May 21, 2012

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

We'd finally gotten into a rut.  As I've mentioned on this blog already, friend of the family Lotus and her son have been staying with us for the past month and a half, and to save wear and tear on the oven as well as the budget, it was easier to plan meals as a joint unit instead of seperately.  This has meant that, apart from the lunch meat I take to work and a bit of smoked salmon on Mother's Day, we have effectively turned into vegetarians.  Now, I've said it before.  I like vegetarian food.  While many people find it restrictive, I actually think I am a more creative cook when I can't rely on meat to supply its flavor to whatever I am cooking.  That being said, this past week I hit a wall when it came to menu planning.  Black bean burgers were on the menu for a third time.  I'm growing to dread the sight of any form of noodle EXCEPT ramen.  Without revisiting Asian flavors Wife could do without or breaking her calorie budget, I'd pretty much exhausted every meatless recipe on Eating Well, Epicurious, Simply Recipes, and the other websites I visit for inspiration (not to mention traditional cookbooks.)  That's when I remembered it.  Catfish's Dishes.  Not this blog, but the ink-stained source material.  In the cabinet where I keep all of my cookbooks is a tiny notebook, lightly tan in color to emphasize how recycled it is.  It was part of a three pack I recieved one Christmas, and I think it was meant to hold poetry or personal musings.  Instead, I wrote recipes.  Just a handful; I didn't know much at the time.  The children were still toddlers, Wife was still Fiancee, and I knew plenty about cooking improvisationally, but I didn't have many recipes of my own.  There was a chili recipe that I still use to this day, and a chicken enchilada recipe that I most certainly don't...and then there was several pages of vegetarian recipes.  I pulled the book out and began looking for an idea to set me free.  Deep-Fried Tofu with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy looked good, but doesn't fit Wife's diet.  Green Tofu Enchiladas ceased to be a possibility when the local Winco stopped carrying tomatillos. (Edit: This was only temporary. The tomatillos are back.)  Several others were shoddy things that should probably never see the light of day; edible at the time but not worth writing about.  What stood out, though, were the stuffed peppers.  I used to make them all the time when we were vegetarian.  I made them because I'd always liked my mom's stuffed peppers, but I have to say that the traditional beef-and-rice filling doesn't interest me as much ever since I came up with this stuffing mix.  The original recipe called for couscous, and you can substitute it if you prefer, but I have started using quinoa instead  because it has a much higher nutritional content. 

Making room for the filling.
Start by removing the tops from and seeding six red bell peppers.  I really like using red peppers instead of green because they are a lot sweeter, and while that may not be what you are looking for in conjunction with ground beef, it helps balance out some of the tart elements in this dish.  Before you prepare your filling, bring two quarts of water to a rolling boil, and blanch your peppers until they just begin to soften.  This will make the peppers cook faster in the oven, and help ensure you do not overcook the filling.  Set them aside in a baking dish, and prepare enough quinoa to make three cups when cooked. 

While the quinoa is still hot, mix in three cups of spinach.  The residual heat will cause the greens to wilt down slightly, but without reducing them down as much as sauteeing them would.  Allow the quinoa and spinach to cool to room temperature, and then add:

1 6 oz. package of plain or tomato basil feta cheese, crumbled.
6 T. chopped cashews
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 chopped green olives
1 C chopped tomato
Salt and pepper, to taste. 

That's it.  Stir everything together, and then divide the filling equally between the peppers.  Place the lids back on, and bake them in a 400 degree oven for forty minutes or until the peppers give way easily to a fork. The feta and green olives provide such a punch of flavor that meat isn't missed here, and you will still get protein in the form of cashews, which also throw in a bit of textural contrast.  Serve with a small green salad and enjoy.  This recipe is super simple, but also incredibly tasty, healthy, and cheap.  Now that I've remembered how easy this is to throw together, I think it will return to regular rotation at my house, even after Lotus leaves us to our carnivorous ways.  

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