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.
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.
- 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)
- Preheat the oven to 350º F.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
- Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mixture begins to look dry, about 5-8 minutes.
- Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.
- 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.
- For softer peppers, submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. For tender-crisp peppers, skip this step.
- When quinoa is finished simmering, add the beans and maple syrup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Stuff each pepper with the filling, and place in a baking dish. If using tomato sauce, pour the remaining over the peppers.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Garnish as desired.