Friday, April 9, 2010

The Pepper-Reloaded

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Consider the pepper.......humble yet glorious and bountiful, in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes ranging from mild and sweet to fiery hot and intense. Next to salt, the chile pepper is the most widely used spice in the world.

We are all familiar with the common green bell pepper. There are also red, yellow, orange and even purple varieties of this well-known gem. At parties and gatherings, almost every vegetable platter is graced with slices of bell pepper served with or without dip. Peppers provide a refreshing and satisfying crunch when eaten raw. Fry them up in a little olive oil and they add a sweet and colorful addition to soups, casseroles, sauce, and stir frys.

Here are a few other types of peppers you might want to try:

The Ancho/Poblano pepper is used in Mexican and Spanish foods and can be mild to fiery hot and can be used to season soups, beans, stews, and chili.

The Jalapeno pepper is also another Mexican favorite and usually very hot and used to spice up salsa, sauces and beans. They can also be cut in half, seeds scooped out, stuffed with cheddar cheese, and baked in the oven for a delicious, spicy treat.

Pepperocini peppers range from mild to hot and are a staple in any Italian household and add a sweet and spicy flavor when scattered on antipasto platters, layered on hero sandwiches, or tossed into salads.

Peppers can be eaten raw, though it is preferable to dice or chop the hotter varieties into smaller pieces and add them raw or cooked to dishes. Raw peppers are packed with vitamin C. Green peppers have more of this necessary vitamin then citrus fruit of equal weight. Red peppers have triple the amount. The hot varieties are even higher than that in vitamin C. Perhaps there's a correlation between that and the fact that chile peppers have been used for centuries a as "cure" for the common cold.

Although hot peppers may give some folks indigestion, there's no link between their consumption and stomach ulcers. It's also possible they act as an anti-coagulant or blood thinner, thus aiding in the fight against heart attacks or strokes.

The following recipe uses bell peppers. Bell peppers are large and sturdy and perfect for stuffing. I have had a few versions of stuffed peppers: the most common loaded with ground beef and rice topped with tomato sauce, and my mother's family recipe which are stuffed with bread, sliced olives, pignoli nuts, parmesan cheese, and finely chopped anchovies. Both of these recipes are a bit unhealthy and loaded with fat and calories. Here is my vegetarian version that is tasty, healthy, and lovely enough to serve to company.

3 large green bell peppers
3 large red bell peppers
2 1/2 cups of brown rice
2 packages of Morningstar Farms Crumbles** (find in your grocer's freezer)
1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 14-5 oz can of diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 10-oz can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chiles
4 oz low fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
4 oz low fat jalepeno or monterey jack cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
(you can substitute 4oz each of soy cheddar and soy jack cheese, if desired OR just substitute one of the cheeses with 4 oz. of the
soy cheese of your choice to make this dish a bit healthier)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium saucepan cook rice according to package directions. Cut the bell peppers in half, top to bottom, remove seeds and the ribs. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in medium skillet and add onion, garlic and crumbles, stirring often and adding the additional oil if needed until onions and garlic are soft and crumbles are browned. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occassionally. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, combine the crumbles, rice and tomato mixture, salt and pepper, and mix until well blended. in a 9x13x2 inch pan, place the bell peppers skin side down. Evenly divide the crumbles and tomato mixture among the pepper halves. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the cheeses on top. Return pan to oven, uncovered, for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let stand a few minutes and serve with a large green salad and bread.

Serves 6.

** Morningstar Farms Crumbles are a vegetarian beef alternative and can be used as a substitute in almost any recipe that calls for ground beef. One package is equivelent to one pound of ground beef.

And this is my Daily Cyn.........

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