Mint and cinnamon flavors enliven these peppers, a favorite in Persian cooking. The addition of the ancho sauce lends a bit of spice and body.
This is a vegan dish, but substitute browned ground beef or lamb for the tofu if you wish. Globe zucchini or large pattypan squash with their seeds scooped out work well in place of the peppers, but you might need to use more than 8 of them. Red, yellow or orange Holland bell peppers are firmer and look nicer than local peppers, which can have thin walls. Feel free to use green bell peppers, but remember that they turn a dull color when cooked.
Broccolini sauteed with olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes and garlic makes a nice side dish for the peppers.
Make Ahead: The stuffing may be prepared the peppers stuffed a day in advance. Bring to room temperature before baking.
- For the sauce
- 2 dried ancho chili peppers
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the peppers
- 8 red, yellow, orange or green bell peppers (about 4 ounces each)
- 6 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained
- 1/4 cup uncooked long- or medium-grain rice
- 1/4 cup dried yellow split peas (may substitute another 1/4 cup of rice)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1/2 to 3/4 cup)
- 6 ounces (2 1/2 cups) shiitake mushrooms, ends trimmed and stems included, finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 4 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped (1/3 cup)
- 1/2 cup packed mint leaves
- 1/4 cup packed tarragon leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 cup (a generous 1 ounce) pine nuts, toasted (see NOTE)
For the sauce: Char the ancho peppers on a gas stove by holding one pepper at a time with long tongs over a low open flame, or on an electric stove by placing the pepper directly on the burner. With either method, cook for 1 minute, turning frequently, until the pepper has puffed, softened and charred slightly. Repeat with the remaining pepper. Discard the stem and seeds and cut each pepper into 3 or 4 pieces.
Transfer to a blender; add the boiling water. Remove the center knob from the lid and place a dish towel over the opening to prevent hot liquid from escaping. Puree, starting on low speed and increasing the speed to high. Add the ketchup and salt; blend to incorporate. The yield is 2 1/2 cups.
For the peppers: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the bell peppers, reserving the tops with stems. Use a sharp paring knife to cut out the light white membranes from the insides of the peppers, then use a spoon to remove them, along with the seeds; discard the seeds and membranes.
If necessary, trim the bottom of the peppers so they stand upright, removing as little flesh as possible. (You don't want to open the peppers on the bottom.) Transfer the hollowed peppers to the baking dish.
Use paper towels to blot the tofu dry, pressing firmly. Crumble the tofu into a small bowl; It should look like crumbled feta cheese.
Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add the rice (either 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup) and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool running water. If you are using the split peas, cook them in a separate medium saucepan in 2 cups of boiling salted water over medium-high heat for 25 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool running water.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and shiitake mushrooms and stir them lightly to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables' moisture has evaporated and they begin to sizzle and brown.
Add the tofu, stirring gently to combine, then cook undisturbed for 2 minutes to firm it up and give it a chance to brown lightly. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring twice, then add the tomato paste and garlic; cook for 1 minute. The yield is about 4 1/2 cups.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the rice (and split peas, if using), scallions, mint, tarragon, cinnamon, coriander and pine nuts, stirring to combine well. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Fill all of the peppers in the baking dish with the mixture. Pour the ancho sauce around the peppers. Top each pepper with its reserved cap. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, until the peppers are cooked through yet still slightly firm.
Serve the peppers hot, with spoonfuls of the sauce on the side.
NOTE: Toast pine nuts in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the nuts have browned evenly. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
From Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn, adapted from a recipe from "Food of Life," by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage Publishers, 1986).
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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