Make spicy, comforting stuffed peppers

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Because it’s getting wet, gray and cold, I am craving food that is both spicy and comforting. Stuffed peppers can be both of those things. it’s a combination of rice, vegetables, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. I love stuffed peppers because that is almost a list of my favorite things to include in a meal.

My former roommate, Anna, whom I lived with for years, made stuffed peppers for me one winter evening in our last apartment together. That kitchen saw more congenial meals than a kitchen in any other place I’ve lived. Most nights we would cook together, sometimes making stir-fry, fajitas, soup, or whatever sounded good. When she made stuffed peppers the first time, I don’t think she knew how much I would like it. If she had, she probably wouldn’t have introduced me to them, because we ended up using four burners and the oven every time I wanted stuffed peppers for supper.

We would have one burner of boiling water for the peppers, one for making the rice, one to sauté vegetables on, and one for browning the hamburger she liked to put in her peppers. Meanwhile, we would preheat the oven for the final, cheese-melting stage. Stuffed peppers are fairly simple – everything is cooked separately, then mixed together, drizzled with tomato sauce and covered in cheese. At this point, it all goes in the oven to associate for a little while the cheese melts.

I’ve made several changes from Anna’s original recipe, most of them making it spicier. Anna liked to use canned tomato soup for sauce, I made it recently with some homemade salsa my grandmother sent us, and I enjoyed the spicy kick in flavor. Instead of stuffing bell peppers, I use poblano peppers, which are mild chili peppers. Sometimes they can be bland, but in my experience, they are often spicy enough to leave the roof of my mouth feeling hot.

Another modification I’ve made, although I haven’t tried this one personally, is to use spicy ground pork sausage instead of hamburger. My test subjects quite liked it, but as a vegetarian, I just made a separate, vegetarian version for myself.

I’ve also, at least for a vegetarian version, managed to limit the number of pots and pans I use – and as a result, the number of burners as well. The other thing I do is, rather than boiling the peppers, I cut them in half lengthwise and add them to the vegetables I’m sautéing. Although they aren’t completely cooked by the time I combine everything, I can leave it in the oven for a couple minutes longer and they are beautiful by the time I pull it out.

At this point, after spending a lot of time chopping, stirring and multitasking, I sit back and bask in the knowledge that I will shortly be sitting down to filling, warm, spicy meal.

Stuffed Peppers

1 ½ cup of rice

3 poblano peppers

1 onion

3 carrots

2 stalks celery

1 bell pepper

1 pint tomato sauce (or salsa, or tomato soup)

4 cups shredded mozzarella

Make rice according to the directions. Slice poblano peppers in half lengthwise, set aside. Chop onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper to desired size, probably just a little smaller than bite-size.
Feel free to add any other vegetables you like: broccoli, cauliflower, corn.

Add poblano peppers. Continue to sauté everything until they look ready to eat.

Stir together rice and vegetables in a casserole or other oven-safe dish. Arrange poblano peppers attractively, and fill their cavities with this mixture. Spread tomato sauce over everything, and then cover liberally with mozzarella.

If you care to add meat, just use hamburger and mix it in with the rice and vegetables. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is just barely turning golden brown then serve hot.


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