Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2 Recipe #349: Quinoa, Black Bean, & Feta Stuffed Peppers

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This recipe is basically a fusion of two different cuisines. There are all of the usual Mexican flavors and ingredients -- cumin, fresh oregano, lime juice, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, black beans, etc. -- but instead of just stopping there, I added some complementary ingredients that, in combination with one another, are decidedly Greek -- i.e., feta, eggplant, tomatoes, fresh mint -- which almost form a sort of moussaka on their own. :) So, the theme is basically "Mexico, by way of Greece." The strange thing is that this combo really works well together. Imagine that. :-D

A lot of times I'll start out with an idea of what I want to make and then create a recipe for it before I make it. After all, if it's something particularly unique or elaborate, Erik's going to need a grocery shopping list from me at least a few hours (or a day) in advance so he can pick up the ingredients on one of his after-work supermarket runs. (For the freshest-tasting meals possible, I like to make and serve these creations within mere hours of when the ingredients were first purchased.) We both work during the day -- he goes to a traditional 9-5 job and when I'm in "book writing mode," I typically write and cook all day, that is, unless I'm conducting other business. So, since he's already outside of the home, he'll usually stop by with ingredients on his way home, either right before lunch or after work. So thank heavens for Erik and advance meal planning. :)

However, this isn't always the way it works. Often times when I create recipes, I literally create them on the fly while I'm in the kitchen. And that's exactly what happened in this case. Creativity can work in mysterious ways, so the way I see it, you don't question it, you just go with it. :) There are times when I have absolutely zero idea what I'm going to make that day. I love playing it by ear, because it certainly keeps things dynamic and interesting. To my mind, the uncertainty of the unknown isn't something to fear or become anxious about; it's exciting, and I absolutely thrive on it! Sometimes I'll just go to the fridge and the pantry and see what we have available and work from there. :) I like to improvise because sometimes that leads to more creative and unique ideas, plus it makes thing more challenging and keeps me on my toes. It's almost like I'm preparing to be a contestant on the show Chopped. Lol. So give me some insanely weird basket of hodge-podge ingredients that don't seem like they'd ever go together, and I'll make a culinary creation out of them. In the real world, this is otherwise more commonly known to most of us as "Survivalist Cooking 101," i.e., when the last scrap of palatable food has been used up and all you're left with is a slice of moldy bread, one egg, and a lemon. ;) It's do or die time. And if you eat that piece of moldy bread, you just might've chosen the latter option, quite literally. ;) Thankfully, Chopped cooking contestants don't get baskets filled with moldy bread, or at least not intentionally. Lol.

Speaking of which, a bunch of my friends keep telling me that I should enter to be a contestant on that show as well as other cooking contest shows (like The Taste or Food Network Star) but right now, I just don't have the time or the inclination. To be completely frank (and let's face it, when am I not on this blog - Lol!), part of me is afraid that I'd be the "usual me" and say something feisty or pointed, or make a way-too-honest observation on national TV that I'd later regret. Either that, or I'd freeze up and say nothing. (Yes, believe it or not, even in my state of seemingly constant animation, that can happen. ;) ) Sure, if I go all full-throttle, no-holds-barred "typical me," it sure wouldn't be boring, but I can just see my mom watching and then giving me hell afterwards. ;) Anytime I'm on the fence about whether or not I should say or do something "edgy" (like being way too honest for my own good ;) ), the phrase, "Don't do (or say) anything your Mom wouldn't be proud of," sometimes echoes in my ear. Our mother raised us to conduct ourselves properly in public, but of course, behaving properly in TV land doesn't typically make for good TV (or good TV ratings!). And producers know this. Even so, most times I think that they'll intentionally edit seemingly harmless things people say on TV shows to transform them into much saucier sounding sound bytes for maximum dramatic effect, instead of giving the audience a fuller, and much more accurate (!), picture of the interactions or the TV contestants' personalities or situations. And of course, you just know they're not showing you everything that goes on (both in front of and behind the camera). There are always going to be several filmed moments that hit the cutting room floor for one reason or another. But one thing is for certain: they sure do love their catty, drama queens. Me, not so much -- I'm a peace-maker at heart and like to calm down people and situations versus stirring them up -- but that's a totally different discussion altogether. I'm not really interested in bringing the drama on national TV; I'll leave that to the reality TV divas with gigantic egos that are way out of control. ;) If I ever made it onto a show like this, I'd probably do my best to try to relax and have fun with it, versus catering to the camera or being too conscious of its presence all the time, the latter of which is, of course, more easily said than done. :) The bottom line is this: Wherever I cook, I just want to have fun creating new dishes (preferably while surrounded by my favorite people and pets) and cracking jokes. :)

