Thursday, August 1, 2013

Stuffed Bell Peppers - Colors of Summer

I grew up calling them Shimla Mirchi or Capsicum or Dappa/DoNNe Menasinakayi. Shimla Mirch alluded to this flavorful pepper from the North India while the local language simply called it like it saw - Dappa/DoNNe in colloquial Kannada refers to big or fat because of its size compared to the regular chilies in India. I first heard it being called pepper/bell pepper/green pepper when I reached the shores this side of the world. Pepper was a word reserved for black pepper back home and in that jet lagged, loopey state of mind, I was only happy to bring home some really green looking, HUGE bell peppers and didn't care what they were labelled. The Bell peppers I get here are atleast twice the size of those in India, much fleshier and are devoid of the familiar Bell pepper smell. So, they got chopped and dutifully went in to make some gojju, flavor enhanced with the spices. Although I like the bell peppers from the super market, I have always longed for a smaller, more flavorful variety. After I started gardening and planted bell peppers in the back yard, I realized that I could get close to that flavor if I picked them fresh, young and small and that is what I do in Summer when my garden starts to produce these beautiful peppers.

Armed with a few small green peppers, I gathered a few ingredients for the stuffing. Have I told you that I spent quite a few years in the Midwest corn belt? We lived in a new and upcoming suburb and the town still had huge farms all around and grew corn and soy beans. During Summer, I drove through a narrow road to work that had tall, almost ripe corn husks kissing my car windows on both sides. If I had rolled down the windows at any time, I could have picked an ear or two of fresh (doesn't get any fresher than this, trust me) corns as I drove by - I didn't do it though. I promptly went to the local farmer's market and brought bushels of corn home. So, corn defines my Summer every year and I do not ever mistreat fresh corn, we love it sauteed, grilled, boiled, roasted, cooked and any other form it can take and I liberally doze my dishes with fresh corn whenever I can. Having been pampered with fresh corn, I go to extremes to avoid frozen or canned corn.

The stuffed bell pepper is a guideline and not a recipe, so here is how it works. You can stuff it with anything that you fancy and like to bite into and is a crowd pleaser. You can serve it with or without the gravy. I made a stuffing with pink hued sweet potatoes which very ably brought in a hint of sweetness, added a handful of bright yellow fresh corn kernels, and threw in a few green beans and bright orange carrots, added a pinch of this and pinch of that masala wise (no secret, it is all given below :-) for you to replicate) and loaded the bell peppers with it, baked in the oven until the peppers turned soft. Drizzled a bit of gravy on top and around and there it was - my colorful, summery stuffed bell pepper, delicious with warm chapatis. What are you waiting for? before Summer is gone and while the fresh vegetables are aplenty, dash into your kitchen and make this stuffed pepper or bharwan mirchi :-), drop in a line to let me know how you liked it.
What do you need to make stuffed Bell pepper?
Stuffing the Bell Pepper: 
6 small, young green peppers (see notes for alternatives)
2 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 cup tender sweet corn
2 medium sized carrots
2 Tblsp finely chopped onion
10-12 green beans
1 Tblsp oil
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/2 Tsp garam masala powder
1/8 Tsp Amchoor/dry mango powder
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tblsp finely chopped cilantro
For the gravy:
1 big onion minced - about 1.5 cups
2 medium tomatoes chopped - about 2 cups
10-12 almonds soaked in watm water for 1 hour
1/2 Tsp cumin
1X1 inch piece ginger
3/4 Tsp garam masala
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/4 Tsp Amchoor/dry mango powder
1/2 Tsp kitchen king masala (optional but recommended)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tblsp plain yogurt
1 Tblsp oil

How do you make stuffed Bell Pepper? 
Stuffed Bell Pepper
  • Wash, peel and grate carrots. Wash, pick ends and chop green beans into tiny pieces.
  • Boil sweet potatoes in water until fork tender, peel the skin and mash it.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add cumin and let it sizzle. 
  • Add the finely chopped onion and fry for a couple of minutes until it turns translucent. 
  • Add the finely chopped green beans, grated carrots and corn kernels. 
  • Add salt, cover and cook for 4-6 minutes until the vegetables soften up. 
  • Add the dry powders, mashed sweet potatoes to the pan, mix it well and give it a taste test and adjust if needed. 
  • Add the chopped cilantro, mix well. 
  • If you are not making the gravy, this stuffing should have all the flavors you want in it. 
  • Cut a thin horizontal circle at the stem end of the bell pepper and remove it along with any seeds and discard. 
  • Take spoonfuls of the stuffing and stuff it into the bell pepper. 
  • Preheat oven to 400F, layer a cookie sheet with aluminium foil or parchment paper, arrange stuffed bell peppers on it. 
  • Brush oil on the outside of the peppers. 
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the bell peppers shrivel up and look cooked. 
  • Switch the oven to broil high, broil for just 2 minutes (keep a close watch so it doesn't burn up) and remove it into a serving dish. This gives a nice crispy top layer.
  • You can serve them as they are or scoop some gravy on top and side of a stuffed bell pepper and relish it. 
Making the Gravy
  • Puree the tomatoes. Soak almonds in water for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. 
  • Peel the outer skin of almonds and run them in your blender with a couple spoons of water to get a thick, smooth paste. 
  • Heat oil in a heavy, wide pan, add cumin and let it sizzle.
  • Add minced onion and cook it for 4-6 minutes on medium heat until it turns a shade darker and loses the raw smell. 
  • Add finely chopped ginger and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the pureed tomatoes and continue to cook until the raw smell is gone - about 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the almond paste and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes. 
  • Add the masala powders, salt, adjust the consistency with water. 
  • Let it come to a good rolling boil. 
  • Add smoothly whisked yogurt, mix it in and switch off. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Stuffing idea 1: Cooked rice sauteed with onions, chopped nuts or cooked beans (garbanzo, whole moong etc) topped with grated cheese
  • Stuffing idea 2: Boiled, mashed potatoes with other cooked vegetables and spices of choice.
  • Stuffing idea 3: Couscous salad fortified with nuts.
  • Stuffing idea 4: Roasted gram flour (besan), chopped cilantro, lemon juice and spices of choice.
  • You can use other colored bell peppers but be aware that they tend to be sweeter than the green variety. You can also use the mild banana peppers. 
  • You can cook the stuffed bell peppers on stove top, Prepare a shallow thick bottom pan with a drizzle of oil, lay out the stuffed bell peppers, cover and cook on low heat turning them around until skin looks evenly cooked all around. Remove the cover and let it brown a little bit towards the end.
  • I sometimes cut the bell pepper in half vertically, remove the seeds and stem and stuff it. This looks more presentable if you are making it for a party and can be served as an appetizer.
  • Choose bell peppers of the same size to allow even cooking, smaller the better.


NamsVeni Pothas said...

very attractive stuffing and colorfull . very nice recipe to taste. .

prathibha Garre said...

This is one of my fav gravies with naans...looks yummm

hemalata said...

It looks so yummy, nice preparation.

Priya Suresh said...

Its been a while i prepared stuffed capsicums..Such a delightful and delicious dish.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff dear, keep them coming.

Chitz said...

Ahh, great one, sure the stuffing enhances the flavor of this mild veggie :)