It Tasted Greek To Me

By on Sunday, October 15th, 2023 at 4:24 am

Beans with feta, stuffed peppers, cucumber salad, crostini, and yogurt sauce

This whole dinner began because we had taken our toddler with us to the grocery store, and as we walked through the produce section he was insistent we buy an orange pepper. And then he wanted a yellow pepper. And then a red one. It was like we were writing If You Give a Mouse A Bell Pepper in real time.

Alright, fine. We gave in and bought all three peppers. That night for his dinner, we sliced a few slivers from the orange pepper he so excitedly asked for. He ate two strips before declaring he was done. To be honest, that was more pepper than I thought he’d eat. But now we had two and a half peppers sitting around. Now what?

The last time I made a stuffed pepper was probably more than a decade ago. I’m more likely to stuff a zucchini than a pepper, anyway. Stuffed peppers always strike me as one of those things people made in the 1980s topped with bright orange cheese. Sometimes my wife and I reflect back on the foods we ate in childhood and how our boomer-age parents butchered vegetables. Boiled instead of broiled, canned instead of fresh, chopped iceberg lettuce posing as a salad.

Stuffed peppers are of course much older than the 1980s. They also transcend cultures and cuisines since after all they are a great vessel for holding fillings. What goes into a stuffed pepper is largely a reflection of the economical foods of the culture that makes it.

Peppers arrived in Europe during the Columbian exchange along with tomatoes. The native people of central America were likely stuffing food into them before that. Tracing the specific origins of anything so general as a stuffed pepper is pretty tough. In a more recent history, by the 1890s, the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book contains a recipe many Americans would recognize today. Onions, butter, bread crumbs and meat are stuffed inside.

Since I do a lot of research in Italian cuisine, I obviously considered those recipes, at least from a historical perspective. But while the two earliest Italian in English cookbooks in America include recipes for stuffing tomatoes, artichokes, onions, peaches, and birds, they don’t mention peppers.

Nevertheless, the dish is common in Italian American cuisine, and can frequently be found at festivals like San Gennaro. These are typically stuffed with rice and meat and topped with tomato sauce, with plenty of variations including sausage meat, spinach, mushrooms, parmigiana cheese, or mozzarella.

There isn’t much in the way of formal recipes, but in the south of Italy, the stuffing often was a combination of olives, capers, anchovies, and breadcrumbs. The more interesting variation of stuffed peppers comes from the Piedmont region where ricotta and rice are the primary ingredients.

Since I had some ground lamb in the freezer, I decided to go in a Greek direction. I Googled around a few recipes, and settled on this Mediterranean-inspired stuffed pepper recipe to base the dish on. I swapped out the lentils in the recipe for the ground lamb, and used harissa powder from New York Shuk, instead of the paste. I also left off the lemon juice by accident.

Stuffed peppers filled with lamb coming out of the oven

The stuffed peppers on the baking sheet


The key here was pre-baking the peppers. I doused them in oil and gave them about 15 minutes in the oven to soften them. They just started to get gold at the edge. The other thing I did was I toasted the couscous before boiling it, as per the directions on the bag which I looked at for the first time. I formed balls of stuffing and squeezed it into the peppers. I then roasted them in the oven alongside the beans.

I knew we had some Rancho Gordo beans cooked up from earlier in the week, and figured there must be some complimentary dish to serve alongside the peppers. I’m fairly certain they were Santa Maria Pinquito Beans. Either way, they were not the giant beans suggested in the recipe I found. I mostly followed this recipe, adding extra red pepper and leaving out the bay leaf since we didn’t have one.

beans baked in a Greek-inspired dish

The beans inspired by Greek cuisine includes tomatoes, carrot, celery, harissa, and feta cheese


Once the base was prepped and the cast iron pan was ready for the oven, it baked up perfectly alongside the peppers. I gave the peppers an extra ten minutes to make sure they were cooked through.

We served it all with crostini I made from yesterday’s bread, a little tomato and cucumber salad, and a yogurt dressing my wife put together. It ended up being a fairly tasty meal, and everything baked unattended while we put baby to bed.

peppers stuffed with lamb and coucous

A lamb and coucous-stuffed pepper channeling Greek flavors


Lamb Is Vegetarian If You’re Greek Style Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

2 and ½ Bell Pepper
⅓ pound of ground lamb leftover from lamb meatballs
½ an onion
1 cup (actually a little less) of Couscous, cooked and cooled
5 or 6 grape tomatoes that have been on the counter for a week
Paprika
Half package of feta cheese
Harissa powder

Instructions

Cut the peppers in half
Oil the peppers
Bake peppers for about 10 minutes at 350F
Slice tomatoes
Finely slice onions
Combine tomatoes, onions, couscous, lamb, and spices.
Thoroughly mix.
Crumble feta cheese and gentle mix
Fry up a small piece of the filling to taste
Adjust seasoning if necessary
Stuff into peppers
Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes.

Greek Inspired Baked Beans

Ingredients

8 to 10 ounces of cooked Rancho Gordo beans
3 carrots that maybe were in the refrigerator too long
1 celery stalk from the whole bunch you bought just for this
Garlic
½ onion
Red chili pepper
Oregano
Paprika
Cinnamon
Harissa Powder
16 ounces of crushed tomatoes
Half a package of feta

Instructions

Finely dice carrots, celery and onion
Cook carrots, celery, and onion gently in olive oil
Add chili pepper.
Pour in the tomatoes
Add paprika, oregano, cinnamon, Harissa powder
Remember the garlic and grind it on a microplane directly into the sauce
Pour in the beans
Bring everything to boil for about 3 minutes
Bake in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes.
Top with feta and olive oil before serving















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