Roasting removes the callow edge from crisp red peppers, turning their flavor sophisticated—at once hauntingly smoky and sweet—and their texture soft and voluptuous. If I’m going to the trouble of stuffing peppers, it’s roasted red ones I’m after.
For a Sukkot dinner, I wanted a vegetarian filling to equal the flavor of these peppers, one that would not make you feel there was something missing where the meat should be. Popular all over the Middle East among Jews and Arabs, mujadderah, a rice and lentil combination made scrumptious with a shower of golden fried onions, was the perfect fit. It needed only sweet toasted pine nuts for textural contrast and cilantro to lend an herby freshness.
Pick over the lentils carefully, discarding any stray objects or discolored beans, and rinse well in cold water. Drain, combine them in a large saucepan with
While the lentils are cooking, heat
Add about one third of the sautéed onion mixture to the cooked lentils, leaving the remaining onion mixture in the skillet. Stir the rice, cumin, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste into the lentils. If necessary, add more water so that everything is completely covered by about
While the mujadderah cooks, roast the bell peppers. It’s best to do this over a gas flame, since you need to char the outsides quickly, without overcooking the tender flesh.
If cooking over a gas flame, use a long-handled fork and spear the pepper through the stem only, making sure not to pierce through the pepper anywhere else. Roast them, like marshmallows, over the open flame. Or place the pepper on a roasting rack set over the flame. Keep turning the peppers until the skins are lightly charred on all sides.
You can also roast them under the broiler. Place the peppers on a foil-lined broiler rack under a preheated broiler, as close as possible to the heat source. Turn the peppers as the skins blister and blacken.
Put the charred peppers in a paper bag and twist the bag closed, or put them in a covered bowl. Let them steam just until cool enough to handle so that they will be easier to peel. Rub the peel off with your fingers. Because these peppers are thick-walled, you can also rub off the peel with a dry paper towel, replacing the towel as it becomes saturated with the charred peel. Don’t worry if you don’t remove every piece of blackened skin—a few bits here and there will add to the smoky flavor. (Don’t peel the peppers under water, because they will get too waterlogged.)
Using a small, sharp knife, cut out the peppers’ stems and discard. Carefully pull out the seeds and membranes and discard (see Cook’s Note).
Prepare the tomato-garlic sauce: the success of this quickly made sauce depends on cooking the ingredients in a skillet, rather than a saucepan, so the watery juices evaporate before the fresh taste is lost.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Generously salt and pepper the remaining sautéed onions in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, lifting and turning, until slightly crisp in places and tinged a toasty brown. When the rice and lentils are cooked, stir these onions into them. Then stir in
Spoon some of the sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish just large enough to accommodate the peppers when standing upright. (Alternatively, if peppers tore and you are stuffing the pepper halves, choose a dish in which all the peppers will fit comfortably when lying flat.) Fill the peppers with the mujadderah (see Cook’s Note) and sprinkle the tops with the remaining
For dairy meals, accompany the peppers with rich yogurt cream or labneh.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.