Meatless Monday: Improv Stuffed Peppers

If you grew up in the ‘70s like me, you might remember stuffed peppers for supper. Chances are the bell peppers of choice were the decidedly un-sweet green variety and the filling was ground beef and something tomato-y. I always liked to see their little hats in the oven, but once at the table, I remember being much more interested in the filling than the containers, which is a pity.

Once I got my hands on a bell pepper with deeper sun-kissed pigmentation, I began to understand what the fuss was all about. Ah yes, stuffed peppers can be sweet, and the filling need not be meaty to mask their lack of personality.

Veteran vegetarians know that stuffed peppers make for a terrific one-dish meatless meal, and best of all, you can make up the filling as you go along, depending on your mood or what’s in the fridge. In the final days before the expected first frost, bell peppers are having their swan song, so the time is now to play and stuff.

I got some great tips and inspiration for quinoa-stuffed peppers from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Suppers,” but even with the book open on the kitchen counter, I improvised, using what I had on hand and what sounded good (a handful of pitted nicoise olives was a last-minute idea, which really amped up the flavor). By slicing the peppers in half lengthwise, you work around getting the peppers to stand upright. I also love how the quinoa toasts up in the oven, developing a golden crackly top that’s fun to crunch on.

End-of-season bell peppers get stuffed with goodies. (Kim O'Donnel).

As you peruse the options in the recipe below, share your favorite ways to stuff a pepper.

Improv Stuffed Bell Peppers
Inspired by “Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison’s Kitchen”
By Deborah Madison

1 cup quinoa, rinsed several times (alternatively, 1 cup short-grain rice, pearl barley, instant couscous)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch of scallions, including 2 inches of the greens, thinly sliced into rounds (alternatively, 1 shallot or the white and light green end of a medium leek, diced)
2 jalapeno chiles, diced and seeded (or chile of choice, or no chiles at all)
a few garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (alternatively, 1 can drained and rinsed chickpeas)
1 bunch spinach, leaves only (alternatively, equal amounts chard or tender kale, stems removed)
½ cup chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley, or basil in summer)
About four ounces feta cheese, crumbled (or queso fresco, ricotta, goat cheese)
Other possible add-ons: a handful of chopped pitted olives, squeeze of lemon, fresh thyme leaves
4 yellow, orange or red bell peppers

For quinoa: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. (Water amounts will differ for other starches mentioned above.) Add a pinch of salt, then add quinoa. Stir, then cover and simmer over low heat until grains are tender and begin to look like stars, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm half the oil in a wide skillet. Add onions and chiles of choice and cook over medium heat for two minutes, then add garlic, corn (if using) and greens, along with 2 tablespoons of water. When greens are wilted, add leafy herbs (if using), quinoa and feta. Toss everything together, taste for salt and pepper.

Slice peppers in half lengthwise without removing tops or stems, then excise membranes and seeds. Simmer peppers in salted water until slightly tender but not overly soft, about five minutes. Using tongs, remove and drain any excess water. Fill peppers with quinoa stuffing and place in an ovenproof baking dish.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle remaining oil over peppers and bake for about 20, 30 minutes, then if you like, brown the tops under the broiler.

Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes four servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I never thought to substitute something other than ground beef to stuffed peppers, what a clever idea! I love bel peppers but hate them stuffed with ground beef; this sounds like a nice alternative. I bet some sliced almonds or cashews would add some nice flavor to this dish. Thanks for sharing! :)

Posted by: merluvs2cook | October 13, 2008 9:15 AM

Sounds great! Sorry to say I've never stuffed a pepper, unless you count chile relleno. Acorn squash, zucchini boats, done those.....

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | October 13, 2008 9:32 AM

I made some last week that were stuffed with couscous w/ chickpeas and goat cheese - yum! I'm not a particular fan of either stuffed peppers or couscous, but the combination called to me. It did take a while for the peppers to get really cooked, but I would try this again. I think it was on the Serious Eats website.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | October 13, 2008 12:45 PM

There's a recipe in one of the Moosewood cookbooks that is really delicious: peppers stuffed with soft polenta mixed with cheddar cheese and green olives. Then you make a sauce of mashed black beans. Yum!

Posted by: Rosslyn | October 13, 2008 2:00 PM

chick peas and rice are also a nice addition (with feta cheese). Reine, It helps if you blanch the peppers ahead of time.

Posted by: SSMD | October 13, 2008 2:05 PM

There's a really delicious version in Vegan with a Vengeance. They are red peppers stuffed with quinoa and black beans. So good.

Posted by: fran214 | October 13, 2008 5:08 PM

Yuck blah. Who wants peppers stuffed with this crap. Late season red, yellow and green peppers stuffed with a sauteed oiniions and cremini mushrooms and the first Bambi of bow and arrow season. After butchering and hanging the better cuts to dry age grind up the left over Bambi meat and mix with onions, mushrooms, a mixture of organic wild and white rice. Add some freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.
Add some nice pecerino.

Stuff peppers and lightly saute in dutch oven with a little olive oil. Then add some tomato sauce and some dark rum. Let simmer for about an hour and serve with pasta if desired.

Posted by: Peppers Stuffed with Bambi | October 14, 2008 8:40 AM

Tried it, very good!

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | October 14, 2008 11:09 AM

Oh joy...vaherder has surfaced once again.

This recipe sounds great except for the corn. The chickpeas sounds like a good idea though. The last time I tried to make stuffed peppers, I included shili seasoning to give it a different flavor.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 15, 2008 11:12 AM

American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook has a Tamale Pepper that uses onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, corn kernels, beans, cornmeal, cheddar cheese and spices it up with chili powder and cumin. It's easy, as well as delicious.

Posted by: gypsy420 | October 15, 2008 2:07 PM

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