couscous and feta-stuffed peppers

As what would a weblog be without the at least occasional, melodramatic confession, today — a morning after which not a single new thing was prepared in the Smitten Kitchen last night (Tuesday’s yoga and volleyball night, and I’ll let you work who does what. Always such mystery!) — seems the perfect time to dislodge one of mine: Sometimes I cook things, love them to pieces, but hate the photos I took of the dishes so I never tell you about them. Can you imagine anything more pathetic? The pictures make me cringe so much that it upstages the deliciousness within! Could I be a little more crackpot, a little less rock-and-roll?

But as we’re in the midst of NaBloPoMo meaning that I won’t have to see these poorly-lit, blurry and color-jinxed photos on top for more than a day, let’s dig in, shall we? Because really, you should make these stuffed peppers. If anything could convert a stuffed pepper hater, it would have to be this. The filling was so good, possibly a new favorite couscous dish, that we ate the extras (there was a bit) freely and eagerly. As it makes four peppers, it’s the perfect two-night meal and they keep wonderfully in the fridge. For the feta component, we’ve developed a strong liking for both French and Bulgarian fetas – they’re a little softer and less salty than their readily-available Greek counterparts, and enmeshed wonderfully with their surroundings. I also added a few tablespoons of tomato paste to the mix, because I love it, and because it helped all the flavors come together. Ugly picture be damned, I want more of this right now. (See how this exercise has forced me to grow?)

pickled red onions

The second cringe-inducing, color-warped picture is of something for a more niched palate: pickled red onions. After making giardiniera, which I confess, did little for this not very pickle-smitten girl, I wanted to focus on something I knew we could love equally. The recipe is a cinch, cinch cinch, makes the prettiest pink jar of rings and keeps for weeks and weeks. However, the onion flavor was a little too drained for me, and next time, I would skip the first step. Otherwise, as a condiment at a barbecue or a little something-something for your salad, these are an unusual treat.

And now, I will spend the remainder of this gray, soaked, damp-wool suit panted but otherwise terrific (Team Britney, like you have to ask) afternoon dreaming of steamy soups and watching the news reels, wide-eyed.

leaves like drapes

Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Epicurious

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2/3 cup couscous
4 large bell peppers, mixed colors
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 ounce zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
6 ounce yellow squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
15 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons tomato paste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a small baking dish with cooking spray. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the couscous, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the stems and top half inch off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Boil trimmed peppers for 5 minutes*, then drain them upside down. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet. Add onion, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel seeds, oregano, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and tomato paste. Using a fork, scrape the couscous into the skillet and toss with the vegetables. Stir in the crumbled feta. Place peppers upright in the baking dish and fill them with couscous. Bake 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

* A reviewer noted that they skipped this step, and the extra dishes, by pre-roasting the peppers until they were soft, then stuffing them and finishing up the baking time. I didn’t do it this way, but am sure it would work.

Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from Epicurious

2 red onions, sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Blanch* 2 sliced red onions in a small saucepan of boiling water to cover for 1 minute and drain in a colander. Then return them to the pan and add a cup of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, and just enough cold water to barely cover the onions. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer the onions 1 minute. Transfer the onions and brine to a glass jar and chill. The onions will turn the color of a pink piñata and will get crisp as they cool. They’ll keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

* If you want to retain more of an onion-y flavor, you might want to skip this step. Next time I will and see if it works the same.

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44 comments on couscous and feta-stuffed peppers

  1. Elissa

    I read daily, love your recipes, but never comment. So here’s my first: I am LOVING NaBloPoMo! You must be exhausted from all the hours of cooking and writing, but it’s been so much fun to have new posts to read, new pictures to look at, and new recipe ideas daily.

  2. Yvo

    (Weird, I was JUST thinking I should give stuffed peppers a go two days ago but my oven is broken, so I had to push that thought out of my head…)
    But first: I know we don’t know each other at all, but get the f* out of here. No, seriously, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. I clicked over here like I do every day, and I saw the picture up top and literally stopped and stared for a good two minutes. I am LOVING that picture and you don’t like it?! How dare you insult my taste! Just kidding about that last line, but the picture is amazing! Blurry? Unless you’re being extremely facetious, in which case, err, oops. But that picture gives me the whole sense of stuffed peppers! The 2nd picture is excellent as well, but at that point I’d already read how much you hated the first so I was upset already. Oy.

  3. hahahaha I have to agree with the other commenters, I mean, I looked at the first picture and my first thought was “wow, now that´s something I wanna eat”. In fact, I´ll be buying the ingredients I´m missing sometime this week and making that as soon as possible, it looks incredible, and with those ingredients, it must be. Now, about the feta, which other cheese would you recommend based on the end flavor you get? I COULD buy some feta, but it is ridiculously expensive here, so I wanna try and replace it with some other strong cheese. Gruyere maybe?

  4. tammy

    Your stuffed peppers – I understand – The pictures are like a day when you aren’t feeling so good about yourself yet others say how “cute” you look and tell you they just “love” your sweater and you think “really, are they serious?!?” … Perhaps something like that, no?

