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Crunchy stuffed sweet pepper ‘boats’ are a family-friendly meal

THE WASHINGTON POST – I’ve been a parent for more than five years now, and I still can’t tell you the magic formula for coming up with meals that will hit 100 per cent of the time.

I’ve made dishes that I was sure my son would love and he hasn’t. Other times, I’ve been completely surprised by what has been a hit with him (frozen cauliflower, really?). If there’s no accounting for taste, there’s really no accounting for kids’ tastes.

But I like to think I’ve learned at least a few things. One of them is that the most successful family recipes tend to be fun and flexible. That definitely applies to these Stuffed Sweet Pepper ‘Boats’, from cookbook author Jenny Mollen’s Dictator Lunches.

I’m with Mollen when she said that even as an adult, it can be hard to come around to stuffed peppers. The sides go soft, and the flavour can edge into bitter. They can be tricky to eat, too. When I saw her recipe that uses raw mini sweet peppers, it made total sense. The fresh vegetables maintain their sweet, bright flavour, and they provide a cool, crisp contrast to the warm, spicy filling made with ground turkey. Plus, they’re eye-catching in colour and shape, which is why I decided to brand these as ‘boats’ for the kiddos (she calls them Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Peppers). I’m surely not the only parent who’s been taken aback at a party to see their children attack a platter of crudites. Same idea here.

As to flexibility, this recipe has it. Turkey is actually my favourite ground meat, although beef or even lamb would be fine. For meatless options, I’ve tested and enjoyed both plant-based ground meat, which I may have even slightly preferred to the turkey, and cauliflower rice. If you have family members with divergent needs, you can make full batches of one or two of the fillings – they really do come together in a flash – or start one batch’s worth of the onion and spice base in one skillet and then divide it up to finish cooking with separate proteins.

Photos show stuffed sweet pepper ‘boats’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

Similarly, feel free to tweak the seasoning to reduce the heat or suit whatever spice jars you have in your pantry.

This becomes an interactive meal when you let everyone fill their own peppers and top them however they like. It wasn’t included in Mollen’s original recipe, but I like setting out a taco-bar-inspired array of shredded cheese, scallions, salsa and sour cream.

STUFFED SWEET PEPPER ‘BOATS’

Ingredients

– Two tablespoons olive oil

– One medium yellow onion, chopped

– One pound ground turkey, preferably 93 per cent lean

– Half teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

– Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

– One teaspoon sweet paprika

– One teaspoon chili powder

– Half teaspoon dried oregano

– One-quarter teaspoon ground cumin

– Three tablespoons tomato paste

– Half cup plus two tablespoons no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth

– 24 mini sweet peppers, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded

– Shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or pepper Jack

– Sliced scallions

– Salsa

– Sour cream

Directions

In a large, cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook until translucent, three to four minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the turkey, salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, oregano and cumin, stirring until combined. Cook, stirring to break up the meat until it is no longer pink, about five minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste until incorporated. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer, adjusting as needed. Cook until the broth has reduced and the mixture has thickened slightly and is not soupy, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, adding more salt as needed. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the meat to a serving bowl and the halved peppers to a platter. Serve family-style, scooping about one tablespoon of the turkey mixture onto each halved pepper.

Variations

For a meatless option, substitute 12 ounces of plant-based ground meat, such as Impossible Beef. Or try about three cups of cauliflower rice; start with a one-and-a-half- to two-pound head of cauliflower, and break down the florets in batches in a food processor until finely ground, with a texture similar to rice or couscous, depending on your preference.

Alternatively, you can grate the cauliflower on the large holes of a box grater. (If you are buying cauliflower rice, you’ll need about 10 ounces). The cook time on both options will be about the same as for the turkey. – Becky Krystal

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