Food should be fun. OK, don't get me wrong: There are plenty of serious food issues out there, too numerous to go into in this space, but when it comes to putting dinner on the table, a little levity goes a long way.
I was in that state of mind, anyway, when I saw a Culinary Institute of America instructor demonstrate a recipe for tomato-stuffed peppers at a serious-minded conference recently. The instructor, Adam Busby, halved and hollowed out yellow bell peppers, then nestled halved plum tomatoes inside. As good as it looked, I immediately had one thing on my mind: turducken, the Thanksgiving poultry mashup that has a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey.
With one more addition, couldn't this be the vegetarian version? What would that third item be? New potatoes? Pearl onions? The answer was waiting in my crisper drawer: Brussels sprouts. I followed Busby's lead in seasoning each layer with a mixture of garlic and thyme, and arranging mushrooms around the roasting pan for another element. But I also wanted to elevate this to main-course status and to add a little protein, so I cooked up some bulgur for a base and whisked together a quick sauce out of the saved tomato innards, yogurt, tahini and more.
Just one very important task was left: What would I call this, in a turducken kind of way? I put the task to friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: Should it be Bellatosprout? Peppamout? The answers poured in, many of them sounding like either a medical condition (Pepmatosels) or the medication to treat it (Peptosprout) or possibly a kitchen gadget (Brusspeppermater). Smarter heads prevailed and suggested such things as Rasta Bake (for the colors of the Rastafarian flag, I assume) or Matryoshka Peppers (a fun reference to those Russian nesting dolls).
The only problem with those? Well, the flavors of the dish don't exactly line up with either Jamaican or Russian food. I felt like a new parent reading through too many baby-name books, so I punted: Peppers Stuffed With Tomatoes and Brussels Sprouts were born.
This colorful four-vegetable dish would fit in just as nicely at a cookout as at an elegant dinner party or casual weeknight supper. Best of all, it can be served at room temperature.
Serve atop bulgur or another grain of your choice, if desired.
The stuffed peppers can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; let them come to room temperature or warm in a low oven before serving.
Peppers Stuffed With Tomatoes and Brussels Sprouts
Makes 6 servings
For the peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
3 large, stem-on yellow or orange bell peppers
3 large, ripe plum tomatoes
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
6 large Brussels sprouts, trimmed
8 ounces cremini, baby bella or other mushroom of your choice, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
For the sauce
1/2 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (paste)
1 clove garlic, chopped
Gel/seeds and flesh from plum tomatoes (used in the peppers)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton; optional)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Use a little oil to grease the inside of a baking dish or cast-iron skillet large enough to hold all of the peppers (halved) and mushrooms.
Carefully cut each bell pepper in half from top to bottom, including the stem so that each pepper half has its own partial stem. Use a sharp paring knife to remove/discard the seeds and ribs.
Cut each tomato from top to bottom. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the core. Use a spoon to scrape out the gel/seeds and flesh; reserve those for the sauce.
Arrange the bell pepper halves, cut side up, in the baking dish or skillet. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil on the cut side of the bell peppers, and sprinkle them lightly with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle half of the minced garlic and half of the thyme on the peppers.
Gently fit each tomato half, cut side up, into each bell pepper half. Sprinkle them with a little more salt and black pepper plus the remaining garlic and thyme. Drizzle them with half the remaining oil, then place a Brussels sprout in each tomato half (creating a three-part stuffed vegetable, in effect).
Nestle the mushrooms between the bell pepper halves; drizzle them and the Brussels sprouts with the remaining oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the stuffed bell peppers with the sumac, if using. Roast until a skewer easily pierces the Brussels sprouts, and the bell pepper halves and tomatoes are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the yogurt, tahini, garlic, the reserved tomato gel/seeds and flesh, lemon juice, smoked paprika, if using, and the salt in the bowl of a food processor; puree until smooth.
Spoon the sauce over the warm stuffed peppers and mushrooms, or pass the sauce at the table.
Nutrition per serving: 130 calories, 6 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar