By: Lindsey Schonewolf
It’s finally fall, which is so many peoples’ favorite season. I can’t say I heartily agree – North Carolina falls mean an end to beach time, a lot of rain, shorter days, and fewer sunny days. It also means fall seasonal allergies! While I can’t get behind fall as a favorite season, I can for sure get behind fall foods being some of my favorites! Now is the time for hearty greens, warm, filling foods, and many celebration meals that more than make up for an otherwise dreary time of year!
If you’re like me, you’re eyeing the stubbornly still green tomatoes in your garden hoping for one last harvest, you’ve already given up on your late summer squashes and okra, and you’re staring at pounds and pounds of peppers on the vine looking healthier than ever! Just looking down the row at the reds, oranges, yellows, and greens get my mouth watering!
I am often at a loss for what to do with so many peppers. I bake them in the oven as side dishes at least once a week, I cut them up raw for a mid-afternoon snack, and chop them into every salad I put on the table, but I don’t normally feature them as a main dish. I thought it was high-time that I fixed that!
Stuffed peppers are an absolute classic. I’ve had really good ones, and really really bad ones. If you’ve never tried them, then you’re truly missing out. If you grew up raised on them, then this should be a nice callback to fond memories of fall foods.
Now, I am a bit of an oddball. I am not a fan of the bland, soggy stuffed peppers in my memories. I was well into adulthood before I even attempted a stuffed pepper recipe. The first recipe I tried was a disaster. The peppers were way overcooked, the filling was flavorless, and I couldn’t force myself to finish one. I put stuffed peppers in a box in the back of my mind labeled “Not Suitable for Consumption”. It was years later, after I met my now husband, that I tried again. My hubby loves green bell peppers, and will eat them 3 times a day if I let him. It was only for him that I attempted stuffed peppers again.
I looked up a new recipe and as I read the ingredient list I realized the reason I thought they were bland was probably because it was plain white rice, unseasoned meat, and some tomatoes stuffed in a pepper. I knew then and there I couldn’t face another bland meal and went scrounging through the fall garden to see what I could find. Peppers are in abundance now, so I grabbed a few tabasco peppers and a jalapeno as well as my green bells, I also grabbed a few snacking peppers to eat as I browsed the rest of the garden. Basil is looking a bit wilty, so I left it alone, the thyme and oregano are growing quickly into giant bushes, a quick trim was definitely in order.
I grabbed some meat from the farm freezer, and headed home to bake up some actually flavorful stuffed green peppers. I started by cooking the rice in my rice cooker. I always throw in some herbs and a few cloves are garlic. I often sub at least half of the water with chicken or beef broth as well. This time, I just used plain water with the normal herbs because my vegetarian friend was joining us for dinner. Next, I washed and chopped all my peppers and an onion, and chopped up more of the herbs. The minute I added the peppers to the caramelizing onion, the whole kitchen filled with an amazing fragrance. I knew I was right on track! I tossed in the herbs and some tomatoes from another local farm and simmered everything down until the juices started to evaporate. I gave it a quick taste and knew I was going to fall in love with this meal!!
I quickly browned the meat, adding in more herbs and some cumin to really punch it up, by this point my kitchen smells amazing. The beef is so lean I didn’t even need to drain it, I just dumped it in a bowl with the rice, some cheese, and the tomato/pepper combo. I ended up adding a little bit of salt and pepper, but I was ecstatic. Finally, a stuffed pepper recipe that wasn’t bland!!
Something I really dislike about stuffed peppers is that you lose the crunch from the pepper itself. A lot of people simmer them for a few minutes before cooking. I personally don’t. I have added that step to the recipe below, but feel free to skip it if you’re like me! They are a bit harder to cut through, but the tradeoff for texture is WORTH IT (in my opinion). It also meant I could carve cute pumpkin faces into the sides of the peppers to give them a cute Halloween vibe.
While they were baking, I cracked open some quail eggs and fried them up. They are the perfect size to fit over the top of the peppers, and cutting into a runny yolk and mixing it with the filling inside is a luxurious experience you should try at least once! You can use chicken eggs too, but the size difference makes it a bit clumsier.
I pulled the peppers out of the oven and I could hardly snap a picture before we were chowing down! There wasn’t a spec left on any plate, including my own. I like a bit more heat than some, and these hit just the right spot! For a milder experience, just add fewer hot peppers. You could also substitute hot peppers for sweet ones (like a snacking pepper or even more bell pepper!)
If you’re like me and haven’t ever liked stuffed peppers, I urge you to give them one last chance. If you already love them, this variation might just make you dance with joy! Either way, This is sure to be a crowd pleaser – and it’s EASY! A quick meal that tastes great and looks fancy, what more could you ask for?
Recipe – Stuffed Bell Peppers
- 6 Green Bell Peppers
- 1 medium Onion
- 1-2 Jalapenos
- 1-5 Tabasco Chilis
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 2 medium Tomatoes
- 1 Lb ground beef
- 1 cup Cooked Rice (I used white, but you can sub any type of rice or orzo)
- 1 cup of Mozzarella cheese – Split
- 1 Tb Cumin
- 5-6 sprigs fresh Oregano
- 6 sprigs fresh Thyme
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- (OPTIONAL) 6 Quail eggs and 1 Tbs butter
- Baking dish
- Tin Foil
- Large Skillet
- Large pot
- Small covered saucepot or rice cooker
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Preheat oven to 425*
- Cut the tops off of the bell peppers and remove the seeds and white membranes. (use a spoon or your fingers to scoop them out). Finley dice the tops, discarding the stems. Using a small knife, carve a pumpkin face into the sides of the peppers (optional)
- Finely chop onion, remaining peppers, and tomatoes, keeping all separate. Set aside a few sprigs of the herbs, destem the rest and give the leaves coarse chop. Mince the garlic.
- (Optional Step) Simmer water in a large pot. Once simmering, add the bell peppers and cook for 3-4 minutes, until slightly soft. Do not fully cook, the peppers will cook more in the oven. Drain well and set aside. For a crisper pepper at the end, skip this step entirely.
- Cook the rice per package instructions, add half the garlic and the remaining whole sprigs of herbs to the pot. Substitute water for beef or chicken broth if desired.
- Brown the meat with half of the chopped herbs, salt and pepper, and all of the cumin. Drain if needed and set aside.
- In the same pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and cook the onions. As the onions just start to brown, add the chopped peppers. Cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat until the peppers are soft. Add salt, pepper, chopped herbs, and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes soften, and the liquid starts to evaporate.
- Combine the cooked rice, half of the cheese, meat, and tomato mixture. Stir until well combined and taste. Add salt/pepper/spices to suite your taste.
- Stand the peppers in the baking dish, use stips of tin foil slightly crumpled to help them stand upright if needed.
- Fill the peppers all the way full, pack down slightly. Cover the tops with the remaining cheese and bake.
- Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before serving.
- (Optional Step) in a small pan, melt 1 TBs of butter over medium low heat and crack in quail eggs. Cover immediately and cook for 2-3 minutes for a sunny runny egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt and cracked pepper. Place on top of fully cooked peppers as they come out of the oven.