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Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-Free, Vegan)

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Mushrooms, and Black Beans

I’ve never liked stuffed peppers.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the notion of eating spaghetti sauce as a meal. Maybe it’s because it’s usually spaghetti sauce mixed with rice and topped with melted cheddar, which is not a flavor combination that really sings to me, you know? Or it could be the sagging, wrinkly pepper that serves as a receptacle for these weirdly blended filling ingredients.

Either way, when a client asked for stuffed peppers, I groaned on the inside.

Of course I’ll feed a client whatever they want, but it means that I have to taste that uninspired dish along the way and ultimately serve something I couldn’t be convinced to eat myself. It’s the artistic equivalent of paint-by-numbers. And nobody respects a hack.

So needless to say I was intrigued when she sent me a recipe she’d found—a version using ingredients I’d never heard of in a stuffed pepper recipe—and utilizing spices that made it more southwestern than pseudo-Italian. And it didn’t have meat or cheese, making the already gluten-free dinner option vegan to boot, so possibly…useful for me to have in my arsenal?

I was still skeptical, however. For starters, when has taking the cheese out of a recipe ever made it better? And secondly, at that time in my life, I generally ate things in spite of them being vegan, and not because of it.

But I bit the bullet and tried the new fandangled spin on the old classic. And discovered I was wrong. Deliciously so.

Turns out I DO like stuffed peppers. Damn, I love a happy accident!

Over time, I’ve made the recipe mine; adding spices, subtracting toppings. I’ve tried multiple variations—the addition of potato, for instance—great for when you’re trying to bulk the recipe up from six servings to eight. I’ve boiled the peppers for two minutes all the way up to ten. Turns out I prefer them not boiled at all. I like the tiny bit of crunch they retain after just the single bake.

mini peppers

Then I discovered what a great appetizer these make when you stuff them in tiny sweet peppers, like these.

These babies are a perfect one- or two-bite snack and are delicate enough that they don’t need to be baked at all. Serve them at room temperature or while the filling is still warm.

And since I wholeheartedly believe that food exists to be a vessel for sauce, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As delicious as these are topped with the traditional tomato sauce, by far my favorite flavor combo is made by drizzling these little poppers with my vegan avocado “crema.” The cilantro, lime and tomatillo marry perfectly with the cumin, chili powder and black beans in the stuffing.

Simply divine. I’ll never look at a stuffed pepper the same way again. And hopefully, neither will you.

Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-free, Vegan)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (I like to pulse them ever so briefly in the food processor)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2-15 oz can tomato sauce, other half reserved for optional garnish
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 6 large red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • small handful cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup avocado “crema,” for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mixture begins to look dry, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add the quinoa, water, and 1/2 can of tomato sauce, reserving the rest. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is cooked.
  6. For softer peppers, submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. For tender-crisp peppers, skip this step.
  7. When quinoa is finished simmering, add the beans and maple syrup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  8. Stuff each pepper with the filling, and place in a baking dish. If using tomato sauce, pour the remaining over the peppers.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Garnish as desired.

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This is How You Know I’m Not a Crazy Health Freak

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I don’t like to hate. In fact, I think hating is an invitation to get struck by a karmic lightening bolt. Plus I now know enough about neuroscience (thank you John Assaraf) to understand that dwelling on negative thoughts only perpetuates a cycle of the same sort of energy that, in turn, affects all areas of your life.

But I am also aware that certain family members and close friends think that I have consumed the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to my beliefs about clean eating being linked to physical well being. I’ve been dubbed a tree-hugging, lettuce-licking hippie. Since going gluten-free, my best friend–a bonafide foodie most of the time–has refused to eat anything that comes out of my test kitchen, even if it’s meat. He’s convinced that over the past three years, I have just re-trained my taste buds to enjoy corrugated poster board masquerading as bread.

And still other friends elect to “pass” on the most mouthwatering peanut butter cookies with homemade peanut butter chips because I make the mistake of saying they are not only gluten and refined sugar-free, but also vegan.

Seriously?

Okaaay then. More sinful deliciousness for me.

So in my defense, I simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to review a new product that I bought online at Thrive, and finally got around to trying, because it proved to me that I have not lost my culinary mind. I might snuggle the occasional cypress, but I still want my food to taste good.

Now the naysayers of anything dubbed “health food” would take one look at these raw, vegan, gluten-free wraps from Wrawp and tell me I was crazy for thinking they might be palatable.

But.

I have had delectable wrapped sandwiches from the vegan Cafe Gratitude on more than one occasion that were mind blowing and bursting with layer upon layer of flavor! So no way was I going to let appearances dissuade me. Plus, these were labeled “spicy–” vague in terms of a flavor profile, but generally one that ensures my approval.

The pack comes with three “wrawps.” Being raw while also attempting to be bread (something that is typically cooked) means they’ve been dehydrated. I know this. And yet I didn’t really know it until I pulled a wrawp out of the package and held it in my hands in disbelief. “Ready to use straight out of the package!” the label proclaims. But surely not. Surely they have to first be gently warmed? Or soaked overnight in water? Or stomped on by a herd of elephants? What I was holding in my hands was faux leather, but not as believable. A fruit roll up with kitty litter embedded in it. A substance the texture of the scratchy underside of a Persian rug and surely not pliable enough to wrap around anything.

Slightly apprehensive, I tore off a bite. It was sweet! Examination of the ingredients list solved the mystery. Apple is listed as ingredient number two,  and sandwiched between onion, jalepeno, and zucchini. Perfectly logical to have my tortilla substitute filled with savory flavors taste like dessert. Well executed!

I’m stubborn though, so in spite of all signs pointing to a culinary bust, I proceeded with my sandwich making experiment. My fillings were extraordinary: my favorite new artichoke heart and green olive tuna salad, butter lettuce, spicy cherry peppers that will burn your face off and avocado–yum! I wrestled with the wrapping of ancient & petrified faux leather around such delicate ingredients and managed to bring the whole concoction to my lips before more than half of the filling fell out. Still, I managed a bite. And it tasted like…

…patchouli!

You think I’m being cute and picking something as a flavor comparison that is universally equated to hippie-ness. Except that I’m being completely serious. The wrap, in combo with the other flavors in my sandwich, quite literally tasted like licking the surface of one of the many incense displays on the Venice boardwalk. (Cough)

So are Wrawps my suggestion when today you feel like doing something delicious? Uhh…not so much.

And for my liver and onions-loving father deep in the heart of Texas and the handful of men I still manage to find affection for in spite of the fact that nothing green has ever passed through their lips, I hope this lends me just an ounce of credibility when I tell them that I recently ate something awesome.