Un-stuffed Peppers

Some days are full of new experiences. But other times it’s all about nostalgia. Today’s a nostalgia day.

When I was a junior in college I decided that I REALLY wanted to pierce my belly button. So I convinced a friend to drive down to the best piercing parlor in the area. When we got there, the nice man at the front desk informed me that I didn’t have enough fat to pierce (don’t hate me, I’ve since gained the fat…) and he was afraid he might pierce an organ. So, no belly button ring for me.

And, along the nostalgia lines, this un-stuffed pepper recipe is one of the first things I started making when I became vegetarian, all those years ago. I wish I could remember the cookbook it came out of and give credit where it’s due, but alas, the actual recipe is  long gone and all that remains is the idea: slice bell peppers in half, lay them close together and pour and sprinkle lots of yummy stuff over them. Served alongside some rice or quinoa, they employ all the ingredients of stuffed peppers, but without the hassle of actually stuffing them.

So, back to those belly buttons. For those who aren’t familiar with acupuncture, it is based on a series of meridians that run along the surface of the body. One of the meridians is called the Conception Vessel, and it runs along the middle of the abdomen and chest. And yes, it is linked to, among other things,fertility (in men and women). So, if you have any concern about fertility, or any other matters below the belt, best to take out that belly button ring!

Un-stuffed Peppers

2 large bell peppers (any color, but I obviously used red)
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T. capers, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, or other melty cheese
1/4 c. breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat panko)
2 T. olive oil
1 c. quinoa

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the peppers in half, take out the stems and seeds, and lay, cut side down, in a baking dish that they just fit into in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic, capers, thyme, pepper flakes and salt evenly over the peppers, then the cheese, then the breadcrumbs. Pour the olive oil over the whole thing. Slide the dish into the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. The cheese and breadcrumbs should be browned, and the peppers soft, but still retain some structure.

While the peppers cook, combine the quinoa and 2 cups of water in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is soft and the water is gone.

Spread some quinoa on a plate and top with a pepper slice or two.

serves 2-3


Smoky Tempeh & Peppers

As the cold weather creeps in, bit by bit, our bodies start to crave more build-up foods. More protein and fat to keep the heat in and prepare for the Winter (what? already? I think we’ve got a while, but it never hurts to plan ahead). This dish fit the bill for me. Hearty tempeh and the last of the summer’s sweet peppers simmered in a paprika-chipolte-maple marinade and served with light but protein-rich quinoa. Quinoa, small as it is, is pretty mighty in this respect. The highest amount of protein of all the grains resides in this little guy (though he’s technically a seed…).

I used some cute little sweet peppers I found at the farmers market, but bell peppers will work just as well. And you won’t normally see me stirring delicate fresh herbs into a dish that is still cooking. The oils in the leaves that make them so fragrant and delicious dissipate quickly when cooked, so I almost always use them raw. However, in this dish I used the cilantro as more of a vegetable than an herb, and since I used a ton, I figured it was ok if a little of the flavor escaped. There’s still plenty to go around.

Smokey Tempeh & Peppers

2-3 T. olive oil, divided
8 oz. tempeh
1 lb. sweet or bell peppers, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. shoyu
2 T. maple syrup
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. chipotle powder (or more if you’re feeling brave)
1 c. quinoa
1/2 c. cilantro, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the tempeh and  cook for 10 minutes, flipping once, to brown on a few sides. Stir in the peppers and cook for a few minutes while you prepare the marinade.

Combine the garlic, shoyu, maple syrup, lime juice, the other tablespoon of oil, paprika and chipotle in a liquid measuring cup that holds at least 1 cup. Quickly whisk together with a fork. Add water to make 1 c of marinade. Pour the marinade over the tempeh mixture. Simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes, until everything is tender and most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

Meanwhile, place the quinoa and 2 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil, turn down to low and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until tender and all the water is gone. Let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Serve the tempeh mixture over the quinoa, and top with some extra cilantro.

serves 4

Carrot & Quinoa Pilaf

Last Saturday I headed to the farmer’s market with visions of fresh peas and garlic scapes dancing in my head. For weeks now it’s been April, and foodies all over the blogosphere have been posting delectable spring treasures. Apparently they haven’t been shopping at the Brooklyn markets because here they are still selling bags of parsnips. Bunches of hearty collard greens and thick winter carrots. The only thing remotely Spring-y was a bunch of chives which I snatched up quick.

