BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Colorful peppers stuffed with mashed potatoes make a great side dish with grilled meat.
Peppers, properly packed
Grilling the vegetable first improves the flavor, without ruining the texture
» Tired old stuffed peppers are worth a modern makeover as a way to bring a bright, vibrant vegetable to the table
No matter what the starch-and-meat combination, it can be made to fill a hollowed-out bell pepper (and I am sticking to bell peppers here rather than venture into tomatoes, eggplants, or heaven forbid, cucumbers, because peppers seem the most likely part of God's design to end up stuffed).
Seriously: Recipes for pepper stuffing run the gamut from rice, corn and mashed potatoes to macaroni, croutons and bulgur. Stuffing meats range from sausages and hunks of pork tenderloin to canned tuna, crab or braised cod.
It is thanks to Mexico that such fussy acts got streamlined into something even Super Bowl watchers can nibble without shame. The stuffed pepper has been born again for a younger, hipper audience as chiles rellenos (literally, stuffed chili peppers) -- the deep-fried, cheesy comfort that spawned such popular bar snacks as jalapeno poppers.
Deep-frying may seem the quick solution to softening a raw pepper into submission, but it also eliminates any claim to healthfulness. And it is not deep-frying, but roasting beforehand that turns chilies from hard green shells into a soft, tasty invitation for stuffing.
You can do the same with bell peppers, eliminating the need for an interminable steam bath after stuffing. Place raw peppers directly on a gas grill, lid closed, over high heat (400 degrees), turning every 5 minutes, until they are blackened all over. Set them in a paper bag or bowl with a plate on top, and in 10 minutes they will have steamed enough so that you can slip off the blackened skins.
If you're really pressed for time, you can get similar results by microwaving 5 minutes per pepper before steaming, but you lose out on the wonderful smoky flavor.
In either case, carefully cut out the stem, as for a jack-o-lantern, and rinse out the seeds and membranes. Pat dry, then carefully stuff with a spoon. The peppers can be eaten at this point, but if you're feeling frisky, sprinkle them with breadcrumbs or Parmesan, drizzle with olive oil, then run them under a toaster oven or put them back on the grill for a few minutes to melt the cheese and warm everything through.
Resist any temptation to bathe your masterpieces in wine, stock or tomato sauce, as Grandma did. Stuffed peppers are greatly improved by keeping the textures and flavors clean, bright and distinct.
The accompanying recipes are more trouble than you're likely to take on a daily basis, but they demonstrate how tasty a stuffed bell pepper can be. Use any color pepper -- it's all the same animal, just riper, sweeter and more expensive as it turns yellow, orange or red.
Bell Peppers Stuffed with Chicken and Sausage Meat
Adapted from the New York Times, Aug. 30, 1989
4 bell peppers
1 Italian sausage (2 to 3 ounces), casing removed
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound chicken meat from breast or thigh, cubed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup pine nuts, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko or fine bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil or Italian parsley, chopped, optional
Grill peppers 5 minutes per side, directly on a gas grill, under the broiler, or over a gas burner, until blackened all over. Set them in a paper bag or other closed container for 10 minutes, then slip off the blackened skins. Core carefully and rinse out seeds.
Meanwhile, fry sausage, breaking it up. Add onion and garlic and cook until wilted.
Add mushrooms, chicken, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in pine nuts, if using.
Cool slightly, then add parsley, egg and panko.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Carefully fill peppers with stuffing and sprinkle tops with cheese and olive oil. Bake 15 minutes, until cheese melts and filling is warmed through. Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (without pine nuts and salt to taste): 250 calories, 12 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 23 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 15 g protein.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: (with pine nuts, but not salt to taste): 310 calories, 18 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 16 g protein.
KEIKO OHNUMA / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Chicken and sausage fill a green pepper.
Stuffed Poblano Chilies
Adapted from "The Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook" by Susan Curtis (Gibbs-Smith, 1995).
4 poblano chilies
1-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked 20 minutes
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup diced tofu
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste
Grill poblanos as in preceding recipe. Combine remaining ingredients and stuff chilies. Broil for 5 to 8 minutes, until cheese melts and peppers are warmed through.
Approximate nutritional information, per stuffed poblano (not including salt to taste): 250 calories, 15 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 23 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 10 g protein.
Adapted from Southern Living magazine, May 2005
4 large baking potatoes (3 to 4 pounds)
4 bell peppers
16-ounce container sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Gouda cheese
1/4 cup sliced scallions
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pierce each potato a few times with a fork, then bake on an oven rack 90 minutes. Cool slightly and cut in half.
Meanwhile, grill and core peppers as in preceding recipe.
Lower oven heat to 375.
Mash potato with sour cream, cheese, scallions, butter, parsley, salt and pepper.
Stuff peppers and sprinkle with paprika. Warm in oven 15 minutes. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 700 calories, 32 g total fat, 21 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 700 mg sodium, 81 g carbohydrate, 11 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 18 g protein.
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.