One of the things I most admire about professional chefs is their ability to know what flavors will work well together. Like on Chopped, for example. A recent episode featured ground lamb, Stilton cheese, eggplant and birch syrup. Now, if you gave me those, I’d have an idea that lamb and eggplant might go together since they’re both featured in middle eastern cuisine. And I know that Stilton is like blue cheese so it’s stinky and powerful. But birch syrup? No idea about that one. Put them all together in one cohesive plate? No way!
But if you’re a professional and/or experienced chef, then you know that the sweetness of the birch syrup (which is apparently like maple but “with more pine and wintergreen notes”, according to Aaron Sanchez) will pair nicely with the savory cheese. You would also know that ground lamb will make a good meatball, particularly if you cook it in something like red wine in order to keep it moist. You’d know that eggplant needs to be seasoned just so and that to put it all together you definitely need a starch.
I can not claim to be a professional chef but over the years, I have been able to learn what goes together well, partly from eating at restaurants, partly from reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows and partly from experimenting. I have a sense of how to build a sauce, how to add flavor, how to fix mistakes (too much salt? add a potato to absorb it) and how to re-purpose leftovers. Cooked chicken goes well into soup, casseroles, tossed with pasta or with salad. Lemon, garlic and rosemary are good flavors for chicken. Apple cider and apple cider vinegar go well with pork. Bacon makes everything better.
As a result, when I needed to use up leftovers from the big Passover meal, I was able to combine them in a way that made sense, was delicious and was pretty healthy, as well. I’ll try to talk you through my thought process so you can see how I, a home cook, made it happen.
I had lots of peppers left over since I had intended to make a salad but didn’t. (Hippo, I am so sorry but this post will have peppers as a main ingredient (and some zucchini as well) and I know how you feel about those. You could always use cabbage leaves or Portobellos or another vessel.)
I also had leftover roasted balsamic veggies, cooked chicken and matzo. When I lived in Israel, we’d often make stuffed peppers with rice and vegetables. I’ve also made and have eaten stuffed cabbage as well so I knew that I could chop the chicken and veggies and use those as part of the stuffing. Crumbled matzo could be substituted for the starch element (usually rice). I would just need some sort of binder like cheese or egg, to help hold the mixture together. I peeked into the fridge and, lo and behold, I had some leftover ricotta that needed to be used. I also found some parmesan cheese that could be melted on top.
Thus, a dish was born.
I give you stuffed peppers, passover style.
Bell peppers (one or two for each person, depends on how hungry you are)
Some sort of protein, cooked: chicken, pork, beef
Some sort of vegetable mixture: mine was a mix of roasted onions, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic and zucchini.
Some sort of starch: rice or couscous would be good; for passover I used matzo
Some sort of binder: creamy cheese like ricotta or an egg or two
Salt, Pepper, other spices to taste, maybe a little cheese for the top
Wash your peppers and cut off the tops. Scrape out the seeds and ribs.
I sliced just a little bit off the bottom so that they’d stand up but you must be careful not to slice so much that you make a hole- your filling will leak out if you do.
Place them into a steamer basket and steam them over boiling water for a few minutes, just until they start to soften a little. Mine took maybe 5-8 minutes. They’ll be going into the oven later so don’t worry about actually cooking them.
Meanwhile, chop your vegetables and your protein into small (minced even!) pieces.
In a bowl, mix the veggies, protein and starch (in this case, chopped chicken, crumbled matzo and chopped roasted veggies).
Add your binder- eggs and/or cheese- and mix well. I used ricotta and an egg.
Season with salt and pepper and whatever else you like (go italian with oregano and basil or try something more middle eastern like cumin and turmeric). Place your peppers in a baking pan and set your oven to 375.
Stuff each pepper with the mixture, topping with cheese if you so desire (I almost always desire cheese).
Bake at 375 until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and lovely. About 15 minutes for me.