Last weekend I visited my cousin and her husband and their new baby up in the Bay Area. They love to cook, especially healthy and European-inspired foods (he’s French). On Sunday night they made a delicious and healthy meal that he had apparently dreamed about the night before, and when I came home I was inspired to make it. I love this meal because you can make a large quantity of the stuffing ahead of time and use it to stuff veg or just eat on its own. It is a complete meal with meat, vegetables and grains in each bite – and it leaves you completely satisfied. Not to mention it’s gluten-free and goes beautifully with a glass of pinot noir. It is a bit of a complex and multi-step process to make, but well worth it, believe me! And you’ll have leftovers to munch on for the next few days!
Ingredients (makes 12 stuffed vegetable halves):
2 bell peppers
1 cup quinoa (rinsed with water and drained)
2 cups chicken broth
Fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary), chopped
1 carton cremini mushrooms, chopped
1lb. ground beef
3 slices bacon (pancetta if you’ve got it), chopped
2 tsp gluten-free soy sauce (tamari)
1/2 tsp harissa paste (or your preferred hot sauce)
Salt & pepper, to taste
Optional: olive oil for drizzling
The three vegetables that I stuffed were eggplant (known by its European name aubergine in my cousin’s house), zucchini (courgette) and bell peppers. All of them complement each other really well with their subtle differences in flavor. For the eggplant, you’ll want to rinse it and pre-bake it still a bit moist for about 10 minutes at 300F to soften it up and remove the bitterness of the skin. After it completely cools, you can cut it and the rest of your vegetables in half, scoop out the insides (I used a ridged grapefruit spoon), sprinkle a little salt on the insides and let them rest. Some water will come out of the bell pepper halves while they’re sitting so just dump the water before you stuff them. Chop up and set aside the scooped out insides of the eggplant and zucchini – you’ll use them later.
Bring quinoa to a boil in the chicken broth, then add herbs and half of the mushrooms. Simmer covered for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is mostly absorbed into the quinoa.
While the quinoa is simmering, sautee the bacon in a separate pan, then add the ground beef. Add the rest of the mushrooms, soy sauce and hot sauce. When the beef is all the way cooked through and any water that leaked out of the mushrooms has evaporated, add the meat mixture into the quinoa pot with the heat still on. Add the scooped out insides of the zucchini and eggplant. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stuffing the Veg:
Toss out any water that has sweated out of the bell pepper halves, then fill the hollowed out vegetables with your quinoa/meat mixture. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F or until the vegetables soften a bit (but not too much!). If you like, drizzle with olive oil and top with parmesan cheese (or cheese alternative) and serve.