Thursday, May 31, 2012

Goin' Greek - Vegetarian Style

Good evening everyone! As Maggie mentioned on Tuesday, we’re doing a vegetarian theme this week on the blog. Not only is going meatless easier on your grocery bill, but it’s better for your belt line and overall health too. Now, Maggie and I could never go “full blown” vegetarian – we enjoy our meat dishes a little too much to do that – but it is nice to give the vegetarian diet a try every now and again. There are some very tasty meatless dishes out there (we’ve cooked up a few over the past two years) that you might not ever try unless you set aside time to do so.

The Recipe: Greek Orzo Stuffed Peppers
Original Recipe Found On:

What You’ll Need:
(Serves 4)

4 Yellow, Orange or Red Bell Peppers
½ Cup Whole Wheat Orzo
15 Ounces Canned Chickpeas*
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion (Chopped)
6 Ounces Baby Spinach (Chopped)
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
¾ Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
¼ Cup Sun Dried Tomatoes (Diced)
1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar
¼ Teaspoon Salt

* Before we dive into the recipe, I wanted to share a humorous story from this past weekend. It’s a great example of there always being something more to learn – no matter how much experience you may have (or think you have). We set out Sunday morning to our favorite grocery stores, like we always do, in search of the ingredients for this week’s recipes.

We had almost everything on our list found at Trader Joe’s, our first stop. The only item missing was chickpeas – which flummoxed us slightly as we were sure the diverse little grocery store was sure to have them. We searched up and down the bean aisle, but came up with nothing.

“Fine, we’ll quickly duck into another grocery store (Hy-Vee) and find the chickpeas there…right?” Despite the large assortment of beans and other legumes on the shelves, we could not track down the elusive chickpea. Every other bean you could fathom, great northern, kidney, garbanzo were all in great supply. At this point, we were becoming slightly irritated – we knew chickpeas were not ‘rare’, why couldn’t we find them? “If we needed garbanzo beans, we’d be set!” I commented angrily as we trudged off to stop number three.

(If you’ve figured out the punch line, don’t ruin it for the other readers)

Stop three was Gateway Market, a local organic grocery store that has every ingredient you could imagine. If we can’t find something at Trader Joe’s or Hy-Vee it’s always at Gateway Market. “Surely, chickpeas will be here” we thought. We searched high and low – nothing to be found. Irritated, I pulled my iPhone from my pocket with the intention of finding a substitute for chickpeas. I typed “chickpeas” into the search bar and then started befuddled at the results for a few moments before shaking my head and laughing.

Maggie looked at me quizzically, and when I turned the phone towards her, she too shook her head and exclaimed “Wow…” Result number one on my search was a simple little paragraph that would have saved us a whole lot of time:

Nutrition Information for Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

Apparently, chickpeas and garbanzo beans are one in the same. We honestly had no idea – everything we’ve ever read about chickpeas had simply called them chickpeas, it never crossed our mind that the bean we were seeing EVERYWHERE was the bean we were looking for. Still slightly chuckling, we returned to the canned goods section of Gateway Market to find garbanzo beans – only to find that written on the can, right above the bold “Garbanzo Beans” title was this:

Apparently we were looking too hard and couldn’t see the forest through the trees! When it was all said and done, we found our chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and learned a lesson on the way too. It just goes to show, no matter how much experience you may build up – there’s always something new to learn.

Now that you’ve got your chuckle for the day, let’s get cooking!

Begin by halving your peppers lengthwise, at the stem (leaving the stem on the pepper). Clean out the seeds and white portions of each pepper (using a melon baller or paring knife great helps do this). Discard the seeds and innards of the peppers before proceeding.

To expedite the process, you can steam these peppers via microwave. The original recipe calls for the methond outlined below. However, I've read that steamed peppers tend to lose their flavor and turn slightly "slimey" rather easily. Erring on the side of cuation, I opted to roast our peppers the oven (details on that method are below). If you prefer to use a steamer basket or other method (such as grilling) you’re certainly free to do so.

To steam the peppers, place them cut side down into a microwave safe dish. Add about ½ inch of water to the dish and microwave on high for 7 to 9 minutes or until the peppers have softened. Set them aside to cool before moving stuffing.

If you'd like to use the oven to roast your peppers, simply prepare them as you did above (sliced lenghtwise, scoop out the seeds and white ribs) this time also chop off the stem. Lightly rub each pepper half with a small amount of vegetable oil and place them (cut side up) on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the peppers in a 425 degree oven until they begin to darken and turn brown on the edges (roughly 10 to 15 minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the oven and flip the peppers. Return the tray to the oven for an additional 5 minutes or until brown spots begin to form. Once nicely browned, remove the peppers from the oven and allow them to rest before adding the stuffing.

While the peppers are cooling, you can begin preparing the stuffing.

First, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your orzo and cook according to package instructions until the pasta is al dente. Once cooked, drain the orzo and rinse with cold water.

Next, add the chickpeas into a medium bowl and mash them with a fork or ricer until they become a chunky paste. You don’t have to mash all of the chickpeas – in fact, some can remain whole if you so choose.

Add the olive oil to a large (12 inch) non stick skillet over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chopped onion and cook for 4 minutes or until the onion softens and becomes translucent. Next, add the spinach and oregano. Stirring frequently, allow the spinach to cook for 1 minute or until it wilts. Finally, stir in the orzo, chickpeas, ½ cup feta, sun dried tomatoes, salt and red wine vinegar. Stir this mixture until it is well combined. Cook until the mixture is heated through – roughly 1 to 3 minutes. Once heated through, divide the filling amongst the pepper halves. Sprinkle each pepper with the remaining feta. Serve and enjoy!

The Results:

This dish was decidedly Mediterranean – the feta (a first for the blog) blended beautifully with the sun dried tomatoes and orzo to create what could best be described as Greek pasta. The chickpeas (another blog first) created a flavorful “paste” that carried and married all of the flavors nicely. The yellow bell pepper (a new color we haven’t tried before) acted as a great vessel to the entire dish – adding a little spice and flavor without overpowering the final result.

All in all, this meatless dish is a nice little treat to change things up from the standard weeknight fare. It’s flavorful enough to keep even the stubborn meat eater happy and healthy enough to keep everyone’s belt line in shape as well. 

That’s all we have for you this week. We’ve back on Monday with either a new “quick hit” recipe or another edition of Around the Culinary World – honestly, we haven’t decided yet! With the summer news cycle in full swing, the culinary news has died down to a crawl. We’re also coming across more and more “quick fix” recipes that we want to share – but that don’t call for an entire weeknight blog. Whatever we decide to share, it will be up on Monday! Until then,


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