(Theguardian) – Stuffed pepper, tomato and courgette are my idea of the ultimate comfort food, so fill ’em up
When I was growing up in Jerusalem, just about everything that could be stuffed was stuffed. Vine leaves were rolled round a mixture of rice and meat, filo sheets were filled with cheese, balls of sweet dough were packed with dried fruit, vegetables of all kinds were scooped out and their cavities filled.
The work of preparing stuffed food was, and often still is, communal, meticulous and time-consuming. Stuffing food also served a practical purpose, for instance making meat stretch further by combining it with rice. It also suited those who wanted to get ahead with their cooking – for Friday night’s Shabbat, say – doing all the work in advance, then leaving it to simmer away on the stove while you got
The reason I stuff vegetables at home today is rather different. I do it because I find it very quick and easy, especially if you use a vegetable with a wide cavity, such as a beef tomato or bell pepper. I also do it because it’s family-friendly: you can make the stuffing way in advance, bake the dish ahead of time, eat it warm or at room temperature, and the look is rustic and relaxed. And I do it because of how these dishes taste: mixing a starch such as bread or rice with meat, fish or cheese leads to a deep exchange of flavour and combination of textures.
Even though these days I take inspiration from farther afield than the tradition I grew up in, this is just the sort of cooking that comforts me and reminds me of home.
450g courgettes (ie, 2 medium ones), green or yellow, cut in half lengthways
½ garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 large egg, beaten
40g pecorino, finely grated
40g fresh sourdough breadcrumbs
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 lemon – zest finely grated, to get 2 tsp, and juiced, to get 1 tbsp
4 tbsp finely chopped oregano leaves
35g pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 tbsp olive oil
Heat the oven to its highest setting. Using a dessert spoon, scoop out the courgette flesh, but not all of it: you want 1cm of flesh left all around the sides, so the courgettes hold their shape. You’ll end up with four courgette “canoes”. Transfer the flesh to a sieve and squeeze out as much liquid as you can: you should be left with about 100g flesh. Put this in a bowl and mix in the garlic, egg, pecorino, breadcrumbs and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Crush the tomatoes with your hands, then stir into the courgette mixture.
In a second bowl, mix the lemon zest, oregano and pine nuts. Stir half of this into the courgette mixture and save the rest for the salsa.
Lay the hollowed courgettes cut side up on a medium oven tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle a tablespoon of oil over the top and season with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Spoon the courgette filling into the hollows, and bake for 15 minutes, until the filling is set and golden-brown.
While the courgettes are baking, make the salsa. Mix the lemon juice, remaining two tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt into the oregano and pine nut bowl.
Once the courgettes are cooked, let them cool a little before serving, with the salsa drizzled over the top.
This is my take on the Mexican dish chile relleno, in which green poblano peppers are stuffed with cheese or mince, deep-fried in a light batter, then cooked in a roast tomato sauce. I’ve made all sorts of tweaks – the peppers are bell, the stuffing is prawn and they don’t get deep-fried – but I’ve stuck to tradition with the salsa, which features charred peppers, tomato and chilli. Serves four, with rice.
4 green bell peppers
2 red romano peppers, stalks removed
1 green chilli, stalk removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ tsp lime juice
½ tsp maple syrup
For the stuffing
300g sustainably sourced raw peeled king prawns, roughly chopped
½ banana shallot, peeled and cut into 0.5cm dice
1 green chilli, finely chopped (if you don’t like too much heat, deseed, too)
½ tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
½ tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed
2 limes – zest finely grated, to get 2 tsp, and juiced, to get 1 tbsp
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
10g coriander leaves, finely chopped
100g soured cream
Heat the oven to its highest setting. Spread all the peppers, tomatoes, chilli and garlic on a large oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 10 minutes, then remove the garlic, turn over the remaining vegetables and roast for 10 minutes more, until slightly blackened. Lift out the green peppers and leave to cool, then transfer the red peppers, tomatoes, chilli and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Don’t worry about removing any seeds or liquid, or any charred bits of skin: they all add to the salsa. Add the lime juice, maple syrup and half a teaspoon of salt, then blitz. Pour the salsa into a high-sided 20cm x 30cm baking dish.
When they’re cool enough to handle, cut the green peppers in half lengthways, discard the stalks, seeds and any liquid, then pat dry. Lay the peppers cut side up in the salsa dish: they should fit very snugly.
In a medium bowl, mix the prawns, shallots, chilli, coriander and cumin seeds, lime zest and juice, olive oil, half the coriander and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Spoon this mixture into the pepper halves, drizzle a little oil over the stuffing, then bake for 10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked and golden-brown.
Neatly spoon soured cream over the peppers (serve any excess in a bowl alongside), scatter over the remaining coriander and serve.
Stuffed Mexican tomatoes
Ancho chillies are the dried version of the poblano chilli mentioned in the preceding recipe. They’re mild on heat and big on aroma. You can find them in supermarkets, but half a tablespoon of smoked paprika is an acceptable substitute. These tomatoes are lovely for supper with a green salad, or for brunch with a fried egg. Serves six.
90ml sunflower oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 ancho chillies, soaked in 200ml hot water for 5 minutes, strained (reserve the liquid) and flesh chopped into 0.5cm pieces (discard the stalks and seeds)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli flakes
60g coriander stalks, finely chopped, plus 10g coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to serve
Salt and black pepper
500g beef mince
6-8 large beef tomatoes, weighing 2kg in total – cut 1cm off the top of each (save this for later), then scoop out and roughly chop the flesh
2 limes – zest finely shaved, then cut each into three wedges, to serve
60g basmati rice
250g soured cream
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Heat 60ml sunflower oil in a large nonstick frying pan for which you have a lid and over a medium-high flame. Fry the onion, chillies (but not their liquid), garlic, cumin, chilli flakes, coriander stalks and half a teaspoon of salt for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft and nicely coloured, then transfer to a plate.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the same pan (don’t bother wiping it clean), then add the beef and half a teaspoon of salt, breaking up the meat with a spatula. Fry, stirring as little as possible, for 14 minutes, so the mince catches and caramelises: you want it to go dark and rich. Return the onion mix to the pan, stir in the tomato flesh, lime zest, ancho chilli liquid and the rice, then lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the tomatoes on a 25cm x 35cm baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, making sure there’s a bit of space between them, and season the insides with a good grind of pepper and a third of a teaspoon of salt in total.
Remove and discard the lime zest from the beef mix, then distribute it equally between the tomatoes, gently pressing in the stuffing as you go. Top the tomatoes with their lids, drizzle a tablespoon of oil over the top, sprinkle over a pinch of salt and bake for 30 minutes, until nicely coloured. Serve warm or at room temperature with soured cream, a sprinkling of coriander and a wedge of lime.