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Simply Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers with cheese

My mom used to make stuffed peppers from time to time when we were growing up. Back then, I loved eating the stuffing part, but wasn’t too keen on the peppers themselves. Oddly, although it was a dish she made with reasonable frequency, and although I now actually like the peppers too, they aren’t something that I normally make. Or at least they weren’t until about a year ago, when for some reason, out of the blue, I thought, “hmm, I haven’t had stuffed peppers in a while—I should make those for dinner.”

I started searching my recipe books and trusted web sites for a good stuffed pepper recipe. I found a lot of variety, but nothing like what I was looking for. I remembered the kind my mom made having ground beef, rice and some kind of tomato-based sauce. The recipes I found did not sound very similar. Some were more like a mini meatloaf inside a stuffed pepper, and many involved tomato soup as a base ingredient and just sounded very bland. Most of the tomato soup-based ones also involved an ingredient list a mile long and sounded like an all-day cooking adventure. I was pretty sure I could come up with a tasty alternative that would take less time at the grocery store and in the kitchen.

So I did what I often do in such situations, and used the recipes I found for some base information to get me started—in this case, primarily how long and at what temperature to bake the peppers. I also learned the trick to getting nice soft peppers (I don’t care for crunchy) is to boil them for a bit before you stuff them. As for the filling, I decided to just do my own thing. I stuck with the basics of ground beef, rice and, for the sauce, I used salsa with a packet of taco seasoning mixed in. For a little variation from my mom’s style of peppers, I mixed in a bit of feta cheese. The verdict from the Guy—well, after not making stuffed peppers in years (if ever), they’re now one of my most frequent dishes. Kiddo’s verdict was essentially the same as mine at that age—loved the filling but passed on the peppers.  I love them with a bit of fat-free sour cream, but the Guy eats them just as they are.

I won’t claim these are the world’s best stuffed peppers, but they are pretty darn good, and they’re a lot simpler than most recipes you’ll find. After the second or third time, it finally occurred to me that I could simplify the process even more, simply by cutting the peppers in half to seed them, rather than delicately trying to cut out the tops and dig out the seeds. The halves stuff just as nicely, you don’t have to worry about them toppling like you do with a whole pepper that has an uneven bottom, and they’re easier to cut up and eat on your plate, too.

Halved bell peppers

Simply Stuffed Peppers

6 bell peppers (you can use green but the red/yellow/orange sweet peppers are tasty too)

1 pound lean ground beef or turkey

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cooked brown rice

1 ½ cups salsa

1 packet taco seasoning (I have also used onion soup mix when I was out of taco seasoning; it’s a noticeably different flavor but just as delicious)

½ cup reduced fat feta cheese

4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about one cup after shredding)

Fill a large stock pot about ¾ full with water and 1-2 tsp. salt and heat on high to a full boil. While water is heating, slice peppers in half. Carefully cut out stems and remove all seeds. Once water is boiling, use tongs to drop pepper halves in pot; cook for about five minutes. Depending on the size of your pot, you may have to boil the peppers in two batches. Remove pepper halves with tongs and transfer to a large colander in sink; invert halves so excess water can drain.

Making stuffed peppers

Brown ground beef or turkey in a large skillet, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Drain excess grease. Stir in rice, salsa, seasoning packet and feta cheese.

Spray two 9×13 baking dishes with nonstick spray, and arrange pepper halves, cut side up. Spoon beef and rice mixture into peppers. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove peppers from oven and sprinkle tops with shredded cheddar cheese; bake for additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Stuffed peppers

Stuffed peppers

Nutritional notes–I limit the fat and calories in this recipe by using lean meat and reduced fat feta. When using cheddar cheese in a recipe, I usually stick with the full fat version but try not to go overboard with quantity, since I find most reduced fat cheddar cheese varieties a little lacking in the taste department. Bell peppers are a good source of fiber and are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, including folate, and Vitamins A, C and K.