Fresh-tasting stuffed peppers

13 May

We had a barbecue for the office last week to say goodbye to a colleague moving to new opportunities. Barbecue here means a broad open grill with lots of meats (kabob, aka mini Mediterranean spiced burgers, shish tawouk, aka seasoned chicken skewers and chunks of grilled lamb) plus light salads lovingly prepared by our colleagues in a very efficient, but homey, assembly-line fashion. All the meat disappeared by the first half of the barbecue, but there were a lot of veggies left behind.

Cameraman mentioned that he has been craving food from home, so I decided to try my hand at American-style stuffed peppers (i.e., different from the ma’ashi stuffed vegetables we get in the region). I mean, how could I resist these colors?

I decided to look for guidance, and was inspired by the recipe for Dad’s Stuffed Peppers from Simply Recipes. But looking at what I had in the refrigerator and what is most tasty on our local market, I made several changes. They ended up being moist and delicious, with a fresh taste. Next time, I will ramp up the sauce even more though, and add garlic and more fresh chile, to echo the flavor of the pepper shells. And I’m still kicking myself a bit for not adding some cheese. We can find a nice melting gouda here that would have added a bit of tang to the mix. Yogurt or labneh would be another option for a last minute dairy addition.

Fresh-tasting stuffed peppers

6 bell peppers (can be awkwardly shaped, if that’s what you have)
3 green onions, trimmed
1 pound cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups cooked rice (based on recommendations from Simply Recipes)
2.2 pounds ground lamb (run through the smallest option at the butcher to create a soft, fluffy grind)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt
Black pepper

Special equipment: immersion blender or potato masher, baking pan large enough to hold peppers

Preheat oven to 350 F. Chop the tops off the bell peppers and cut out the cores. Reserve pepper tops.

Set up steamer in large pot and place pepper shells over boiling inch of water for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have a steamer, feel free to use a covered bowl in your microwave or boiling. Steam peppers until colors shine brightly, though if you need to “reshape” a pepper that is in a smooshed shape (as I was since I was repurposing peppers), you may want to go a little longer – up to 10 minutes. Remove peppers to cool and drain if necessary.

Meanwhile, chop the reserved bell pepper tops and green onion coarsely.

In the same pot, drizzle enough olive oil to coat and warm until fragrant over medium heat.  Add the bell pepper and green onion until the colors become more vibrant. Add red pepper and toss until you can smell it, then remove from heat and transfer to small bowl.

In your now slightly oil-glazed pan, toss in the cherry tomatoes and dry-roast until the skins wrinkle and become slightly browned, about 10 minutes on medium-high heat.

You can go even further, depending on how patient you are. Remove from heat and use immersion blender to break up tomatoes. They will release a lot of liquid – so make sure your forearms are covered! Add cooked bell pepper and green onions and season generously with oregano, salt and pepper.

In large bowl, combine cooked rice (it can come straight out of the fridge or pot), ground lamb and half the sauce. Mix gently until mostly combined, then use a tablespoon to fill the peppers.

I had extra stuffing left over, which could be repurposed in a soup or with other vegetables, but I went ahead and made meatballs as an extra bonus. They also help to hold the stuffed peppers in place in the pan. Drizzle extra sauce on top – it will continue to caramelize in the oven, adding flavor.

Bake for approximately 1 hour, if your peppers are as big as mine. Otherwise, start checking at 40 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, a quick check to see if the meat is at least 150-160 F will allay any worries. You can let these sit for a little bit to cool off and let the flavors come together. They are also tasty the next day for lunch, especially with the locally-made hot sauce (shutta).

Inspired by Elise Bauer’s recipe for Dad’s Stuffed Peppers from Simply Recipes.

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