Growing up my blue collar household in San Francisco, we always knew when payday was near. My mother Fran would break out the bell peppers. It usually started with meat. A roast would be cooked and we'd eat off it for the next 4 days or so. Each day there'd be less and less of the animal on the table and more vegetables until finally, scraps of meat would be buried under piles of bell peppers, onions and tomato sauce. There was also a variation where bell peppers would be baked and stuffed with "something", though I'm a little fuzzy about the "something". I do remember rice. Lots and lots of rice. The bell peppers would usually be followed by the command. "Kathy, Get the Iron Box."
The Iron Box was where Fran kept a zillion small envelopes filled with tiny amounts of money and a ledger. She kept this in the back of her closet behind the linen hamper and it was always dragged out at the end of the month when bills were due. My parents would then pore over everything in the ledger while sitting at the kitchen table and decide who'd get paid what, while I, as the oldest watched. It was sort of like the Roseanne Show minus the laugh track.
As a result, I grew up not cultivating a great love for bell peppers or iron boxes. I will pick peppers out of salads and never buy them on my own. Of course I buy all sorts of other peppers, a necessity in Indian cooking. My vegetable bin is always filled with serranos, jalapenos, birds eyes and poblanos. As for the common bell pepper, forget about it. I find that I can only tolerate them in fajitas since I've always equated them with being on the shorts. That is until my trip to the Sonoma Farmer's Market the other day. One of the farmers had piled a table filled with the most beautiful mounds of bell peppers in rainbow colors. There were yellow, purple, orange and mottled peppers. I had to have them. I wanted to try breaking my childhood bell pepper trauma.
I had just made a batch of Paneer Cheese and those peppers were just begging to be stuffed, which is exactly what I did. I decided to make a Bharvaan Simla Mirchi, aka, Stuffed Bell Peppers. Indian cuisine calls for stuffing peppers with a variety of things, from potatoes to paneer and everything in between. I decided to stuff mine with paneer and some assorted vegetables. Since tomatoes are at their peak right now, I included them along with green beans, onions and peas. I used frozen peas but fresh would be even better. Nearly any sort of vegetable you choose can be substituted or added to this mix. This is a very simple dish that can go from the fridge to the table in about an hour and is cheap cheap cheap to prepare.
Here's What You Need:
4 Bell Peppers cut in half, with the seeds removed
4 Tbs of vegetable oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 and 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds
3 fresh tomatoes chopped
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
3 oz of fresh green beans washed and chopped
kosher salt to taste
1/2 tsp of Kashmiri chili
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 and 1/2 tsp garam masala
9 oz fresh paneer cheese (crumble it)
5 Tbs whipping cream (optional)
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup water
Here's What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the tops off of the peppers.
Halve them and scoop out the seeds.
Place the halved bell peppers on a cookie sheet and drizzle them with 1 Tbs of the vegetable oil.
Bake them in the oven for about 25 minutes or until they're soft.
When the peppers are done, take them out and set them aside.
Meanwhile fix the stuffing.
Add the rest of the vegetable oil to a skillet or kadhai.
When the oil is hot toss in the cumin seeds.
In about 1/2 minute or so they'll start to sizzle and get fragrant.
Add in the chopped onion and let it cook down for about 4 minutes or so. When it starts to turn a golden brown, add in the green beans, tomatoes, ginger and peas.
Stir them around and add in the turmeric, Kashmiri chili, salt, garam masala and ground coriander.
Simmer everything together for about 15 minutes. Its done when the tomatoes have softened and turned pulpy.
Mix everything together well. Simmer it all for about 3 minutes.
Add in the whipping cream if you're using it.
Give the dish a few grinds of black pepper, it's up to you.
When the mixture is all heated through add in the chopped cilantro.
Give it another 5 minutes or so on simmer. You can add in more water by the tablespoon if you need it to keep the sauce from drying out. The Paneer cheese is going to absorb a lot of the liquid but I found that having added the cream, I didn't need to add any more water.
Preheat your grill to the highest setting.
Brush a bit of oil on the grate to keep the peppers from sticking.
Fill the baked pepper halves with the Paneer vegetable stuffing.
When the grill is hot, place the stuffed peppers on it and grill them until the Paneer vegetable mixture starts to brown.
This is not a terrific picture as the heat was so intense, but it only took a few minutes and I was ready to plate them up.
I served these with simple Basmati rice on the side and my definitely carnivorous husband said that he was not missing any meat from this meal, it was that good. I had had some chicken in the side pocket just in case. but he never asked and I never told. It was the dream Meatless Monday Dish. So it appears with the help of some more colorful vegetables, I've finally gotten over my skeeving the bell peppers. What's next, iron boxes, and envelopes? All I can say is, I'm grateful for electronic banking. Next, I go cheese making and back to my Italian roots. Follow along on Twitter@kathygori.