Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Over the past several months we have made stuffed zucchini on two or three occasions. It was the next recipe in our dinner schedule, but a recent visit to the doctor made us reconsider the cheesy stuffing high in saturated fat. We decided to come up with a healthy alternative and settled on brown rice. We supplemented it with zucchini, olives and a bit of mozzarella. Later, we realized this would be a great way to use up leftover rice (in fact, we found some such rice in our fridge after we made a new batch).

Instead of zucchini we used bell peppers, also known as sweet peppers, capsicum or simply peppers. In some European countries they are called paprika, which is also the name of the spice made from its dried fruit that has become synonymous with Hungarian cuisine. They are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America, and were spread to Asia and Europe by Christopher Columbus who took their seeds to Spain in 1493. Bell peppers are most commonly green in color, though red, orange and yellow fruit are commonly available. More rarely, they can be white, brown, blue or purple. The color depends on the cultivar and time of harvest. While styled as vegetables, bell peppers are actually fruit.

The word pepper has its origins in Sanskrit. It is a confusing term since it can refer to plants in three different groups: the pepper family which is known for the dried and ground berries of plants including black pepper and cubeb; the myrtle family including allspice and the West Indian bay tree; and the nightshade family which is known for the multi-colored fruit of plants including bell pepper, and many types of types of chili peppers. The term pepper has also been used to refer to trees described as pepper trees and pepperwood trees, which are so named because they have traits similar to other plants we refer to as pepper, such as having spicy leaves or producing berries that are dried and ground into spices.

This recipe makes a great appetizer, or can be a satisfying main dish served as a double portion with a hearty salad. Great for people with celiac disease and can be adapted for vegans by skipping the cheeses, using a substitute, or topping with hummus.

Serves 8 as appetizer, 4 for main meal

4 large red bell peppers
2 teaspoons garlic paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 ounce zucchini, grated
1/2 cup olives, chopped (optional)
3/4 cup bottled tomato pasta sauce
1 cup brown rice
1 cup mozzarella, partly skimmed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)

1. Cook the rice and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
3. Cut peppers into half lengthwise or widthwise. Remove stems, seeds and membranes.
4. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes to soften.
5. In a large bowl, mix the remaining ingredients including half the mozzarella but not the Parmesan.
6. Scoop mixture into peppers and top each with remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
7. Place peppers in a lightly sprayed baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and slightly brown.


Anonymous said...

Lovely! You can also make these stuffed veggies with mushrooms and mushroom stock in the rice if you want to leave out the dairy completely. If you can find good mushrooms (dried porcini, morels, or chanterelles), try it out -- they add a lot of flavour. For that version I would leave out the tomato sauce, just use shallots, garlic, whatever other veggies you want, and the mushrooms. Can use any grain for the base -- rice, quinoa, barley, couscous....

Anonymous said...

Er, that was me.

-- Preets

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of friends over for dinner tonight. One of them has type 2 diabetes. I was looking for something appropriate to serve. I settled on your stuffed bell peppers. Of course, I need to alter it a bit to make it vegan. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Unfortunately, my diabetic friend is an "old school" Puerto Rican and he's not good at being adventurous -- which for him all is all things his mother didn't make in her Puerto Rican kitchen.
Cross your fingers.

Anonymous said...

From a friend who made this recipe for a diabetic dinner guest:

So the special tweaking I used in your recipe simply substituted two-types of soy cheese for the real mc coys. Also, the tomato pasta sauce I used was something I had made a couple of days before that included some crumbled seitan Italian style sausage. Yummy!

In case you're curious, I also made a hot and sour soup of rice, cabbage, and mushrooms. The recipe called for jasmine rice, but I had some brown left over from the stuffed peppers, and I'm all about re-cycling. I also steamed some broccoli and drizzled a Korean style sauce (toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, pressed garlic, and red pepper flakes.) For dessert, I cubed some fresh fruit I found that was surprisingly ripe (must have come from Chile) and made a sauce that included vanilla soy yogurt, shredded ginger, lime zest, lime juice, and some agave syrup. The vanilla soy yogurt had cane sugar in it, but he's allowed to have a little as long as he behaves himself.

Please know that I love your blog. Thanks a million for sharing.