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THE REVOLUTIONARY STUFFED PEPPER

STUFFED BELL PEPPERS

There are some dishes that need no introduction.  This one reigns supreme and every country is a contender boasting of vibrant ingredients and exotic spices.  There is an esoteric allure about the colorful stuffed pepper.

They’re the quintessential comfort food and although you may think so, they didn’t originate in your mom’s kitchen.  According to Cooking Journals found in Boston, there are recipes going back to the 1890’s here in the States.

Peppers aren’t indigenous to Europe or the Middle East and neither are tomatoes for that matter, since they originated in the Americas and were introduced to Europe by the early Conquistadors in 1490’s.  Their shape makes them the perfect candidate for stuffing and throwing in a bit of trivia, the illustrious Christopher Columbus discovered and named them for their “bell like” shape hence the name Bell Pepper has remained steadfast.

And of course, we have the predictable argument whether the green or red variety is better for stuffing.  I’m not going to launch into a diatribe or pontificate on which type is superior because it’s purely a matter of personal choice.  Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, there is the penchant for either oven baking, stove top braising or crockpot cooking within the stuffed pepper arena, or any other stuffed vegetable for that matter, which is also a question of preference.

You don’t have to be dogmatic where stuffed peppers are concerned.  Entertain as many stuffing possibilities as the mood strikes.  Not only are they a blank ethnic canvas accommodating the most ambitious of spice blends but they welcome any manner of fillings for carnivores and vegetarians alike.  Grains, dried fruits, pulses, nuts, herbs, vegetables, cheeses and any meat variety.  Even tofu has superlative texture to absorb Asian flavor combinations, as they are showcased in Korea with their version called Gochujun.

The stuffing technique varies as well, as peppers can be filled by cutting off the tops, removing their core and inner membranes, leaving the pepper whole or by halving them and stuffing each half before cooking.

THE WORLD OF STUFFED PEPPERS

SPAINPimientos rellenos come in all varieties.  Filled with salt cod, hake, canned tuna, chicken and are fortified with Spanish spices, rice and Manchego cheese.  They are served with a light red sauce and sometimes a hearty béchamel is mixed with the stuffing.

INDIABharwan Mirchs are Indian green chilis filled with potatoes, ground meats and all the typical Indian aromatics – chili powder, curry, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cilantro and a splash of lime or lemon juice.

BALKANS – Romania – Ardei Umpluti.  After filling the peppers with the usual meats and rice they are finished off with a red bell pepper cream sauce.  Bulgaria – Usually eaten with yogurt.

MÉXICOChili relleno is a Poblano or Anaheim stuffed pepper with cheeses and sometimes shredded pork or chicken, dipped in a light batter and deep fried, finished with a red or green sauce.  The infamous Jalapeño Poppers are similarly handled, however the heat factor is much more exponential, as Poblanos and Anaheim peppers are quite mild, almost like a green bell pepper.

GREECE, MOROCCO, EGYPT AND MIDDLE EAST – Mediterranean countries, Balkans and Central Europe will stuff any vegetable available, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes, tomatoes, zucchinis, the ever-popular cabbage roll and naturally bell peppers.  Dolmades, in Greece are stereotypically grape leaves filled with only rice, spices and sometimes nuts; their stuffed peppers or tomatoes are called Gemista (or Yemista), meaning “filled with”.  The addition of lentils is also quite popular in Middle Eastern countries, such as Moroccan lentil stuffed peppers. Egypt – Here they are called Mahshi and they are a staple in every restaurant and household.   Additionally, they are served during the Ramadan with marinated lamb kebobs.

 

If you are feeing bourgeois about diner tonight, a rendition of stuff peppers should grace your dinner table.  No matter what flavor profile you select, it will take you on a global whirlwind and everyone will applaud your efforts.

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