Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vegetarian Night: Stuffed Peppers and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I am by no means a vegetarian. Actually, I love meat. I don't think I could ever cut it out of my diet entirely. However, I have started making a point of eating vegetarian at least one night each week. Why? I enjoy vegetables just as much as I enjoy meat, and it gives me a chance to try out new recipes. Also, it makes my grocery bill cheaper. Buying meat each week for one can get a tad expensive when buying in bulk doesn't make sense. So tonight while fighting the all too common urge to pick something up on the way home, I opted to experiment in my kitchen and have my weekly vegetarian night with two hearty recipes.

I had a bell pepper in my fridge, so I decided to stuff it. Stuffing a pepper isn't difficult, and it generates several meals for me with the leftovers. Normally I opt for a rice-based stuffing, and when I'm not going vegetarian, I add ground beef/pork/turkey/chicken or some type of sausage meat. But tonight I remembered that I had some whole wheat couscous in my cupboard that I could use in place of rice for a change. I also had a sweet potato that needed to be used soon, so I chopped it up and decided to roast it, and then play off its delicate sweetness with the tang from a cheese. Here's how it all came together:

Couscous Stuffed Pepper

1 whole bell pepper, cut into its sections on it seams
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
2 large cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry whole wheat couscous
3/4 cup water
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated marble cheese (or mozzarella, or cheddar, whatever your taste)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a flat baking dish or sheet, and arrange the sections of the bell pepper on the dish, insides facing up. Melt 1 tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat and sauté the garlic, onion, and mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper, for 5 minutes or until soft.
While sautéing the vegetables, bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Once boiling, add the couscous, stir, cover, and let sit for 3 minutes.
Add the vegetables to the couscous along with the other 1 tbsp of butter and stir together over low heat. Add the tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Stir together so it forms a paste-like mixture. Remove from heat.
(*Side note: at this point I got worried about how the couscous turned into a paste with the addition of the tomato sauce. I always add tomato sauce when I use a rice stuffing, so I figured I'd do the same with the couscous. So don't be alarmed by the paste - it all tastes wonderful in the end!)
Spread the couscous mixture into the peppers. Mound any extra on top. Top each pepper with a sprinkling of the grated marble cheese.
Put the stuffed peppers in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

And there's my colourful, nutritious, and delicious stuffed pepper. The bonus is that I got three large servings out of this recipe because my yellow bell pepper had 3 sections. That's a couple of lunches or dinners taken care of!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat's Cheese

1 sweet potato, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season
Goat's cheese to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Toss the chopped sweet potato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bowl to fully coat each chunk of potato. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, turning once at 10 minutes.
Move the roasted potatoes into a bowl, and add crumbled Goat's cheese to taste.

Sorry that this one's a little blurry, but you get the idea. The recipe gave me two servings of this size. The Goat's cheese is totally to taste. I was going for a 1:1 ratio of cheese crumbles to potato pieces. If you really love Goat's cheese, then add more. If you would rather have the potatoes play the starring role and just have the cheese as an accent, add less.

It's a fabulous juxtaposition of flavours: the light sweetness of the potato with the browned bits from roasting and the tangy but smooth Goat's cheese. I bought an herb-covered log of the Goat's cheese which adds even more flavour. Together, these two dishes made for a stellar vegetarian night. I got a healthy, satisfying dinner (with lots of leftovers!), and I had fun experimenting in my kitchen.

I don't have much of an explanation of my beats for this post. The only reason I'm choosing this song is because it came on the radio while I was cooking. And, because I like it. And also, because I made stuffed peppers. Here's Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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