Seasonal Stuffed Peppers
It’s a whole new world, folks. No, I’m not talking about the recent election results, although they certainly change things around here a bit. What I’m referring to is the aisles of the farmers market. Gone are the piles of tender greens, tomatoes, summer squash, beans, and flower bunches (I miss them the most). Also gone are the colorful stacks of sweet and hot peppers, a commodity I wish I capitalized on more often.
I love the fresh taste of sweet peppers, although I’m rather impartial to their hot cousins. But as much as I love them, I usually forget about them when it comes to main dishes. Instead, I corral them into salad fixin’s and flavorings for summer soups and stir-fries. Great snacking vegetable too when paired with a good dip.
Fortunately for me, I had three gorgeous golden sweet bell peppers somehow hanging on in my crisper drawer up until this past week. I chalk up their longevity to two things: my lack of attention to my crisper drawer, else they would have been eaten over a month earlier when I got them, and the amazingly long lifeline of vegetables gotten straight from the farm/garden. These were as succulent and colorful as the day I got them from my mom’s garden.
Since these were the last fresh peppers I was going to see for a good eight months now that frost has killed off all the pepper plants in the region, I took extra care in thinking about their preparation. Out came the stack of cookbooks that somehow always ends up leaning precariously over the edge of my dining room table, threatening the welfare of my feline housemates. Bingo! I re-discovered an old favorite that would be the perfect jumping-off point for creating an autumn version of the classic Stuffed Pepper recipe.
Barley, cranberries, cinnamon, carrot, pumpkin seeds… all these wonderful seasonal flavors melded perfectly with the soft juicy flesh of the peppers. This dish proved to be extremely satisfying – indulgent feeling almost – and yet it was very healthy. I really enjoyed the textures of the chewy barley and cranberries with the crunch of the pumpkin seeds. All told, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this recipe and wish I’d only thought of stuffed peppers sooner in the season so I didn’t have to wait so long to make them again.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot D doesn’t like peppers so I had plenty of leftovers. I put all the remaining stuffed halves on a cookie sheet and flash froze them before wrapping them individually in plastic wrap and foil and putting them in a labeled freezer bag. Not a bad what to extend the pepper season after all.
Peppers Stuff with Cinnamon Barley
Adapted from Fresh and Simple Vegetable Dinners
4 C. vegetable or chicken broth
3 cinnamon sticks (or ½ t. ground cinnamon)
½ t. salt
2/3 C. uncooked pearl barely
½ C. shredded carrot
¼ C. chopped red onion
½ C. dried cranberries or golden raisins
3 large sweet peppers (red or yellow work best)
½ C. shredded mozzarella cheese or chunked feta
½ C. water
2 T. spiced pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds
In a large saucepan, combine the broth, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a boil and then add the barely. Reduce heat to low and cover, simmering barely for about 45 minutes until the barely is starting to get tender. At this point, stir in the carrot and onion and continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cranberries/raisins and let stand, covered, for five minutes. Drain off any excess liquid and remove the cinnamon sticks. If you’d like to make this recipe in two stages, now is the time to stop and refrigerate the barely mixture until you’re ready to continue (stores for up to four days).
Wash and halve the peppers lengthwise down the middle, removing the seeds and ribs. Stir the cheese into the barley mixture and spoon into the pepper halves, pressing and mounding the mixture. Carefully place the peppers into a skillet and add the ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the pepper flesh is fork-tender and the barley is warmed through.
Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve immediately. Or, place on cookie tray and flash freeze (this just means freeze it before packaging for storage). Wrap each frozen pepper half in plastic wrap and foil before storing the halves together in a heavy freezer bag. Thaw in the fridge or on the counter before microwaving to reheat and serve.
(serves 6 as a side or 3 as a main)