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Coast Cooking: There is more than one way to stuff a pepper

By Julian Brunt

JULIAN BRUNT SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDA stuffed jalapeño pepper is a delightfully spicy option.
JULIAN BRUNT SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDA stuffed jalapeño pepper is a delightfully spicy option.

Cut a bell pepper in half, seed it and then stuff it with sautéed ground beef or pork, onions, garlic if you like, and top it with cheese and bake it until it is bubbly hot.

Does that recipe sound familiar? I hope so. It is about as old-school Southern as you can get, and with a little care, it is delicious.

Good food ideas stick around and stuffing a bell pepper has been a staple in Southern kitchens for generations.

Another testament to that recipe is that other cultures share the same idea. The Mexicans stuff a poblano peppers with delicious things and call it chilies rellenos.

Our Cajun neighbors like to stuff jalapeño peppers with sausage, wrap them in bacon and deep-fry them.

And that is just the beginning.

Why not stuff the pepper of your choice with macaroni and cheese? Make a good Italian-style red sauce, add some small pasta shapes, lots of Parmesan cheese and you'll have a stuffed pepper you'll long remember.

A friend of mine likes to stuff peppers with homemade jambalaya. Taking that theme to another level, why not stuff a pepper with rice and just about anything else you can think of?

Make it Thai-like and add a good curry to the rice, or just add raw tomatoes, what some people call Spanish rice, for another good stuffing idea.

Maybe the best idea of them all is to stuff a pepper with pimento and cheese and bake it.

Cutting a bell pepper in half and stuffing it is also an economical way to feed your family. If you use rice or bread crumbs as a filler, you can stretch that dollar

a long way. If pushed, you could use mashed potatoes or even sweet potato as a filling. There are no rules.

By now you must be getting the point I am trying to make. There is a world of delicious things you can stuff in a variety of peppers. Make them spicy, cheesy or meaty. Stuffing and roasting a fresh pepper is just a good idea.

SOUTHERN STYLE STUFFED BELL PEPPERS

You could use ground beef or even a combination of ground beef and pork for this recipe, but I think the ground pork is a better choice. Make sure the pork or beef, if you use it, is well-browned and well-seasoned.

2 bell peppers

1 cup ground pork

1 cup cooked rice

1 chopped onion

¼ cup chopped celery

3-4 chopped cloves of garlic

1 cup whole, drained tomatoes (canned)

Salt and red pepper flakes

2 cups best quality cheddar cheese, grated

Cut the peppers in half, and remove the seeds. Sauté the pork in a little oil, seasoned aggressively with red pepper flakes and a little salt. When well-browned remove and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions and celery for 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add the pork and tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, just until well-incorporated. Add the rice, mix well and stuff the pepper halves with the mixture. Top with a big dollop of cheese (or pimento and cheese), and bake at 325 F until it bubbles, browns and the peppers are cooked through.

CHILES RELLENOS

This recipe often calls for the stuffed peppers to be battered and fried, but baking them works just as well. If you want to make them even cheesier, top the stuffed and sauced peppers with more cheese just before baking.

You could also use just about any good melting cheese in this recipe. If you can afford the good stuff, use Swiss or French gruyere. A good Irish white cheddar would work or for a less-expensive alternative, some local grocery stores and now carrying a white cheddar cheese that is bound in a black wax rind. It is excellent!

5 chopped red plum tomatoes

1-2 chopped garlic cloves

1/3 cup chopped red onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups Monterrey Jack cheese or a good melting cheddar

1 tablespoon dried oregano

6 poblano chiles, roasted and seeds removed

Saute the onion in a little oil for 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, season and then blend with an immersion blender. Simmer for 10 minutes. Now combine the cheese and the oregano, slice open the chiles and fill with the mixture. Place on an oven-proof pan, top with the sauce and bake at 350 F until the cheese has melted, the chiles are tender and the sauce is bubbly hot. Serve at once. Serve with a side of rice.

JAMBALAYA STUFFED JALAPEÑOS

Jambalaya is a go-to recipe when you have a lot of people to feed. It is affordable and delicious. This recipe calls for stuffing jalapenos with jambalaya, but you could use almost any pepper you like. If you decide to use the poblano peppers in the recipe above, I would suggest you skip frying them, add a spicy tomato sauce and bake them.

1 dozen jalapenos

1 cup chopped smoked pork sausage

1 chopped red onion

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1/3 cup chopped celery

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup arborio rice (substitute sushi rice)

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups chopped tomatoes

12 large wild caught Gulf shrimp

Salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes

1 strip bacon per ½ slice pepper

Slice the peppers in half and de-seed them. Sauté the sausage until well-browned then set aside. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper, cook for 5 minutes, season aggressively. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Separately, combine stock and rice, simmer until done, about 20 minutes. Combine the sausage, vegetables, tomatoes and rice. Sauté the shrimp quickly in very hot oil until done, just 1 minute. Give them a chop and combine with the jambalaya. Spoon in the mixture into the peppers, wrap each in a slice of bacon and bake at 325 F until done.

Julian Brunt, who is from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com.

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