An old-fashioned favorite gets a modern makeover
It’s that time of year in Maine, when comfort food reigns supreme. Often the foods that are the most comforting can be a little short on overall nutrition. Stuffed peppers is one of my favorite comfort dishes. This one is a variation on the standard that’s been a family staple for generations.
My mother’s stuffed peppers had a simple filling of ground beef and white rice, and she always used green peppers. I’ve tried to amp up the flavor, the color and the nutrition with this version. I often used ground turkey instead of beef, and when my vegetarian friends are com bing, I make my peppers with a tofu scramble in place of meat.
I also like to work whole grains into the mixture by adding either brown rice or farro, or my favorite grain mixture of brown rice, wild rice, wheat berries and barley. This gives the pepper stuffing a heartier, chewier texture and adds a little more dimension to the flavor profile.
In the past I used diced tomatoes in my stuffing, and that’s still a tasty way to go, but I found substituting my favorite fresh salsa in place of tomatoes imparted a little more depth—and because my favorite salsa is fairly spicy, it also adds a pleasing kick to the proceedings. If adding heat isn’t your thing, mild salsa will add the flavor without the kick.
The truth is, like most comfort food, stuffed peppers can be easily adapted to suit almost any palate or preference.
⇓ STUFFED PEPPERS
6 whole bell peppers, any color (I like to mix it up)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb lean ground meat (chicken, beef, turkey, even tofu scrambles)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh salsa (I like mine a little spicy, but whatever floats your boat)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of cooked whole grains (brown rice, barley, wheat berries, farro or a mixture)
1 1/2 cups of grated cheese (I use cheddar, but your choice here, too)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the tops off the peppers and remove the stems. Remove the seeds and membranes from inside the peppers and set aside. Cut the tops in small dice.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to skillet and set on medium heat, crumble and cook the ground meat until just cooked through, then remove from skillet and set aside.
Wipe out the skillet and add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. Set on medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion and peppers until they are starting to soften. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Finally add salsa, rice, salt and pepper and cook until just heated through.
If you are going to cook peppers right away, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add 1 cup of grated cheese and the meat. Combine mixture thoroughly. At this point you can stuff each pepper with the mixture and put in a baking dish that will allow the stuffed peppers to snug up against each other and hold each other upright. Place about an inch of water in the baking dish and top each pepper with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese. Cover with foil and cook for 15-20 minutes. Then remove foil and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.
Serve hot with crusty bread and a fresh green salad. I love my favorite garlic maple vinaigrette with this—and so many other salads. It’s a staple in my refrigerator. Sure it’s great on salads, but it’s also a yummy marinade. And it couldn’t be easier to make.
STUFFED PEPPER PRO TIPS
You can prepare the filling and peppers ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. This make having people over for dinner easy and stress-free.
May sure you choose peppers of all colors for a beautiful rainbow of deliciousness.
If you don’t have a pan that will keep your peppers upright, use a muffin tin to prop your peppers. Just remember to put a little water into each muffin well before cooking.
⇓ GARLIC MAPLE VINAIGRETTE
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously to combine. Store any leftover in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. She lives near the ocean in an old farmhouse with two ill-behaved dogs and two hard-working barn cats. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at candacekaru.com.