Cooking with Peppers, including Recipes and Information

Cooking with Peppers, including Recipes and Information

We're picking peppers at our place--not quite by the peck like Peter Piper--but there are pounds a-plenty all the same. We possess peppers for perpetuity and are pondering the purpose for planting such a preponderance.

Our freezer's full. Former friends forbid us from furnishing them further.

If you're suffering a similar surplus, sap some of it--stuff 'em.

Before you recoil, remembering overcooked beefy-rice-filled bells, try these. Stuffed with couscous flavored by coriander and pine nuts, they'll banish those soggy memories. Couscous (pronounced koos-koos) is processed wheat similar to bulgar but with a finer texture and flavor. It's a favorite in North Africa. Here, you'll find it in the pasta section of the grocery store.

If you don't garden, there's a variety of peppers at your grocery store or local farmers' market. Anaheims have the best size and flavor for stuffing, but bell peppers and even jalapeños will work. Don't balk at the price per pound--it takes about 10 large chilies, 15 medium ones or 20 jalapeño-size peppers to make a pound--plenty for a feast. You can even savor summer later in the wilds of winter and use frozen peppers--thaw them first, then proceed as with fresh.

This dish can be hot, or not, depending on the peppers you use. I usually make separate dishes of hot and mild to accommodate the differing tastes in our family--we suffer from Incompatible Heat Octane Tolerance Syndrome (IHOTS).

The only pepper I would avoid stuffing is the habeñero--a smallish, wrinkled pepper that's the capsicum equivalent to nitroglycerin. Don't let looks deceive you. Eating this pepper is the closest you'll get to becoming a fire-breathing dragon. If, by the way, you ever do eat a pepper that blisters your heat tolerance, eat some ice cream or peanut butter to ease the burn.

If you're sensitive to the oils in hot peppers, wear rubber dishwashing gloves when you handle them, and wash them before you take them off. Don't underestimate peppers--the heat comes from an alkaloid called capsaicin that can burn your skin. Always wash your hands well after working with them and be sure not to touch your eyes or nose with the oil still on your hands. You'll regret it--this is from painful experience.

For those with hearty appetites, you may want to serve these peppers with a grilled chicken breast or salad, or both. Alone, it's perfect for lunch or a light dinner.

Couscous-Stuffed Peppers

8-10 large chilies, 6-8 medium bell peppers or 15-20 jalapeño
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
4 tablespoons ground coriander
5 tablespoons pine nuts, minced fine
3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup chopped green onion
2 tablespoons raisins

Combine tomato juice (I use the liquid from a 28 ounce can of tomatoes) and chicken stock. Bring to boiling, remove from heat and stir in couscous and coriander. Cover and let sit while you prepare the peppers. When couscous has absorbed the liquid (about five minutes) add the pine nuts and half the cheese and mix well.

Slice off the stem end of the peppers and remove as many seeds and the white stuff around them as you can--that's where the heat's concentrated. Spoon some of the couscous mixture into the end of the pepper, poking it in with the end of the spoon, your finger or a chopstick. A chopstick (the thicker end) comes in handy for pushing the stuffing down to the tip of skinnier peppers.

Continue stuffing until the pepper is full to just below the rim. Depending on the size of the peppers, around half or a third of the couscous should be left when you're through. Place the peppers in a shallow casserole dish (chilies on their side, bells upright) and bake uncovered at 375° F for 45 minutes.

Arrange the stuffed, cooked peppers over a bed of the leftover couscous on a platter or plate, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and melt under the broiler or in the oven. Make sure the dish is oven proof. I did this once using a plate I thought was oven proof. It wasn't. A few seconds after I put the plate in, it shattered and food fell through onto the oven floor. I didn't realize this, of course, until my kitchen smoke alarm shrieked a few minutes later and I came back to find smoke seeping from my oven.

After the cheese melts, sprinkle the green onions and raisins (really) over the top and serve hot.

If you have some leftover cooked chicken or turkey, try chopping or shredding it and mixing with the couscous and cheese before you stuff the peppers.

This recipe makes enough to serve four as a main course, more as a side dish. Leftovers are great reheated in the microwave, or you can freeze them for up to two months.

As for our prolific peppers, we've pledged to plant fewer next year. (I seem to remember promising that in the past.) In the meantime, if you find a pile of peppers on your doorstep, it wasn't me. Honest.

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