The Artist and I are trying to make healthier dietary choices. Today’s recipe is a perfect way to make that transition easier. It is full of flavor, brightly colored, and easy to make. It is so good that you don’t even miss having any meat with your meal. One of the best thing about stuffed peppers is that you can fill them with whatever you like. Rice like this recipe, whole grains, the more traditional meat filling, or a blend of other vegetables.
The flavors of Morocco and other North African countries are sweeping the nation. Their wonderful blend of traditionally sweet spices in savory dishes is becoming much more mainstream. Where ingredients like cardamom were only slightly known a few years ago, they are now a fairly common occurrence. And thanks to some nationally distributed food producers, such as Ciao Bella, more and more people are discovering them.
If you haven’t tried spices like cardamom, turmeric, or saffron, now is the time to pull out all the stops. I dare you to take the plunge and buy these spices. You will find that once you know what they do to the foods they are paired with, you will look for opportunities to use them again and again. Cardamom has become one of my favorite spices to use in sweet desserts. I often use it in combination with ginger and cinnamon, segueing away from the traditional “pumpkin pie” type of flavor combinations.
When you are buying your bell peppers to stuff, make it easy on yourself and buy square’ish, squat ones. They will be much more stable even after cooking. And always gently squeeze them – there should be absolutely no give on them. You want them very hard so you know they are fresh. If you cannot find square ones, go ahead and buy whatever you can, but instead of taking the top off of them, cut them in half lengthwise. This will make them easier to stuff and serve. Because they won’t be standing upright, you will need to use a larger baking pan to hold them.
I recommend that you use red or orange bell peppers for this recipe. The red, orange, and yellow peppers are much milder and sweeter than the green ones. If you know people who have trouble digesting peppers, they should have fewer issues with the non-green ones. They are beautiful on the plate, and as my mother said, a colorful plate is a healthy plate! All red and orange vegetables are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, and lycopene. Lycopene is considered an important part of a healthy diet, helps reduce free radicals, and may prevent some types of cancers, particularly lung, stomach, and prostate. Anytime you can opt for a red fruit or vegetable, you are making the smart choice.
To make this dish even healthier, you can substitute any other grain that you want, adjusting the total amount of liquid and cooking times accordingly. Israeli couscous, farro, barley, and of course brown rice would all be terrific here. You could add a can of beans if you want to increase the proteins, or leave out the grains altogether and just cook up a bunch of chopped vegetables with the seasonings.
Have fun getting creative with your vegetarian dishes – use new seasonings and spice it up!!
Kitchen Skill: How to Tell if Grains Have Absorbed all the Liquid
When cooking rice or other grains, the directions often tell you to cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. This isn’t hard to do, but if you stir the grains (especially rice) to check they can get mushy. To avoid this, carefully draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, creating a trough. If any liquid flows into the trough, it needs to cook longer. If it remains dry, the grains have absorbed all the liquid. Carefully push the food back to fill in the trough, replace the lid, and set off the heat to finish drying out.
- Rice Pilaf (can be used as a stuffing other foods as well)
- 4-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian)
- 2 tbsp butter (or oil for vegetarian)
- 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-shaped, 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, 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 bottom of 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.