Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stuffed Peppers

I love stuffed peppers and I feel like they've been given a bad rap. They can be so much more than the quintessential ground beef,rice, and tomato sauce version that most of us have been underwhelmed by. Peppers lend themselves well to being seasoned creatively; I've made a Mediterranean version with ground lamb and beef seasoned with cloves and cinnamon, tomatoes herbs, spices and pine nuts. I've also done an asian fusion with ground chicken, bok choy, scallions and a few other items. Stuffed peppers don't have to be boring and bland, they can be savory and customizable not to mention affordable on a tight budget.

The recipe I am sharing today is similar to a basic stuffed pepper recipe but I've pepped it up with lots of garlic, fresh herbs, mushrooms and onions along with some fire roasted tomatoes. These aren't your grandma's stuffed peppers and really why should they be?

Basic stuffed peppers
makes approximately 6 peppers

1 lb lean ground beef
1/4 cup White button Mushrooms
1/2 of a white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I used Hunt's fire roasted)
6 peppers, tops and seeds removed
1 cup Medium Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, place peppers in the boiling water and cook for 10-15 minutes. The peppers won't immediately feel soft when you are taking them out of the water but once they sit for a few minutes they should be pliable without being mushy.

Now preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Chop up the onions, mushrooms, fresh parsley, thyme and basil. Cook the onions and mushrooms in a pan with some Olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the minced garlic and the chopped up herbs and cook until fragrant. Add approximately 1/2 tsp salt to this mixture. Finally once all of the items are cooked add the drained tomatoes, stir together and leave in the pan set on low.

Cook the ground beef, add 1/4 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, dash of Cayenne and a dash (or two) of cinnamon. Once the ground beef is cooked and drained add it to the vegetable mixture and stir well.

Place the peppers in a casserole dish and fill them with the ground beef/tomato mixture and then top with the cheese.

Cook in the oven at 375 until the cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

One of the differences in the recipe I am sharing is that I don't do the traditional method of filling raw peppers with a raw rice/beef mixture and that to me makes all of the difference. In a traditional recipe, by the time the filling is cooked the peppers are a mushy mess. In order to eliminate that problem I cook all of the ingredients separately and then combine them at the end. Everything is cooked appropriately and then assembled and in the end you get tender, soft peppers that aren't mushy and juicy, flavorful filling that isn't dried out. It's a win, win situation.

If you are cooking for only two like myself and don't really want 6 stuffed peppers to work your way through. Make only three peppers and use the left over meat/veggie mixture to make a meaty marinara sauce and serve it with spaghetti the next day. That's what I did and my husband didn't even know I was essentially serving leftovers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arabic pita bread

When I moved away from Michigan I realized something very disappointing. If I ever wanted to eat relatively authentic, fresh pita bread I'd either have to hop on a plane or learn to make it myself.

I like to use a recipe from Claudia Roden's book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food it's easy but time consuming. The pitas are only good for a day or two but the leftovers can be fried to make pita chips for fattoush.

Arabic Pita Bread
1 tbsn active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
about 6 cups unbleached white bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2-2 tsp. salt
3 tbsn vegetable or EVOO

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Add the sugar, and when it begins to froth (this will be proof that the yeast is still active), stir in the remaining water. add 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, gradually, stirring vigorously. Let this sponge rest for 10 minutes or until it froths.

Stir in the salt and 2 tbsn of the oil and mix well. Add the remaining flour gradually, a little at a time (you may need less), until you have a dough that holds together in a ball. Knead well by hand in the bowl, or on a floured board, for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth, shiny, and elastic and no longer sticks to your fingers, dusting with a little flour occasionally if it is too sticky.

Put the remaining tbsn. of oil in the bottom of the bowl and roll the ball of dough around to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place free of drafts for about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven set at the maximum, 500 degrees farenheit for at least 20 minutes, and place a large baking sheet or baking stone in the hottest part.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes, then divide in half. Divide the first half into 8 lumps. Flatten each one on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin sprinkled with flour, into rounds between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick and about 7-8 inches in diameter. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Arrange them 1 inch apart, so that they do not touch as they grow. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, an dleave to rest and rise again for about 20 minutes at room temperature.

When the bread has risen again, place 2 rounds at a time on the hot baking stone sprinkled lightly with flour, and bake for 3-5 minutes, or until they puff up like balloons and are slightly brown on top.

Wrap the breads together in a cloth while still hot, or put them in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable while you bake the rest of the breads.