Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Can I get an "Ole!"? We are total suckers for stuffed peppers because they are so easy, so filling, and such a cinch to quadruple or divide. Plus they basically use one dish: our cast iron skillet. The classy container you see in the above photo is the tupperware David took for lunch, because I threw this together real quick-like in the morning to send with him before he left for the day. No. Time. At. All. The only caveat is precooking your grains...see my soliloquy on wheat berries, below.

Here are some tricks to good (and speedy) stuffed peppers: First, microwave your peppers so they're soft and compliment the rest of the dish. Second, grains + beans + cheese = a complete meal; riff at will. Third, don't even think about doing this without sauteed onions. Just don't do it. Fourth, saucing. See soliloquy number two on sauces, also below.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
(serves 2)

2 red, yellow, or orange peppers
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup broth, divided
1 1/2 tsp each of salt, cumin, and chili powder
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves (1/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed, will do fine)
1/4 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (plus extra for sprinkling)
1/2 cup wheat berries (or other whole grain), cooked
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Fresh lime juice

  1. Cut out an inch-wide wedge the full length of your pepper (or cut in half long-ways and eat both halves for your dinner, or just slice off an inch of the top, stem and all). Reach your hand in and carefully fish out the ribs and seeds. Wrap in plastic and microwave 4 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, saute the onions in some olive oil (with a little salt) over medium heat until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, cook one minute more. Toss in the broth and beans and using a flat wooden spatula or a potato masher, roughly mash the beans so you have some mush and some whole beans. Add seasonings and cook until broth is absorbed.
  3. Now, add salsa and spinach, allowing the moisture from the salsa to wilt the spinach. When the salsa is sufficiently wilted, turn off heat and stir in cheese, wheat berries, and cilantro. Season with salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste
  4. CAREFULLY remove plastic wrap from peppers and stuff generously with your bean/grain mixture; top with sprinkled cheese. If you have the time, place peppers on a pan and roast in a 375ยบ oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melty and pepper is nice and warm.

Do you share my gnawing conviction that a dish is not a dish without some kind of sauce? I think probably the annual income of the Heinz corporation alone will corroborate my theory. So for Mexican-type foods, I love to combine sour cream, cilantro, and lime in some way and drizzle it over whatever we're having--from tacos to peppers to quesadillas. So get about 1/4 cup sour cream and thin it out with some milk until it's pourable. Add 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, and 2-3 wedges of squeezed lime juice. Whisk and pour.

Now, for a word on eating more whole grains. Do it. Wheat berries are a new favorite of mine. They're basically the entire kernel of wheat before it's been refined into different types of wheat flours. Along with other winners like pearled barley, whole spelt, kamut, and wild rice blends, they are a much more satisfying choice than plain white or brown rice and do more for you in the long run. So buy a bunch of wheat berries and cook a big pot one day. (Treat it like pasta: boil it for about 30 minutes or until tender, then drain.) Keep the cooked berries in a tupperware in the fridge and eat them for breakfast with yogurt and honey, or stir fry them with diced vegetables, or put them in soup, or basically use them wherever you would use rice. The end.

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