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Capsicum drawing

I first came across a capsicum as a child, sometime in the 1950s. Mum and Dad were travelling from Melbourne to Sydney to visit friends. With me were two younger siblings. It was a fairly long and arduous trip in those days on the old Hume Highway. Mum always took food with us. Maybe cheese and tomato sandwiches, or corned beef and pickles, sometimes egg and bacon pie plus fruitcake and a flask of tea.

Looking back I cannot imagine why we did what we did when we arrived in Goulburn. In the days of almost no take-aways except fish and chips, we went to a Chinese restaurant and bought a take-away, called chow mein, which was meat plus vegetables in an Asian-flavoured sauce.

For the rest of my childhood, I cannot recall my parents ever buying take-away or even eating in a restaurant, so this event remains in my mind as a unique, unexpected and unsolved puzzle.

To eat our take-away Dad spread a groundsheet on the grass in the local park while Mum dished up. We ate our surprise lunch with some relish until we encountered unfamiliar lumps of square-cut green 'things'. We kids didn't like them but were not brave enough to voice our opinion. (Mealtimes were always about eating what you were given.) I not only didn't like them but was almost sick at the taste.

However, we all endured until the master of all things in our life decided he didn't like them either, so we were allowed to pick them out and discard them.

I didn't taste it again until my late 20s when my husband was diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer. The medical advice (before ulcer drugs) was dietary and no stress. On doctors' advice of no meat (harder to digest), for six months, we became vegetarians.

I'd come from a meat and three veg background but veg sans meat didn't go well when vegetables were just steamed or boiled. So I had to learn to be more creative, especially to convince my children to eat only vegetable dishes, and discover vegetables never tried before. Back came the green pepper, now properly called capsicum. At first I could only have very thin slices in Asian-type meals, including fried rice, also slivers in a salad.

I discovered the joys of Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookery, all of which feature capsicums. I preferred the red ones and only learnt years later that the red were simply very ripe green ones. I now like them in salads but love them charred, marinated or in a ratatouille or with cheeses like feta or haloumi. I particularly love them stuffed with rice and salmon. I still do not like to have them cut into square chunks for any dish.

I must have a 'body memory' of my revulsion of those years ago, and although common sense tells me how irrational this is, I would never prepare them that way and if I'm eating them raw, I will only eat the ones cut into strips.

Finally, we remained vegetarians for six years, my children are adventurous eaters, and my husband's ulcer healed and never returned.

Pasta sauce using capsicum: a recipe from my Macedonian cousin

2 - 3 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, chopped
4 tomatoes, seeded
1 green and one red capsicum, sliced then chopped
Small bunch fresh basil (leaves from five stalks) or 1 tbsp dried basil
150-200 g feta cheese, chopped

Place the olive oil in a glass pie dish (or similar). Add the onion, tomatoes, capsicum and basil leaves. Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes at 170°C to 180°C or until the vegetables are soft. Stir the feta through the mixture until it is melted and creamy.

Use on pasta, on a roast or as a dip.

Patricia Miller