I love finding the commonalities among different global cuisines, and it seems that every culture has their own version of stuffed vegetables. Each tradition has variations of spices and stuffings, but the idea is always the same: They are the kind of cozy, home-cooked recipes that remind me of the grandmas and aunts who have big tables, open doors, and warm hearts. Although I am not Persian, I’ve always felt connected to Persian food and find comfort and familiarity in the spice blends that are so closely related to my own Yemenite roots.
Israel has somewhat of an obsession with stuffed vegetables, and they are often served at big Shabbat dinners. I was introduced to these dishes from friends and family when I visited, and I was struck by how each family took so much pride in their dishes and the balance of flavors — it really seemed like every vegetable could be stuffed. And while some stuffed vegetables take a little longer to prepare, stuffed peppers are easy enough for a weeknight dinner.
These Persian-style stuffed peppers are both seriously comforting and wholesome. It’s also a one-pot-meal that’s perfect to bring people together on a weeknight or for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. Filled with fresh herbs like mint and cilantro and aromatic spices such as saffron, cinnamon, and cumin, they are flavorful and hearty, but not heavy.
- 6 large bell peppers (a combination of colors looks great)
For the filling:
- 3/4 cups basmati rice
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 chopped fresh mint
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
For the spice mix:
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp sumac
For the sauce:
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp saffron
- juice of 1 lemon
- Rinse basmati rice well until water runs clear. In a small saucepan, combine the rice, 1 1/4 cups of water, and 3/4 tsp kosher salt. Cook per package directions, fluff with a fork, and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and ground beef and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Using a flat wooden spatula to break up the ground beef, cook for about 10 minutes, until the meat is cooked through and just starting to brown, but some juices are still left in the pan. Add the tomato paste, mix well to incorporate, and set aside off the heat.
- Combine all of the ground spices in a small bowl, whisk, set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, chopped cilantro, parsley, mint, and scallions. Add the beef and onions mixture, and the spice blend. Using a large spoon, combine all filling ingredients thoroughly.
- Carefully cut off the tops of the peppers, trying to keep the stem intact. Using a spoon or small pairing knife, scoop out the membranes and the seeds. If the peppers are wobbly, you can carefully slice off a tiny bit of the bottom to level it, careful not to cut a hole in the skin. Arrange the peppers tightly together in a baking dish or cast iron skillet.
- Generously spoon the filling mixture in each pepper all the way to the top, packing it down slightly. Top each pepper with its stem top.
- In a small sauce pan, combine the 2 cups water, saffron, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk to dissolve the tomato paste, then pour the sauce mixture between the peppers to fill the bottom of the baking dish.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes until the peppers are fragrant and slightly wilted. Spoon some pan sauce into each pepper, and serve with slices of fresh lemon and a big green salad if desired.