My neighbor Nedon is from Thailand, a relatively recent transplant to Minnesota, and she has the most bountiful garden I’ve seen within city limits. It’s really incredible. Especially when compared to my garden. Case in point:
1. My bell pepper plants last year produced about 2 peppers each, barely covering the cost of the seedling. Her plants have around 10 peppers each, with more flowering blooms appearing every day.
2. My tomato plants this year are straining themselves to produce 1 tomato per week. Her tomato plants are weighed down by their own fruit, drooping in effort to hold themselves upright.
Things don’t necessarily die in my garden, they just don’t grow very well. Maybe it’s a lack of sun…or poor soil…or the spontaneous invasion of flea beetles earlier this summer…or it could be my almost complete lack of knowledge about what I’m doing.
So when Nedon told me that they were leaving for the East Coast for a few months, and that I could have whatever her gardened offered, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. In the weeks that they were gone, I harvested a bounty of vegetables…from Thai long green beans to beautiful purple and white eggplants.
But what I had the most of were bell peppers. These were some of the most beautifully plump and firm, over-the-top-peppery-smelling peppers I’ve ever had. And I had a grocery bag full of them. I froze a bunch of them to give to my neighbors when they came back, but I used some to make these Mexican stuffed peppers.
A few years ago when I was just learning to cook, I’d tried to make stuffed bell peppers. But they were pretty blah. I decided to give stuffed peppers another go…and this time, they turned out wonderfully.
Lightly steamed whole bell peppers are stuffed with all things Mexican – corn, black beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herbs – and then topped with a generous portion of cheese. Bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes, and you get perfectly tender-crisp, savory stuffed peppers. We ate ours with some toasted bread, but this would be great with some Mexican rice too (cooked rice, sauteed with salsa, lime juice, cayenne, garlic salt, and pepper). This is definitely a summer meal, but this year, I ended up deeming it a fall meal as well, since it’s been 80* this entire October, and bell peppers are still growing strong…well, at least in Nedon’s garden.
(adapted from Simply in Season)
(yields 4 servings)
I adapted this recipe in just a few different ways. I used only about 1/2 the black beans that the original recipe called for because sometimes I feel like black beans steal the texture show. I used cilantro instead of parsley because hands down, it's a superior herb. I topped the peppers with sharp cheddar cheese instead of parmesan, and I upped the cumin by an extra 1/2 tsp. because it's my favorite.
Some changes I'd like to try next time? I think it'd be really yummy to add some browned, crumbled chorizo sausage to the mix, and next time I'd definitely double the stuffing because it's the best part.
4 green, yellow, orange, or red bell peppers
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 c. onion, chopped (red preferably)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped (plus more for garnishing)
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
2 c. corn (I cut mine off the cob, but it's not necessary)
3/4 c. cooked black beans
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350*.
Cut 1/4-1/2 inch off the top of the bell peppers and remove seeds. Steam whole peppers in about an inch of water until tender, 5-8 minutes. (May take longer if you have really big peppers, just use a fork to check if they're tender). Remove from water and set aside.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until slightly soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, oregano, cumin, salt,and bay leaf. Saute uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the corn and black beans, and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, stirring often.
Place peppers in an ovenproof dish so that they are standing upright. (I lightly sprayed my pan with Pam first). Stuff peppers with the mixture from the pan. Any leftover filling can be placed in an additional small dish. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese on top. Bake for 20 minutes at 350* until heated through.
Garnish with additional chopped cilantro, and serve with a side of toasted garlic bread or Mexican rice. These were even better for lunch the next day, after the filling ingredients had an entire night to be all up in each other's grits.