There are certain dishes that, as a child, did nothing for me. Barley soup: meh, didn’t like the texture of the cooked barley. Liver and onions: well that one is self-explanatory. Cabbage Rolls: could take them or leave them. Stuffed peppers: I always found the cooked pepper portion very bitter. And yet here I am, writing about how much I love Stuffed Peppers! What happened?
It turns out that many of the issues with these dishes is the way they were cooked, for my liking. I now love barley soup, barley risotto, etc. The texture must have just grown on me. Liver, well, I still can’t stomach calves liver. But sautéed chicken livers in a mustard sauce, dreamy. Liver pate, etc, yumm! With the cabbage rolls, it was just a matter of switching out the type of cabbage I used. And as for stuffed peppers, it was never the filling that I had a problem with. It was the pepper. Turns out, green peppers when cooked leave a taste in my mouth that just doesn’t sit well. But growing up, red, yellow and orange peppers were not all that common. Green peppers were what my mom chose, and we really didn’t have much to say in the matter.
But now I’m all grown up, and can pick the colour of pepper that I like for this dish! I choose red, or orange. Or even the pale green cubanelle peppers. They have a sweetness to them that even when cooked or roasted lingers, and enhances the entire dish.
So these are the stuffed peppers that I make. I use chicken for these, but you can easily use turkey or even ground lamb or beef. Instead of the traditional rice that I grew up with (and which I still appreciate, especially if I’m making a filling for cabbage rolls) I use quinoa or bulgur. Just ‘cuz I can! I’m trying to remember what initially inspired this filling. We love going out for Greek food. One of our staple dishes that we order is horiatiki, or a Greek Village salad: the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions with feta cheese and herbs with olive oil is such a delight and fresh salad. So, I guess, I figured since the pepper was already accounted for, it was just a matter of getting the other ingredients together in just the right way. I replaced the cucumber with zucchini (cucumber doesn’t hold up as well once cooked up) and everything else was a breeze to bring into the recipe.
Spices are oregano, thyme, a touch of cayenne and garlic. Topped with feta and a sprinkling of parmesan. Once the filling is prepared, it is stuffed into peppers that have been cleaned out and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Depending on the size of your peppers, you can either cut the top off (like a hat) or if they are larger, you can carefully slice through them from head to tail, creating two equal bowls. If you are going to cut them this way, carefully remove the stem without damaging the flesh around it, you will need that flesh to create a complete bowl. Nestle them in a casserole or baking dish, add a cup or so of chicken stock to the bottom, cover with foil and bake until the pepper is tender. Remove the foil, add some cheese and give it a quick broil. That’s it. And hang on to the stock at the bottom. Chances are, there will be bits of filling that find their way into the stock- it becomes almost like a ready made soup. Or is that me just being frugal!?
Right now peppers are bursting out on the summer farmers market scene. So its a no brainer to make them now. Thankfully the filling isn’t too heavy, so it still works for a summer meal. But of course, stuffed peppers are really a year round treat 🙂 Let me know what you think of this one! Would love to hear back from all of you. Are there ingredients or dishes that you didn’t care for as a child that you now embrace?
GREEK STUFFED PEPPERS
- 4 medium sized peppers (or 2-3 large ones)
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion , diced
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 tsp cayenne (or more to your liking)
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 cup of zucchini , diced
- 1 cup roma tomato , seeded and diced
- 1 pound of ground chicken (you can substitute ground turkey, lamb or beef)
- 1/2 cup Cooked quinoa (or cooked bulgur or cooked brown rice)
- 2 tsp fresh thyme , chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley , chopped
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cracked pepper (or more to taste)
- 1/3-1/2 cup feta cheese
- 2 tbsp grated parmesan
- 1 cup or a bit more of chicken stock
- 1 green onion , chopped, for garnish
- 1 tbsp thyme , chopped for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Prepare the peppers. Carefully cut off the top, preserving the stem in the 'hat' as a cap for the pepper afterwards. Alternatively, if your peppers are larger, you may slice the peppers in half from top to bottom by carefully removing the stem itself, but not damaging the flesh around it, as you will need it intact to create a bowl.
Drizzle the inside cavities with 1-2 tbsp olive oil and spread evenly around. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set the peppers aside in a baking dish or casserole pan.
Over medium high heat, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes, till just starting to soften. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the cayenne and oregano and stir to coat.
Add the ground chicken and saute till no longer pink. Break apart into small pieces.
Add the chopped zucchini and tomato and stir to combine. Cook until starting to soften.
Add the cooked quinoa and stir to combine.
Add the thyme, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust if you would like more cayenne or oregano at this point as well.
Fill each pepper with the stuffing. Pack it in!
Place each pepper in the baking dish, and pour in the stock. (if you cut the 'hats' off the tops of the peppers, place these alongside each pepper)
Cover with foil. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the pepper itself is soft. For even softer peppers, add another 5-10 minutes. If you cut the peppers in half and filled them, the cooking time will be less. Start checking after 40 minutes.
Uncover the peppers and cover each with 2 tbsp or so of the feta cheese and then sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp of the parmesan.
Return to the oven, uncovered, and set oven to broil. Broil until the cheese is starting to bubble and brown.
Sprinkle with chopped green onion or fresh thyme.
You may serve as is, or with some of the simmering stock.
I actually like the stock that the peppers were simmering in. Chances are that some of the stuffing has fallen into it, and you may have a really tasty bowl of soup for lunch the next day!