Savory Millet Stuffed Peppers
October 22, 2010

Happy Friday!

I’m glad those raw sushi rolls got such an enthusiastic response, and that some of you have already tried them! I haven’t yet eaten more of the cashew ginger pate, but I’m hoping to throw it into some lunches later this weekend.

“What’s for dinner?” It’s the questions that millions of people the world over ask themselves (or each other) every single night. I’m a born planner, so I usually have a sense of exactly what’s for dinner long before dinnertime rolls around. Planning a week’s worth of meals and leftovers keeps me organized and saves me money. There are those errant nights, however, when I come home with virtually no idea of what I want to prepare.

In the early days of my career as a cook, these evenings would terrify me. How on earth was I supposed to plan a coherent meal unless I’d read, memorized, printed, and practiced the recipe verbatim? How would I be certain that the food was nutritious and balanced and tasted good? As time went by, and my skills as a home chef were sharpened, it became easier and easier for me to face a blank canvas at dinnertime with a sense of imagination and fun, rather than dread and bewilderment.

Of course, the process of planning a meal from scratch and at the last moment is not entirely without method. If you’re at home facing a stocked fridge and pantry, but have no clue as to how to create a meal, simply follow these three steps:

1) Empty the contents of your fridge so that they’re orderly and visible.  Yes, you may make a giant mess on your kitchen floor, but you won’t know what’s on hand to work with until it’s before your eyes. So often, we miss the chance to construct a great meal because we’ve virtually lost track of what we have and what we don’t.

2) Consider your macronutrient groups: carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. While I’m not generally a believer that a proper meal must include each and every food group each and every time–this kind of dietician’s thinking can become highly oppressive–I do think that planning one’s dinners around at least one source each of protein, carbs, and fat is the key to staying nourished and sated.

How do you know which foods are which? Well, there’s no hard and fast rule — nuts, for instance, are technically proteins and fats. And though I wouldn’t classify broccoli or kale as a protein, per se, it’s important to remember that they are quite high in protein. In other words, very few foods don’t offer more than one kind of macronutrient. But I generally think along these lines:

  • Proteins: beans, hemp (or hemp sauce), hummus, nutritional yeast, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut pate
  • Carbs: whole grains/sprouted grains, beans, autumn squash, corn, peas, bananas
  • Fats: nuts/seeds, nut pates, oils, avocado, coconut

There are obviously many more foods that would fit into these categories, but this is just a quick sampling of the main stars.

So, take a protein (say, beans) and think: OK, how can I also pair this with a healthy source of complex carbs? This may mean layering hummus on sprouted bread; it may mean putting your beans in a starchy and comforting stew (think: sweet potato and kidney bean chili); it may mean tossing them with quinoa and vinaigrette and making a cool grain salad. If you’re making a raw meal and want to use nuts/seeds as a protein, think about which veggies are nutrient rich and will round out the meal: kale, seaweed, and broccoli are always great choices (and kale and broccoli will add yet more protein).

Before you finish cooking, you’ll want to think about enhancing any of these meals with some healthy fat, like avocado slices, a bit of olive oil on veggies or in the cooking process, or perhaps a drizzle of a creamy sauce (like cashew alfredo).

And–this is crucial–always be sure that vegetables take the starring role in your meal. Yes, it’s important to include macronutrients and density on your dinner plate, but if roughly 50% of what you plan on eating isn’t a vegetable, you may want to think twice about how you can up the veggie ante.

3) Use your pantry to add flavor and character to the meal. It’s all well and good to say, “tonight, I’m eating beans and grains and greens,” but a dash of cumin can turn those ingredients into a Mexican feast, while ginger and rice wine might be the foundation of an Asian-inspired dish. Pick your spices carefully, and have a general sense of what herbs/spices compelment each other and add ethnic flair. For instance:

Cumin, cinnamon, coriander, garam masala, curry, and ginger are often the stars of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes

Oregano, basil, thyme, parsley are abundant in Italian cuisine

Rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, fennel seed work nicely in authentic American comfort foods, such as rosemary mashed potatoes

Cumin, garlic, onion, and cilantro are frequent stars of Mexican dishes.

