BAKED STUFFED VEGETABLES WITH MINT, DILL, RICE, AND RED BEANS
Yield: 12 portions
Onions, finely chopped
Rice, long grain
Pine nuts, toasted
Red beans, small, cooked
Green bell peppers
Potatoes, creamers, quartered
Vegetable stock, with water
Salt and ground black pepper
To prepare the vegetables:
- Cut the tops off of all the vegetables and hollow until only a shell is left. Reserve the tomato pulp and puree in a blender until a liquid is formed and reserve. Place the vegetables into a baking pan (a pan large enough to hold the vegetables upright) and set aside.
To make the filling:
- In a pan over medium heat, cook the onions in 1/3 cup of olive oil until translucent and golden. Add the lamb, garlic, and spices and cook till the lamb is cooked through. Over the heat source, mix in the rice, pine nuts, currants, and herbs along with the tomato pulp puree. Mix well and season with salt and pepper and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. If the tomato pulp is dry, add additional water to the rice, if needed. (Note: Long grain rice cooks at a ratio of 1½ times water to rice, so you are looking for about 1½ cups of liquid total from the tomato pulp and the liquid coming from the vegetable shells. It should be close.)
- Season each of the vegetable shells lightly and stuff three-fourths full with the rice mixture. Keep in mind the stuffing will swell as it cooks, so don’t fill too much, as the vegetables will burst as they cook. Once filled, replace the tops and place the potatoes between the vegetables to prop them up and hold them vertical while they cook.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Combine the tomato puree, water, and the last 1/3 cup of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and pour this over the stuffed vegetables and potatoes. Sprinkle a small amount of sugar on the top for browning. Place the baking pan in the preheated oven and cook for about 1 to 1½ hours. Baste the vegetables occasionally to moisten then, but expect the tops of the vegetable to begin to brown slightly as they get tender. If the pan threatens gets too dry, you can add additional water to re-moisten. To check for doneness, the vegetables (potatoes included) should be tender and browned slightly and the rice should be fully cooked. Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow them to cool in their pan for an hour or so before serving warm or at room temperature.
Note: I like to serve these vegetables with a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, and a thick slice of feta cheese on the side. Be sure that each guest receives not only the stuffed vegetables, but also a couple of wedges of potatoes and a few spoonfuls of the delicious sauce from the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!