I love stuffing food into food “containers,” because the presentation is so pretty and individual. I like using tomatoes, bell peppers, acorn squashes, spaghetti squashes (see stuffed spaghetti squash), zucchini, potatoes, you name it.
Today I had purchased some beautiful yellow bell peppers so I decided so create a Southwestern-style filling for them.
Southwestern cuisine, which was really brought to the culinary forefront by chefs Mark Miller, Stephan Pyles, and Dean Fearing, is sort of a combination of Mexican and old Western components. The food is flavorful, fresh, and sometimes spicy. I’m simplifying things here, but for seasoning, the spices include cumin, coriander, and cayenne. There is always onion and garlic. For herbs, there is sometimes oregano, and almost always cilantro. Flavorings include all kinds of chile peppers, from jalapenos to the smoky chipotle, which is actually a smoked jalapeno. And then there are other ingredients like beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and so forth. Just about all proteins lend themselves to Southwestern cuisine: chicken, beef, pork, venison, seafood, you name it….. Mexican chorizo shows up a lot as well. It’s very easy to turn any dish, even, say, a macaroni and cheese dish, into something delightfully Southwestern using these elements in your cooking.
So here’s what I did to create this dish:
Southwestern-Style Stuffed Peppers
4 large bell peppers, about the same size and with flat bottoms, if possible
1 pound ground pork
1 onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon garlic paste (see tubular flavor)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Couple of tablespoons dried jalapenos, optional, but highly recommended
1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup drained canned corn
1/4 – 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a little more
Roasted pumpkin seeds* (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice each pepper crosswise, and remove all of the seeds and membranes, carefully, creating the maximum amount of space possible in each cup. (The peppers can also be sliced lengthwise, but I prefer this presentation.) Place the pepper halves in a large roasting pan, spray with oil, and bake for about 30 minutes uncovered; the peppers should be slightly browned and still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the oven and lower the heat to 350 degrees. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove from the pan and place upside-down onto paper towels to drain; set aside.
Meanwhile, add about one tablespoon of oil to a pot and heat to medium-high. Add the pork and brown until no pink shows, crushing the pork until it’s fairly fine. Add the onion and celery and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Then add the garlic paste, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Stir well. Add the remaining ingredients. Give the mixture a good stir and heat through. Taste for seasoning. You might want to add salt and pepper.
When the peppers have drained, put them back into the roasting pan. Carefully fill the eight pepper halves with the filling.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until everything begins to brown. Just before serving, sprinkle some cilantro leaves on the peppers, as well as some roasted pumpkin seeds, and serve with salsa.
* pumpkin seeds are often called pepitas
note: These stuffed peppers would also be good with a queso in the filling, but that is completely your choice. Mexican cheeses are so now readily available, so it’s fun to experriement with different ones. A little dollop of Mexican crema would also be good with the peppers to cool things down, as would some chopped avocado, but now it’s becoming a completely different dish!!!