The chives ended up on everything I’ve made so far this week, including this quinoa. I took those dense carrots and grated them fine, throwing them in raw to lighten the dish up. Along with the toasty almonds and lemon-y dressing, I did a fair job of creating a dish reminiscent of Spring without the asparagus and ramps. Feel free to use any color of quinoa you’ve got hanging around – I used half white and half red for the prettiness factor. Also, if you can find other Spring produce, by all means throw it in, either raw or lightly cooked.

I served this alongside the Chermoula Tempeh for a full and delicious meal that we gobbled right up.

So, what Spring produce have you been able to find at the markets so far this year?

Carrot & Quinoa Pilaf

2 T. olive oil, divided
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 c. quinoa (I used 1/2 white and 1/2 red)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/3 c. sliced almonds
2 large carrots
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 c. lightly packed chives, chopped fine

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a pot over medium heat. Saute the shallots for a few minutes until soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Pour in the quinoa and salt, stir to combine, then add 1 1/2 c of water. Cover, bring to a boil, turn to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and the water is gone. Let sit, covered for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.

While the quinoa is cooking, toast the almonds. Place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast until brown and fragrant, stirring a few times along the way. Set aside.

Grate or finely slice the carrots. I use a julienne peeler to make long thin shreds, but a box grater is fine. Or a mandoline if you want to get fancy. If you have great knife skills you could also slice them thinly.

To serve, toss most of the almonds, carrots and chives with the quinoa. Pour in the remaining tablespoon of oil and the lemon juice and toss to combine. Turn out onto a serving bowl and top with the rest of the almonds, carrots and chives.

serves 4

New World Risotto

The risotto lovers of the world fall into two camps, the traditionalists, who won’t call anything a risotto unless it uses exclusively carnaroli rice, just barely simmering chicken stock and is always stirred in a clockwise direction, and everybody else. Falling squarely on the “everybody else” side, this risotto incorporates foods indigenous to the Americas, including peppers, pumpkin seeds and quinoa. Obviously, I prefer to be a bit loose with my risotto, and let those creative juices flow. 

The original intent of this recipe was to come up with a risotto that is high in protein so that I could eat it as a main course and not feel guilty. Quinoa, being the highest in protein of any grain, was my solution. But quinoa on it’s own would not make a creamy, rice-y base for my toppings, so it’s a good thing it cooks in the same amount of time as arborio rice, because I just mixed them together. Voila!  Creamy risotto with a protein punch. 

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is an ancient grain originally grown in South America. It’s actually a seed, but it’s grouped in the grain category because of how it is cooked. Quinoa is small, round, and has a little curly-que on the inside that can be seen when it cooks up and becomes translucent. I love it because it has the nutritional profile of a whole grain (read more about that in my Whole Grains post) and it cooks in about half the time of brown rice. It’s also much lighter, and feels great in the tummy in the spring and summer.

Aside from the quinoa, there are more reasons for the traditional risotto-ists to scowl at me. For one, I don’t use onions, shallots or garlic in the rice. I found that the sauce is so amazing and flavorful that it doesn’t need it. Speaking of the sauce, it does call for 1 small clove of garlic. Please fight the urge to add more in this recipe because it is raw and very strong. But go ahead and double the sauce recipe, because it makes everything taste better.

You could definitely roast your own peppers for this, especially in the summer when bell peppers are plentiful and inexpensive, but to make this a super quick weeknight meal, I usually just open a jar. It’s one of the few jarred things I keep around – mostly because I haven’t yet perfected the art of peeling a roasted pepper. 

New World Risotto

1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. arborio (or other risotto rice) NOT rinsed
4-6 c. vegetable broth, chicken stock or water (I used water)
1/4 c. creme fraiche
2/3 c. pumpkin seeds
4 roasted red peppers (either from a jar or roast them yourself)
1 small garlic clove, chopped
juice of half a lemon

Heat the oil in a large saute pan or sauce pan over medium heat. Add the quinoa, rice and 1/2 tsp. of the salt (if using water), and stir to coat. Stir around for a few minutes until the grains start to turn a bit translucent around the edges. Ladle in about a 1/2 c. of liquid, bring to a simmer, and stir until almost gone, then add another ladle of liquid. Keep stirring, adding liquid and letting it absorb and cook off, until the rice is tender, with just a tiny bit of bite in the very center. Stir in the creme fraiche.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Toast the seeds by adding them to a dry skillet over medium heat. Toss and stir occasionally until they get a bit brown. Set aside 1/4 cup for garnish and toss the rest in a blender or food processor with the peppers, garlic, lemon juice, and the other 1/2 tsp. of salt. Blend until smooth, though the seeds will still make the sauce a bit grainy.

Serve the sauce over the rice, sprinkled with a few pumpkin seeds.

serves 4