As Princess Diana once said, “Family is the most important thing in the world.”
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling from North Carolina to Texas to spend some time with my grandmother for her birthday. I also got to hang out with my cousins, aunt, and uncle. It was one of those trips that goes by too quickly. Heading to the airport to go back home, I felt like I had just arrived in Texas that very same day. Saying goodbye to family is never easy. As I’ve gotten older, it seems it only gets harder and harder.
With adulthood also comes a much busier schedule. Traveling and making plans to spend time with loved ones, I’ll have to admit, are not always on the top of my priorities list. I hate saying that, but it’s the truth. I think we often take for granted the people we love. We assume they’ll always be there and that work, school, money, etc. require more of our attention. I hope this year brings a change for me. I hope I will devote more time and energy to not just visiting, but living life and spending quality (phone-free, work-void, deliberate) time with the people I love, many of whom live far away. It’s worth it. The to-do list, that’ll get done. Making memories with family, that’s what it’s all about.
My grandmother is awesome. She is a talented gardener, a cat-whisperer, a devout Catholic daughter, a music/movie junkie, and a foodie. It’s easy to see many of my character traits and passions stemmed from her. During our trip we went to visit George Ranch Historical Park. A beautiful living history ranch that demonstrates Texan life from frontier to WWII. We had the best time touring old homes, visiting with the biggest pig I’ve ever seen, and chowing down at an old fashioned chuck wagon lunch. It was chillier than expected, so the steaming Mexican posole and cheddar corn bread were just what we needed.
When I returned home from Texas, I couldn’t help but crave big southwestern (Tex-Mex) flavors of chilis, cilantro, peppers, and cumin. I created this recipe one afternoon when I was thinking about the day on the ranch with my grandma. I doubt the majority of true Texans would approve of a meatless meal, but take my word for it – this dish is filled with hearty protein, tender veggies, and HUGE flavors that any cowboy or cowgirl would enjoy.
I start by cooking up some quinoa. The traditional stuffed pepper is filled with white rice and browned beef. I like using quinoa instead of rice because it has crazy loads of protein and a better texture in my opinion. It keeps your belly full and satisfied for much longer than it would be if you ate a serving of rice. I combine my cooked quinoa with a little cornbread mix and fresh cilantro. Wowza…I would be lying if I said I didn’t eat about four or five big wooden spoonfuls of this stuff straight from the pot. It’s delicious.
I hollow out my peppers and drop them in boiling water for just a couple minutes. This helps them soften up so they’re easier to eat with just the cut of the side of your fork. I like using red, yellow, and orange peppers for this dish. Not to discriminate on green peppers, but I just don’t love them. They’re not as sweet and often taste bitter. You ultimately can choose whatever color pepper you’d like to stuff. Green babies need love too.
I sauté some of my favorite veggies with black beans (more protein!), spicy tomatoes, and traditional southwestern spices before folding in the cornbread quinoa. Okay, my mouth is watering just typing this up.
Lastly, I fill these puppies up past the brim. They hang out in the oven with a nice melted blanket of hot pepper cheese, and I serve them up with creamy greek yogurt and more cilantro, of course. Mmm…pure joy.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 cup of quinoa (uncooked)
1 cup of water
1/3 cup of organic, whole grain cornbread mix
1 tablespoon of ghee (or butter)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
4 large bell peppers
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 of a small onion, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups of kale, large stems removed, chopped
About 6-8 small mushrooms, sliced (I use baby bellas)
1 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1 15 oz. can of organic fire roasted tomatoes
2/3 cup of mild white cheese, shredded (I use jalepeno havarti, but pepper jack will also work nicely)
Plain greek yogurt for garnish (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan, combine quinoa and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until most of the water has evaporated and the quinoa is fluffy.
Add the cornbread mix, ghee (or butter), salt, and cilantro. Set aside.
Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the peppers. Bring to a boil.
Slice the tops off of each pepper. Remove the seeds and membranes with a small pairing knife or your hand. *This recipe calls for 4 stuffed bell peppers…I only had three to work with, but I had plenty of filling leftover for a fourth.
Stand the peppers straight up in the boiling water. Cover and cook for about two minutes to soften the peppers, making them easier to eat. Remove from the boiling water and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for a few minutes until tender. Then add the garlic and kale. Sauté for a few minutes until the kale begins to wilt. Add another tablespoon of oil if the pan begins to dry out. Reduce heat to medium-low.
Add the sliced mushrooms. Sauté for about a minute, and then add the beans. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, and chili powder. Add half the can of fire roasted tomatoes (about 7 ounces or so). Stir and simmer for a few minutes. Turn off the heat.
Stir in the quinoa cornbread mixture making sure everything is evenly incorporated.
With a spoon, generously fill each pepper cavity with the mixture. Top with the remaining fire roasted tomatoes. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Remove the foil and top with cheese. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes. When there is about two minutes left of baking time, pump your oven up to broil to brown and bubble the cheese. Be very careful. The cheese will brown quickly – no more than 60-90 seconds!
I like to top these peppers with a dollop of plain greek yogurt (you could also use sour cream) and a delicate garnish of fresh cilantro leaves.
These peppers won’t disappoint. The flavors are warm, savory, and spicy, with a hint of sweetness from the cornbread. With all the veggies and protein-packed quinoa, these peppers will leave you and your tummy feeling quite satisfied. I’ve yet to finish a whole pepper in one sitting. They are hearty!