Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

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Stuffed peppers are one of my favorite fallback recipes because they’re not even really a recipe…they are “assembly instructions.”  Your ingredients are bell peppers, ground meat, prepared grain, aromatics and seasonings, and cheese…within each of those categories, you have an enormous range of choices, making this one of those “Lord have mercy what do I have in the icebox” dishes.  In this case, I went Mediterranean, with ground lamb, Israeli couscous in place of the usual rice, olives, feta, and provolone.  I prepared these in two steps–another convenience of the dish–making the filling at home before we left on our trip around DelMarVa, and leaving minor assembly and cooking for underway.

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Ingredients for Mediterranean filling: 1-1/2 pounds ground lamb, one diced onion, 3-4 cloves of garlic, one package of Israeli couscous, a cup or so of pitted Kalamata olives, 1 to 1-1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese, and herbs suitable to the genre; my garden had flat leaf parsley, mint, and Greek oregano.  You can easily use dried herbs as well–generally the ratio is three fresh to one dried; here I used a couple of tablespoons of fresh, so you would use a couple of teaspoons of dried.

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If you haven’t had it, try Israeli couscous as a side dish soon.  The grains are much larger than regular couscous, making it more chewy, sort of like “fish eye” tapioca is to regular.  My grocery has these convenient single-batch packages that pack very well into a galley (though you might put several into a ziploc in case the plastic packaging breaks as it gets pushed around a locker).  Prepare per the package instructions, which involves briefly toasting in vegetable oil, then adding boiling water and simmering for about 8 minutes.

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Saute your onion until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes, then add garlic for a minute or two.

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Add the ground lamb and saute, stirring and breaking up big lumps, until not-quite done and still a little pink, about 10 minutes on medium-high heat.

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Chop your olives and herbs…

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Turn off the heat under the pan and stir in olives and herbs.

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Add the cooked couscous…

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and stir well to combine.

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Let the meat mixture cool for a while before you stir in the feta cheese, lest it melt into a big lump rather than distributing evenly.

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When it comes time to prepare the dish, line a baking pan with foil (this keeps you from having to clean melted cheese of the pan later).

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Stem and seed your bell peppers, creating an opening at the top big enough to spoon filling into, but leaving as much pepper as you can.  You can also simply cut the peppers in half down the middle, vertically, leaving the stem on, and stuff and bake them like “boats”.  This is a nice way to do a side dish or even appetizer version of this, as it will be smaller and hold far less filling.

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Spoon the filling into the peppers and really pack it in there, pushing it down into all the space inside, up under the edges, etc.  Get as much filling in as you can.

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Bake the stuffed peppers in a 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until you see the peppers wilting a bit, indicating they are fairly-well softened and cooked.  Because the filling is already cooked, you are just warming it.  Some recipes call for par boiling the peppers before stuffing them, and skipping this step; I hate boiled vegetables…this method works for me and seems to leave the peppers soft enough to eat, but still with a bit of crispness and a fresh flavor.

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Remove the cooked peppers from the oven and top with cheese.  I changed my mind last minute and switched from grated parmesan to slices of provolone, but you can go with just about anything that works with your flavors.

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Bake in the 250-degree oven for another 10 minutes or so just to melt and toast the cheese a bit.

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Serve to accolades!  In addition to being a forgiving recipe in terms of both flexibility of ingredients, and easy 2-stage preparation, this is a great “all-in-one” dish with meat, grain, dairy and vegetable all included.  We like that on boats, even if we add a little something on the side when it’s convenient.  Let us know your favorite flavor combinations!  Mexican and “Eastern European” are a couple of ours…but the potential combinations are endless.

 

 

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