Anyhow, let's move from reality TV cooking shows and back to, well, cooking. :) And so, with that lead-in, here's the recipe, which is, big surprise, yet another recipe for The Athlete's Cookbook. :) This book has over 100 recipes to fuel the body for athletic performance and rapid recovery, many of which you'll be able to preview here.

Quinoa, Black Bean, & Feta Stuffed Peppers

1/2 c. (uncooked) quinoa, washed in 1 c. water, then thoroughly rinsed (to remove bitter saponin coating) and drained (makes 1 c. cooked)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large bay leaf
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 c. eggplant, unpeeled and finely diced (into 1/2" cubes) (about 1/2 large eggplant)
3/4 c. water (or low-sodium vegetable broth, if preferred)
3 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, with seeds, stems, and ribs removed (about 1 large jalapeño pepper)
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, minced and densely packed
1 15.5-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander
3/8 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 c. tomatoes, finely diced (into 1/2" cubes) (about 1 1/2 medium-sized tomatoes)
1/8 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1/8 c. fresh mint, finely minced and densely packed
4 large, wide red (or green) bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed with the tops sliced off and reserved

Directions: Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a rolling boil (on high heat). Add rinsed quinoa and boil for 10 minutes, then drain into a sieve over the kitchen sink, transfer to a bowl, and set aside. In the same pot you just used, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on high heat until glistening. Then reduce heat to low, add bay leaf, shallots, and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until tender. Next, stir in diced eggplant, followed by 3/4 c. water (or if preferred, the same amount of vegetable stock). Turn up heat to medium-high, cover with lid, and cook for another 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Remove lid and stir in jalapeño pepper, fresh oregano, cooked quinoa, black beans, and feta. Season with cumin, paprika, coriander, chipotle pepper, salt, and black pepper and cook, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Discard bay leaf and remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then stir in diced tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, and mint until well combined, and set aside. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Place bell pepper "cups" (upright) onto an aluminium foil-lined 9" x 13" baking tray and, using a large serving spoon, completely stuff each pepper (to the brim or slightly over) with an equal amount of quinoa-vegetable filling, making sure to compact each spoonful before adding another. (This recipe makes about 4 c. of filling, so fill each pepper with about 1 c. of filling.) Cover each pepper with its reserved top, followed by a small piece of foil. Mold foil around the sides of each pepper to secure. Place into oven and cook for about 50-60 minutes, or until the peppers are tender and juicy but still slightly firm and the filling is evenly heated throughout. (The filling should be hot but not intensely so.) About half way through, lift up the foil and pepper tops to take a peek and check on their progress. Allow to cool for several minutes, then transfer to plates, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: Advance preparation: The stuffing can be made up to a day in advance. Two days is probably pushing it in terms of texture and flavor, but if you like living on the edge, it will keep in the refrigerator for several days. :)

Vegetable selection and prep: When selecting peppers, be sure to pick large, squat, wide peppers that look like they can hold at least a cup of filling. The tall, skinny ones are a bit trickier to keep upright and their dimensions also make them harder to eat. It's the culinary equivalent of trying to cook the Leaning Tower of Pisa. ;) Pretty soon, you'll be lunging across the kitchen to save them from falling off the tray, while a little voice in the back of your head is screaming, "TIMBER!!!!!" Heheheh. So, do yourself a favor and save yourself the trouble: think like a civil engineer, and pick structurally sound peppers that won't topple over like dominoes should you breathe on them the wrong way. :)

Alternate preparations: There's a ton of protein in this dish already, i.e., the feta cheese and a hearty helping of quinoa. However, if for some reason, you need to up your protein intake, (or maybe you're just a big "cheese head" ;) ), you can also sprinkle each pepper "cup" with about 1-2 Tbsp. of either shredded mozzarrella or Monterey Jack cheese before covering them with their tops and baking them in the oven.


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