Sunday, July 7, 2013

BBQ-Style Stuffed Peppers

A few years ago, I made a dish of onions stuffed with a ground beef mixture from Joyce Goldstein's Cucina Ebraica. It was quite delicious, and I'd resolved to make it again (in fact, in my cooking notebook I'd written down a variant which I have yet to make, but perhaps will appear here one day), but sadly that resolution was lost between the pages of numerous cookbooks I've acquired since.

Fast forward to last week. I had ten people coming for dinner and only a package of ground beef in the freezer. I thought to myself, "how can I make one pound of ground beef stretch for ten people?" My first thought was to fall back to my reliable sweet & sour meatloaf. But then in the back of my mind I recalled the deliciousness of those stuffed onions, and thought of another iconic form of stuffed produce: stuffed peppers.

As it happened, I recently had some stuffed peppers at Abigael's - but they were stuffed with barbecued brisket. I liked the idea of barbecued beef inside the pepper - instead of the classic tomato sauce-drenched dish. But my one complaint about that dish was that the brisket felt a little dry. I knew I had to get the barbecue flavor and ensure a moist, juicy texture to the meat.

The key to that was to cook the meat almost like a stew, with plenty of liquid in a heavy-lidded pot which retains heat well. I created my own savory-sweet barbecue sauce to be cooked in with the beef, and when combined with soft basmati rice, the mixture retained moisture and flavor excellently. Most stuffed pepper recipes call for pouring tomato sauce on top. I debated this for a while but Faigy advised that doing so would drown out the flavor of the meat and the pepper too much.

The rice and meat mixture can be made ahead of time. Just stash them in the fridge for up to a day or two. Reheat the meat in a dutch oven (add a little extra water or broth if it seems dry), then add the rice and warm together (the rice should absorb the remainder of the liquid).

Also, you can make this dish pareve/vegetarian/vegan by using a good ground beef substitute (we like Trader Joe's Beef-less Beef) and vegetable broth.

Red and green peppers will lend different flavors - experiment with both!

BBQ-Style Stuffed Peppers

1 cup white basmati rice
10 green or red peppers

For the meat
3 scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
2 tsp. majoram or 1.5 tsp. oregano (oregano is a close cousin of marjoram)
2 tsp dried basil
1-2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. allspice
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 15 oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes (I actually use a bit less than the full can, about 12 oz.)
1/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 cup beef broth (or just water, if you don't have broth on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste

Serves 10

  1. Cook the basmati rice according to package directions. If the package offers differing amounts of liquid for soft or firm rice, choose the soft directions.
  2. In a dutch oven or other pot with a heavy lid, saute the scallions over medium-high heat. After 2 or 3 minutes, add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the beef, salt, pepper and other spices/herbs. Stir and saute until the beef is thoroughly browned and most of the liquid has evaporated.
    I started with only a skillet - bad idea. You'll need a dutch oven or larger pot for the sauce.
  4. Add the wine, crushed tomatoes, molasses, syrup and broth or water.
  5. Reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes (check after 30 minutes and add additional broth or water if it seems like it's a bit dry, though it should be fine).
    After 45 minutes of cooking, the meat will be tender and delicious!
  6. While the meat is cooking, slice the tops off the peppers. Remove all the seeds and the white pith and rinse out the insides to clear out any remaining seeds.
  7. Uncover for 5-10 minutes and let a little liquid evaporate.
  8. If making this in advance, let cool and store in an airtight container for 1-2 days.
  9. Mix the cooked rice with the meat and heat together for 5 minutes.

  10. Arrange peppers into a baking dish or pan (probably two separate dishes). Spoon the meat and rice mixture into each of the peppers. You should have enough to just fill 10 average sized bell peppers to the top.
    Peppers stuffed to the brim
    1. Bake peppers in an oven preheated to 350 F.
    The pepper after being cooked. This was the sole leftover that  I could photograph..

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