North African Couscous Stuffed Peppers
I’ve been making a lot of vegan food lately. Yes, I know how popular that sentiment is. After all, Mike won’t let me forget that I’m “depriving him of nutrients” (note: phooey). While it’s true that I’m posting yet another vegan entree, I feel that it would be remiss of me not to mention that the next day (last night) I bought Mike hot dogs for dinner. Yes, I gave him hot dogs (with buns!) for a meal, if only to stop the whingeing. So lest you feel too sorry for his poor omnivorous heart, just remember that he also gets his share of lips and arseholes every now and again.
It’s also worth a mention that in proof reading I found that i wrote “hot gods”. Twice. That might be somewhat indicative about how I fare with a vegan diet.
North African Couscous Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4-6, which is to say that with a side salad 1 feeds a light eater and 2 feeds one with an appetite. You can guess which group we fall into.
- 1 cup fine grain Couscous (+ 1.3 cups water)
- 4 sweet peppers (red, yellow or a mix)
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes *
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 3/4 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp Garam Masala
- 1.5 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp dried mint **
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup dates (about 6)
- 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (about 3 large halves)
- 4 tbsp (divided) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 red onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 can (19 oz) chickpeas
- salt to taste ***
* The peppers come out to about a medium spicy. If you like things a bit milder feel free to only add 1/4 tsp or omit the red pepper flakes altogether.
** Fresh mint would provide a much fresher, stronger flavor – but it’s equally delightful! If you prefer to use fresh rather than dried mint, use the same amount (2 tbsp). If you double the amount, like you normally would for fresh herbs, it would be too strong.
*** Couscous needs salt, and it’s important to balance the sweetness in the stuffing. I would suggest at least 1/2 tsp of salt, but if you taste the hydrated couscous and feel that it needs more salt feel free to add.
Preheat your oven to 425ºF.
Cut the peppers in half and scoop out the ribs and seeds but leave the stem end intact. I find that the easiest way to do this is to use a sharp paring knife and cut straight across the inside of the stem end before popping it out.
Drizzle one (1) tbsp of oil (it doesn’t have to be extra virgin olive oil) onto a baking sheet and place the pepper halves cut side down on top. Bake the peppers for 15 minutes or until the skins are starting to blister but not particularly browned.
When you pull the peppers out turn the heat down to 350ºF and let the oven continue warm.
In the mean time, as the peppers bake put the dry couscous, raisins and spices in a bowl. Add as much salt as you think is needed to season the dish (I go for about 1/2 tsp). Chop the tomatoes and dates into 1/4″ chunks. And yes, you’re right. Sundried tomatoes are not exactly a North African ingredient, but they do add a delightful sour-sweet charm.
Bring a few cups of water to a boil and then measure out 1 and 1/3 cups of boiling water into the couscous mixture.
Give the mixture a quick stir and then cover the bowl with a tight fitting lid or cling film with a closed seal. Let this sit for about 5 minutes until the couscous has absorbed all the water.
Drizzle on 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and give the mixture a thorough fluffing with your fork.
Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into a large skillet set over medium high heat. Chop the onion up into a 1/4″ dice and coarsely chop the garlic. Start to saute the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent and then let it cook down, still over medium high heat, just until the onions start to brown a wee smidge. This should take about 5-6 minutes in total. The browning will give the onions a richer, smokier flavor that’s almost bitter. However, the flavor of charred onion just can’t be mimicked so don’t be tempted to substitute with a gently softened onion.
Add the onions and garlic to the couscous along with the pine nuts and chickpeas.
Flip the peppers right side up and pack each one as tightly as it will go with the couscous mixture. If there’s any stuffing left mound it on top of the stuffed peppers as best you can.
Tuck the sheet back into the oven. The peppers are done when the stuffing mixture is heated through. The outside of the stuffing will have formed a sort of loose crust that is dry enough to almost hold itself together.
The stuffing is sweetly crumbly and richly fulfilling for a mere lowly ‘grain’. I know, I keep calling it a grain even though couscous is actually more like a pasta. Such is life, and sometimes you’ll just have to forgive me for my inconsistencies.
This may have been a lazybones Wednesday night dinner, but it was still fulfilling enough for this omnivore to feel sated….even when it subbed in as lunch the next day!