Fresh peppers are the ultimate quick change artists. I roast poblanos and jalapenos for Mexican-style rajas, puree red and orange bells into soups and sauces, dice green bells and Anaheims for omelets and gingerly tuck habaneros into salsa.
Long skinny shishito and squat padron peppers make fantastic seared finger foods. Red poblanos, slender cubanelles and yellow sweet bells prove perfect for stuffing.
Fresh peppers keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. Pat dry and store unwrapped in the crisper drawer. Roast sweet and hot peppers under the broiler to char the skin, then tuck the cooled specimens into freezer bags. Peel and seed after thawing.
On more than one occasion, stuffed peppers have disappointed: Undercooked peppers, crunchy rice and bland fillings. Moose-AKa, a Denali, Alaska, restaurant, featuring Serbian specialties, got it perfectly right on a recent visit. The long sweet red pepper, stuffed fat with spicy beef and basmati rice on a pool of tomato sauce, rekindled our interest.
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At home, I start with the tomato sauce that will sit under the peppers as they cook. A touch of ground coriander and olive oil marry this sauce nicely to the sweet peppers. For a moister filling, I pool a little of the sauce over the top of the stuffed pepper before baking.
Ground beef, cooked with onions, dried currants and sweet spices, forms the base. It’s a piece of cake to cook rice in the rice cooker. By the time the sauce, filling and peppers are ready, so is the rice. Adding warm rice to the beef means it’ll absorb flavors beautifully.
Serbian-style stuffed red bell pepper
Makes: 6 servings
Prep: 45 minutes Cook: 1 1/2 hours
Reheat leftover rice, or cook the rice in the rice cooker, while you work on the tomato sauce and filling preparations. If you can find red poblano peppers, they are delicious here; be aware that they may be spicy.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 box (26 ounces) or 1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes with liquid
1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander, salt
Beef and rice filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/4 cup currants or chopped raisins
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 generous cup warm cooked rice
1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, salt
1/4 teaspoon each: allspice, finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
6 small yellow or red sweet bell peppers, 3 pounds total (or 8 to 12 large long red or yellow Anaheim peppers)
Fresh dill or parsley for garnish
For tomato sauce, cook onion in oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, coriander and salt. Simmer, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, for filling, heat oil in large nonstick skillet until hot. Add onion and ground meat. Cook and stir over medium heat, breaking meat up into small pieces, until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in green pepper, currants and garlic; cook and stir, 5 minutes. Stir in rice, nuts, paprika, cinnamon, salt, allspice and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in dill. Taste and adjust salt.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top quarter off the peppers so you can remove the stem and core. Use your fingers or a small spoon to scrape out the seeds.
Pour about three-quarters of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Use a spoon to stuff each pepper full to the brim with the meat filling. Stand the stuffed peppers upright in the sauce. (If using Anaheim peppers, you will have to lay them in the sauce.) When all the peppers are filled, spoon some of the remaining sauce over the top of each stuffed pepper.
Pour 1/2 cup water into the sauce in the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the peppers are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour for the Anaheim peppers or 1 hour and 15 minutes for the bell peppers. Let cool a few minutes. Serve garnished with dill or parsley.
Nutrition information per serving: 339 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 14 g sugar, 20 g protein, 714 mg sodium, 8 g fiber
‘Stuffed pepper’ meatball soup with fresh herbs
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 1 hour
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound uncooked mild Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 large egg
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
1/2 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
1 carrot, peeled, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 can (14 ounces) white beans, drained
Chopped fresh basil, parsley and chives
For meatballs, put meats, egg, crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper into a large bowl. Gently mix everything together with your hands. Shape into small meatballs, each about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Heat a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Working in batches, add meatballs in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove with tongs to a plate. Repeat to cook all the meatballs.
For soup, without washing the pan, add the onion to the meatball drippings in the pot. Cook and stir to scrape up browned bits, about 3 minutes. Stir in bell peppers and carrot; cook and stir, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook 2 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes, seasoning and salt. Simmer, partly covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
Stir meatballs, rice and beans into the soup. Simmer until everything is heated through, about 10 minutes. Taste for salt. Serve garnished generously with fresh herbs.
Nutrition information per serving: 285 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar, 22 g protein, 869 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Curry-seared shishito snack peppers
Makes: 2 servings
Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 6 minutes
12 ounces shishito or padron peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons grape-seed or expeller-pressed canola oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder or zaatar spice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Pat the peppers dry. Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on contact.
Add the oil and the peppers (be careful, the oil may splatter). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the skin starts to blister and blacken, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the seeds, seasoning and the salt over the peppers. Continue searing and stirring about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 164 calories, 13 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 3 g protein, 500 mg sodium, 5 g fiber