Monday, 5 September 2011

Quinoa stuffed peppers

With a food delivery due tomorrow, I'm having a leftovers spree as I clear out things from my fridge that need eating. I never bin food unless it's obviously gone off, then it goes into a special food waste bin that the council collects from every week. Things that have use-by dates get sniffed - if they smell ok, they are almost certainly still edible. Not so long ago, I ate a pot of plain yoghurt that was more than a month past its due date - it hadn't been opened and it was fine (it must have been - I'm still alive, with no symptoms of food poisoning, and anyway, yoghurt is fermented so unless it's been exposed to air and left out of the fridge it's unlikely to go off).

My veg bin is almost empty but I found three peppers that were just starting to wrinkle so I decided to stuff them. I also grabbed a half-full packet of lardons, half of which I ate a few days ago (I think they went into an omelette). And lurking in the back of my larder was an unopened box of quinoa. I bought this more than three years ago when I became single again and was stocking a larder from scratch in my new home but never got round to trying it. I usually use cous-cous as a filler grain but the jar is empty right now so it was time to experiment with the quinoa.

Cooking the quinoa ahead of preparing the peppers was interesting, to say the least. The packet instructions said to use 70g per person and boil in twice the volume of water - that is utterly meaningless when you're given two entirely different measurements so I did what I usually do and fetched my mug. This mug is old and white and I never drink from it - I use it only for rough measurements of dried ingredients, mainly rice (a mugful is enough for two generous portions). So I tipped the quinoa into the mug until it was just under half full, gave it a quick rinse in a sieve under the cold tap then put it in the pan and poured a kettle of boiling water on top. All guesswork. I left the grain to boil for 10 minutes as per the box instructions although, disappointingly, it only doubled in volume rather than quadrupled. I left it covered, off the heat, to absorb the rest of the cooking water and it did fluff up nicely. But my house now smells like wet cardboard.

Fortunately, the quinoa doesn't taste of wet cardboard but a bit like barley. Except nuttier.

What you need: 
2-3 peppers
1 small onion, chopped finely
Half a pack of lardons, or cut a couple of slices of bacon into strips
A clove of garlic, thinly sliced
A couple of small tomatoes, chopped
Small handful of roughly chopped parsley
Olive oil
Seasonings, to taste

What to do: 
Prepare enough quinoa to fill the peppers. Heat the oven to 180C. Sauté the onion gently in olive oil until it is transparent. Add the lardons and garlic and fry until cooked. Tip into a bowl with the grain, parsley and chopped raw tomatoes and mix well. Throw in a small handful of diced halloumi then season to taste - I used only black pepper as lardons and halloumi are already salty enough for me. Cut the peppers in half vertically, pull out the seeds and pith, then stuff. Pack the peppers into a small, ovenproof dish and pour about half a centimetre of cold water into the dish. Pop in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

Cook's notes: 
This is a great way to use up almost any leftovers - mushrooms, diced carrot or courgette, leeks, even a handful of frozen peas if you're short of veg (don't bother to defrost them). I've used spinach leaves and black olives before, and you can also add pinenuts, pumpkin seeds or capers. If you don't have quinoa, use cous-cous, rice, bulgur wheat or even breadcrumbs from a wholemeal loaf. Instead of halloumi, try feta or even some crumbled stilton or grated cheddar if that's all you have. If you don't have bacon, you can use leftover cooked chicken or pork, or ham or chorizo (replace the meat with nuts if you're vegetarian).

I had two half-peppers left over - that's tomorrow's lunch sorted, then...