FANCY STUFFED PEPPERS / Jazzy Vegetarian
This tempting entrée is especially well-suited to wintertime, and the festive presentation will grace the table at any holiday celebration. Choose the color of peppers accordingly: orange and yellow for Thanksgiving, red and green for Christmas, or red for Valentine's Day. The quinoa has a light, nutty flavor that perfectly complements the texture and bold taste of the black beans. As a bonus, any leftovers will be tasty even if served cold. One heads-up: It's best to make the quinoa a day in advance to allow it to firm up, so plan ahead.
1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
2 cups vegetable broth
6 bell peppers, any color or a combination of colors
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 jar (about 25 ounces) marinara sauce, as needed
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1⁄4 cup toasted wheat germ, plus more as needed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
Put the quinoa and broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft but not mushy. Let cool slightly. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
When ready to assemble the stuffed peppers, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice off the top 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inches of each pepper and set aside (these tops will be used to “cap” the peppers later). Seed the peppers.
Stir the oil into 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce. Spread the mixture in the bottom of a deep casserole large enough to hold all the peppers snugly so they remain upright during baking. Set aside 1⁄4 cup of the remaining marinara sauce. Mix the quinoa with the beans, mushrooms, onion, wheat germ, garlic, basil, and half of the remaining marinara sauce. Stir until well combined, adding more marinara sauce, a couple of tablespoonfuls at a time, until the mixture is moist but not soupy. If the mixture does get a little soupy, simply add more wheat germ.
Spoon one-quarter of the mixture into each pepper, mounding it if need be. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the reserved marinara sauce over each pepper, then top with the pepper tops. (The stuffing will peek out between the pepper tops and bottoms.) Carefully position the peppers in the casserole so they will remain upright while baking.
Cover and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the peppers are slightly tender but not mushy. Serve immediately or let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Put the sauce that has accumulated at the bottom of the casserole in a gravy boat or small bowl to pass at the table.