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Peppers Worth Their Salt in Many Ways

June 18, 1987|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

While growing up in Indiana, I learned to enjoy the piquancy of a green bell-shaped vegetable that grew in profusion in our garden. We called them mangoes. Much later, after my interest in foods had taken me to other states, I was surprised to find out that most people referred to our "mangoes" as "green peppers," and that Indiana was one of the only states that confused the bell pepper with the fruit--and still does, in some parts of the state.

Whatever you call green peppers, you will find that they, as well as their red and yellow pepper cousins, microwave well in many recipes. It takes about four to five minutes to microwave-saute a cup of chopped green pepper for a casserole. To do so, add about a tablespoon of a liquid--oil, water or melted butter--to the dish. Cover the dish. The peppers will reduce in volume about a third as they cook.

Precook pepper shells in the microwave as beautiful "baskets" for other creamed or precooked vegetables. To do so, cut the peppers in halves lengthwise and remove seeds and stems. Arrange, cut side down, in a baking dish large enough to hold all the peppers without crowding. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) until softened and color has brightened. Turn, cut side up, and drain juices. Fill, then return to microwave for about one to two minutes per pepper, just to warm the filling.

Savory Meat Mixtures

Whole green peppers that have been filled with savory meat mixtures take about 12 to 24 or more minutes, depending upon the size of the pepper and whether the meat has been precooked. It's only a little faster to precook the meat rather than to use raw meat in the stuffing.

Ground meat fillings for peppers often include cooked rice, herbs, salt and pepper. But to vary stuffed peppers, substitute cooked bulgur (cracked wheat) for rice. Or substitute cooked fish for precooked meat.

When you see a profusion of colorful peppers at the market--or if you're particularly lucky in the garden--try the rainbow saute that follows. It's a fresh and beautiful dish any time of the year.

Many traditional recipes require the peppers to be parboiled before being stuffed and baked. Today's penchant for fresh flavor and color, plus the microwave's ability to cook vegetables fast and well, allows us to dispense with the parboiling step.

If you modify this recipe by using precooked ground beef, you can reduce the cooking time for the stuffed peppers to about 12 to 16 minutes. The peppers will be crispier than those in the recipe that follows.

TRADITIONAL STUFFED PEPPERS

6 medium green or sweet red peppers

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup cooked rice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 teaspoon sugar

2 cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

Cut off tops of green peppers and remove seeds. Mix beef with onion, rice, salt, pepper and garlic. Divide mixture and spoon into peppers.

Arrange peppers evenly in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. (You will probably need to place one in center.) Stir sugar into tomato sauce and pour evenly over peppers. Cover casserole and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 24 to 28 minutes, until meat is cooked through.

Test for doneness by removing dish from oven, carefully uncovering dish and lifting spoonful of filling from pepper in center of dish. Meat should be brown, not pink. Or, use microwave temperature probe. Well done will register 175 degrees when probe is inserted into center pepper. When done, sprinkle tops of peppers with cheese and let stand a few minutes until cheese melts. Makes 6 stuffed peppers.

RAINBOW OF PEPPERS SAUTE

2 large green peppers

2 large sweet red peppers

1 large sweet yellow pepper

3/4 cup sliced onion

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups coarsely chopped, cored unpeeled tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves

Slice each pepper in half lengthwise. Remove stems and seeds. Slice peppers lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips. In 3-quart microwave-safe casserole, place onion, garlic and olive oil. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 2 to 3 minutes, until onion is limp.

Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and basil. Cover and microwave at HIGH 5 to 8 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes, until tomatoes have softened and mixture has become like sauce.

Add peppers, blending well to cover each piece with tomato sauce. Cover and microwave on HIGH 8 to 10 minutes until peppers are cooked but still slightly undercooked. Let stand, covered, about 5 minutes before serving. Peppers will cook a bit more while standing. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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