Sunday, August 21, 2011

peppers and zucchini stuffed with rice & beans

i randomly picked up some gorgeous anaheim peppers at the produce market the other day and was at something of a loss as to what to do with them. although i use jalapeños and any-color-but-green bell peppers with some frequency, i rarely branch out in any significant way to other members of the capsicum family.

i don't know if i'd even tasted anaheim peppers before. but look at them - could you have left those dark green beauties sitting on the shelf? i don't think so.

having discovered via the magic of the internet that they're generally not too crazy-hot, i decided to stuff them. we had stuffed peppers not infrequently when i was growing up and while i always liked the filling, the peppers themselves were not my favorite. for one thing, they were almost invariably stupid green bell peppers. for another, i think bell peppers generally are too thick and sturdy to make a really good stuffed pepper. you end up getting too many bites that are all pepper and no filling. because these anaheims are longer and thinner-fleshed, i thought they'd be perfect for stuffing.

i got some smallish zucchini at the same time and decided to stuff them as well. stuffed vegetable party! to prepare the zucchini, i used a knife to cut part of one side off, then used a spoon to scrape out the middle flesh to make it kind of a zucchini-canoe. if you use larger zucchini, you could probably just cut them in half and do the same. make sure to save the parts you scrape out to use in the filling!

the peppers were slightly more complicated. i don't know if you have to do this, but i wanted to roast and peel them before stuffing. i don't like the skin on peppers and i thought they'd be easier to stuff if they were soft already. you can roast them under the broiler in the oven, turning them as the outside blisters and blackens. if you are lucky enough to have a gas stove, you can use a set of tongs to hold the peppers directly over the burner to cook. i decided to use the broil feature on the toaster oven, which worked well. i just put the peppers on the grate and broiled them on high, turning them occasionally until the skin was blistered and blackened in spots and the peppers were soft. then i put them in a bowl and covered it with a plastic bag so that they would steam up - this loosens the skin. after about 10 minutes, i was able to peel the skin off easily.

i decided to make a rice and black bean stuffing with some vaguely mexican flavors - i thought it would work well with the slightly spicy peppers (and zucchini goes with everything, much like gin and the color black).

i started with half an onion, chopped pretty small. i let it cook down for a few minutes, until it was translucent and starting to brown. then i added three large cloves of garlic and half a jalapeño, minced. we are pretty big fans of garlic, though, so you should add whatever you're comfy with. this is the point at which you should add spices as well. i used perhaps a teaspoon of cumin and the same of smoked paprika. i also used some chili powder - maybe 1/2 teaspoon or a little more.

let this cook for maybe 30 seconds to a minute, then add the chopped meat from inside the zucchini. after this cooks down a little (maybe 2 minutes), add a can of drained black beans (clearly you could also make these yourself - i just didn't have any at hand) and maybe a cup or cup and a half of cooked rice. i used white rice, but you can also use brown if you like. i also used like 2/3 of a cup of frozen spinach. it would be totally fine without that, though.

let the filling mixture cool, then add some cheese - i used a couple of ounces of crumbled feta and a couple of ounces of extra sharp cheddar cut into small cubes, but you can use whatever you like. queso fresco would be great, for instance. i let the filling cool before adding the cheese because i wanted it to stay in discrete shapes rather than melting throughout.

then just stuff away! i pulled the stems from the peppers and used my hand to split the side open. you have to be somewhat gentle with them so they don't start splitting all over the place. i used one hand to cradle the pepper and the other to push the stuffing in, then laid them on their sides. for the zucchini, just pile the stuffing into your little boats (press it in firmly) and you're done!

finally, i sprinkled them each with a tablespoon or so of panko breadcrumbs for crunch and baked them in the toaster oven at 400 degrees for about half an hour. you can certainly bake them in a regular oven, of course - just bake until the zucchini are tender when you poke at them with a knife.

this was a really satisfying and healthy vegetarian dinner. it would also be great (and vegan!) without the cheese. the anaheim peppers were great - i will definitely be getting them again. the filling could also be used to stuff any number of things - yellow squash, chayotes, tomatoes, winter squash once the weather changes, etc.

2 anaheim peppers
2 small zucchini

1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 jalapeño
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon (+) chili powder
zucchini (from the ones you're stuffing)
1 can black beans
1 - 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
2/3 cup frozen spinach (obviously you could also use fresh)
2 ounces feta
2 ounces sharp cheddar
*i should note - this makes a lot of stuffing, so you will probably have extra*

~4 tablespoons panko crumbs (optional)

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