Monday, August 22, 2011
Spinach and Mozzarella Stuffed Mini Vine Ripened Peppers...
A few years ago when I was home visiting my mother she made the most delicious stuffed peppers. She bought the long skinny red bell peppers, and stuffed them full of all kinds of goodies. Primarily spinach, green onion, garlic, mozzarella and feta cheese. From my first bite I was amazed and impressed by this wondrous creation, so much so that I must have asked her to make them at least a half a dozen more times before my visit was over. Sometimes she would add in other ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes or bacon but the heart of the recipe was always the same. Now she doesn’t have a written down recipe for these peppers, it’s all done by taste, feel, and guesswork, but I did pay attention while I was there, and upon returning home I was able to get an approximation of the measurements from her. Since then these peppers have become a favorite summer staple for my husband and I. Everything about them makes the mouth salivate, from their sweet sharp aroma, to their rich, creamy, garlicky filling.
When I went vegan I thought we’d have to say goodbye to these delicious peppers forever, until I decided to make it my mission to successfully veganize them. I had no idea whether or not it could be done, and I was double stressed because not only did I have to recreate the taste and creamy texture of melted feta, I also had to re-create the most important ingredient. The original recipe includes a garlic seasoning blend that is not available in the United States and is not to my knowledge available anywhere else outside of Canada. I of course have access to this seasoning, but I knew that if I were to post the recipe using it many of you would not be able to get it. To make this recipe as easy and as accessible to as many people as possible I needed to be able to re-create this seasoning blend in my own kitchen with easily acquired ingredients. So armed with nothing but determination and a few notes jotted down onto scrap paper I entered my kitchen. What I came out with not only blew my mind but my husbands as well. So without further adieu I give you...
Spinach and Mozzarella Stuffed Mini Vine Ripened Peppers
4 C tightly packed spinach
1/2C Sun dried tomatoes chopped (Not oil packed!)
roughly 24 fresh basil leaves torn
1 heaping cup vegan mozzarella cheese (I prefer daiya)
1/4-1/3 C olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 heaping cup chopped green onions
½ - 3/4 tsp sea salt (Or to taste)
few pinches of black pepper
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
10-15 well minced garlic cloves (Or to taste)
2-3 tsp sweet mesquite seasoning (Or to taste)
1 ½ tbsp capers with brine
26-30 Mini peppers (or 4 medium-large sized regular Red Bell Peppers)
- Combine all ingredients except peppers, in a large work bowl. Mix thoroughly to make sure all spinach is coated in olive oil and seasoning. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Depending on whether you want it more salty, smoky, garlicky etc... or if you want more capers, olive oil, cheese etc...
-Then set aside (Covered or uncovered doesn’t really matter) and let sit for 1-2 hours. You want the olive oil to soften and wilt the spinach. You also want to give it this time to let the flavors mingle and intensify.
- While the filling is resting you can prep your peppers. Remove tops of peppers, then scrape out all seeds and membrane. Since you’re using mini peppers this will be a bit more difficult to do then on a large pepper. If you don’t get out every bit of membrane don’t worry. To get the seeds out of the very bottom of the peppers without breaking them the easiest thing to do is just run them under the kitchen faucet. The water will wash out all the seeds that are stuck inside.
- When peppers are prepped and filling has rested. Set your broiler to medium-high heat and spray broiler pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Now stuff your peppers with the filling. You could use a spoon if you like but the peppers are so small you’re better off using your hands. They’ll get greasy for sure, but it’s a lot more efficient. Stuff the peppers as full as you can without breaking them then line them up on the greased broiler pan. Depending on the size of your mini peppers you should be able to get 26-30 out of one batch. If you’re using regular bell peppers you can probably get 4.
- Once peppers are all full and assembled place them into your oven and broil on medium-high. Cooking time varies so keep an eye on them. Check the peppers every five minutes. When you see the skin softening and start to get black spots remove the peppers from the oven and turn them over. Continue cooking until skin blackens again and filling looks slightly golden. Cooking shouldn’t take longer then 25 minutes, and you want to make sure that the skins only slightly blacken you don’t want the peppers burnt and crispy.
And that’s all there is to it, simple right? You can serve these as an appetizer, or serve them as a main meal along side a grain and a vegetable dish or salad.
Now as a recovering cheese addict/lover I can be quite harsh on vegan items that boast a cheesy flavor, but in all honesty I would say that taste-wise my vegan version of these peppers mimics the original by 95% My husband generously claimed that they were 98% accurate. Now regardless of which one of us is right I have to say I consider anything over 90% a pretty damn big success, and one I’m most proud of.
*** Note - If you wish to re-hydrate your sun-dried tomatoes before using them you can do so by soaking them in a bowl of warm/hot water for about 5-10 minutes. Which is what I did, but I’ve also since made this dish without soaking the tomatoes first.
Also as far as cheese goes, Daiya is my favorite non-dairy cheese, and I think their version of Mozzarella works really well here, it also comes with the added bonus of beign both gluten and soy-free, but if you have another brand that you prefer by all means give it a try.***