    I love peppers – The “H” doesn’t – He never has – This I will make for him and see what he thinks. Since he’s the chef he will always try anything and everything so at least I have a chance!

  5. RA

    I’m feeling the picture love as well; the peppers put my beloved stroganoff leftovers at hand to shame. Pout. For what it’s worth, I kind of like seeing imperfect shots, although I have yet to spot the imperfection, untrained eye that I have. It kind of gives hope to me as a learner, if that makes any sense.

  6. Cat

    Wow, if that’s a bad picture of peppers, I may as well give up now! Don’t be so hard on yourself. I just discovered your blog last week and I come back daily just to see the pictures…it’s pure food porn! Love it. Perhaps you’ve posted this info before, but what do you take your photos with, and what’s your secret?

  7. ann

    oh, and skipping the blanching step DOES make the flavor better, and leaves them crunchier too
    see, you’ve got me all flusttered in excitement :-)

  8. I’ve never commented on your site before – but it just absolutely make me drool. This NaBlaPoMo thing is killing me though – I can’t keep up with reading all the posts! Keep it up though – I love what your doing.

  9. Changing the subject ever so slightly, did you see the “no knead bread recipe” in the NYTimes today? It does seem like a loooooot of patience, but according to the article, it achieves a professional outcome and *drum roll* it can be cooked in a le creuset pot lol
    Since I have yet to develop such patience and I don´t have a heavy pot like that, I´m gonna have to let you try it first ;)

    Here are the links:

  10. bawdy penguin

    does the blanching take the bite out of the onion? these look good but i wouldn’t want to eat just onions if they were too strong- i guess i don’t know what to eat them with. suggestions? i agree with the others- the pictures look good. too bad this page isn’t scratch and sniff.

  11. ella

    I’ve made those stuffed peppers, and I agree that they are awesome. Instead of pre-roasting or boiling, though, I simply put them in a glass baking dish, covered with plastic wrap (poked some holes with a fork to vent), and microwaved for three or four minutes. Worked like a charm.

  12. First, I think the photos totally made the dishes look appetizing. And bawdy penguin, I’m guessing that blanching the onions will indeed reduce the bite. There’s a cold dish I make in the summer with cannellini beans, Italian tuna canned in olive oil and red onions. If I rinse the chopped onions in cold water first, it really calms them down.

  13. deb

    Lori – I’m sure it would. Is it a goat cheese issue or just feta? If not, I’d suggest a soft chevre; otherwise, I’m sure you can replace it with whatever cheese you normally like.

    Rachel – Thank you.

    Elissa – Oddly, not very exhausted, though I’m sure this will jinx me. But, I’m glad people are liking it. It’s odd, because when I have to post, say when I under a contract that stipulates a certain amount per week, I find it impossible. By crazed choice? No problem! (Yet.)

    M – Okay, now I sound like I was fishing for compliments. I swear, I wasn’t. I just didn’t like the inaccurate color on the red pepper or the blurriness on the red onions. Still don’t, despite all the nice people chiming in their defense.

    Yvo – Ditto on the above. Sorry, I’m just not liking the picture, I know it could be worse, but I will always know it can be better. I don’t need to be perfect all the time. (Quit laughing. Quit it.)

    Marce – Thanks. I think what works about the feta is that it’s not very melty, so I’d be concerned about a cheese too oily or waxy that would break down completely. But, I’m sure nothing would actually taste BAD in there, so run with it. Use what you’ve got!

    Tammy – I was going to begin this entry with the caveat that I hated stuffed peppers too (especially the green ones, blech!) but then I realized that’s how I begin like half my posts and it was getting dull. I do have one other stuffed pepper recipe I like, my mother-in-law’s, but I’ll get to that when I finally make it with measurements.

    RA – Mmm, stroganoff. Yeah, didn’t work. Sorry. I like imperfect pictures too, I like smears of sauce and messy countertops. I just don’t like blurry. Ack, I’ll shut up about these pictures now. Really, I’m over it!

    Ombra – Okay, that one I like. I just wanted to end with a fall picture, as the leaves are rapidly disappearing.

    Cat – I actually just updated the photo part of the About page to include more info. Hope that answers your Qs.

    Ann – Hooray! The pickle lover comes forward. I trust your advice fully. You think it would taste as good with plain old vinegar? The cider taste came through more than I’d expected.

    Lisa – Thank you!

    Marce – I saw it! I’m SO on it, as soon as I lose some of the bread already stuffing our freezer. That said, I love kneading and I think I’ll miss it. But, those tricks about the long rising and the lower amounts of yeast we talked about here, didn’t we? (I feel like a school teacher, seeing if we’re learning anything.)

    Bawdy Penguin – It did/does, so leave that step in if you want the bite gone. But, it wasn’t the lack of bite that bothered me, it was the diluted onion flavor, barely noticeable in the end-product. I’m sure that even if you skipped the first step, the bite of the onion would be long gone before you even taste them. It disappears quickly among other ingredients.

