Editor’s Note: We have been asking readers to tell us what they are cooking, and why, during this time of self-isolation. This week, Anne Holliday Abbott, of Portland, wrote to tell us about a recipe for stuffed bell peppers that seems to have special restorative powers. 

“Stuffed Bell Peppers as a kid favorite? Who knew?

“Surprisingly in my house they are, and I’m a favorite grandmother when I make them. I got the recipe 50 summers ago from a friendly farmer in Houlton, who always had lots of bell peppers at his farm stand. He shared the recipe with me one sunny morning when I shopped there with my two young children.

“It is a simple recipe that feeds a large group. If you want to make a smaller batch, just cut this recipe in half.

“I hadn’t made the peppers for quite awhile when we moved into our three-generational Portland house almost 20 years ago. We had lived in Arizona for a long time, and the temperatures there aren’t conducive to recipes that require you to heat the stove.

“The day we moved into our house here in Maine was the first birthday of one of my grandsons, and I was a loss as to what to cook. There were moving boxes all over the house and the kitchen was in turmoil. Elliott was born in Arizona on September 12, 2001, one day after the devastation of 9/11. His first birthday was one year and one day after the event. Marking the trauma of 9/11 was also in the air in Maine at that time, making people stressed and unhappy. Somehow I managed to pull enough food together to create a huge pan of stuffed bell peppers and a white box cake with blueberries, all from groceries I had on hand.

“The menu has stuck as a favorite, and for every one of the past 18 years, it has been Elliott’s September 12th birthday party dinner.

“About four weeks ago, all four of my college-aged grandchildren returned home from their respective colleges because of the coronovirus. Three will graduate this spring without ceremonies. They are all in various states of shock. Sadness prevailed for quite awhile. What does an enterprising grandmother do? With my daughter’s help, I made a batch of the bell peppers. Marcy has been making this recipe with me and on her own for many years, too. It’s one of many recipes I have passed on to her.

“When Elliott walked by the pan of peppers the afternoon I cooked them, he whooped with excitement. That night all four grandchildren ate seconds and thirds. I can’t claim the bell peppers cured the sadness, but it went a long way to making the grandchildren feel safe and at home again.”

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Recipe courtesy of Anne Holliday Abbott, who added, “I don’t tell my adult son that there is cumin in this recipe. He staunchly denies liking cumin, and yet I use it in almost every dish I make.” Abbott likes to make extra filling, “because I’m savvy enough to know that many of the grandchildren are in it for this, and not so much the peppers.” She spoons the extra into another greased casserole dish and tops it with ketchup, using the casserole to supplement the meal or “later as snacks for hungry young people.” Abbott likes to serve the stuffed peppers with a loaf of good bread and a crispy green salad.

Serves about 10

10 orange, yellow, red and green bell peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 lbs. ground beef

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch cumin

4 cups long-grain white rice, cooked according to package directions

Ketchup

Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Carefully core the peppers without cutting into the bottom, and remove seeds and membranes from the shells. Wash the peppers and place them in 2 large kettles (or a huge pot) with enough water to cover. Bring the water and peppers to a full boil and cook them, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until they become soft but not limp. You want them to be able to hold the filling without collapsing. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the boiling water. Place them, cavity side up, in the prepared pan.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Now add the ground beef and cook until it is no longer pink. Stay on top of the beef while it browns, breaking it down so that it is cooked all the way through but not pulverized. Season the meat with the salt, pepper and cumin.

Add the cooked beef to the rice in a large bowl, combine. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if you like. Spoon the rice and meat mixture into the cavities of the peppers. Top each pepper with a dollop of ketchup.

You can stop here and stash the peppers in the refrigerator until dinner. When you are ready to serve them, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. An hour before dinner, set the dish with the peppers on the counter to warm for 10 minutes, then place it in the oven for about 45 minutes. Open the oven and peek in to check on its progress. The peppers should be warmed through, the top should be brown and the ketchup glossy.


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