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Do stuffed peppers ring a bell?

Peppers are, arguably, among the easiest home garden crops to grow. Problem is, they take forever to do so. They usually don't come into their own until after the tomatoes are gone and the herbs are exhausted from the heat. So, herby, tomato-ey, peppery sauces become somewhat problematic.

We can still do a lot with peppers, though, whether they're "plain old" bell peppers or more exotic varieties.

Sticking good stuff inside them is a great approach. This way, we can create main courses — many of them pretty much one-dish meals — that will take us through these early back-to-school evenings when we're still using local produce but looking for something a bit more substantial for supper than raw veggies and cold meat.

Ergo, our exericise du jour is to make the most of our beloved capsicums (that's Latin for peppers).

First of all, it's good to keep in mind while you're getting all creative over the family-appeal factor that peppers (both bell and spicier varieties) are more than just a pretty veggie. They're low in calories, ranging from 4 calories for a tablespoon of raw chili peppers to 14 for a half-cup chopped raw bell peppers.

Better yet, peppers are a really good source of vitamin C, folate and vitamin B-6. Red bell peppers, which are generally held to be the ripe version of green bell peppers, also contain a goodly amount of vitamin A.

The basic bell

The classic, American-style stuffed pepper uses green bells, ground beef and cooked rice. We vary it somewhat here, but the basic method you use will serve you well for other recipe suggestions.

When selecting your peppers, try to get relatively tall, thick ones with enough girth to hold a goodly amount of stuffing, and enough "meat" on the bottoms to allow you to take a small slice off so they'll stand upright without leaking the filling out as they bake.

If you are working with less-than-perfect shapes, you could cut the peppers in half lengthwise (after pre-cooking), lay them down and stuff each half. Naturally, they'll take less time to bake.

A side salad and some whole-grain artisanal bread are all that are needed with this main dish. Or skip the salad and bread and do a simple dessert.

6 large bell peppers (a colorful variety — green, red, yellow, orange — is fun)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 2/3 cups favorite spaghetti sauce (or use canned tomato sauce with herbs), divided

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cut a thin slice from the top (stem end) of each pepper. Scoop out seeds and membranes. Rinse, then cook for 5 minutes in enough boiling, lightly salted water to cover. Use tongs to remove peppers from hot water, rinse under cold water and drain well.

In a large non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat olive oil. Cook ground turkey until lightly browned. Drain slightly. Add onion and garlic and cook 5 minutes. Add cooked rice, 1 cup of the spaghetti or tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Bring just to a simmer.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray-coat the bottom of an 8- x 8- x 2-inch baking dish. Divide turkey-rice filling among peppers. Stand peppers upright in baking dish. Heat remaining sauce and spoon over stuffed peppers. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer. Combine mozzarella and parmesan and sprinkle on top of peppers. Bake 5 minutes longer. Makes 6 servings. If peppers have been cut in half, bake for roughly half the time, until peppers are relatively soft when tested with a fork.

Shepherd's peppers

This recipe again uses bell peppers but elaborates on the stuffing by including finely diced beef (or lamb if you wish), mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes to create a shepherd's pie.

6 large bell peppers (all green or a variety of colors)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds finely diced beef or lamb

1 1/2 cups beef consommé

1 3/4 cups frozen peas and carrots

2/3 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water

2 cups prepared mashed potatoes

2/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons paprika

Cut tops from peppers, remove seeds and membranes and cook for 5 minutes in boiling, lightly salted water. Use tongs to remove peppers from water, rinse under cold water and drain well.

In a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high, heat oil. Add beef or lamb and cook about 5 minutes, until browned. Pat with paper towels to remove excess fat.

Add consommé to skillet, along with frozen vegetables, onions, worcestershire and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover partially and simmer 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, using a fork, combine cornstarch and water to a smooth paste. Add to meat mixture. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray-coat the bottom of an 8- x 8- x 2-inch baking dish.

Divide meat mixture among prepared peppers and arrange in baking dish.

In a bowl, combine mashed poatoes, milk, minced parsley, parmesan cheese and paprika. Heat mixture in microwave for about 3 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

Spoon warm potato mixture over stuffed peppers. Bake for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are golden. Makes 6 servings. If you have to cut the peppers in half lentghwise, bake for less time, until peppers are relatively tender when tested with a fork.

Middle-Eastern peppers

I like the way some time in an oven melds various flavors into a tasty whole. However, for those in more of a hurry, we proffer this Moroccan-style main dish, which takes a vegetarian approach. The microwave oven comes into play as you pre-cook the peppers. Your regular oven gets the night off.

We use all red bell peppers for a more mellow result.

Serve with a salad featuring greens, red onions, orange segments, toasted pinenuts and a balsamic vinaigrette. Add some crispy pita toasts if you like.

6 large red bell peppers

2 teaspoons olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons each ground cumin and ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups canned chickpeas (garbanzos), drained

2 cups vegetable broth (or use chicken broth)

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese (with garlic and herbs), divided

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided

About 6 teaspoons (spicy) mango chutney

Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and membranes. Arrange in 2 microwaveable pie plates, cover with heavy plastic wrap and microwave each batch on high for about 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain peppers. Return to pie/serving plates.

In a large, deep skillet (or saucepan), over medium, heat oil. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add cumin, turmeric and cinnamon and sauté 30 seconds. Mash chickpeas slightly, then stir into skillet along with broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the feta and 2 tablespoons of the mint. Divide remaining feta and mint among peppers. Add about a half-teaspoon chutney to each.

Just before serving, cover each plate with waxed paper and reheat in the microwave at 70 percent power for about 2 minutes. Makes 6 servings of 2 pepper halves each.

Stuffed poblanos

Bell peppers aren't the only kids on the block. If you grew some spicier varieties this summer, here's a chance to see how well they play at dinner. If not, we're happy to report that your local supermarket probably has some.

Poblano peppers are among the milder of the zesty capsicums that are used in spicier climes. They're light green, medium-sized, relatively thick-skinned and tend to be wide across the tops, so that they're quite stuffable. An alternative name is pasillo chile. An alternative pepper to use is the cubanelle.

Remember how to roast peppers? If not, here's a refresher.

With these chicken-stuffed treats, you'll want to pull out all the (usual) stops: refried beans, Spanish-style rice, a salad with some fruit in it, some warm flour or corn tortillas.

You can vary this recipe by warming some storebought enchilada sauce and drizzling it over the stuffed peppers before (or after) baking.

12 medium poblano chilies (about 1 3/4 pounds)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large white onion, finely chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup chicken broth (or water)

3 plum tomatoes, finely diced

3 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken (about 1 pound)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

For the poblanos, use a gas flame, your broiler, or the outdoor grill. Roast chilies, in batches, turning frequently with tongs until skins are blistered but not blackened. Try not to overcook, as peppers will become too soft and "collapse." Transfer roasted peppers immediately to a plastic bag, and close bag to allow steam to loosen skins.

For the filling, in a large, non-stick skillet, over medium-low, heat olive oil. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté until onion begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in chicken, salt and pepper. Cool completely, then stir in cheese.

To stuff and bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Rub skins off chilies. Cut a slit lengthwise into each pepper, leaving stems attached. If you wish, use a rounded spoon to gently scrape out seeds and membranes from inside peppers.

Stuff chilies through the slits. Place in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the middle of the oven until cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings of 2 peppers each.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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