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While it takes a labor of love, and time, to make stuffed grape leaves and stuffed zucchini, an faster recipe alternative is stuffed green peppers. Stuffed with small lamb chunks and rice in a spicy pre-broth, stuffed green peppers make for an exciting meal.
By Ray Hanania
Arabs love to stuff vegetables with spiced lamb and rice mix. It tastes great. But the labor that goes into rolling a typical meal of stuffed grape leaves can be enormous.
The small jars of Ziyad Brand Grape Leaves include about 90 leaves and the larger jar includes 180 leaves. After dicing the ingredients, mixing and preparing, it can take an hour just to roll (liff in Arabic) the grape leaves around the small portions of rice mix.
I showed you how to make stuffed zucchini, hallowing out the zucchini meat and filling the squash tubes with rice and lamb meat mix (Koosa in Arabic). But another, and tastier alternative is to stuff green peppers, called fil fil mahshi. (Any stuffed vegetable is called Mahshi.)
The recipe is easy to make and can be done in less than 30 minutes.
I always go to the local Arab or Middle Eastern neighborhood grocery store to buy my lamb. It’s fresh and they are always helpful to get you the right meat sections. Great fresh lamb is essential to any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern recipe and the Mediterranean Diet.
I use two lamb shoulders, cut by the butcher into small sections. Several will be mostly or all meat with no bone but the majority will have a bone in the meat. Separate the boneless meat sections from the boned meat sections. You will dice the boneless sections into larger chunks. Not fine. With green peppers, you will want to have the lamb meat to be prominent.
I prepare a large cooking pot, placing slices of two onions on the bottom. I also use slices of two fresh tomatoes as liner along the side of the pot. I place the boned lamb meat sections into the pot. The green peppers, once stuffed, will rest on top and the entire mix will be filled with Sultan Extra Virgin Olive Oil, tomato juice, and spices.
The green peppers are easy to hallow for the lamb and rice mix. You carefully use a knife and cut the top out like the top of a pumpkin. I used five large green peppers. Once the top is removed (with the stem), reach inside with your fingers and pull out the soft rib linings that seem to separate the green pepper into sections and carry clusters of the seeds.
You might want to leave the “ribs” in the peppers if you prefer. Toss the seeds.
In another pot, place the small lamb slices and add two tablespoons of Sultan Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Boil this while actively stirring the lamb to brown the lamb for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Pour out the remaining juice which is now mixed with the lamb fat sauces, into the larger pot.
Browning the meat before stuffing ensures that the lamb meat is properly cooked.
Add a 1/2 cup of rice to the meat.
In this recipe, the stuffing will be mostly lamb and less rice. The rice will expand nicely and keep the stuffing together. Add your spices (coriander, cumin, lemon pepper, finely diced garlic and finely diced onion, and any other spice you prefer. I also add the juice from two cans of diced tomatoes, and I even dice one can even more and add that to the lamb and rice mix for extra flavor.
Once mixed, use a spoon and fill the green pepper with stuffing, selecting mostly meat. Don’t try to get rice it will get in there anyway. But you want mostly meat.
Place the stuffed green peppers open end up on top of the meat and fill the poit up with water to just below the green pepper openings.
We’re going to slow steam all of it over the course of 90 minutes. Turn the heat up to get the water hot and starting to boil. When it does, turn it down to a small flame. Distinguishable but I mean small. Cover it tightly. (Some place a cover and angle it so the steam can come out as it cooks. I do that with grape leaves and recipes that cook faster. But if you slow cook using the steam, you’ll want to keep as much steam in the pot as possible.) Let it cook. Check the mix about every 15 minutes to see if the pot is steaming inside around the green peppers.
If you have any left over lamb and rice mix, add water and cook it like you would rice and enjoy it either as a side with the meal of green peppers and boned lamb chunks. Or, enjoy it as a pre-meal celebrating your recipe completing.
By the way, any stuffed vegetable is called Mahshi in Arabic.
2 lamb shoulders (cut by butcher into sections with bone and without bone)
3 onions (slice two and place slices on bottom of pot; dice 3rd and add to lamb and rice mix)
2 tomatoes (slice and place slices around bone-in-meat chunks in pot)
2 cans diced tomatoes (1 1/2 goes into cooking pot, 1/2 goes into lamb and rice stuffing mix)
1/2 cup Sultan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup rice (mix with browned lamb meat)
5 – 7 green bell peppers
2 large garlic cloves (dice mix with rice)
Add preferred spices: cumin, coriander, lemon pepper
1 large pot for main recipe.
1 medium mixing pot to brown lamb, then mix with rice and spices.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com www.arabnews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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