For more on how herbs and spices pair with each other and ingredients, check out this handy list. If you’re a true chef in training, I can’t recommend The Flavor Bible enough as a resource.

Once you’ve taken all of these steps, you should be in a position to throw together an organized, tasty, and harmonious dinner!

Of course, these tips are all well and good on paper, but I’m sure some of you are thinking, “I’m still not sure how this would work.” Let me take you back in time, then, to Monday night around 5 p.m. Still at the office, I began thinking about what I had to work with for dinner. I knew I had a few cups of cooked millet (I always make grains in my rice cooker on Sundays, to use as I’d like for the week ahead). I’m never short on beans, which are probably my favorite source of protein. I knew I had red peppers and vegetable broth in the fridge, as well as some leftover canned whole tomatoes. I always have carrots and celery, and I had some onions lying around, which I was determined to use in such a way that I wouldn’t taste them too much. And my pantry is always well stocked on spices, especially the Middle Eastern and Indian sort: cumin, garam masala, coriander, curry.

I thought about doing a millet/chickpea stirfry with garam masala and curry, but when I remembered those lovely, cheap farmer’s market peppers, my dinner aspirations grew loftier, and the notion of stuffed peppers were born.

Savory Millet Stuffed Peppers (Serves 4, or 6 as an appetizer)

4 large red peppers, cut in half vertically (that is, stand them upright and slice them right down the center, rather than chopping off the top — this makes them cook more evenly!)
Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 cups millet, cooked
1/2 small can organic chopped tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen brand)
3/4 cup low sodium, organic vegeteble broth
1 1/2 tsps garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp curry
1/2 tsp salt
Dash white pepper
2 tbsp hummus (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil a baking dish and lay the eight pepper halves down. Give them a tiny spray or drizzle of coconut oil and a dash of salt and pepper, and put them in the oven to begin cooking as you prepare the filling.

2) Sautee the onion and grlic in the coconut oil for about five minutes, or till they’re translucent. Add the carrots and celery, and sautee till those vegetables are tender (about 5-10 minutes more).

3) Add all remaining ingredients except for hummus and warm them through. If the mixture is really thick, add more broth; if it’s soupy, raise the heat and let some of the liquid dissolve. Check seasonings and adjust as you like; this dish should be modified to fit you palate!


4) As soon as the mixture is warm and well seasoned, go ahead and add the hummus, if using: it’s not at all necessary, but I love how it makes the dish a little creamier and thicker!

5) Remove peppers from oven. They should be quite cooked by now, which means that they won’t need much more oven time. Stuff about 1/3 cup of the mix into each pepper half. Reserve any remaining filling for leftovers. Place the stuffed peppers in the oven, and cook for about ten minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

I served this dish with some roasted broccoli (toss 3 cups broccoli florets in safflower oil, salt, pepper, and red chili flakes; bake at 400 for about twenty-five minutes) and raw carrots and hummus. It was love at first bite.

All the proof I could ask for that dinner on the fly can be delicious, wholesome, and balanced. It’s nice to think that situations like this — making dinner for two after a long day, and with very little planning in place — no longer scare the pants off me. In fact, I’ve come to enjoy rising to the challenge of the “what’s for dinner?” question. Where I once let recipes and cookbooks lead me, I now let my imagination gallop away, and it’s a lovely feeling.

What’s the last spontaneous dinner you made? How did it turn out? And how do you plan dinners on the fly?

xo

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    36 Comments
  1. Genius post, Gena – it’s seriously helpful. I think I sometimes get stuck thinking about the basic structure of meals and forget about the veggies. Sounds a bit silly, hey?

    Your stuffed peppers look delicious!