    Ella – When I want pieces of red onion in a salad, I either chop them much earlier, so their ow-bite drains a little, or soak them in some cold water for a few minutes. Works well, too, especially when the onion is so farmer’s market fresh, the smell could gouge your eyes out!

    Terry – Ah, exactly what you said! A quick rinse totally does the trick.

    Shawn – Aw. What happened between you and Martha?! It wasn’t the artichokes, was it?

    Married Girl – Thanks, too much.

  14. Color-sorting? Really? I would have taken you for an alphabetizer type, myself. Pickling scares me just a little bit, but I’m all about stuffing peppers!

  15. Yum – you have great taste in food – I want to make almost everything you post. The pickled onions reminds me of a dish I made for Thanksgiving last year – red onion and cranberry chutney – it was divine, and I think it was also from epicurious.

  16. I know what you mean, I just made the most beautiful cheesecake that was really non-photogenic. Too bad it will never see the blogosphere. It just made its way into my stomach, which I guess isn’t too bad.

  17. Oooh, the answer to my low-fat vegetarian prayers!! I think I know what I’m cooking this weekend! And giggling soooo hard over the food porn comment. Too funny and too true.

  18. Wow, these look yummy. I wish my photos looked half as nice as yours. I will try this recipe because my mom used to make an awful stuffed green pepper recipe and it turned all of my siblings off stuffed peppers. This one just might redeem things.

  19. deb

    Kirs – Oh, no. It’s all aesthetics, no logic, with me. See how well-adjusted I am?!

    Maggie – That chutney recipe sounds great. I want to do something on cranberry sauces very soon. Do you have a link to it?

    JenJen – You’re nuts. I LOVE your photos. You cannot deprive your readers that cheesecake!

    Traci – I aim to please. Vegetarian at home, baked goods for elsewhere is the theme these days!

    Brilynn – Yeah, I’m nuts. But, the peppers are awesome.

    Erika – Yes, I always hated the green ones, also the mystery-stuffed ones. This is none of that, promise.

    Jocelyn – Aw. But it has carbs!

    Another Deb – Ah, I forgot to mention. I beveled the bottoms of the peppers ever-so-slightly. (See the things I forget when I wait weeks and weeks to post things?) They stood up, but then they stuck a little, so next time I’d lightly spritz the bottom of the casserole dish with Pam before setting them on their beveled bottoms.

  20. Blogging everyday!!! Please give up the idea your photos aren’t perfect. If I drool, they’re perfect and believe me I drool.
    The peppers and onions are fabulous!

  21. Stuffed peppers are so low-carb. Just take the rice out. And those onions look just like the ones on the Dumont Burger–the burger so good that they had to open another Dumont that only sells the burger, on Bedford. OMG my mouth is watering….

  22. madfelice

    My partner was turned off stuffed peppers and wouldn’t eat them for years because his ex wife used to make dreadful ones stuffed with mmince. I recently made some similar to these anyway but with rice instead of couscous and a slightly different mix of vegetables in the filling and with the fetta on top instead of through the mix and now he even let me try this one! I love your recipes so much! This one is, as always, delicious! Thank you!

  23. Amie Kolesar

    Finding your blog has made me discover my love for cooking and baking and I’m becoming the good cook in my family. There hasn’t been one of those since 1999 when my grandma passed away.
    Thank you for all the recipes.
    I love your blog, I love the food, and I may even venture to say I love you a little.

  24. Jessi

    I have just tried this recipe. Even though I left out the fennel and the squash it’s absolutely amazing. I think I found a new favorite.
    Thank you for putting it up on the website. I will definitely try more of your recipes.

  25. Jessie

    These were easy and delicious! I pre-baked the bell peppers for 20 minutes and used whole wheat couscous. Served with a big salad and good wine.

  26. Angela

    I have recently found your site, thanks to a good friend, and am in love. This is my second recipe I have made and a second success. Pickier wouldn’t try it but Picky demolished 3/4 of a pepper – that’s a lot for someone about 3 feet tall. Picky also loved helping me “make” the peppers. She filled and gently patted the stuffing down. As I preference, I enjoy the taste of roasted peppers to blanched. Next time I will roast them as suggested. Look forward to cooking more of your recipes.

  27. Ellie

    I made it last night for vegetarian guests, roasting the peppers first. They were delicious and succulent. I couldn’t find any yellow peppers so i doubled the zucchinni; I left out the fennel and added some chopped italian parsley. Excellent recipe. We all loved it.

  28. Sarah

    These were good, although I thought they benefitted from a generous squeeze of lemon and lots of black pepper before stuffing–the contents were a little bland at first. On the streamlining front, I perched the peppers on muffin tins for stability. They didn’t sit down in the cups, but it made them stable without beveling. I also skipped the boiling/roasting step and instead threw the peppers in the oven for about 10 minutes while the oven was preheating, which was plenty.