April 24, 2013
I’ve talked before about how stuffed vegetables—peppers and tomatoes, in particular—were a staple in my house growing up. They are a go-to Greek dish that my yiayia (Greek grandma) used to make all the time. I guess that’s why I didn’t make them myself very often: I feel like my cooking never compares to hers. But after I made these Lentil and Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes I promised that I’d make them more often. And so I have. And with just a tiny bit of planning, you can, too.
My yiayia always made her stuffed vegetables from scratch on the night that she’d serve them. My yiayia also spent nearly 3 hours cooking every single day. Though I spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen too, my life is very different from hers. I imagine yours is as well, so having everything to make these Orzo and Lentil Stuffed Peppers prepped ahead of time is key to making this dish relatively quick and easy. Here’s the deal:
While meal planning for the week—or next few days—choose an easy lentil dish for one night and another that uses orzo for the one after. You’ll cook a big batch of both and, in doing so, will prep enough food for three days, not just two.
I cooked a whole bag of lentils (with carrots, a few whole cloves of garlic and a bay leaf) and used about half to make lentil ricotta meatballs from Homemade with Love, the new cookbook by Jennifer Perillo. The meatballs take a bit of time so you might plan on something easier like Mujaddara (an easy and flavorful Middle Eastern dish of lentils, aromatic rice and caramelized onions) or Lentil Spinach Salad with a Fried Egg. You can even mash the lentils with some fresh lime juice and salsa and use them as refried beans for taco night.
The next night I cooked a whole box of orzo, which makes a lot of orzo. I mixed about half into chicken stock pulled from my freezer and added torn up pieces of leftover chicken, carrots, frozen peas and some fresh spinach. If that’s not your speed, try Baked Orzo with Carrots and Dill, my favorite comfort food of all time, Orzo Risotto, or my spring version, Zucchini Orzo Risotto. The leftovers of any of these will work well with my recipe for stuffed peppers.
With this plan, you’ve got two quick vegetarian dinners down and nearly everything you need for a third. That’s half of the week, people!
With orzo and lentils waiting for you in the fridge, all you have to do is mix the two with a few other ingredients, wash peppers, stuff them and pop them in the oven. They take about 40 minutes to bake, but it’s totally unattended so you can relax (ha!).
What do you think, can you make it a plan? What ingredients do you make in bulk to have on hand? How do you use them? Share you efficient weeknight cooking tips: we can never have enough of them!
Orzo and Lentil Stuffed Peppers
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
4 large bell peppers
1 zucchini, washed and grated
2 cups cooked lentils
1 1/2 cups cooked orzo
1 1/2 cups crumbled Feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil, to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 375. Wash the peppers and cut off the tops, being sure to cut low enough to allow the stem to remain intact. Remove veins and seeds. Nestle the peppers in a baking pan—I find that an 8″x8″ pan works well—and set aside.
2. In a dish towel, colander or just using your hands, wring the grated zucchini of excess water. Add to a large bowl and using your fingers or a fork, break the zucchini up so that it’s not in one big chunk.
3. To the bowl, add the lentils, orzo, Feta, dill, scallions, salt and pepper. Top with a glug of olive oil. Stir to combine well.
4. Spoon lentil filling into the peppers (you may have extra depending on the size of your peppers; you can saute extra or baking in a separate casserole dish to have for school/lunch the next day). Place tops back on the peppers, covering the filling, and carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the baking dish. Place in preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until peppers are firm, but tender. Serve with lemon wedges and a big salad and, if you want, some crusty bread.
*Note: This is a wonderful dish to share with beginner eaters. You can puree or mash the filling on its own or add in pieces of cooked pepper. Just be sure to serve an age appropriate texture.