Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mexican Stuffed Peppers made with "Crumbles," Day 67, 8/3/11

Stuffed Peppers is a dish my mom would make when I was younger.  Her version, which I think is pretty traditional for Stuffed Peppers, had a filling of ground beef with a little onion, white rice, tomato paste or sauce and a few seasonings.  While I like this version of peppers just fine, one day about 10 years ago when I made Stuffed Peppers myself for the first time, I decided to give the filling a Mexican twist.  And, I haven't made them the other way since. 

I've always made my Mexican Stuffed Peppers with ground beef.  That's kind of against the rules when you're a vegetarian, however, so for the first time, I used the Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles in place of the hamburger.  This was actually my first time working with the Crumbles- and they weren't a let down.  They are a textured veggie protein that you purchase frozen, and can use in place of ground beef in recipes.  They have a hearty meaty texture that makes for a satisfying meat substitution.  And they are so much healthier for you than ground beef.  The package says they have 75% less fat than ground beef and only 80 calories per serving.  And with a 12 oz package equal to 1 pound of raw hamburger, they cost about the same as low fat ground beef.

For the filling, start by heating some olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add 1/2 of a medium diced onion.  After the onions have softened a little bit, add 1 can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained, some minced garlic and a 12 oz package of  Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles.  Season with salt and pepper and stir everything together.  Let this cook for a few minutes while stirring occasionally to break up the frozen Crumbles.

This would be a great time to add some cooked brown rice to the mixture.  I completely forgot to add rice this time, but I think it's a nice addition.  In fact, that first time I made Mexican Stuffed Peppers, I made them as a means of using some leftover rice.  Also, I usually add some frozen corn, but I knew that I was making Creamed Corn Pudding as the side, so I didn't include any corn in the filling this time.

Add a can of Rotel.  Don't drain the Rotel.  You want that liquid included in the filling mixture.  After I pour the Rotel into the pan, I even add enough water (or beer) to the can that it is about 1/3 full and then swish the water around to pick up any extra little pieces of tomato and green chili on the side and dump that into the pan, too.  I think the addition of some liquid lets you to cook the mixture on the stove longer and provides the opportunity for the flavors combine more.  And if you don't have any Rotel in the house, salsa works just as well.

You'll add some Mexican seasoning now too.  You could use one of those seasoning packets for tacos or burritos if you'd like, but I like to make up my own.  The seasoning packets are usually loaded with salt and if I do the seasoning myself, I can personalize it to my perferences.  I use cayenne pepper, the Aldi seasoning blend I like, chili powder, and cumin.  I love the smoky flavor of cumin, so I always twice as much cumin as everything else. 

Stir everything together and let it cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At this point, you're going to get 3 peppers ready for stuffing by cutting them in half and cleaning out the stem, seeds and ribs.  Add a little shredded Pepper Jack cheese to the bottom of the pepper. 

I only had 2 peppers in the house at the time so that's what you'll see in the pictures, but you'll definitely have enough stuffing mixture for 3 peppers.  In fact, if you add some brown rice and/or corn to the mixture, you could easily fill 4-5 peppers.  It's up to you.  When I used to make this with grounded beef, I would use 2 peppers and freeze the extra stuffing mixture in two of the freezer Ziplocs for some quick stuffed peppers on a couple of later dates.  I don't know how well the Crumbles will freeze, but I'm giving it a try.  I'll let you know.

Then fill each pepper half with the stuffing mixture and place them in a microwave safe casserole dish. 

Add a little water to the bottom of the dish and cover it with plastic wrap.  The water and plastic wrap will work together to steam the peppers in the microwave. 

I've learned through experience that topping the peppers with cheese after you stuff them usually doesn't turn out too well.  It either sticks to the plastic wrap and pulls off of the pepper when you remove the plastic wrap or melts off of the pepper and falls down into the water you're steaming them with.  I wait until after they've cooked to add any cheese on top.

Microwave your peppers for about 6 minutes on high and then check them to see if they are at crunchiness level that you like.  If you like them really crunchy still, check them at 5 minutes.  If they're too crunchy for you at 6 minutes give them another minute or so in the microwave.

I topped my peppers with a diced green onions and a little bit of queso fresco.  Queso fresco is a Mexican cheese that you can crumble.  It's flavor is very mild, like a dry crumbly mozzarella.  Of course, any cheese on top would be delicious.

I really didn't miss the ground beef in the peppers at all.  The Crumbles really are a great substitution and I love the Mexican twist on Stuffed Peppers so much more than the original.  And I can tell you first hand, that Creamed Corn Pudding is a great side for these Mexican Stuffed Peppers.  Enjoy.

UPDATE:  The filling that I made with Crumbles did freeze really well.  :-)  In fact, I think my second round of peppers was even better than the first!

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