This week, on cooking without a recipe: stuffed peppers, Pete-style!
This is one of those few occasions when inspiration and serendipity meet on the street and decide to go for lunch. Originally I had planned to make beef tacos because, duh, Taco Tuesday. But on Monday, I was driving home and passing the farm that I pass every day. All summer long I’ve looked hopefully for the roadside stand that was there last August when I started my new job and the daily commute on that road. On Monday it finally appeared, laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, and these huge, gorgeous green peppers. I saw them and instantly thought, “Stuffed peppers! Tacos be damned!” (Near blasphemy in my house—if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would probably be of a taco.) I spent the remaining 24 hours thinking about stuffed peppers, totally disregarding the work I had to do on Tuesday, and jotting down notes for myself as idea followed on inspirational idea.
If you know my cooking style at all, you know I love to use up what I’ve saved or stored in the kitchen. For weeks I’ve been overloaded with celery from Misfits, so I chop it and freeze it against the onslaught of winter and soups that I will inevitably need to make. Stuffed peppers seemed like a good opportunity to start using some of that bounty.
I love stuffed peppers. My mother makes them in a very old traditional way, which is to say, rather bland…but oddly comforting. She boils green peppers (I normally avoid them entirely) and stuffs them with a lightly seasoned admixture of beef and white rice, topped with tomato sauce, and baked. I decided to take it a little further.
I sautéed the butt end of an onion that was languishing in the fridge with a few cloves of garlic, the celery and chopped carrot I found in the freezer, a diced Anaheim, and the chopped “lids” of the peppers that I had hollowed out. When everything was soft and sweetened, I added two heaping spoonfuls of tomato paste, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, paprika, thyme, salt, pepper, and chili flakes, toasted all of that for a bit, and then added the beef. When the beef was browned, I added a can of drained black beans and a proportional quantity of frozen corn. More salt because you only live once and you might as well enjoy food while your taste buds are awake. (Ask my grandfather.)
I stuffed the peppers and was amazed that the five of them took everything from the pan—I thought a pound of beef fortified with all the chopped things would stretch a bit but I wasn’t sorry to see it fit so perfectly with what I had on hand. Talk about fate! They weren’t baking fast enough so I asked mom, and she suggested adding water and covering the dish to steam them. Of course, she was right.
I made a quick tomato sauce with garlic and canned San Marzanos (also rescued from the freezer where they’ve been dormant since the last time I made quarantine pizza), chili flakes, and a little sugar, reduced it to thicken, and topped the peppers during the last five minutes of their steam cycle. Served with a fresh salad and cucumbers in vinegar to universal applause (read: the two of us groaningly full). I regret only that I can’t eat them all day long.
Now, go forth, and cook!
(Here is a picture of the leftovers because we were too excited to eat to take proper plated pictures. That just shows you how good they were.)
P.S. We don’t eat dairy anymore, but I would top these with cheese in a world where I’m not trying to lose 20 pounds. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Please. Add cheese.