Mary Cooks: Stuffed Peppers

Gareth is away in Pittsburgh this week, so I am on my own for dinner. And thus begins another "Mary Cooks" series.

I'm starting this series with what is sure to be a controversial dish: Stuffed Peppers. And if Gareth is reading this in his hotel room, I'm sure to hear about this when he gets home as I have long claimed to dislike stuffed peppers. Why? Because I dislike green bell peppers. My stuffed peppers (or, as I am cooking for one - pepper) will be the much sweeter red variety.

Controversial ingredients

I found a likely recipe on epicurious that even starts with red peppers. I cut it down for a single serving and made some modifications:

1 red  bell pepper

2 tbsp olive oil - I used grape seed

1/4cup chopped onion

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley - I used dried mint

1 clove minced garlic

2 tbsp cooked white rice - I used couscous

1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika - I used Tandoori red spice mix

a dash of salt

a dash of pepper

a dash of allspice - I used fresh grated nutmeg

2/3 cups tomato sauce - I used a Goya can

1/4 pound lean ground beef - I used some leftover Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage I found in the fridge

1 egg - I substituted a soft cheese

Onion and pepper

So I cut off the top of my pepper and removed the seeds as instructed. Instead of chopping up the top to include in the filling, I set it aside for tomorrow's salad and minced half a serrano pepper. I heated my grape seed oil in a skillet and sauted the pepper along with the garlic and onoins until the garlic started to brown and the onions were translucent. I then added the mint, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Tandoori spice.

Sauteed in grape seed oil

I deviated again with regards to the meat. The recipe instructs to not pre-cook the meat. That didn't sound like the best idea to me, even with fresh meat. So I added my sausage to the skillet and cooked it through.

A little breakfast sausage

I placed the mixture into a bowl as instructed by the recipe. I added the uncooked couscous, the soft cheese, and a tablespoon of the Goya tomato and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Finishing the filling

Then I gently filled my pepper.

The empty vessel waiting to be filled

This recipe cooks on the stovetop. I found a pan that my pepper would fit in I heated the rest of my can of Goya tomato in a until it was simmering. I gently placed my pepper in the pot and covered it to cook.

The recipe calls for 40 minutes of cooking time, checking it throughout the cooking to spoon tomato sauce over the pepper. Here I also remained skeptical and let mine cook for about an our, checking on it every 15 or 20 minutes to spoon the sauce as instructed.

One stuffed pepper cooking on the stovetop

There was a minor distraction that resulted in the tomato sauce getting a little scorched. And of course the whole thing fell apart when I was trying to get it out of the pan and into a bowl. (If you use tongs to do this, keep in mind a steamed pepper is a slippery little bastard. I squeezed mine too tight and it kind of exploded on me.)

I squeezed it too tight with the tongs and it kind of exploded on me

But dinner was other wise successful. The pepper was tender enough to cut with a fork. The filling was completely cooked and was heated through. The choices of flavorings created an earthy, spicy, sweet combination with none of the bitterness I usually associate with this dish. (Did I mention the Jimmy Dean sausage was maple flavor?) And that spooning the sauce over the pepper? It seeped down into the filling keeping everything moist, especially that couscous. It cooked while the pepper cooked and absorbed just enough moisture to expand slightly. It kept the filling together and was less obtrusive than the more traditional rice.The cheese melted all through everything and gave this that highly desirable creaminess.

While some may read this and count it a minimal effort dinner made from whatever happened to be in the house, there is nothing wrong with that once in a while. Given what was on hand, I think I did pretty well.

My recommendations for stuffed peppers:

- Red instead of green

- Couscous instead of rice

- Sausage instead of ground beef

- Cheese cheese cheese