I realized with mild horror the other day that the summer is past its peak and I have not in any way, shape or form, taken advantage of the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables that make this season so worth the broiling, sweating, huffing and puffing and cursing. I had a package of ground beef from our friend Jake over at Dickson's Farmstand Meats, and was seized with the urge to make stuffed peppers. Stuffed Peppers. Why, you might ask? (And I did.) Never before have I made stuffed peppers and what on earth possessed me to choose this dish as my return from a cooking hiaitus, I have no idea. But once I got it in my head, it just wouldn't let go. I pored over every back issue of Gourmet and Bon Appetit I own (and the Boyfriend will tell you that's quite a lot) in search of the perfect stuffed pepper recipe to satisfy my craving. I looked through my cookbooks, searched online, finding recipes from Martha, Emeril, and random bloggers. But none were my perfect recipe. None were exactly the combination of flavors I sought. What was I to do??
And then I realized, in a stroke of self-empowerment, that I didn't need no stinkin' recipe! Why lower my expectations just to fulfill the prescribed rules and regulations of someone else's idea of the perfect stuffed pepper? Why not turn that paradigm right on its head and create my own! It was liberating. Now, I've cooked without recipes before--its what I do most of the time, but something about this felt different. Stuffed peppers are a staple, and one I've never made, at that. "Lots of REAL cooks have already written recipes for stuffed peppers! Just WHO do you think you ARE??", the devil on my shoulder cackled. I felt like a cowboy. Or Ben Franklin.
Did I succeed? Well, to an extent. Did I reinvent stuffed peppers? Not at all. But did I create exactly what I had in mind and was unable to find in someone else's definition of this dish? Yes! And it was outstanding, if I do say so myself. Real summertime comfort food. Flavorful, colorful, with the kind of rebellious, free-thinking attitude we could all use a little more of. Or at least, I could. In short, these peppers taught me to shirk convention, go my own way, stick it to the man, and trust myself. No small feat (or feaSt, for that matter).
Mouse's Very Own Stuffed Peppers:
(note: Most of the recipes I found had more of an Italian or Eastern European bent. These peppers have more of a latin flair to them, combining flavors from arroz con pollo, with a little kick from chipotle and poblano. )
1.25 lbs ground beef
white rice (1 cup)
4 red bell peppers
1 poblano chile
1 yellow or vidalia onion
1 Cup frozen peas
1 small jar pimentos
1 can tomato sauce
1 can chipotle peppers in sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c olive oil
1 (scant) packet Goya sazon
1.5 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
salt & pepper to taste
goat cheese: optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For tomato sauce: sautee 1 clove minced garlic in 1 turn around the pan of olive oil until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add 1 can of tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, and a slightly bigger pinch of dried oregano. Bring to a simmer. Add about 1 tablespoon, adobo sauce from the chipotles. Simmer a couple of minutes, then remove from heat.
To prepare peppers: wash and dry well. with a sharp knife, cut in a circle around the top of the pepper. Take hold of the stem and twist, removing top and core of pepper. Discard along with any leftover seeds and spine of peppers. Dab olive oil onto a paper towel. Wipe oil on outside of pepper. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Make filling: Cook 2 Cups of white rice according to package instructions. Set aside.
Season beef with salt, pepper, perhaps a bit of garlic powder, and whatever else you like. Brown in a large pan. Once lightly browned, add garlic, chile, onion, 1 Tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper, and stir over medium heat. Spoon in a few tablespoons of tomato sauce, and if you're not afraid of a little MSG, add a scant packet of goya sazon. Mix in enough rice to make a good meat to rice ratio. Towards end of cooking, add 1/2 Cup (or to your liking) frozen peas, and 1/4 Cup (or so) pimentos, and the red wine vinegar. Taste again for seasoning.
Thoroughly cover bottom of a glass baking dish with tomato sauce. Spoon filling into peppers. Top peppers with a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Stand upright in pan. Bake in oven 30 minutes. If tomato sauce is thickening or evaporating more than you like, add some water or chicken stock to pan.
Spoon tomato sauce around peppers on plate. Delicious with a bit of goat cheese mixed in or on the side. Next time a crust of bread crumbs and goat cheese might send this over the top. Serve with salad.
(salad: mixed greens with balsamic-sauteed yellow squash and zucchini, pepitas (roasted salted pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds, and a balsamic vinaigrette.)
Fight the power.