Jeff frequently insists that his cooking repertoire is limited to a few things. I usually suggest that his current recipe base provides him with the analytical and creative tools to successfully expand. His stuffed pepper recipe is a good example of this since it requires that a cook know how to do a wide range of fundamental things: cook rice, manipulate vegetables into containers, balance flavors, and, finally, bake. The conversation usually ends with “I just stuff a bunch of meat and cheese into everything.” I don’t see the problem with this.

Get thee:

6 bell peppers – Jeff prefers multiple colors and I agree with this since green peppers are gross. Actually, greens are one reason why I never liked stuffed peppers
1 lb ground beef
1 cup of rice – We’re a sushi rice house, but long grain is fine too.
8 oz. shredded cheddar
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
3 plum tomatoes, diced
salt
pepper
cumin
garlic powder
chili flakes
green salsa

Assemble

1) Start your rice according to the package instructions. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Slice the tops off your bell peppers and tear off the stem. Don’t throw the tops out though. Your peppers will need their hats. Remove the seeds with your hands, gently. The pepper needs to be intact to hold the filling.

3) Chop up the rest of your veggies – onion, carrots, garlic, and ‘maters – and put to the side.

4) Brown your ground beef in a skillet with a bit of oil. The most recent iteration pictured above featured diced beef or “taco meat,” as the mercado calls it. Actually, I prefer this to ground beef since it is a step away from the dreaded stuffed peppers of my childhood. Add half the onions and all the garlic. Saute some more until softened. Add salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, chili flakes, and a dash of green salsa to taste.

5) When the rice is nearly done, add the diced plum tomatoes and continue cooking until the timer goes off.

6) Combine the tomato rice mixture with the meat. Add the carrots, the other half of the diced onion, and the cheese. Stir until reasonably distributed.

7) Stand the peppers up in a baking pan. Fill the peppers with the stuffing to the top. Put the hats on. Bake, covered with tin foil or a cookie sheet, for 30 minutes. You’ll have quite a bit of stuffing left. It’s excellent with corn chips.

Notes

*Careful readers will notice this recipe departs from “stuffed peppers” as they are typically presented as an olive drab mess of bland, undercooked rice and meat smothered in bland tomato sauce. Jeff’s stuffed peppers are festively colored, Tex-Mex inspired, beautifully al dente and texturally complex. You should try them tonight.

*Careful readers will also notice that the rice and meat are cooked before arriving in the peppers. This prevents that pesky problem of overbaking the peppers in a futile attempt to cook the mix thoroughly. Sure, it messes up a few more pans, but people might actually enjoy eating these instead of suffering through inverted texture equations. All the tomato sauce in the world can’t hide that.

*I feel like I should apologize to my mom. Stuffed peppers were part of our family fare. It started with a deep dislike for green peppers and got all jumbled up in associations with cabbage rolls – another way of transporting bland, undercooked rice and meat in bland tomato sauce to the human digestive tract – which, in my mind, are equated with death and old people since they were always served at Polish funerals.

*Speaking of Polish food for gatherings, why is that I didn’t know about pierogi until Mrs. T’s debuted in grocery stores? That would place us at year 10 of my timeline, I believe. There were plenty of christenings, communions, weddings, cousins’ picnics, and funerals by then, yet no pierogi to my recollection. Aunt Irene even had a pierogi recipe in the family cookbook. Why were cabbage rolls favored as the high-maintenance food of choice?

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