Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring 2009.
I love the idea of stuffed bell peppers. It's handy that they're edible vessels; that the accompaniment pairing possibilities are seemingly endless; that the filling can be customized to match your mood, the crowd, or the weather; that they can be a meal or a side dish. The trouble is, I don't actually like them. Bell peppers can be so pushy, dominating the flavor profile of the dish and ringing out over all of the other ingredients. You can stuff that thing with the tastiest innards ever, but in the end, the bell pepper dominates.
Giving up on all the potential of the stuffed pepper, though, seems a shameful waste. The following recipe is an adaptation that celebrates all of the aforementioned qualities using poblanos instead of bells, and an adjustable almost meatless filling. Don't like pork? Sub in ground chicken, turkey, beef or even crumbled tofu. Happen to have cooked meat leftover from last night? Shred or chop it and use it in place of the ground meat. Or go meatless and double the beans instead.
Poblano chiles aren't strangers to stuffing. Aside from their dry form--when they are called "anchos"--they are well known for being filled with cheese, dunked in batter and deep-fried to become chile rellenos. Poblanos range from sweet and mild to punchy hot and their rich, signature flavor plays nice with the other ingredients.
- For the stuffed poblanos
- 4 large poblano peppers
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 cup cooked black beans (or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
- 2 scallions, chopped (white and green parts separated)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder (or your favorite blend)
- 1 cup stock or broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, mushroom)
- 1-2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- Sour cream for serving
- For the tomatillo salsa:
- 1/2 pound tomatillos, quartered (about 6 small)
- 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
- 1 garlic clove minced to paste with 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- Zest of 1 lime
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the poblanos in half lengthwise and cut out seeds and ribs. Put the halves in a single layer, cut side up, in a baking dish. Add the water to the baking dish so that it comes up along the sides of the peppers. Roast the peppers for about 30 minutes, until they are tender (but not completely soft).
While the peppers roast, heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon as it browns. Add the white and light green part of the scallions (reserve the green parts for later), garlic and beans, and sauté for an additional minute. Stir in the cumin and chili powder. Add the stock and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer the pork and bean mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is nearly gone. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, make the salsa by adding the tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, zest, lime juice, and olive oil to a food processor or blender. Pulse or blend the mixture into a chunky sauce.
Remove the poblanos from the oven and pour any remaining liquid from the baking dish into the sauté pan. Spoon the pork and bean mixture into the poblano halves. (Don't worry if the peppers have flattened while roasting; just spoon the filling on top.) Top the filling with a heaping teaspoon of salsa. Toss the reserved green parts of the chopped scallions with the grated cheese. Divide the cheese amongst the stuffed peppers and return them to the oven. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve with remaining salsa and sour cream.