Well, it’s Autumn and no two ways about it. The mornings are chilly and most of the summer fruit is no more. But much more delicious stuff is still available, and ready to make the coming cold more bearable. Of course, now that the sun grows dim, we have to prepare more complicated meals, to make up the lack of fire without with the fire within.
So, as an autumnal treat, I have prepared one of my more complicated recipes for You : the Hungarian stuffed peppers. As with all stuffed dishes, it requires some work, since the stuffing has to be prepared first, and the actual meal later. However, it’s not as demanding as it could be, because the peppers themselves are practically ready to go. Well, what did You expect? I like cooking, but I’m allergic to hard work, so ‘more complicated’ means, around here, ‘requiring 40 minutes’ preparation.’
The peppers used here are ‘Hungarian wax’ peppers, not the more popular bell peppers (capsicum annuum ; English nomenclature is quite confusing here. Apparently, C. Columbus is to blame), which have the best shape for what I have in mind right now.
- Hungarian peppers – one or two per person, depending on their size.
- Rice – usually a glass (250 ml) is enough
- Onions – as much as You like
- Garlic – three cloves minimum
- Soy meat/meat/mushrooms – really, the last ingredient is entirely up to You. If You want it to be ready really fast, go with mushrooms, although this tends to give the dish a mild taste and somewhat spongy texture, as mushrooms do. If You’re looking for optimal nutritious value, soy meat is perfect, and it will make the peppers keep longer if there are any left over than actual meat.
- Seasoning : cayenne pepper or chilli powder, oregano and basil, laurel leaves.
You will also need some tomatoes or tomato purée to prepare the sauce in which the peppers shall be cooked.
First, prepare the stuffing. There are two ways this can be done, although one of them I have never tried. The old-fashioned way given by a Hungarian cookbook I have is to leave the rice raw while preparing the stuffing, and the other is to have it cooked beforehand. I will go with the latter, as this is the way I always do.
So, cook the rice. The actual amount of everything depends on how much peppers are You using, so I’m skipping quantities here. Dice the onions and cook them in a frying pan on a small amount of oil. Add some garlic and, as the onion changes colour (white to gold, never brown), put the third ingredient of Your choice. I always go with soy meat for a bit of protein. Fry all that for a moment, then add the rice. It can go straight from the pot, no worries here. Mix everything and season it to suit Your taste. ( Just a tip here – if You want the dish to be spicy, You have the choice of achieving this with the sauce or the stuffing. In my opinion, go for the stuffing. It’s easier to counter a hot meal with a mild sauce then the other way around. Of course, if You want to make both extra-spicy, be my guest.) Good seasoning choices here include chilli powder and all sorts of pepper, but also savory, oregano, basil and turmeric for extra colour.
Now that the stuffing is ready, leave it off the stove so that it won’t burn, and prepare the peppers. They need to be hollowed out, but left intact to accommodate the stuffing. Of course, they are hollow in themselves, so what You really need to do is simply cut out the stems and the cluster of pips underneath. The easiest way to do this is to take a pointy knife, stab it vertically into the pepper and cut around the stem. (Be sure to dislodge all the remaining pips, they aren’t tasty.)
Use a small spoon to put the stuffing inside the peppers and take care not to rupture them or they will fall apart during cooking. This is where the difference between raw and cooked rice comes in : if You use cooked rice, it won’t change its volume anymore (well, not significantly) so You can fill them up. When dealing with raw rice, You must allow for the volume change and leave some space.
Once filled, put the peppers in a wide, flat pan (do not try to cook them vertically, this never works) so that You can turn them around. Now, there are two ways this could go : You can prepare a real tomato sauce, with onions, garlic and all that, or You can just pour some water, add some tomato purée and spices and be done with it. What You prefer is up to You, but if the peppers themselves are well made, they don’t really need an elaborate sauce. To get the best of two worlds, You can add a spoon of cream to the sauce near the end. Cover the pan and leave them to simmer in the sauce, remembering to turn them gently around from time to time. Don’t let them stick to the bottom – You won’t be able to free them without ruining the effect.
Serve them in their own sauce, accompanied by a salad or another vegetable – french beans are my favourite. Since they are stuffed with rice, these peppers don’t need a side order of it. Mostly, they are a meal in their own right, which is great.