Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mexican Stuffed Green Peppers

Day 18 

Stuffed peppers were rarely on our dinner rotations when I was growing up, although cabbage rolls were sometimes prepared for special occasions by my grandmother on my mother’s side. As a result, I rarely make them myself either. Recently, I was looking through a tin of recipes and I found a good one for stuffed peppers that showcased lots of understated but pleasing Italian flavors.

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
 I decided to change the recipe a bit, making this traditionally eastern European dish with a Tex-Mex twist. The result was a very tasty filling, surrounded by a green pepper that stayed somewhat firm, at least compared to other stuffed pepper dishes I’ve tried. 

If you find that you prefer the really soft exterior of peppers in this dish, it’s certainly easy enough to prepare the peppers for filling, then drop them in boiling water for a few minutes. Immediately placing them in an ice water bath will stop the cooking and help them hold their attractive green hue. This process will soften them before stuffing. I prefer a pepper that still has texture and crunch, so I opted for slow cooking it just once, in a Crockpot. 

This past summer, Doug and I enjoyed a road trip to Yellowstone National Park to celebrate our anniversary. Each day, as we passed through a major city, we’d have a meal at one of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives restaurants. We borrowed his most recent DDD book from our local library and mapped out our preferences as we traveled. Some of the places were as spectacular as they appeared on the show, while others left something to be desired. One restaurant we tried, in downtown Minneapolis, is called Nye’s. The atmosphere is a throwback to the 50’s for sure, mostly because the décor hasn’t changed since then. 

When we walked in, the smell of cooked cabbage, stewed meats, and old upholstery mingled to greet us. Actually, it not so much greeted us as hit us with the force of a 2x4 to the nostrils. I can’t say it was entirely unpleasant, but it wasn’t how I’d ever want my own restaurant to welcome new customers. 

 The lighting was so low that I had to strain my eyes to see the hostess, who was surely in her late 80s. She shuffled along to lead us to our table— a task she has continued since the Truman administration, I’m sure.  Our booth was in the back of the dining room, surrounded by old, age-stained, and cracked mirrors. Doug forgot his glasses—not that they would have helped in the darkness, really—so I read the menu for us. We settled on a soup recommended by Guy Fieri, pierogies, stewed beets, Nye’s signature roast beef au jus, and stuffed cabbage rolls. A complimentary crudité plate with salad dressing for dipping was provided, as were dinner rolls. 

The food was very good, to be sure, although I was struck by the blandness of it. Having tried Polish and other eastern European dishes before, I was prepared for this, and was almost expecting it, but after a week of taste explosions and flavor bursts recommended by the DDD show, my taste buds were left wanting more. 

The more interesting parts of the meal were most assuredly resulting from the atmosphere. We heard a Polka band playing in the bar side of the restaurant, and we enjoyed watching so many diners who looked the right age to have frequented Nye’s since it opened in 1950. It was nice to see, as everyone was dressed up and truly relishing a night out. Dinner out was an experience for so many of our fellow diners, not just a meal. I wish we felt more like that today and that more people treated restaurants with the same respect we typically reserve for formal events. 

I promise you that, if you’re ever passing through Minneapolis, you will not regret a visit to Nye’s. For the entire meal, Doug and I felt like we had somehow slipped through a wormhole and traveled back in time. Definitely not very common in a restaurant review, I venture to say that the food was not the main event, but it was an added bonus. Antique smells and all, Nye’s charm was at once accosting and understated. 

All of this to tell you that the cabbage rolls there in Minneapolis were tasty and worth a try, but my stuffed peppers are the opposite. They are bursting with flavors of cilantro, beans, chili powder, and cumin. A touch time-consuming, but overall, they are very easy to make and well worth the effort. Enjoy!

Mexican Stuffed Green Peppers

16 oz. shredded Monterey Pepper Jack cheese
2 bunches of cilantro, stems removed 
1 cup cooked rice
1- 15 oz. can black beans, drained, rinsed, and divided
1 jar plus ½ cup salsa
1 medium onion, diced 
1 package taco seasoning mix
½ lb. ground pork 
¾ lb. ground beef 
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black pepper
dash hot sauce
6 large green peppers, tops removed and gutted
1 egg
¼ cup breadcrumbs

Saute ground beef, ground pork, and onion until meat is browned and onion is translucent. Drain. Add taco seasoning mix to meat and onions and blend well. 

In a food processor, chop cilantro.  Add half of black beans and blend in food processor until beans are completely mashed and mixed with cilantro. 

Add rice, whole black beans, and processed beans with cilantro to meat mixture. Stir well to incorporate.  Then, add ½ cup of salsa, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and ½ of cheese to the mixture. Finally, incorporate the egg and breadcrumbs well. Stuff equal amounts of mixture in each pepper. Cover with extra salsa and pour rest of jar in bottom of Crockpot that fits at least six peppers. Heat in Crockpot on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle with extra cheese and recover, allowing cheese to melt.

 Serve with salsa, chips, sour cream, and cilantro. 

Serves 6. 

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