Indian Stuffed Peppers with Butter-Curry Sauce (Paleo, Whole30)

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In each issue of Paleo Magazine, Steph Gaudreau and I bring you the story of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier Paleo lifestyle. In this installment, we get the lowdown on stuffed peppers and share a recipe that takes you to India.

Saved by the Bell

From July through September, farmers markets and backyard gardens are filled with bushels and pecks of bell peppers in vibrant green, orange, red, yellow, and purple. The roots of bell peppers stretch back 9000 years, to the tropical areas of South America, Central America, and Mexico. After his voyage of 1492, Christopher Columbus took peppers from the West Indies to Spain, where they were dubbed “Spanish Peppers,” were grown in the royal gardens, and became popular in cuisine around the Mediterranean.

It wasn’t until the late 17th century that so-called Spanish Peppers were renamed “bell peppers” by Lionel Wafer, a privateer and ship surgeon who documented his adventures in Panama with the Cuna Indians in his book A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America. His account includes robust descriptions of the geography, the “Indian inhabitants” and their “customs, employments, marriages, feasts, hunting…” (See the original manuscript online here.)

One of the first recipes for stuffed peppers in the United States appeared in the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer. It’s a simple recipe that calls for stuffing a whole pepper with steamed rice, cooked meat, stewed tomatoes, and butter. A variation gets creative with veal, bread crumbs, and onion juice. All around the world, many cuisines have their own approach to this simple combination. In Spain, it’s arborio rice and saffron; in Romania, pork, rice, and sour cream; in Korea, the peppers are stuffed with tofu; in the Philippines, the filling includes shrimp, pork, and water chestnuts; and in Denmark, the rice is replaced with bulgur wheat and instead of meat, it’s mushrooms and kale (known as Fyldte Peberfrugter).

For our recipe, we chose an Indian version that marries ground lamb with fragrant spices, replaces the rice with potatoes, and relaxes the traditional tomato sauce into a velvety texture with the addition of coconut milk and fragrant Indian spices. It can be tricky to cook the meat filling completely without baking the pepper into mushy oblivion. To get the texture of the pepper just right, we give the peppers a light oven-steaming and pre-cook the meat and potatoes for the filling. It’s easy and fast, and the end result yields crisp-tender peppers, flavorful filling, and a rich sauce that’s like eating puffy curry clouds.

Indian Stuffed Peppers with Butter-Curry Sauce

Serves 4-6 | Total time: 60-75 minutes | Hands-off time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
Peppers:
  • 6-8 medium bell peppers, any color

  • salt

Potatoes:
  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes

  • 1 tablespoon salt

Meat Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 2 pounds ground lamb (or beef or turkey)

  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced

  • 2/3 cup raisins

Butter Sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds or raw cashews

  • 1 cup tomato purée or plain tomato sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened canned coconut milk

  • handful fresh cilantro

Directions:
1

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375F. Pour 1 cup water into a 9×13-inch baking dish; set aside.

2

Prepare the peppers. Cut off the tops of the peppers and remove the seeds and membranes. Sprinkle the inside of the peppers with a little bit of salt. Place the peppers cut-side up in the prepared baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Uncover and let them cool while you prepare the filling.

3

Cook the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, add salt, then stir and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile…

4

Make the filling. Heat the fat in a large nonstick skillet, 3 minutes. Add the onion, salt, cumin, chili powder, garam masala, and black pepper. Sauté until the onions are very tender and translucent, 7-10 minutes. Crumble the lamb into the pan and cook until no longer pink. Add the cilantro and raisins; stir to combine and remove from the heat. Drain the potatoes, add them to the pan with the lamb, and stir to combine, slightly mashing the potatoes. Set aside.

5

Make the sauce. In a large saucepan, warm the fat over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. Add the salt, cardamom, paprika, cumin, garam masala, and bay leaf; cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the onion, garlic cloves, and almonds, stir, then cook until the onions are very soft and translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the tomato purée and coconut milk to the pan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bay leaf, then use a stick blender to purée the sauce until it’s very smooth.

6

Finish the peppers. Use a spoon to stuff the peppers with filling and place them in the empty baking dish, standing up. Spoon a little sauce over each pepper, then pour the rest of the sauce into the pan around the peppers. Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until the peppers are tender and the sauce is bubbly. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve.

Cookup Tips

The peppers can be stuffed and the sauce can be cooked up to one day ahead; store covered in the refrigerator. Add 10 minutes baking time if you’ve stored the uncooked peppers in the fridge. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. The leftovers taste great chopped up and mixed into a scramble with eggs for a fast breakfast (or brinner).

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