Stuffed peppers are a whole meal in a neat package. The traditional American stuffing is a mixture of sauteed ground beef and vegetables. Inexpensive and filling, they are perfect for nights when you need to save a little money. Sometimes I like to make these vegetarian with a rice or grain filling which is even less expensive. This could be boring, but not if you use this Moroccan spice blend!
Morocco is located on the Northwestern area of the African continent and the first inhabitants were nomadic people called Berbers. Moroccan cuisine is extremely diverse due to interactions with other cultures and conquering nations over many centuries. But the most influential invaders were the Arabs in the seventh century A.D.
The Arabs introduced spices such as cinnamon, cumin, saffron, ginger, and turmeric to Morocco. With the rise of the Roman Empire, these spices were introduced to Europe and worked their way through the countryside, migrating all the way up to England and beyond. And of course, we got them from England. There has been a resurgence in the popularity of African cuisines recently, and I am fully on that bandwagon!
Bell peppers come in an array of colors: yellow, orange, red, and less commonly, purple or white. Green bell peppers, which are much harsher flavored than the others, are actually still unripe! While part of the capsicum family, it is the only pepper that doesn’t produce capsaicin, the source of heat. Red bell peppers have twice the Vitamin C and 9-times the antioxidant carotene as a green bell pepper. Sweeter and healthier for us, you don’t have to tell me twice to buy red ones!
One of the tricks to perfectly cooked stuffed bell peppers is to partially cook them first, which slightly softens the peppers. In traditional stuffed peppers you either have undercooked peppers or overcooked filling. When you partially cook the peppers ahead of time, once they are stuffed you only need to cook them until the filling is either cooked or heated through.
This Moroccan Rice can also be served as a standalone side or vegetarian dish. It is especially good with grilled or highly seasoned foods which stand up to its bold flavors. I can eat it by the bowlful and never get tired of it.
I hope you give this vegetarian meal a try. It is so flavorful that your family won’t even miss the meat! If you want to add some protein, add a drained and rinsed can of beans.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you prefer, you can also use a mild chile pepper for stuffing as well. Anaheim or Poblano chiles are both good choices. Because these are long peppers, halve lengthwise, remove stems, seeds, and membranes. Stuff with rice pilaf, sprinkled with cheese if desired, lay flat in baking dish, and bake as directed below. There is no need to pre-bake these because they are much thinner than bell peppers.
Kitchen Skill: Parboiling
Bring lightly salted water to a boil. Carefully drop vegetables into boiling water and cook between a few seconds (for delicate or small pieces) to several minutes for denser products. Once done transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process, locking in the bright color and fresh flavors. These can then be eaten as is or used later in other preparations. Most frozen foods have been parboiled prior to freezing, allowing for very quick cooking.
- Rice Pilaf
- 4-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper or mild chile pepper, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- A large pinch of saffron threads, crushed
- 1/4 cup frozen or par-boiled fresh peas
- Stuffed Peppers
- 4 large, square-ish, red or orange bell peppers
- Boiling water
- Shredded Monterey Jack, mozzarella, or Parmesan cheese, optional
- To make Rice Pilaf: In a saucepan, heat the stock almost to boiling. Keep hot over low heat while vegetables and rice are cooking.
- Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add seasonings, onions, garlic, chopped peppers, carrots, and corn. Cook, stirring often, until onions are softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until it begins to color, about 8 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in the cilantro, cinnamon stick, saffron, and peas. Pour in the hot stock and stir only once. Taste and add more salt if needed. Cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer undisturbed for about 25 minutes (or according to package directions), or until liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
- Remove from the heat and leave untouched for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove cover, fluff the rice with a fork and serve. If using as a stuffing, set aside to cool slightly.
- To prepare Peppers: Cut about 1/3 off top of peppers, discard seeds, and reserve top. Remove seeds and white membranes from bottom portions of peppers. Stand peppers upright and trim bottoms slightly as needed so they sit fairly level.
- In a large Dutch oven, bring 2 cups salted water to a boil. Set peppers in water and cook covered for 4 to 5 minutes to soften slightly. Using tongs, pouring out any water in the cavity, carefully remove peppers and set aside to cool.
- When cool enough to handle, fill with rice pilaf, mounding top slightly. Place in a 9-inch-square baking pan. May be made up to 1 day ahead to this point. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Store pepper tops separately. Return to room temperature before continuing.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Sprinkle stuffed peppers with cheese if desired. Add a little water to the baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until hot all the way through and peppers are tender. Serve with tops set on an angle on top of stuffing.