It has been raining almost non-stop for over 12 days, but today the sun peeked out and I felt like celebrating! When you need a bit of sunshine in your life, there is nothing better than eating a savory stuffed pepper for dinner or lunch. The combination of bright, happy peppers, savory meat and rice, tender vegetables, aromatic herbs and a touch of lemon make any gloomy day instantly illuminated with Mediterranean sunshine.
Sunny Stuffed Greek Peppers
4 red bell peppers (or orange or yellow or a combination)
1/2 # ground beef or lamb or pork (I used beef today)
1/2 c olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped – divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c brown rice (I like TJ’s brown rice medley)
3/4 c cold water
1 tsp. Kosher salt, divided
1 zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 large tomato or 1 c cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/3 c fresh dill, chopped
1/3 c fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried mint (or 1 T fresh, chopped)
1/4 c pine nuts
1/2 c plus 3 T dry white wine or vermouth
juice of half a lemon
a handful of small fingerling potatoes
Prepare the peppers:
With a sharp knife cut off the tops of the peppers, ensuring a good 1/2″ of flesh is included with the top. With a small paring knife cut out the core and ribs, being careful not to cut through the fleshy wall of the pepper. Use a grapefruit spoon to remove all pith from the ribs and bottom, and also from the underside of the caps. Season inside with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make the rice:
In a small saucepan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and saute half of the onion, the celery and the carrot with 1/2 tsp of salt until soft. Add rice and water, stir and cover and cook 35 minutes. If you are using a different kind of rice be sure to adjust the cooking time, 20 minutes for long grain, up to 55 minutes for brown rice; arborio is also a nice rice to use).
Make the meat mixture:
In a skillet, add a teaspoon of olive oil and saute the other half of the onion and the ground beef or lamb until the meat is cooked through and the onion is soft. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and herbs, salt and pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 c of the white wine and cook for a few minutes more until most of the liquid has evaporated but a tablespoon or so remains. Add pine nuts and remove to a bowl. When rice is done, add to the meat mixture and combine well. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.
Stuff the peppers:
Use a covered dish that will hold the peppers snugly. I’m so lucky to have a Le Creuset tomato shaped pot perfect for the three peppers I was using for this recipe. I also have one of those Corning Ware covered casserole dishes with a glass lid that is the right size for 4 peppers. If you don’t have a dish with a lid, a pie plate or tart pan will work just as well, it will need to be sealed tightly with aluminum foil.
Add most of the olive oil to the pot, reserving a little for drizzling on top.
Hold a pepper in your hand and spoon the filling inside, filling it well and mounding it slightly. Place the stuffed pepper in the pot and repeat until all the peppers are filled. Fill the empty spaces in the pot with the small fingerling potatoes. If your potatoes are larger than mine (the largest was the size of my thumb), then cut them into wedges and place in the openings.
Drizzle the top of the peppers and potatoes with the lemon juice and the 3 T of wine. Place the tops back on the peppers, drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Place the lid on the pot (or cover with foil).
Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.
Serves 4 for dinner, or 8 as a first course. If you are serving them for 8 people, halve the peppers instead of cutting off the tops (leave on the stem for effect, fill them and arrange in a casserole pan). Each serving gets a few potatoes on the side.
It is an excellent idea to have a slice or two of crusty bread to sop of the juices, a bit of feta cheese and some bitter greens (like arugula) also on the plate. If you like olives they would be a good addition to the party.
As I sit down tonight with my plate of stuffed peppers, just for a little while I will pretend I am in a villa in Greece, and hearing the ocean on the shore below me instead of the rain crashing against the window.