Bell peppers are about the only vegetables in the produce department that look perky this time of year. Their shiny, impermeable skin protects against the melancholy that broccoli, tomatoes, and leafy greens suffer after traveling across the country. By mid-January, the devotion to squash and root vegetables that shapes my cooking from Labor Day through Christmas has fizzled. As I push my cart past the refrigerated shelves, the peppers' red, orange, and yellow pigments tug at the primitive part of my brain in charge of distributing vitamins I haven't eaten since August.
I'm intrigued by the bell pepper as receptacle. When you cut off the top and rinse out the seeds, you're left with a cup that's practically begging to be filled with beans or grains. In the past week I've stuffed peppers not once, but twice-- and I've got wild plans for the rest of the peppers in that photo above.First, I slightly altered the recipe for Messy Rice in Veganomicon by adding some chopped vegetables, and used it to stuff green peppers. This is similar to the savory, tomato and rice stuffed peppers I remember from childhood. A cup of chickpeas would be a great addition, providing protein and stretching the rice to stuff four peppers.
(If you only need one or two peppers for a meal, don't stuff and cook all of them at once-- unless you like wet, wrinkly leftovers. Instead, store the extra prepared rice in the fridge, then stuff and cook the other peppers the next day.)
3 green bell peppers
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
Crush the coriander seeds. I put them in a plastic bag and smash them with a can. Set aside.
Preheat a saucepan on medium. Saute the onions, celery, and carrots in the oil for about 5 minutes, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the garlic and crushed coriander, and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, rice, and water, and stir until evenly mixed. Cover and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture is boiling, stir and reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, until the rice is thoroughly cooked.
While the rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the tops of the green peppers (like you would for a jack-o-lantern) and discard. Remove the seeds from the tops and the insides of the peppers. Place in a baking dish. If they won't stand up, you can strategically stuff the rest of the baking dish with balls of tin foil.
When the rice is cooked, spoon it into each pepper. Replace tops. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the peppers are easily pierced with a fork.
I was tempted to call these "newspaper peppers" (what's black and white and read all over-- get it?), but that sounded like peppers stuffed with newspaper (which is not far off from what most people think vegans eat, anyway). The first time I made these they were good, but dry, so we decided they needed some kind of salsa or a chutney. I whipped up a tangy mango salsa, a perfect accent to the coconut rice. Can I state for the record how much I love coconut milk?