The more I get into cooking the more I appreciate what a freaking rock star my mother is in the kitchen. And the more I want to emulate her approach.
I got into cooking late in life. It just never interested me much. I also had a weird phobia about gas ovens and pilot lights. I was convinced that one day my stove would kill me. (I’m pretty much over that now. Although I still refuse to use the broiler on my new Wolf range. I mean, that thing is built like a freaking tank for pete’s sake.)
About five years ago, I took a six-week intro to cooking course and have been hooked ever since. I love the sense of accomplishment when you’ve pulled something delicious together out of a random set of ingredients. And I love the feeling of putting a family meal on the table…even if that family is just J and I.
But getting back to my Mom. She was over this weekend and taught me how to make one of my favorite childhood meals — stuffed peppers. Now, the original recipe of my youth called for ground beef and white rice. But it also called for the recipe to be made in a pot on top of a single burner that served as my grandmother’s post-World War II rural slavic kitchen, so we didn’t feel so bad about tweaking it to make it better for you.
Mamashka’s Turkey and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers: Serves 4 (with some to spare)
Disclaimer: Some of the measurements are ranges because my mother thinks that measuring spoons are for sissies. So when I asked her how much salt we should use she poured some into her cupped palm and said, “ohhh….i think about this much,” and before I could measure it out she threw it in the pan.
- 5 bell peppers (assorted colors)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 medium/large carrots, shredded
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we like a lot of garlic)
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 can tomato paste (6-ounce)
- 1 and 1/2 cups brown rice
- 1 and 1/4 pound ground turkey (white and dark meat — you want some fat here)
- ½ ish teaspoon salt
- ½ ish teaspoon black pepper
- 3 – 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1-2 cups prepared tomato sauce (home-made or a good store-bought brand is fine here — you’re going to dilute it with water)
- Few tablespoons of water
- (If you can, use all organic ingredients.)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut the peppers in half, core and seed them.
- Blanch the peppers in a big pot of boiling water for about 4 minutes. Tip: Put the green ones in last as they tend to cook the fastest. Then shock the peppers in ice water for a min or so to stop the cooking process. (You want the peppers to have a little give but still be pretty firm.)
- Partially cook the rice according to package instructions but for only half the cooking time. You want to be able to split the rice kernel with a fingernail but still have it be mostly raw. For our brown rice it took about 9 min in a boiling pot of water. Run the rice under cold water to stop the cooking process. This is important — do not overcook the rice.
- MAKE THE FILLING: Heat oil and butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened.
- Add garlic and tomato paste, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Let the mixture cool for a while (10 min or so).
- In a large bowl, combine partially cooked rice, raw turkey, cooked vegetables, salt, pepper, and parsley.
- Stuff peppers halves with filling and arrange in baking dish. Add 1-2 cups of tomato sauce diluted with some water — you want the sauce to be loose. Cover with foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes at 375 . Remove foil and bake for another hour or so, basting every 15 min with the pan juices. Sorry I can’t be more exact here. The cooking time really depends on the kind of rice you use, individual ovens, etc. Basically, you want to make sure the turkey and rice are cooked through. Watch how fast the sauce is boiling and how thick it’s getting. If you use white rice it will take less time.
- Make sure you baste. It will keep the filling super moist.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 min. Serve with a simple salad and bread (for mopping up the juices).
- These also freeze really well. So make a double batch if you have the time.
I know that for beginning cooks this is not an ideal recipe, but my mom learned how to cook by watching my grandmother and exact measurements and writing things down just weren’t part of the process. My mom was born just a few years after WWII had left much of the Soviet Union in shambles. They really did only have a single burner to cook with. There was no stove. And more often than not, very little food. She learned to make this dish in another time and in another world. I guess that earns her the right to add a pinch of this and a dash of that once in a while. But I’ll be damned if I ever bake with that woman.
Make these this coming weekend. I promise you’ll love them. Or better yet, go spend some time with your mom/grandma/dad or whoever and have them teach you their favorite family recipe.