    Nat

  2. I think I might try these with amaranth. What do you think? They look beautiful and sound so filling and flavorful.

  3. Stuffed peppers bring back memories of home cooked meals by my aunt who was more like a grandmother (and a total genius in the kitchen). She of course used white rice and beef so I have said goodbye to stuffed peppers, but millet is a great substitute. Yummers

  4. I just added The Flavor Bible to my Amazon wish list. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Tonight’s dinner was unplanned–it ended up being roasted butternut squash pizza with a cashew/coconut milk sauce. A little strange, but pretty good overall.

  5. mhhhmm! looks great! As to cleaning out my fridge..and inspired by your chilli i made my own and it was sooo good! loove automn and confort healthy food, even though i still salut the sun every morning..kind of in the mood for some coxy grey sky..but i can´t complain, can I !?!;)

  6. When I mentioned dark greens as one of my sources of protein to my naturopath, she said they were negligible because the protein they have is not really absorbable for humans. Any idea? In general I am finding her very very knowledgeable and trustworthy, but I know there are a lot of myths out there even among professionals.
    Sometimes I get overwhelmed by planning even simple meals for myself. Recently I have tried to construct meals by first selecting the veggies, and that has been working well. The fresh produce are after all the meal ingredients with the fastest expiration, so I start by thinking about whether I’m in a mood for fresh greens (leading to a salad or fresh veggie wrap/sushi roll, or in a mood for cooked veggies. If cooked (which is more often the case), am I craving sweet (squash), roasted veggies (corn, peppers, etc, often leading to burritos), or green (broccoli, brussels)? Then I think about what protein to add- beans with mexican roast veggies or burritos, a bean stew, nuts or tofu in a stir fry, edamame in a fresh salad, or nuts in sushi rolls? I don’t worry about the fats because I love them and there’s no way I’ll forget. Avocado and oil are pretty ubiquitous in my cooking, and Daiya vegan cheese is a frequent recent addition (also real cheese every once in a while). I do love veggies but when stressed on in a rut they are often not my immediate craving. By making myself first pick between my veggie options and construct a meal around them, I insure they are well-integrated into the meal. For example, the other night I selected broccoli as my veggie of choice. I steamed a large serving and then cooked in cheery tomatoes and Field Roast vegan sausage. Topped with pepper, daiya, and flax seed oil, it was a major winner.

    • I don’t really buy that. Naturally, greens won’t be as efficient as, say, tempeh, or hemp. But I think that the body absorbs and utilizes some of that protein. Only thing to note is that it won’t, or typically can’t, absorb the calcium in raw spinach, and to a certain extent raw broccoli, so if you’re eating them for calcium in particular, steam lightly.

  7. What a wonderful meal but beware of those baby carrots . They are artificially formed and bleached before they are bagged. There is tons of info about them on the web.

  8. A beautiful and creative meal! I’ve never made stuffed mushrooms or peppers, still being in the “new cook” rut where dinner in a pinch means pasta, stir-fry, salad or soup 🙂

  9. that looks delicious, gena. i am very impressed by the caliber of your on the fly meals. i cook every night on the fly and even though i’m still relatively new to cooking, they usually turn out acceptable. this guide will help. last night my on the fly meal was actually inspired by you. it was basically a simplified gena divine salad (using all the ingredients available in mexico) made into an open faced sandwich on toasted ezekiel. took less than 5 minutes to make and it was DELICIOUS!

    i have a question: it doesn’t seem like food combining seems to be a priority for you anymore. i was trying to follow it for awhile but have recently given up and while i’ve read your old posts about it, i was wondering if your views have changed at all? i find it really difficult to avoid combining proteins (in the form of nuts or beans) with complex carbs. i can handle other things, like not drinking water while eating and consuming fruit alone, long before meals but other things trip me up.

    thanks for your consistently awesome posts.
    -carly

  10. I just made wild rice + peppers last week. I didn’t bake the peppers (like them raw) and the wild rice was just wild rice and I could have stirred in some tofu, edamame, etc but I didn’t just b/c I was feeling like keeping it really basic…but yes, that’s one spontaneous meal I made lately. We’re both on the pepper wavelength!

    Love your tips…espi to not be afraid of seasonings and I like the links you gave.

