Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shortcut stuffed peppers. Or, another post without a photo.

Tonight I made my kick-ass shortcut stuffed peppers, which really are more like a casserole. Which is why I didn't take a photo. A photo would just turn you off to this fine effort. This is one of my least "gourmet" recipes, but it is consistently good, and it's a workhorse dish: good for dinner, makes great leftovers, and doesn't require a lot of fussing. I will give you the recipe -- but be warned: it's a recipe that reads like my late grandmother's... "Take a handful of this, and a pinch of that..." Here goes:

Shortcut Stuffed Peppers
6 mild peppers (poblano or bell), halved lengthwise, seeded
Olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 large onion
3 large cloves garlic
1 lb ground beef (or ground chicken or turkey, or fake ground meat if you are veggie)
Long-grained white rice
1 bottle of prepared taco sauce, as spicy as you prefer (stop cringing at the word "prepared")
1 medium jar of prepared salsa, also as spicy as you prefer (there's the "p" word again)
1 large can of chopped tomatoes
1 bottle of beer
Half a bunch of cilantro, rinsed, spun, and chopped 
1 package cotija cheese (I get it in a square about the size of my palm and a couple of inches thick)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Fill a large pot with hot water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the onion. Then peel and mince the garlic, or put it through a press. When the water comes to a boil, add the pepper halves and blanch for 4 minutes. Drain, shock with some cold water, drain again, and put them cut side down on a towel. Take out two large, rectangular casserole pans and oil them. Set aside.

Put the oil in a very large skillet or a dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, stirring frequently with a large spatula. Add the garlic and stir long enough to cook the garlic a little, a minute or so. Then push the onions and garlic to the periphery of the skillet, and add the ground beef. Break the meat up with the spatula. Blend in the onions and garlic; cook until the beef is no longer pink, stirring frequently. To the beef mixture, add 1.5 cups of rice. Stir to combine thoroughly and to coat the rice with the oil. Cook a few minutes longer, until the rice looks a bit chalky.

To the beef and rice mixture, add the full jar of salsa, half or 3/4 of the jar of taco sauce, and the can of tomatoes. Fill the can halfway with water, swirl to capture stray tomato bits, and add to the skillet. Fill the salsa jar halfway with water, put the top back on, shake, and add that to the skillet. Sprinkle in some cumin. Open the bottle of beer and set by the stove. 

Stir the ingredients in the skillet and bring to a simmer. Sip some beer. Stir as the mixture simmers; it will want to stick to the bottom and you will want to keep it from doing so. You can clean up your kitchen between stirs -- just come back to the pan often and use your spatula to scrape the bottom of the skillet and redistribute the contents. As the rice absorbs the liquid, the mixture will thicken. Add beer a bit at a time as the mixture gets too thick (you want it to be stirrable, but not soupy), testing a grain of rice or two from time to time between your teeth. The mixture will simmer for about 20 minutes until the rice is al dente. This is a bit like making risotto. Taste-test for salt and add a little if needed -- but not too much. Remember you have the cotija, and that's salty. Stir in the cilantro. Turn off the heat.

Place the pepper halves in the casseroles, cut side up. Six halves will fit in each casserole. Spoon the filling over the peppers, covering completely. Crumble the cotija cheese and sprinkle half of the resulting amount evenly over each casserole.

Cover the casseroles loosely with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover, and serve with slices of avocado and a salad.

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