Stuffed vegetables are loved all over the world be it the "Potoler Dolma" (stuffed pointed gourd from an Eastern region of the Indian sub-continent) to stuffed bitter gourd, stuffed tomatoes and even the meaty stuffed eggplants from turkey. In the beginning of this year I had hosted a small special birthday party for my little cousin brother.
Wanting to serve something different yet easy I read through thousands of recipes. While it is easy to put together a dinner party for people who have fewer dietary restrictions and have an ever evolving taste bud which readily accepts new taste I knew that my guests were particularly expecting me to put together something European. Not wanting to simply serve Italian pasta and it being the hot month of April pies and other such heavy dishes were immediately chucked out. Ah I knew I had hit upon my pot of gold when I came across this Romanian recipe called "Ardei Umpluti" a delicious stuffed bell pepper (usually rice, meat etc) dish cooked in a tomato base from the beautiful country of Romania. Later I did watch a beautiful culinary programme on one of National Geographic's channels where Turks have claimed that they were in fact the inventors of stuffed bell peppers which then spread over to other parts which is quite possible given their history. Anyways whosoever might have invented it this dish is a superb culinary triumph. Though essentially a winter's dish it can be cooked throughout the year. Now you can simply let your imagination flow when it comes to the stuffing. That first time I had put together mushrooms with small grained rice , three different kinds of meat, spicy pork sausages, lean ham and mince chicken and two variants of cheese which of course was a great triumph and why wouldn't it be . Just check the ingredients. :)
Well well I have created variants of the dish by sometimes leaving out the tomato sauce base entirely.
Today I found three beautiful bell peppers sitting in my refrigerator and immediately decided I wanted stuffed bell peppers for lunch. I had about 1 hour in my hands and it takes 1.5 hours to 2 hours to just make the tomato sauce and so did not have time to make the tomato sauce but the end result was wonderful for a daily meal. Stuffed with lean meat(chicken mince) , short grained rice, fresh herbs etc and oh mama was it a delicious meal even without the sauce. I did have as I always do, some lovely chicken stock handy which saved the day. P.S. I did have some homemade stored sauce made out of roasted bell pepper, garlic and onions which I used.
Total time taken :50 minutes to 1 hour
3 large bell peppers
1/2 cup uncooked rice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1 stalk of fresh dill leaves
1 tsp chili flakes
A good pinch of dried thyme
3 tablespoonful of grated cheddar
Salt as per taste
Pepper as per taste
Roasted bell pepper sauce 4 tablespoonful /You can replace it with homemade tomato ketchup
1 tablespoonful of finely minced garlic
200gm to 300gm of minced chicken
Half a small bowl of shelled peas
Olive oil for brushing the peppers and the pan and 1 tsp to 2 tsp for frying
Start by washing the bell peppers and patting them dry. Cutting the top and scooping out the contents but reserve the heads to be used for baking at a later stage . Brush the peppers with oil and use salt on the outside and Preheat oven to 220C and then bake the peppers for 30 minutes bottom side up since you would bake the contents again with the stuffing inside bottom side down later on. Do brush the baking pan with oil.
While the peppers bake cook the rice in 1 cup of chicken stock and then heat 1 tsp oil saute the garlic and add the minced meat , peas and then the roast bell pepper sauce. Finely chop the dill leaves and throw that in and the thyme and then finally the cooked rice with salt and freshly ground black or white pepper and the chili flakes. Once the bell peppers are done in the oven now stuff them with the rice mix and cheddar cheese and put the heads on and bake at 220C for another 20 minutes to 30 minutes till they are well baked and soft. Check after 20 minutes and if the softness is as desired stop baking else bake for 5 more minutes and check and so on and so forth so that you do not end up overcooking. Let it cool and serve a delicious yet healthy lunch.
As I have always believed using everything that is homemade enhances taste, so reaching for that can of chicken stock or tomato sauce does diminish the taste.