    And the tip to empty the contents of your fridge and to really take inventory. I’m super anal and I always know what I have in my fridge for produce. But sometimes random condiments and sauces get pushed to the back and then I find them and create new sauce/dressing on the fly which can really jazz up my veggies.

    Honestly though, I just re-posted about this today…I have my food groove. It’s not a rut. It’s my path and groove, I like it; I eat the same things or variations on themes…all the time. It’s far too stressful to try to “Get Creative” at the dinner bewitching hour! I do leave the creative moments for more weekends or daytime when I’m off work.

    🙂

  11. This looks AMAZING!! I love making Quinoa stuffed peppers…I will have to try this recipe too!! YUM!

    I sometimes make dinner on the fly….I’ll stuff some nori rolls with brown rice, beans and squash or whatever veg I can grab at the farm. Otherwise it’s an Ezekial english muffin toasted with raw almond butter and some raspberry jam….that’s REALLY on the fly 🙂

  12. I’m a planner too – I usually geek out and write it all down, then base my grocery purchases on that so I don’t overspend on impulse buys. However, I secretly kind of love it when I’m occasionally caught with my pants down. Some of the tastiest things have been born out of spontaneity, and I love the challenge or working with only what I have on hand.

  13. More and more of my dinners are unplanned these days. I’m really starting to learn the value of a well stocked pantry to get me through those nights. Great tips for concocting something fabulous!

  14. I have to say that spontaneous meals, have proved very important to me in my culinary adventures. For me, it’s rather exciting to figure out what to make with the food I’ve got available in my house at the moment. While yes, some of these dinners fall in the failure pile, most of them are great successes. And really, even the failures are a success in a way, since I learn from them in a way I wouldn’t if I had followed a tried and true recipe. There’s no greater way to expand than by these spontaneous dinners.

    Your steps are an awesome fool proof method for people to follow. Especially those a bit fearful or skeptical of this approach. But your stuffed peppers are the perfect example of the deliciously creative dish that would never have been if it weren’t for your last minute ingenuity!

  15. Great info!! i want the Flavor Bible..i think that will help a ton creating and mixing my favorite herbs and spices. planning dinners on the fly for me is determined by whats in my fridge..usually i can make some sort of pilaf or stir-fry…usually with quinoa, which i always have on hand.

  16. I love spontaneous dinners! I’m a big believer in keeping a lot of my favorite foods around so I can be pretty confident that whatever I throw together will be tasty…I mean how bad can broccoli, black beans, quinoa, and whatever else I can find. Like you said, having a variety of spices available makes the same ingredients totally different meals. But honestly, I could eat brocoli the same way every day and not get bored. I love it!

  17. we have many dinners that are random things in a wrap, or on a salad. 🙂 usually turns out pretty darn good 😀

    these look fabulous… I need a stuffed pepper soon.

    HAPPY WEEKEND !! <3

  18. Gosh this looks SO good:)!!! I haven’t had carrotts and hummus in forever…and roasted broccli is serisosly to die for!

  19. I see another plate across the table…perhaps the mysterious Mr. M? This looks delicious!

    I am terrible at planning ahead a whole week. I have gradually started planning ahead a few days at least. I too like to have the basic ingredients around so I can make what I want when I want. It centers around the veggies.

    The last spontaneous dinner was the other day when I made lentil burgers from leftover lentils. They weren’t perfect but a work in progress. I am learning.

  20. This looks delicious! I will have to try these. My go-to unplanned dinner is usually some sort of stir fry, often with quinoa. But that gets boring. I like the idea of stuffed peppers, adding some beans.

  21. i love finding spontaneous inspiration, which is why meal planning for me is no fun. i agree that having certain ingredients on-hand is key – and also cooking grains, beans, etc. in advance. for the past week and a half i’ve had a TON of cooked green lentils in my fridge and it’s served me well – tacos, stir-fried with veggies, atop salads – it sure does make life easier to plan ahead, but not too much. 🙂

    happy weekend!