Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuffed Vegetables - A Hellenic Favourite

I was just a young lad living in Nea Smirni, Hellas being pampered by my mom, enjoying being a... mammoni. I don't know why my mom spoiled her kids so much but it's just history now. My mom would cook all these delicious foods, yelling at me that I was "all skin and bones." I was a 30 waist then. Ahhhhhh the good old days.

This is momma Toula's stuffed vegetable recipe. Keep reading.

The ingredients are as follows:
  • 1 1/2 lbs of lean ground beef. 
  • four tomatoes (large but not huge, soft but not falling apart)
  • three carrots (I added them because they are so sweet and tasty)
  • five peppers
  • five small-ish potatoes
  • 1 cup rice
  • one cup of chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • some additional olive to be drizzled into the vegetables
  • some additional olive to be drizzled into the pan(s)
  • ground pepper
  • (you could add salt but I don't due to my high blood pressure)
  • some feta cheese

The tools for the job are:
  • food mill
  • vegetable peeler
  • a small ice cream scoop or a sharp spoon (I had neither)
  • one or two pans to fit all of the ingredients
Also, what in the world is that glass full of beer doing in this picture? Some day I will rant about all the pretentious youngster that surround me that know nothing about beer and the American blue collar worker.

I started with washing the vegetables.
You can use red, green, yellow or any kind of pepper you want but it will be better if you use peppers that are not tall and skinny because they will not fit nicely in the pan. You should slice the pepper near the top but not too high. Clear the inside of each pepper. Preserve the top and body of each pepper. You could leave the stem of each pepper on but it will be mostly decorative and not eatable.

I try to match the pepper with its top because you want to have the tops fit perfectly with the bottoms. Again this in not a necessity but it will look better this way.

Here is a better view of the first pepper I cut. 

 You will do the same with the tomatoes.

I should find the ice cream scoop I have because it makes removing the flesh of the tomato so much easier. After you cut the top of the tomato you use an ice cream scooper to remove the flesh of the tomato. SAVE the flesh of the tomatoes is a large bowl. 

Turn each vegetable and poke three or four holes using a fork. This is a critical step.

After you are done removing the flesh of the tomatoes use the mill to pulverize the flesh. Use the resulting juice but not the pulp left in the mill.

To brown the beef you will need a large skillet. With medium heat get the skillet hot, add the olive oil and get that nice and hot too. Then add the brown meat and "play" with it to brown it. This should take about 6-7 minutes. Add half of the tomato pulp, the chicken stock and the rice and bring it to a boil and keep it there for a couple of minutes. After that, reduce the heat to low and keep it there for 5-6 minutes.

While the meat mixture is cooking slice the potatoes and carrots.

I start with the cut carrots and potatoes and I add into the pan(s). For some strange reason I used two small Pyrex dishes instead of just one. Oy! I added the carrots and potatoes and drizzled some olive oil in each pan. I mixed the potatoes and carrots to make sure they were nicely coated with olive oil. I used my inferior, but functional, pepper mill to add pepper to the mixture.

Now drizzle some olive oil into each vegetable and use your hand to make sure the oil covers the walls of each vegetable.

I stuffed the peppers and tomatoes with the meat mixture. I have the dishes next to the meat mixture and I used a soup spoon to stuff each vegetable. Don't over stuff them because the rice will need some room to expand.

Afterwards I add a small slice of feta cheese and I cover each vegetable with its top. Here you should add the leftover tomato juice in-between the vegetables. There should be some juice in there but not a lot.

Add the dish in a preheated 380°F oven. Again, you could use one dish instead.

Cook it for 1:30 minutes but check it after 45 minutes to see if there is some liquid in the dish. If there isn't, add some water in the dish between the vegetables. You want some liquid to be in the dish but you don't want to boil the vegetables.

Afterwards you can serve the vegetables with a basic Hellenic salad. A Hellenic salad consists of: sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, red onion, olive oil. Sprinkle some oregano and you could add a few capers too. This recipe will follow soon.

Happy eating!