Friday, March 30, 2012

you never forget your first time.

A handful of summers ago, after watching Giada whip it up on the Food Network while I was eating breakfast in front of the television (sorry) (not sorry) (it was summer) (whatever), I made these vegetarian stuffed bell peppers for my family for dinner.  It was the first time I had ever tried a brand new recipe, all on my own, for my family to eat.  There was no back-up dinner.  It was not a subtle variation of a household standard.  My culinary inclination had not blossomed into the raging unruly rainforest that it is now and was at that point only a small windowsill garden made up of hours of watching Iron Chef America and thinking I knew things.  I didn't have much kitchen cred.

Point: I think this is the dish that made me want to learn to cook, well and often.  Is that dramatic?  Its intuitive - the flavors come together easily and naturally - while still being surprising and a little funky.  The currants add this awesome sweet pop to every bite, and the creamy basil sauce (Giada used creme fraiche but I swapped in nonfat greek yogurt, meaning I can and do guiltlessly consume a metric shit ton) pushes it over the edge.  I wanted to be able to come up with stuff like this, to take ordinarily discordant ingredients and collage them into something you don't want to stop eating.  Three cheers for inspiration, am I right?

Couscous-Stuffed Bell Peppers with Basil Sauce
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
makes 4 servings

1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 cup couscous (not Israeli, that stuff is way too big and pasta-y)
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dried currants
1 packed cup chopped baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste
4 bell peppers
hot water

for the sauce:
1 packed cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup nonfat greek yogurt
 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth and cumin to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Allow to sit until all liquid is incorporated, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the spinach, feta, garbanzo beans, currants.  Add couscous and toss distributed evenly.  Stir in 1/4 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  The feta is salt, the currants are sweet...don't be shy with the pepper.

Cut the tops off of each bell pepper, and scrape out the ribs and seeds.  Arrange peppers in a baking dish so that they are standing freely; if the bottoms of the peppers are too round to do so, simply slice a small bit off straight across to make a flat surface.  Pour warm water into the baking dish, until it is approximately 1/4 inch deep.

Spoon couscous mixture to fill each pepper.   Drizzle the tops with a bit more olive oil, and a shake of salt and pepper.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until browned on top and peppers are cooked through.

Meanwhile, puree all sauce ingredients in a blender.  This also makes an awesome dip.

Dump mass quantities of basil sauce onto/into/around your pepper, and promptly consume.
Sometimes it gets green and messy and looks like this.

This is completely correct.

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