I have taken in the different approaches of stuffed peppers (including my mother’s delicious recipe from childhood) and I have come to the conclusion that the essence is in the seasoning. This is an amazing, culturally diverse dish that can be enjoyed from East Afrika to the Mediterranean and again back around to Central America. Peppers have the potent alkaline quality that is LACKING in the western diet. The western diet is highly acidic. Refined carbohydrates and low nutrient dense carbohydrates prepared in an unhealthy manner like French fries and wheat flour pasta need to be limited and or minimized and eliminated. Biscuits and bread also provide a major portion of the intake at meal time. Hence the colloquial statement, “breaking bread”. The peppers, the stars in this dish, replace this habitual occurrence while delivering more color, nutrients and less inflammation (not to mention it does not get soggy).
The key to an Afrikan approach in these peppers is through proper proportions of the seasonings involved. Creating culturally distinct flavor profiles does not come for foreign spices all the time. Most of the time it lies within the ratio of the seasonings that are widely used around the world: paprika, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, garlic and onions (when raw is not conducive to the recipe or available garlic and onion powder). Yes, the region may differ in the crops and various types of pepper and roots that will be dried and ground but the calling for said seasoning will still be the same.
What I have surmised is that a properly stuffed pepper requires a starch and a sauce that serves as a binding and lubricant as well as a protein and additional vegetable. This can look like-
- Wild rice with a tomato sauce/portobello mushrooms/red onions
- Quinoa with garlic & paprika ghee/seasoned ground turkey/yam
- Cooled yams and EVOO/stewed lentils/sweet corn and green onion
It is important not to get hung up on what you decide to include in your recipe as your gut may not agree with what another region claims as “Authentic”. That does not mean that you cannot enjoy the flavor profiles and the overall essential experience. There is always room to substitute and accommodate. I have to do so often. When I began making the changes in dishes I research or become infatuated with I found peace in my digestion. Quinoa and avocado do my stomach better than brown rice and sour cream as staples in my taco salad or burrito bowl. Salmon does not disrupt my weekly activities whereas steak (grass fed/grass finished and all) will. I have no compromise when it comes to Large quantities of lentils and broccoli because I know the outcome so I choose moderation due to their resistant starches. Your health is your wealth. So… own it!
I am going to provide two inspiring renditions of the famous “Stuffed Pepper” and I hope they get you in the mood for some cookery. One is a vegan spin and the other is raw which I have not yet seen. Here are the ingredients using our previously established system of complex starch and sauce/protein/vegetable-
- Wild rice with a berbere tomato sauce/portobello/avocado
- Baby kale and spinach w/ harissa tahini/Sizzlin’ chickpeas/cucumber
What is Harissa you may be asking. It is good to ask questions when we are unaware of our reality. This is a rich spice from the north Africa region that is a blend of peppers and essential spices. Roasted red peppers, serrano or baklouti, coriander, garlic paste, caraway seeds, cumin and olive oil. This can be methodically made in a short amount of time with a mortar and pestle. It can also be store bought from a clean and wholesome source of your choice. It can be acquired in a wet or dry consistency. This will be a paste or a seasoning powder. Either is fine just use proportions according to your ingredient mass.
Wait what’s Berebere? This dry spice is of Eritrean/Ethiopian origin and it has a bold and well rounded flavor profile. Similar to the base of Harissa with chili peppers and garlic, caraway and cardamom, ginger and rue flower. The flavor is brighter than the smoky and subtly sweet Harissa. It is very popular and works well with anything from salads to sautés.
Berbere tomato sauce:
- 1 box of organic cherry tomato. Medley will provide a fruity flavor profile to your tomato sauce… this isn’t a bad thing. Just take note that you want your tomatoes to match the profile of the seasoning going in.
- Berbere seasoning
- Splash of red wine vinegar and Worcester sauce (Jussa splash yah!)
- Fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt
Wash and cut your tomatoes and add a ½ tbs of avocado/coconut oil to a pan heated over medium-low. Add the tomato and allow it to become acquainted with the heat and cooking surface. Once the natural juices begin to release add the seasonings and liquids, turn them in the pan, lower the heat to simmer and handle the rice.
The rice should be made 1 cup of rice to 1 ¼ cups of water.
Sauté the rice in the pan with 1 tbs of oil and then add water and bring to a boil. Lower temperature to simmer and let it cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow it to sit for 10 more minutes. Fluff and mix with the Berbere tomato sauce you just manifested. And set aside.
While the rice is setting during that last ten minutes let’s get our mushrooms over the heat in a heavy bottom skillet with no oil as they have enough of their own water to deliver cooking moisture. As everything else finishes up we are going to allow these to become their best selves. When it is time to remove and stuff we will toss with a small amount of oil and sea salt and cracked pepper. Next we want to get our ovens up to 325 degrees and slather our peppers with the same healthy fats we used in the rest of our dishes for continuity. Place the peppers upside down on a baking sheet well spread apart. This is not to roast the pepper but to soften it to a desirable texture for pairing with our stuffing. Slice the avocado while this final bit of cooking is taking place so that plating and serving is simple and smooth.
The order of operations is simple from here. G’wine fill ‘at ting to da top wit da goodness yah.
For the raw approach to deliver a fresh finality to summer we are going to essentially build a salad within our peppers. Therefore, we do not need to heat our pepper in the over but we will need to go over to the ‘Sizzlin’ Chickpeas’ recipe and implement that here. It is totally up to your preference if you want to cool the chickpeas or have them as the only hot element. I prefer to keep them warm. Not so hot that they are fresh out of the pan but warm enough to keep the initial firmness from the cooking process.
- Kale & spinach
- Sea salt and cracked pepper
- Harissa paste or seasoning
- Fresh cilantro
Be sure to have all greens and veggies rinsed and dried properly and cut to the desired sizes. Slice the cucumber as well and set aside. Next we want to pull out our blender (this can also be placed in a jar and shaken by hand if you do not have a blender) and add our tahini and EVOO and Harissa. Allow that to combine on a low speed for about 20 seconds. Add the cilantro and lemon next and blend until smoothly incorporated. Taste and season to your liking.
Base your pepper’s interior with the leaves and then add a proper serving of chickpeas. Layer your cucumbers next and drizzle your Harissa tahini dressing over the top and witness the magnificence you have just manifested.
So simple and straight forward are these takes on a classic you are sure to evolve into your own. As always, my goal is to raise awareness to the possibilities of your creativity. This world offers us vibrance in all manners of food and flavor. Take a half hour out of your day and try to tap in to the tasty talents tucked away in your thinking cap. Add these deliciously nutritious meals to your week and see how easy it can be to eat/incorporate a plant-based diet.
Stay healthy and love your skin and all that is within.