Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers with Herby Pearl Couscous, Persian-style
These vegetarian/vegan stuffed peppers are perfect for a summer’s day and quite easy to make. What is there not to like about them? They filled the house with a very pleasant smell and tasted awesome.
Critic No.1 has declared this week a vegetarian week and I’m amazed at how tweaking with Persian recipes to make them vegetarian is working so nicely.We had a real vegetarian feast. He was very pleased!
The usual Persian stuffed peppers are made with rice, mince and lots of herbs. They are always very subtly spiced. I Kept the Persian herbs and spices but instead of rice used the pearl couscous that was sitting in a cabinet for a while, waiting to grace a special dish. The recipe here will work equally well with regular rice, couscous or even bulgur wheat. I may even use toasted orzo next time. When any of these combines with my secret ingredient the result will be finger-licking!
Can you guess the secret ingredient? Right there where the spoon is in the picture above?
OK, I won’t keep it a secret. It was aubergine, or eggplant as they call it in the US, with some mushrooms that I chopped up. In Iran aubergine is the poor man’s chicken. In fact, in the north of Iran it is called “the black bird that doesn’t breath”! Seriously!
I used quite a lot of chopped herbs as you can see in the picture above. That’s what makes all the difference, lots of herbs. The herb mix includes my favourite Persian herb, marzeh. It is called summer savoury/savory in English. But don’t worry if you don’t have it. There are substitutes that work quite nicely.
Summer savoury/savory and its close relative, winter savoury/savory, are very little known in the UK but feature in many European cuisines. I’ve only seen it in dried form in little jars in the supermarket and online here. Dried summer savoury/savory is quite cheap so it is worth giving it a try (1 tablespoon dried for 20g fresh). The flavour is peppery and the aroma is amazing. When not available you can use two-thirds fresh oregano or mint and one-third fresh thyme.
If like me you like growing less familiar herbs go for it! Seeds can be ordered online. Follow the packet instructions. A sunny windowsill or the patio will be a perfect place to grow this lovely herb. Once there are three sets of leaves pinch the top to make them bushy. Keep picking the tops as they grow and they will become bushier.
I made quite a lot of stuffing and had some extra because my peppers were rather small. I drizzled some olive oil on it and saved it for the next day, to have on its own for lunch. We had the peppers with a pea shoot salad I made with the tips of the mange touts I’m growing in seed trays. The tips of the little plants need to be pinched to become bushy. I’ll write the recipe for the salad in another post not to make this one too long.
Here is what you need and how to make four servings of these gorgeous peppers:
- 4 large red, green or yellow peppers
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped
- 1 large aubergine, cut into very small cubes
- 200g brown mushrooms, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- 20g chives, finely chopped
- 20g mint, finely chopped
- 20g summer savoury, finely chopped (or substitute with oregano or mint and some thyme as explained above)
- 1 litre passata (bottled puréed tomatoes) or thick tomato juice thickened with 2 tbsp tomato purée.
For the couscous:
- 200g pearl couscous
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 500ml boiling water
- Heat 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil with one tablespoon of the olive oil on medium heat in a frying pan. Add the chopped onions and cook over medium heat for ten minutes, stirring from time to time, until lightly golden. Save 1/4 for making the sauce and add the cubed aubergines and chopped mushrooms to the rest.
- Add 100ml of water to the pan and cover the pan. Cook until all the water has evaporated and the aubergines have softened. Stir a few times during the cookingso it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Uncover and add the turmeric, cumin, pepper, ground coriander and chilli and stir well. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the aubergine mix is lightly golden.
- Put the couscous, salt and boiling water in a saucepan. Stir, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes on medium-low. The couscous must be a little al dente and absorb all the water.
- Mix the herbs and reserve two tablespoons for the sauce.
- Put the couscous, chopped herbs and the aubergine in a bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
- Put the saved sautéed onions in a lidded pan or saucepan. Add the passata (or tomato juice+tomato purée), the remaining olive oil and the reserved chopped herbs. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
- Cut the tops of the peppers and remove the seeds with a spoon. Fill the peppers to the top and secure the caps with toothpicks. Put the peppers in the sauce. Cover and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer on medium-low heat for about 45 minutes or until the peppers are very soft and the sauce has thickened a little. Serve with any green, herby, lemony salad and a good drizzle of olive oil on top. Enjoy!