Eat seasonally – you hear it all the time. As a matter of fact, I can’t help but suppress a “snicker” when I hear about the ONE person who is responsible for the “Movement.” (Alice Waters is impressive, but let’s face it, housewives and home cooks haven’t been doing this for millenia.) Don’t even get me started on the articles and shows I’ve heard about the chefs who “invented” “Slow Food.” Maybe the short, dark and cold days are making me more cynical and sarcastic than usual!
I think it’s important, too, to buy locally and seasonally – that’s how we get the freshest food with the most nutrients at the best cost - but in Minnesota we’d be eating nothing but rutabegas and turnips if we followed this strictly. (For the record, I do love them both, but not as a steady diet!) February through April or so put me in the doldrums – I start waiting for spring for the Asparagus and Artichokes to start showing up. I go to the grocery store and try to find what looks best and freshest, and believe me, some of the produce looks pretty lame and it’s always expensive.
This week though, Green Peppers are on sale, 69 cents each, and they look pretty good – so why not? I’ve never liked the peppers my Mom made (may she rest in peace!) and started searching for a recipe. Melissa D’arabian came to the rescue with this recipe, which I’ve altered a bit. I find myself cooking a lot of her meals lately (I think she reads my blog…) If only Melissa D’arabian married Tyler Florence and Ina Garten was her mother…Regardless, to complete the meal, I added a Hamburger bun save – for the cost of about 50 cents, using our family’s Parmesan Toast recipe, I toasted up some leftover buns. The buns would have just been breadcrumbs, but in this recipe it doesn’t matter if their slightly stale or even a little crushed.
Green Pepper stuffed with Bulgur, serves four, cost $4.21
- 3/4 cup bulgur
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 4 bell peppers
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrots, diced small
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon tarragon, or oregano
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bulgur in a heatproof bowl. In a sauce pan, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil. When the liquid has come to a boil, pour over the bulgur. Let sit until the bulgur absorbs the liquid, about 20 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid – save the liquid to add to the bottom of the baking dish.
Meanwhile, prep the vegetables: Cut off the top third of the bell peppers. Remove the seeds and ribs leaving a ‘cup’ for the stuffing. Dice the flesh from the top 1/3 and reserve. If using zucchini, cut lengthwise to reveal the seeds. Scoop out the seeds to create a boat. (You can make each half into two servings by leaving the middle part of each half intact as you are scooping if they are large zucchini, or just cut the cooked zucchini in half.) Chop up the scooped out portion. If you use tomatoes, slice the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds to create a cup. Discard seeds. Salt the inside of the tomato and place upside down to draw out some of the liquid.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrot and chopped onion and sweat until translucent. Add the reserved chopped peppers, squash, and garlic to the pan. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. (This is a small amount of oil – if the vegetables start to stick or dry out too much, I add a bit of water to the pan. Drain the cooked vegetables, if necessary, and add the vegetables to the cooked bulgur. Stir in the chopped tarragon or oregano. Taste for salt and pepper at this point and add if necessary.
Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the inside of the vegetable ‘cups.’ Stuff the vegetables with the bulgur mixture, mounding well. Place in a shallow baking dish, place about 1/2 an inch or so of liquid in the bottom (saved from draining the Bulgar supplemented with water or broth,) cover with foil, and bake for 45 minutes or so, until vegetables are tender but still intact. Uncover and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, then bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until the cheese is browned.
Note: If you are using tomatoes, add the tomatoes to the baking pan about 15 minutes into the cooking so they won’t be so soft at the end.
Money and Time Saving Strategies:
For pricing, remember to use your coupon matching sites for your local stores. My favorite is Pocket Your Dollars in my area, but every store has a group of enthusiastic couponers who can point you to the best bargains. Don’t be discouraged if your prices are higher at first – just keep shopping the best sales and follow the strategies and you’ll get there! Check under Saving on Basic Ingredients for more detailed information and storage hints – use <control f> to search each page to bring you to the item you want to check out.
- Green Peppers: These can vary in pricing depending on the color, and of course, are always cheapest in the summer. There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a dollar a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 50 to 75 cents for the green bell. I usually try to stretch them when I can. They really do add an important flavor ingredient to a lot of dishes. Cost for this dish: $2.76
- Chicken Broth: I save all my chicken bones and vegetable parings and scraps and make my own. Cost: Free
- Bulgur: This is really a dirt cheap grain. Look for in in bulk rather than in the box. Cost for a cup, about 60 cents.
- Olive Oil: Buy in small quantities when it’s on sale with a coupon – I look for a price of about 8 cents an ounce. Cost for this recipe is really negligible.
- Carrots: Rarely go on sale, but when they do, stock up. Mine were 49 cents a pound, bought in December, but now they’re 99 cents a pound. Cost at 99 cents a pound: 20 cents.
- Onion: I’m lucky and stocked up at 33 cents a pound in December when our store had them on special. Keep them in a cool place, and use any right away if they look like they’re going to shoot. At any rate, they’re always dirt cheap. A medium onion is about 5 – 6 ounces. Cost 10 cents.
- Garlic: Runs around 59 to 99 cents a head in my area in the boxes. It can be a little tricky to discern the best prices because it can also be bought by the pound, and generally you’ll pay less this way.
- I do cheat and buy a jar off season. I hang my head in shame, but to tell you the truth for most dishes, I can’t discern a difference – if I were making a dish solely based on garlic flavor, of course I’ll buy the fresh, but for any longer simmering sauces or dishes it doesn’t matter that much. This is of course, a home cook perspective, not a Chef’s…it’s also a time saver – how long does it take to peel and chop garlic? Not long, but it might be enough to slow me down on nights when timing is already an issue. I’ll also use the oil it was packed in to brush garlic bread or crostini. Cost for this recipe, for fresh garlic, about 5 cents.
- Tarragon: This is an underutilized herb, I think. If you have access to fresh tarragon, by all means use it. If you have dried, use that. But if you don’t have and don’t want to go out and buy, or don’t think you’ll use it again, by all means, just use the oregano.
- Parmesan Cheese: There was a time I only used “real” Parmesan, but budget dictated that I had to scrimp, and I’ve found that really, sometimes the canned isn’t so bad. Sometimes, though, it’s important to use real Parmesan, and I think this is the perfect place. I used a large hole grater – I think the taste is more distinct with the larger grate and I can get by with a little less. At $7.99 a pound, I used about an ounce, so my cost is around 50 cents.
Put Your own Spin on It:
You can use zucchini and/or tomatoes, also, in this instead of some of the other vegetables, or use any/all in any combination. If you use tomato, why not use the extra you’ve cut off to rub on some toasted bread with garlic? This dish is beautiful with colorful bell peppers. You can layer in or mix in ricotta, add some Italian sausage, too, in this. This is good with Quinoa instead of the Bulgur. Just use water or vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth for a vegetarian meal.
My PayOff: I love that fact that this is filling and healthy – There are 7 grams of protein in the stuffed peppers, and two servings of vegetables – making this a complete meal without any meat except for the small amount of chicken broth.
Recipe Made February, 2012