Old School Stuffed Peppers

  

We’re goin old school today, people.  We’re stuffin peppers, but we’re gonna get all retro with it.  And by that I mean we’re going back to the 1950’s, which is, I know, waaaaay before your time.  But not before mine.  That was my time.  Well, it was my time to be little, but not so little that I didn’t even then know a thing or two about stuffed peppers.  Mom made them with fierce regularity, in spite of the fact that my Dad couldn’t stand to be in the same room with a pepper.  Of any kind.  And back then, all we had were green peppers (no colors yet - like the TVs).

(Before we began, I got everyone assembled for a group photo)

Fast forward several hundred years to the 90’s when we were living happily on the Central Coast of California, 3 kids in the house and an Armenian neighbor just down the street.  Every Christmas, Louise would invite us to her place, along with a few other neighbors and create a magical Armenian feast for us all which began with mezze of hummus, string cheese, olives, cracker bread and wine and always, always, the meal consisted of stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, stuffed zucchini and anything else she had handy to stuff, because that’s what Armenians do.  They stuff things.  To say that I loved that meal would be such an understatement.  The aromas of those peppers baking in the oven was intoxicating.  

Back to the 1950’s for a minute… my parents were friends with several Armenian families, so I grew up eating Armenian from a very young age… lahmajoon, buregs, pilaf  (oh, the pilaf!), baklava, and yes, stuffed peppers.  This food, people, it was absolutely incredible. 

So when Louise would make these Armenian feasts, it was an emotionally nostalgic event for me and she knew how much it meant for me to be eating the foods of my childhood.  One Christmas, along with the feast, she tucked a copy of her treasured Armenian cookbook into my hands and conferred upon me an honorary Armenian name… Berryjian.  To this day I refer to that little cookbook often.

So Louise and all of those beautiful Armenian Moms and Grandmas taught me how to stuff peppers the old school way and it’s how I still do it.  At this point you’re probably wondering what’s so retro about these peppers anyway?  And the answer to that question is not so much in the ingredients, as in the method. 

Before I decided to post these peppers, I did a little research and found that almost every recipe I came across (including Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Apetit) asked you to first blanche your peppers, and have your meat and rice cooked before stuffing, and then bake them for a short  20 or 30 minutes, which I think makes for a very pretty stuffed pepper, very neat and tidy, but, in my opinion, perhaps not the most flavorful.

I’ve stuffed a few peppers in my day and have tried this method, but, in my opinion, the flavors of the meat and rice and peppers tend to stay separate, which doesn’t happen when you follow the age-old Armenian method of combining all of your ingredients and stuffing everything raw and baking it all together for a much longer time, and all of the flavors and textures are transformed and influenced by the others and it gets a little messy and oh so very delicious.  As the rice cooks, it absorbs the flavors from the meat and the peppers and I truly believe this is how a stuffed pepper should taste. Oh, and did I mention how very much easier this method is?  It’s very  much easier. 

I have updated the ingredient list just a bit and added parmesan cheese and substituted jasmine rice for the classic white rice.  I usually use marinara sauce, but plain tomato sauce works perfectly fine as it, too, gains flavor from everyone in the pan as it bakes.  A final sprinkling of cheese is another addition, but one I wouldn’t do without. 

As you can see, I also stuffed some poblano and anaheim peppers using the same method, but different stuffing ingredents.  That recipe is included below.  These were so incredibly good!!

So that’s the long story that I could’ve made much shorter, but thought you’d like to know…stuffing peppers the old school way pretty much rocks.    Here’s the recipe…

Old School Stuffed Peppers

Click here for a printable recipe

The beauty of this stuffing method is that everything gets mixed together and stuffed into the peppers raw, which is how the Armenian Moms and Grandmas taught me.  If you happen to have 2 cups of cooked rice on hand, you can use that instead of the raw rice - it works fine.  And feel free to mix up the ingredients however you like... you can use Italian sausage for half of the ground meat, or use any kind of rice you like, although if you use brown rice, you'll have to cook it first before adding it to the stuffing mix.  I like to use a spicy marinara or tomato sauce, but you could also add crushed red pepper to the mix for a little more kick.  If you would like to stuff one of those huge zucchinis from your garden, I've included a note at the end of the recipe for that.  And, of course, I've also included a recipe for those awesome stuffed poblanos and anaheims.  Enjoy! Oh, and one final note... ground turkey has a little more moisture to it than ground beef, so if you use ground beef to stuff your peppers, you might want to add a little extra sauce or water to the stuffing mix to ensure that the rice has enough moisture to cook through.

Serves 4

4 medium-sized bell peppers, any color (s)
1 egg
1 medium onion, chopped fine
½ cup marinara sauce or tomato sauce (spicy is good)
1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese (I use a combination of the two)
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ cup jasmine rice (see headnote)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 lb ground meat (I use ground turkey)

1 1/2 cups tomato or marinara sauce
1 ½ cups grated cheese (jack, fontina, provolone, or a blend of Italian cheeses)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Slice the peppers in half lengthwise (so you will have 8 halves to fill) and clean them of seeds and ribs and trim the stems.

Beat the egg in a medium bowl and then add the rest of the stuffing ingredeints, except for the meat. Mix well and then use your hands to thoroughly mix in the meat until it's well combined.  Fill each pepper with the meat mixture (I used my hands) and place the peppers in the prepared baking dish.  Pour the the marinara sauce or tomato sauce over the top of the peppers and then drizzle them with a little olive oil and a final sprinkling of course salt and cracked black pepper.

Cover the baking dish with foil and seal tightly.  Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes and then remove the foil and top each pepper with the grated cheese.  Return the pan to the oven, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  If you'd like a little more color, you can run them under the broiler for another couple of minutes.

Let cool briefly before serving. 

Stuffed Anaheim and Poblano Peppers 

I used leftover Mexican rice (already cooked) to stuff these peppers rather than raw rice as in the above recipe.  These would be so good with the addition of chorizo or leftover taco meat too!

Serves 4

2 large poblano peppers
4-6 Anaheim peppers
2-3 cups of Mexican rice (here’s my recipe)
½ cup salsa (here’s my recipe), plus extra for topping
1 cup of diced jack cheese (or more if you want them really cheesy)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray an 8x10 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. 

Slice the poblano peppers in half lengthwise (so you will have 4 halves to fill) and clean them of seeds and ribs and trim the stems.  You can do this with the Anaheims as well or you can cut the stem end off of the Anaheim and use a paring knife to clean the cavity of seeds and ribs. 

Mix together the rice, salsa and diced jack cheese. 

Fill the poblano and Anaheim halves with the rice mixture and place in the baking dish.  (If using whole Anaheims, use a small spoon or your finger to stuff the rice mixture down into the cavity.) 

Top the open pepper halves with a little more salsa and then cover the pan with foil.  Seal tightly and bake for 30 minutes. 

Cool slightly before serving.  

Stuffed zucchini 

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise.  Use a knife to cut out the center of the zucchini, leaving a ¼ border on the edges.  Use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to remove the center part of the zucchini, leaving a boat-like cavity in the center for stuffing. 

Place a good amount of stuffing into each zucchini half and place them into the prepared baking dish.  Top them with a little marinara or tomato sauce and a good drizzle of olive oil and then proceed as directed in the stuffed pepper recipe.  

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