Bright Middle Eastern flavors pair perfectly with hearty and healthy quinoa.
First course or main course, lunch or dinner, hot or cold, these baby bell pepper boats are addictively good. Middle Eastern flavors like preserved lemon and za'atar (a spice mixture made with sumac and sesame) provide such depth of flavor, while the spinach, quinoa, and date syrup render the mixture earthy and moist. The chicken could be swapped for turkey or lamb, and kale or Swiss chard are equally good options for the spinach component. Baby bell peppers make it a breeze to portion for any meal, but regular bell peppers will work just as well.
Equipment: cutting board; chef’s knife; paring knife; dry measuring cup; measuring spoons; large sauté pan; wooden spoon; small spoon; rimmed sheet pan; parchment paper
1½ pounds baby bell peppers (approximately 18) 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided kosher salt
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons za'atar
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
2 cups cooked quinoa (such as Ancient Harvest Harmony Quinoa)
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (¼ of a preserved lemon)
1 tablespoon date syrup
¼ cup pignoli nuts, toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Prepare the baby bell peppers. Make boats by slicing the peppers in half lengthwise. Using the tip of a paring knife, scrape out the seeds and remove any rib flesh.
3. Place the pepper vessels scooped side-up on the prepared sheet pan. Drizzle lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until just tender but still firm in shape. Remove from the oven and set aside.
ILOC tip: be careful not to overcook the peppers. The goal is simply to soften them slightly so they no longer taste raw and have crunch. They should not wilt and lose their shape as when preparing roasted peppers.
4. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat the pan, then add the diced onion. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until the onions have softened.
5. Add the ground chicken, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Sprinkle with the za'atar and sauté, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink. Stir in the chopped spinach, cooked quinoa, preserved lemon, and date syrup. Continue cooking, stirring, for 1-2 more minutes more.
ILOC tip: if you don't have date syrup, pomegranate molasses or honey will work in its place.
6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pignoli nuts. Set aside.
7. Remove the peppers from the oven. Pack each pepper boat with the chicken-quinoa filling. Return the sheet pan to the oven and bake the stuffed peppers for another 5 minutes to heat thoroughly.
8. Serve the stuffed peppers warm or room temperature with a green salad.
Makes 6-8 servings, depending on course.