Spicy Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

I grew up on a handful or two of steady staple meals. We ate a lot of spaghetti and meatballs (because, c'mon, it's spaghetti), Chef Boyardee pizza, shepherd's pie, stroganoff, and of course, stuffed peppers and cabbage. There's something fulfilling about an all in one dish. Easy to serve, stuffed peppers have become a truly American dish, though not originally. Apparently, history has carried the stuffed pepper through several countries, including everywhere from Spain to Korea.

But the idea of a meal that has everything safely stashed in a portable container is the quintessence of U.S. food habits. Look at Hot Pockets and how fast food companies now make entire meals you can fit into your cupholder. We like portability and simplicity.

For my part, I grew up on a basic recipe. Tomato sauce (or soup, possibly), ground beef, and rice. Mom might have added some chopped onion in there; I can't say for sure. But those were the basics.

I have made them before, both in their basic form and the truly delightful Chicken Philly Stuffed Peppers many moons ago (Have I really been at this since 2012? My word.) But this time, what could I do to spice it up? Well, for starters, I picked up some Hot Chicken Sausage at Lucky's Market that needed a food home. Meat? Check. And then I thought about healthifying it (yes, I made that word up) and cooked up some quinoa. Yes! A plan was coming together.

Let's put a spotlight on this sausage, though, because as a non-pork eater, I often find that turkey sausage is the only alternative, though that is even occasionally offered. Sausage is a breakfast staple, and depending on where I am, I may just be out of luck (same goes with turkey bacon, which can also be done quite well). The first time I tried this hot chicken sausage I did not expect much, but I threw it in a pot of gumbo and was astounded. It has a light heat to it, nothing that'll scald your little taste buds off. I have a strong affection for habaƱeros, and these are more jalapeƱo level. I'll find my dream ghost pepper sausage one day.

In addition to a few peppers, I also needed to use up two tomatoes. This meant I got to play a game of "use it up" while also making something I hadn't tried before. The meal was getting good.


I cooked the sausage on the stove until it was cooked throughout. You can cook raw meat in a dish sometimes, but when it comes to chicken I like to be extra safe. Nobody likes a case of salmonella.


I cleaned the peppers and tomatoes out and set them up in a casserole dish.


I made the filling by breaking up the sausage and mixing it in a large bowl with cooked quinoa, chopped onion and garlic, apple cider vinegar, egg, tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, and white pepper. Rather than bread crumbs, I shredded a slice of whole grain bread (really just by rolling it between my hands and crumbling it) and mixed that in. It's a trick my mom used for meatballs; the bread is moister than bread crumbs. And let's be honest. I was out of bread crumbs so creativity was much needed. Finally, I mixed in some shredded monterey jack cheese and stuffed the filling into the peppers and tomatoes.


I preheated the oven to 375 degrees F and put them in. I suggest putting foil over the top, but in my case I just put a sheet pan on the rack above them to keep them from drying out too much. A little bit is ok, but I didn't want to wind up with a quinoa brick. Just over an hour later, they were ready.


Previously I had pre-cooked the peppers, but I prefer some crisp to my sweet peppers so I filled them raw. This resulted in a fully cooked but not totally  mushy pepper - right up my alley! A pulpy texture is great for a philly chesesteak, but other recipes require a little more firmness. So the filling. I'll admit, quinoa was a totally random thought and I wasn't so sure it would replace the rice properly. I mean, I have done this before with Qunioa Rice Pudding, but that doesn't guarantee that all results will be a success. BUT. IT. WAS.

Not because I knew it was healthy. Not because the texture was perfect and the sauce was the right fit for that chicken sausage. But because it was just plain good.

I mentioned that I grew up with stuffed peppers as a regular dish in our household. So, I passed a few of these along to my parents. After all, I have a habit of overcooking (quantity-wise, of course!). Dad loved it. Mom loved it. And my mom ONLY likes hthe traditional dish. She doesn't like "weird" stuff, a.k.a. anything I make with some kind of improvement that benefits the human body. I kept quiet about the quinoa and just mentioned the addition of chicken sausage (man, I am one sneaky B). Sure enough, the food critics were on board and told me I'd knocked it out of park. Yayasaurus Rex.

Spicy Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Ingredients:

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 pieces hot chicken sausage, cooked
2 bell peppers
2 tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 egg, beaten
1 can tomato sauce - 15 ounces
1-2 teaspoons white pepper
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 slice whole grain bread, crumbled
1/4 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

Instructions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Break up the sausage and mix with cooked quinoa, chopped onion and garlic, apple cider vinegar, egg, tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, and white pepper. Shread or tear up bread slice into small piece and mix in along with monterey jack cheese. Add filling to peppers and tomatoes. Cover and bake for 60-70 minutes.

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