We're nearing sweater weather, which means we're nearing stuffed-pepper weather.
I have a soft spot for stuffed peppers, because they were in my mother's weekly dinner rotation: Hers were green bells, as was the fashion in the 1970s, and stuffed with beef and rice, covered in tomato sauce and baked. I liked them, but I always wondered why those green peppers had such a bitter taste — and, I confess, I often scooped out the filling and ate it with the sauce, leaving the peppers untouched.
That was a few decades before I learned why I like the red (or orange or yellow) peppers so much more than green: They're ripe.
I haven't made the submerged-in-sauce version of stuffed peppers in many years. Instead, I tend to roast the peppers relatively unadorned, at least on the outside. For the inside, I'm always looking for a new stuffing, preferably with a good dose of protein. In Jean-Christian Jury's recent tome, "Vegan: The Cookbook," I spotted a treatment that stuffs the peppers with a quick batch of red lentils cooked with chiles and some of my other favorite ingredients: fresh ginger, cumin, coriander and cilantro leaves. Served over rice, they're a healthful, hearty fall-into-winter dish that I can also imagine serving at room temperature in warmer weather.
There's just one thing I changed from his recipe, and I bet you can guess: I turned those peppers red.
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Choose rounded, rather than elongated, bell peppers here. Serve with long-grain rice.
Adapted from "Vegan: The Cookbook" by Jean-Christian Jury (Phaidon, 2017).
6 red, yellow or orange bell peppers (or a mix; see headnote)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root
1 cup dried red lentils
1½ cups homemade or no-salt-added vegetable broth (see related recipe)
½ teaspoon sea salt, or more as needed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, plus more for optional garnish
Cut off the tops of the bell peppers and reserve them; discard the seeds and membranes from inside the peppers.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a large skillet for which there is a tightfitting lid. Add the bell peppers and cook, turning frequently, until they are lightly browned on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer them to a plate.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seed and cook for 2 minutes, until they begin to pop and brown. Add the onions and jalapeño (to taste); cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 8 minutes. Stir in the ginger, lentils and broth.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, so the liquid is barely bubbling. Cover with the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, coriander and cilantro; taste, and add more salt and pepper, as needed. This is your filling.
While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Transfer the bell peppers to an ovenproof casserole dish, trimming their bottoms, as needed, to help them stand upright. Divide the filling mixture among them, filling the peppers up to the rim. Top with the reserved bell pepper caps. Bake (middle rack) until the peppers are just tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.
Garnish with more chopped cilantro or whole leaves, if desired; serve warm.
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