Fresh peppers, hot and spicy, sweet and crunchy, are the ultimate quick change artists.
I roast poblanos and jalapeños for Mexican-style rajas, puree red and orange bells into soups and sauces, dice green bells and Anaheims for omelets and gingerly tuck habaneros into salsa.
On more than one occasion, stuffed peppers have disappointed: Undercooked peppers, crunchy rice and bland fillings. Moose-AKa, a Denali, Alaska, restaurant, featuring Serbian specialties, got it perfectly right on a recent visit. The long sweet red pepper, stuffed fat with spicy beef and basmati rice on a pool of tomato sauce, rekindled our interest.
At home, I start with the tomato sauce that will sit under the peppers as they cook.
Ground beef, cooked with onions, dried currants and sweet spices, forms the base for a flavorful filling. Taking no chances on crunchy rice, I opt for cooked long grain basmati. Adding warm rice to the beef means it’ll absorb flavors beautifully.
I didn’t know stuffed-pepper soup was a thing until I encountered it at a family restaurant in Indiana. Turns out, plenty of versions populate the internet. I float tiny flavor-packed meatballs of beef and Italian sausage in the chunky soup bolstered by basmati rice. Shower each serving with fresh herbs, and you will be happy.
SERBIAN-STYLE STUFFED RED BELL PEPPERS
Makes: 6 servings
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 box (26 ounces) or 1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes with liquid
½ teaspoon each: ground coriander, salt
BEEF AND RICE FILLING:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
½ cup finely chopped green pepper
¼ cup currants or chopped raisins
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 generous cup warm cooked rice
¼ cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon each: cinnamon, salt
¼ teaspoon each: allspice, finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
6 small yellow or red sweet bell peppers, 3 pounds total (or 8 to 12 large long red or yellow Anaheim peppers)
Fresh dill or parsley for garnish
For tomato sauce, cook onion in oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, coriander and salt. Simmer, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, for filling, heat oil in large nonstick skillet until hot. Add onion and ground meat. Cook and stir over medium heat, breaking meat up into small pieces, until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in green pepper, currants and garlic; cook and stir, 5 minutes. Stir in rice, nuts, paprika, cinnamon, salt, allspice and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in dill. Taste and adjust salt.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top quarter off the peppers so you can remove the stem and core. Use your fingers or a small spoon to scrape out the seeds.
Pour about three-quarters of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Use a spoon to stuff each pepper full to the brim with the meat filling. Stand the stuffed peppers upright in the sauce. (If using Anaheim peppers, you will have to lay them in the sauce.) When all the peppers are filled, spoon some of the remaining sauce over the top of each stuffed pepper.
Pour ½ cup water into the sauce in the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the peppers are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour for the Anaheim peppers or 1 hour and 15 minutes for the bell peppers. Let cool a few minutes. Serve garnished with dill or parsley.
PER SERVING: 339 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 14 g sugar, 20 g protein, 714 mg sodium, 8 g fiber
“STUFFED PEPPER” MEATBALL SOUP WITH FRESH HERBS
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound lean ground beef
½ pound uncooked mild Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 large egg
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
½ large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
1 carrot, peeled, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 1½ cups cooked rice
1 can (14 ounces) white beans, drained
Chopped fresh basil, parsley and chives
For meatballs, put meats, egg, crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper into a large bowl. Gently mix everything together with your hands. Shape into small meatballs, each about 1 to 1½ inches in diameter.
Heat a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Working in batches, add meatballs in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove with tongs to a plate. Repeat to cook all the meatballs.
For soup, without washing the pan, add the onion to the meatball drippings in the pot. Cook and stir to scrape up browned bits, about 3 minutes. Stir in bell peppers and carrot; cook and stir, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook 2 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes, seasoning and salt. Simmer, partly covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
Stir meatballs, rice and beans into the soup. Simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Taste for salt. Serve garnished generously with fresh herbs.
PER SERVING: 285 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar, 22 g protein, 869 mg sodium, 5 g fiber