Tired old stuffed peppers are worth a modern makeover as a way to bring a bright, vibrant vegetable to the table
» Stuffing a peck of perfect peppers
There are people who remember with great fondness the lovely American luncheon dish of bell peppers stuffed with ground beef, tomatoes and rice. I am not one of them. The stuffed vegetable has always seemed to me an exercise in disappointment, a visual trick designed to appeal to the mind and eye at the expense of the taste buds. If limp bell peppers tasted good, why wouldn't we eat them as is?
But if the stuffed vegetable is an abomination on a dinner party menu -- which experience tells me it is -- it makes a potentially useful guest at the everyday table, where Americans are being urged to crowd more vegetables onto the plate to take the place of starch or meat.
Even in Grandma's time, the stuffed vegetable was a favorite way to stretch expensive fillings and disguise leftovers, and it still makes an excellent lunch for one or two, adding a festive touch to any doggie bag contents from steak to pasta -- a relatively painless way to get your veggies.
Traditional embellishments to the basic protein-and-starch stuffing could fill a book, but they lean toward the Mediterranean, since this is the home of the stuffed vegetable as an elegant first course. Think pine nuts, raisins, olives, basil, Italian parsley, and Parmesan or feta cheese. Crunchy or strong-flavored elements like nuts or capers are usually included -- probably to distract from the limpness of the container itself.
Eastern Europe is the other source of influence in the stuffed category, and while peppers were not known in Europe until the discovery of the New World, the region had been stuffing vegetables (think cabbage, if you dare) for millennia. Hungary was the likely route by which the bland meat, tomato and rice filling made its way into many a postwar American supper dish.
Trouble is, no one is going to wait one hour for the traditional steaming in the oven of one bell pepper containing three tablespoons of leftovers. Strip this famous investment of time, labor and love from the ladies luncheon menu, and what have you got?
A far less precious, far more lovable, humble party for one.