turning single-use plastics into repurposed items. I buy a lot of my spices in small plastic tubs; when they’re done rather than throwing them away I keep them either to use for fridge leftovers (such as the leftover pickled onions I had from this recipe) or to decant the ends of other spices, nuts etc. if there is a big, almost empty pack hogging all the fridge space. Second, is the plastic takeaway container housing a portion of courgette soup. Either Chinese or Thai food originally came in this; I’m obsessive about saving them as they stack well in the fridge/ freezer, and it means I’ll never have to buy plastic containers especially ever again.
In my vegetable drawer there is a fair bit of plastic, both good and bad. I’ve got some leftover supermarket herbs in there which all live in plastic bags, and I’ve already learnt that I’ll only be able to find some of the hardier soft herbs on market stalls without. However, it is in here I re-use some of my vegetable tubs things like tomatoes and mushrooms come in, keeping two in the bottom of the draw to make sure things like stray mushrooms and lemon halves don’t roll around at the bottom and get lost. Always think if you can re-use a piece of plastic before you throw it out!
Finally, in the fridge door along with the milk (which I could not find single-use plastic free in London, but if you’re one of my Kent readers do make the effort to visit Ottinge Court Farm where you can use the self serve machine at the farm gate to buy rich, raw farm milk – both plastic and glass bottles are options!), more jars of things, the ends of a pat of butter and a piece of chorizo and yes, a cheeky spare garlic Dominos crust dip!) are my two absolute saviours to my single-use plastic free week: my fill&enjoy BRITA filter jug and the bottle from my brand new SodaStream. As I mentioned at the beginning of the week, plastic bottles make up for 67% of household plastic recycling, and 5.5 million bottles go into regular rubbish, and using re-useable bottles and BRITA filters is an easy fix; BRITA have been campaigning on this since 2017 (click here to find out more!) I swear I generate even more, what with my not liking the taste of tap water so buying mineral water, and being more than a little bit addicted to sparkling. The fill&enjoy jug (you can order your own here!) has obviously solved the taste issue with my tap water (it actually tastes like fresh, clean water now, not water with a whole load of chemicals!), and by putting the water through a SodaStream, I’m not constantly opening a new bottle of sparkling, either. Things are so much easier now too, now I don’t have to carry heavy bottles of water home! Last week I did not generate a single disposable, single-use water bottle.
Also, before we move onto the recipe can we talk about these onions? I swear there is a quick pickled, pretty pink red onion for every food blog on the internet, but I like to think mine is a little different as I use filtered water as one of the main components. Ever since my parents got a filtered water tap in their new kitchen I’ve been using filtered water more and more in my general cooking; I find food has a fresher, cleaner taste, especially if I’m doing things like blanching vegetables or thinning out sauces. It is a chef trick to soak raw onions in water to take out some of the bite if they’re being served as is, so I add water to white wine vinegar for lighter, less offensive quick pickled onions – even my ‘I don’t like anything pickled, don’t eat pickles near me’ boyfriend ate every single one on his plate!
This recipe serves two people with some sort of side or dessert afterwards, though you may get some leftover pickled onions depending on the size of the onion you’re using, and how much you like them; leftovers are great on salads or avocado toast! You can scale it up, but you’ll need to cook it on two sheet pans or use a very big one.
To make the pickled onions, combine the onion slices, BRITA filtered water and white wine vinegar. Make sure the layers of the onion are separated and set aside while the rest of the food is cooking.
Toss the chickpeas, drained together on a large, rimmed baking sheet with the halved peppers (if you can only find large ones, halve the halves to make smaller chunks), harissa spices, olive oil and a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper until everything is well coated.
Roast in the oven for five minutes, before nestling in the sausage halves and continuing to cook for another 15 minutes. The sausages should be sizzling, the peppers starting to char and the chickpeas crispy.
Drain the pickled onions and dry them well on kitchen paper. Sprinkle the onions and the mint over the traybake, and serve immediately.
So, my final thoughts on my week trying to go single-use plastic free? To be honest, a week before I started cooking dinner with my mother in her kitchen, talking about the challenge we thought it would be really difficult to do; we were generating so much plastic just making salads to serve with the meat my Dad was barbecuing for the three of us! We also thought it would be a really expensive week. However, it was so much easier than I thought it would be; I managed to find almost everything on my shopping list for a week of delicious meals, and for the items that were already in my fridge, freezer and cupboards I managed to check off where I would have found them if I’d needed to restock during the challenge. Eating out twice during the week, I was pleasantly surprised to find my local had switched to all paper straws, and it bothered me for the first time how much single-use plastic I was using in the three cocktails I had out to dinner another night. Milk was the only thing I had to buy where I’ll be throwing the plastic away (though it is worth noting my parents save theirs to store the liquid fertiliser made in their wormery to feed their vegetable garden!
It is not possible to go single-use plastic free on a regular diet with a regular budget, but I have learnt that we’re using way more plastic than we need to be. Think about if you can get your supermarket, plastic wrapped veggies elsewhere (supporting small, local businesses instead), take time to get to know your butcher, and tell the barman you don’t need a plastic straw in your next cocktail. Oh, and do be sure to order your own fill&go bottle and fill&enjoy jug to at least try and eliminate the plastic water bottles we’re all guilty of throwing away!
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