Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

After preparing a lunch-something very similar to this-for a crowd of hungry volunteers, and receiving rave reviews, I was reminded how much joy it brings me to help people get excited about healthy food. A few very satisfied customers made the comment that I "snuck vegetable on them." Yesss! Healthy food truly can be delicious, and it doesn't have to be complicated either. This recipe is a serious veggie sneaker and a crowd pleaser, if you can convince them to try quinoa that is. If you run into that challenge, I don't see why you couldn't substitute brown rice. I always tell curious people that quinoa kinda tastes like brown rice anyway. This recipe makes quite a bit of filling, so be prepared. I made the full batch, filled six pepper halves, and still had plenty leftover for freezing. My only critique of these little masterpieces is that the peppers turned out really mushy far too overdone for our taste. The recipe calls for a full hour in the oven even before topping with cheese. In retrospect, it seems like an awful long time to bake peppers considering that the filling is already cooked. When I pull the leftovers out of the freezer for round two, my plan of attack will be completely different. I plan to grill the peppers for a few minutes, then fill, top with cheese, and place in the oven or broiler just long enough to melt the cheese and create a slight crust on the top. Mmmm...everything is better with a little grill flavor.
Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers
adapted from vegetarian times

1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 ribs celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.) - I pressed mine
1 6-oz. package fresh, baby spinach
2 15-oz. cans diced No Salt Added tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup quinoa
3 large carrots, grated (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups grated pepper Jack cheese, divided
4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed.

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.
2. Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Stir in 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease baking dish with cooking spray.
4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Bake 15 minutes or until peppers just start to soften. Turn Broiler on Low setting. Top each pepper with remaining cheese and broil 5-10 minutes until cheese is a bubbly, golden brown.

-The original recipe calls for a 10-oz. pack of frozen spinach, but I really wanted fresh. Your choice. If you do use fresh, it will take longer to reduce the liquid as described at the end of step 1.
-The original also calls for reduced-fat cheese, so if you're watching fat or calories keep that in mind when reviewing the nutrition facts published by vegetarian times.
-As far as the cheese goes, buy a brick and shred it yourself. It's usually cheaper than the pre-shredded stuff in the bags, and it melts and tastes better too.
-I love recipes like this one that give both measurements and quantities. It makes shopping so much easier. I recommend that you do this with your own recipes.
-I was only able to get about 1/2 cup of the quinoa mixture into my peppers, they must have been small.

*Update*-7/14/10-The cooking times and photo above reflect my changes after round two with the leftovers. They turned out much better this way. The peppers were hot and cooked, but still had a little crunch, and the broiled cheese topping made the dish. Didn't end up grilling...it was rainy. As for the frozen filling, I transferred it from the freezer to the fridge the night before to start the slow thaw, then defrosted/heated it in the microwave before filling the peppers.

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