A little salsa, a little heat, a simple makeover of Mom’s “Stuffed Peppers”
Back in the day, not really so long ago, if you followed a vegetarian diet, you were instructed at every turn to combine your foods so that you had “complete protein” in every meal, and that often meant rice and beans.
Since then, we know better. If we eat a range of colorful vegetables and fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds throughout the day, and if you are getting plenty of calories, you will have all the protein your body needs. It is pretty rare to hear of someone with a “protein deficiency?”
Still a good combination
However, in my mind, rice and beans remain a staple combination I go to! Yes, they are packed with protein and fiber, but they also include many other wonderful nutrients the body needs to stay healthy, with the added benefits of being both tasty and satisfying!
This New England standard was often made when the peppers in the garden came into their own – all at once of course! A red pepper went from the status of precious commodity to being yet another surplus garden staple that we had to figure out what to do with!
Necessity is the mother…
My mother’s version was peppers stuffed with rice, ground beef, onions, salt, pepper, and a little tomato sauce. She topped them with breadcrumbs or cheese. Sometimes she added leftover vegetables – a carrot, some celery, depending on what was in the pantry or garden; I continue that part of the equation.
She always sliced them in half lengthwise to make two stuffed peppers out of each pepper. This made for a little more surface for crispy topping or cheese, but sometimes the stuffing ended up being a little dry if she didn’t use enough tomato sauce, and the peppers often overcooked to stage that I thought was just too soft. I like removing the top, filling the whole pepper, and cooking them with the top on to keep the moisture in. A quick blast of heat at the end, uncovered, ensures the top crispness everyone loves.
Experiments, good and not so good
I have experimented with vegetarian versions of this dish for many years, stuffing them with everything from leftover mushroom risotto (really, really good) to simple chopped up and sautéed vegetables (not so great). This version has a nice punch of heat, and satisfies the meat eaters as well as the vegetarians.
This is a good use for leftover rice, and perhaps that cup or so of leftover vegetables in the refrigerator. I like this with cooked corn or chopped up broccoli, but peas are a good substitution here. I used black “Forbidden Rice” in this dish, as well as black beans, but you can use any whole-grain rice or bean you like. Low-sodium canned beans are fine, just rinse them first.
Adjust the heat to your own likes
The salsa I used was medium from my local farm stand, warm but not so hot, so I added the cayenne. If your salsa is a little hotter, just omit the cayenne, or use a mild salsa with no cayenne if you want to skip the heat. Just adjust it all as you go to whatever level of heat (or none) that you like.
This is perfect for a chilly late-summer meal using up the abundance of peppers, but in winter, use whatever organic peppers you can find of any color! This is easily made vegan by omitting the cheese, and gluten-free if you use the tortilla chips.
- 6 large or 8 medium red bell peppers
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 small poblano pepper, minced
- 4 oz(s), Mushrooms, sliced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 2 tsp, chili powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper if desired
- 2 cups cooked black rice
- 2 cups cooked black beans
- 1 cup cooked vegetables such as broccoli or peas
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cup salsa or tomato sauce, divided
- 6 tbsp crushed tortilla chips or whole wheat bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper as desired
- A little cheese for sprinkling
Cut off the tops of the peppers and reserve. Scrape out any seeds and membranes with a melon baller or grapefruit spoon. Lightly salt the insides, and place in a casserole dish and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and place the rack in the middle of the oven.
Heat a saute pan and add the olive oil. When hot, add the onion, poblano, mushrooms, and celery. Cook until the vegetables are tender, then add the chili powder, cumin, and cayenne. Stir for a minute or two until the spices are fragrant, then place in a large bowl.
To the bowl, add the rice, beans, cooked vegetables, vinegar and one cup of the salsa. Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the filling into the prepared shells, mounding it up. Add a little more salsa to the top, and return the cut-off pepper hats to their peppers. These will help keep the peppers moist during the long cooking.
Place a piece of parchment over all, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour (depending on pepper size), then remove the foil and parchment and check on the peppers. Carefully pierce the pepper with a sharp knife. It should go in easily, but still have some texture, think the crispness of a stir-fried peppers, not a slimy pepper in a soup.
Add the crushed tortilla chips or breadcrumbs and drizzle with a little olive oil. You can also sprinkle on a little cheese if you like. Return to the oven and cook another 15 minutes or so, until the top is crispy!
Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes while you prepare a simple green salad sidekick, and serve a little more salsa on the side if you like. The cheese eaters will want to add more cheese as well!
Nutritional information: One of these peppers is 250 calories, with 20% of your daily protein (10 grams!) 12 grams of fiber, more than all your Vitamin A, twice your Vitamin C, almost a thousand mgs. of potassium, 20% of your iron, and just 2 grams of fat. Not bad, especially since the males in the family eat two!
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen