Tuesday, April 1, 2008

CSA week 18 - beef & bulgar stuffed peppers

The last couple times we got peppers in our shares the ones in my box were rather too gnarled for easy stuffing. That's not a real complaint; beautifully shaped, extra large vegetables are the hallmark of factory agriculture and they usually taste of nothing much at all. So it was just luck that my peppers this week had nice big hollows suitable for stuffing. Or maybe they had longer on the vine now that we're at the end of the season? I dunno.

Anyway, I've discussed stuffing before and it comes down to a starch, a binder, finely chopped aromatics and optionally some meat. I happen to have some bulgar wheat that I picked up on a whim and have been wanting to use, so that's my starch set. Before I did my research, my assumption was that I'd find northern European bulgar-and-beef-stuffed cabbage recipes that I could modify to suit, but what I actually found were vegetarian Turkish bulgar-stuffed pepper recipes. I decided on this rather odd recipe from Good Housekeeping that pairs the bulgar wheat with ground beef, spinach, canned tomatoes, feta and dill. I don't know if that's supposed to be any particular cuisine or just a bunch of flavors they liked together.

I was intrigued by the technique of microwaving the peppers for a good long time before stuffing. They didn't say why so I wondered if it was to drive out moisture and it certainly did a little of that, but, in retrospect, I think the main point was to just get the peppers cooked. Everything else is cooked by the time it goes into the oven and the half hour at 350 degrees is just to warm everything through. If I had to do it again, I'd roast the peppers or at least microwave a little less and then char them on the stove.

I used the recipe as a vague guideline and didn't really pay much attention to the amounts. When dividing a recipe by four the ratios don't work out anyway. The biggest difference, I think, was using a couple handfuls of grape tomatoes instead of canned crushed tomatoes. I ended up opening a can of tomato sauce to compensate. That may have been a mistake as the canned sauce flavor ended up contributing to making the whole thing taste kind of generic and pre-prepared. I had hoped the odd combination of flavors would make something distinctively different, but other than some better textures, it could have been your standard Italian stuffed pepper. It wasn't a bad example of an Italian stuffed pepper, mind you, but I was hoping for something a little offbeat. That's what I get for following a recipe. I think now I know enough to improvise and I can do something really interesting the next time I stuff something.

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