Happy Friday eve everyone,
I have a confession to make, I LOATHE stuffed peppers. Is that un-American? Do you like me a little less? Believe me, I’ve tried to like this traditional meal but it wasn’t meant to be. A few weeks back my cousin asked if anyone knew of a “good” stuffed pepper recipe and I thought to myself, is there such a thing? Well, possibly… I’ve found that many of the foods I thought I didn’t like as a kid or even as a teenager, were just not prepared well.
It got me to thinking a little more seriously, there had to be a better way, at least for me. A quick scan of the internet landed me on a Giada recipe for couscous stuffed peppers with a basil sauce. It’s not a secret that I love and trust her, so I worked with this idea she had, it felt like a step in the right direction.
The basil sauce sold me, I could practically taste it as I was reading over the ingredients: lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, packed basil, creme fraiche. Yum to all of that, I only adjust hers by swapping out creme fraiche (which I LOVE) for plain low fat kefir, and a dollop of greek yogurt cream cheese spread to give it body. A healthy substitute and you won’t notice the difference. This would be great served over grilled chicken this summer, or even fish but we’re here to talk about peppers!
Here we go, my spin on stuffed peppers, a lighter and healthier version.
Israeli couscous Stuffed Peppers with Chicken Sausage
Serves 2 or 4 as a first course
I chose Bell & Evans Rosemary Chicken Sausage because it has 83% less fat than standard pork sausage. Additionally, it’s a brand that guarantees no use of antibiotics or hormones (ever), the birds are raised and processed humanely, the meat is then 100% air chilled – meaning no retained water. Plus, it tastes better, period.
4 fresh peppers – tops and seeds removed. We like the yellow and orange best
1 cup organic baby spinach – chopped
2 links of chicken sausage – casings removed and meat chopped
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
hot water – for the peppers to sit in while they bake.
1 sprig of rosemary
1 1/4 cups of organic culinary chicken stock
Israeli couscous – cook one cup of raw (prep to follow)
*pre-heat your oven to 400 and grab a low pan that your peppers can sit in snugly
Prep your peppers:
Carefully use the tip of a paring knife to carve out the stem like you would on a pumpkin, gently wiggle the stem and lift up to remove it. You can rinse the inside of the pepper out with water and tap out the seeds, any moisture left in there is fine – don’t worry about it.
If any of your peppers don’t want to sit up without falling over, slice a thin layer of flesh off whichever nub on the bottom is giving you trouble.
Next prepare your couscous. I don’t mind the small kind but I prefer the big israeli pearls. Hello sensory issue! I have never had a problem finding this, use the whole wheat version if you can find it. This time it was not stocked, womp 🙁
Add the culinary stock to a pot along with your sprig of rosemary and bring it to a boil.
Add one cup of couscous, cover, and lower to a simmer for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat when all the liquid has absorbed.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, start your stuffing mixture.
By now my couscous was ready so I added it to the bowl along with my goat cheese and olive oil. Personally, I used about 3/4’s of my package.
Then the chopped spinach
and it will look like this –
Season your stuffing with about 1/2 tsp of sea salt +/- depending on your liking/needs, and a few cracks of fresh pepper.
Spoon the mixture into your peppers and drizzle with a little EVOO.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the tops turn golden.
Meanwhile make the basil sauce in your blender or Vitamix – if you have one.
1 cup of packed organic basil – stems removed
1/2 cup plain low fat kefir – this is lactose free for those with dietary restrictions (I use this daily for breakfast smoothies)
1 clove of garlic – skin removed, trimmed, center folds removed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8th tsp truvia or stevia
pinch of sea salt
2 cracks of fresh pepper
1 tbsp water
Give it a whirl until smooth and you’re done. Easy, right? Actually I felt it needed more body and it just so happened I had a tub of this new spread in the fridge. A spoonful thickened it right up.
One more quick buzz with the Vitamix and it was good to go.
When your peppers are done baking, serve them up in a bowl and spoon the sauce over them.
I can finally say, after all this time, that I LOVE STUFFED PEPPERS. This recipe offers so much flavor and I don’t feel guilty after. Another big point for me, the flesh wasn’t overcooked. I can’t do mush, I just can’t. The only downside, it also makes me ache for summer – fresh homegrown basil, local produce, ughhh! Get here please!
Note: for a gluten-free version, substitute quinoa for the couscous.
Cheers guys 🙂