I adore peppers. My love affair started when I was old enough to sit in the front of a shopping cart. My mother tells me that my favorite treat from the market was a green pepper, which I would clutch in my arms until we got home. She would put me in my high chair while putting away the groceries, and then slice it up for me and give me a little homemade vinaigrette to dip it in. This was such a favorite snack that my mother claims that she used slices of green pepper to reward my potty training efforts.
(In case you're wondering, this hasn't worked on my children.)
A Love Affair with Stuffed Vegetables
Now Palestinians love to stuff vegetables. They love to stuff zucchini, eggplant, cabbage . . . any vegetable that can be turned into a conduit for a rice and meat stuffing has indeed been stuffed by an Arab woman. Menu-planning, if you are Palestinian, is pretty simple: keep a supply of meat and rice on hand, and then go to the vegetable market and bring home several boxes of seasonal vegetables. Stuff the vegetables with rice and meat, cook it in one big pot, and dinner is done. One day it is stuffed cabbage, another day it is green beans and meat over rice, another day it is stuffed squash, and then the last day might be a stuffed chicken. Serve all of this with yogurt, a fresh salad, a little bread, and dinner is done.
Cooking lessons are given from mother to daughter, so no one follows recipes. They simply mix up the rice filling, scaling quantities up or down depending on the number of mouths to feed, and then start stuffing vegetables. If they have leftover filling after making their main dish (usually stuffed cabbage rolls or stuffed cousa, a summer squash), then they use up the leftover filling by stuffing a few tomatoes or peppers, which they always have on hand. So stuffed peppers and tomatoes are a convenient use-up, not the star of the table.
My mother, noticing that my sister and I preferred the stuffed peppers over other vegetables, decided to make trays of stuffed peppers for our family. For anyone new to this part of the world, I think that this dish is a great introduction to stuffed vegetables. The peppers are so easy to work with, requiring no finicky coring or rolling, and the flavors are mild, delicious and familiar. Stuffed tomatoes are equally easy and if your family is like mine, you will have to eat your plump stuffed tomato right as it comes out of the oven if you want it all to yourself.
There is something about a pepper that begs to be stuffed.
So many traditional peoples have stuffed it, from Spaniards to Greeks, Indians to Romanians, with each region's flavor profile coloring the pepper's filling. In the Levant, we stuff our peppers with the same stuffing we use for all of our dishes: a spice rice and meat mixture, with either beef or lamb. My mother likes to top it with a generous amount of tomato sauce, so that when we split open our peppers, we can spoon more tomato sauce over the steaming rice and meat filling. With a dollop of plain yogurt on the side, and maybe a fresh salad, this is an easy and satisfying summer dinner that is sure to make you go for seconds. I know I always do.
Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes10-12 assorted sweet peppers and ripe tomatoes
Filling2 cup rice, soaked, rinsed, and drained
1 cup grassfed beef or lamb
2 tsp allspice
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 chopped, skinned tomato (optional)
Tomato Sauce4 cups homemade tomato sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper
14 oz tomato sauce
14 oz diced tomatoes
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
To stuff the peppers:
Insert a knife into the top of a pepper, and gently cut out the stem, pulling out the core. Scrape out any ribs and seeds. Rinse and set aside. Repeat with remaining peppers.
Mix the ingredients for the rice stuffing in a small bowl. Stuff filling into the peppers, filling most of the way to the top. Take care not to pack filling in too tight. Place in a pot (for stove-top cooking) or a casserole dish (for oven cooking).
To stuff the tomatoes:
Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and scoop out the flesh, reserving for the sauce. Fill with the rice stuffing. Place alongside the stuffed peppers in a deep casserole dish or a large pot.
Mix together sauce in a bowl, and then pour over the stuffed peppers and tomatoes.
On the stove: Cover the pot, and cook over medium-low heat for one hour or until tender.
In the oven: Preheat oven to 350F. Cover the dish tightly and bake for two hours, until tender and rice is cooked in the center.
Note: This meal is usually cooked on the stove top, but you can use your oven. If your peppers are very large, or if you packed the rice in too tightly, it may need additional time. To speed up the cooking process, you can partially cook your rice (in two cups of water) before assembling the filling.
To serve: Spoon tomato sauce on top, serve with plain yogurt on the side.
May this dish double your health.
*How to Make Yogurt
Shared on Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Tasty Traditions.