It will come as no surprise to my readers that not only do I like writing about food, but I like reading about it as well. Consequently, I read a few other food blogs fairly regularly and occasionally I scroll through food porn watch and add a new one to my reading list. This month, I started reading Smitten Kitchen, and boy, was I. Her writing is engaging and friendly, her photography stunning, and the dishes she produces are both unusual and delicious-sounding. Last week she posted a recipe for red bell peppers stuffed with couscous, feta and vegetables that looked and sounded so tasty that I had to try it. We’re moving away from brown rice and towards whole-wheat couscous as our starch of choice in the dessert life household, for two reasons: 1) brown rice takes the better part of forever to cook and couscous is pretty much instant; and 2) I have come to the sad realization that I don’t really like brown rice that much.
Yes, this is the part where my healthy eater card gets revoked. I know, I know, I’ve read all the literature and I’m fully aware how good it is for me. The thing is, we eat tons of fibre every day – my preferred cereal is Bran Flakes, shot of lowfat milk, straight up; I munch on carrots and raw carrots and bell pepper strips as snacks; I sneak oats and whole-wheat flour into cake and muffin recipes. Fibre is not an issue in my life. So forgive me if the joys of Arborio, the divinity that is a perfectly cooked grain of white basmati, the luscious steamy clumps of sushi rice are things that I cherish, albeit no more than a couple of times a month. I consider white rice an occasional treat these days, and brown rice feels like punishment next to it.
I’ve tried cooking it in stock. Making pilafs from it. Mixing it with sauces. Beneath it all, it tastes exactly like it looks: brown and somewhat cardboard-like. And good for you, in that bad 70s health-food-store, carob-chip cookie kind of way. Life is too short to eat damp cardboard, so if anyone’s interested in taking the better part of a five pound bag of brown basmati off my hands, email me.
As usual, I digress. I made some peppers stuffed with couscous last night, and while my recipe did not exactly mirror the one that inspired me, it was nevertheless extremely tasty and I’ll certainly be making it again. It was also, for a meatless meal, incredibly filling and hearty. I like that in a meal. It’s quick, too, if you’re OK with your peppers retaining a bit of crunch – I find I like their bright flavour against the richness of the feta and the nutty taste of the couscous. If you prefer your peppers good and softened you can pre-steam or roast them a bit longer – I wouldn’t cook the filled peppers much longer, or the top of the filling could scorch. As it was, ours got a bit crunchy, which was nice, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any crunchier, if you see what I mean.
This one’s going in the repertoire for whenever peppers are on sale.
Red Peppers Stuffed With Couscous and Feta
2 extra-large red peppers
½ cup dry whole-wheat couscous
½ cup chicken broth
½ medium zucchini, diced small
1/4 cup sweet onion, diced small
1 tsp canola oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ cup diced or crumbled light feta cheese
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut the top off the red bell peppers and remove all seeds and ribs. Cut out the stem from the “lid” and dice the remaining pepper remnants. Spray a baking dish that will tightly hold both peppers upright with canola oil. Place the peppers in the dish and bake for 15 minutes or until slightly softened. Remove from oven, and tip out any accumulated juices. Return to pan and set aside.
Bring the broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling, add the couscous and remove from heat. Stir once and cover; let stand five minutes, then scrape into a mixing bowl with a fork.
In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the vegetables, including the reserved peppers, until softened, about seven minutes. Drizzle with vinegar and cook one more minute. Add to couscous and mix well. Stir in the cheese.
Fill both peppers to the very top with the couscous mixture, pressing to compact and mounding slightly at the top. Eat any remaining filling straight out of the mixing bowl. Tuck the peppers back into the oven for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.