I’ve been sitting here for the last 30 minutes, staring at my computer screen, wondering what to write. For the record, you’re more likely to spot Sasquatch than see me struggling for words. I usually have what amounts to some kind of brain purge syndrome where my posts fly from brain to fingertip in a matter of minutes, leaving me depleted, hungry, and questioning what country I’m in.
Speaking of countries, the topic today is Greece. And the reason that I’m so confounded is that Greece should bring back memories galore. After all, I’ve been there not once, not twice, but thrice. I’m not liking that word, but I’m sticking with it. It’s like a combination of “throw” and “rice”. Which is what I did once in Greece. At a wedding. So maybe I’m getting somewhere with this Greek business after all.
Our visit to Greece was the first major trip that Rodney and I took as a couple back in 2001. We returned several years later to re-visit Mykonos and Santoroni and tack on a few more islands (Rhodes, Corfu, Crete). We even did the completely optional/somewhat frightening several-day visit to Athens. Generally speaking, I should have Greek memories, and lots of them.
The problem with Greece – and perhaps it’s less of a “problem” than a “challenge”, is that much of your waking time is spent drinking Mythos (daytime) and Ouzo (nighttime). So what I do remember from our visits is patchy.
There I am, bawling my way through the last few pages of War and Peace on Ornos beach. (My copy, for the record, is still buried there, unless the department of sanitation scooped my treasure out of the sand and hauled it off to the dump.)
There again you’ll spot us buying strappy leather sandals in a street market in Rhodes. I should say ME not WE; Don’t ask Rodney how he feels about man sandals. Or Tevas. Or short haircuts on women, which he thinks that women tell each other are “really cute” but men strongly do not prefer. (By the way, we argue about this point constantly; maybe I’ll cut my hair short one day just for spite.)
Oh look! Now we’re easing our way along busy roads on a moped in Santorini. On a mission to find the one winery on the island. Not an adventure for the faint of heart or anyone over the age of 25. Mum, I survived, please don’t worry about this anymore.
I do, however, have strong memories of the food. Whether we were sitting down to a fancy dinner in the heart of the Old Town in Mykonos, or beachside at a little taverna, I recall a freshness and simplicity that still influences my cooking today.
Greek food appeals to me because the flavors are so clean. Tomatoes, feta, zucchini, mint, bright olives, plump seafood. A complete and total absence of sauce, unless you’re spoon-feeding yourself moussaka at a tourist trap. It’s the kind of food that comes together quickly, which in my kitchen is a must. And I find myself revisiting these flavors often – whether it’s a quick, Greek-inspired salad, or non-traditional foods, like these stuffed peppers, which uses all of the Greek ingredients that I can wrangle into a shopping cart.
The benefit of a meal like this is that you don’t need any sides or supporting players – a baguette or other crusty bread will do. You’ve got your protein, your veg, your carbs and your wine. In a glass. On the side. We’re not making peppers bourguignon.
It may seem like a few moving pieces- cooking the lamb, cooking the veg, and oh yes….I have you prepping quinoa and tomato sauce separately too. But the activities happen simultaneously, which means that you can get this dish on the table with less than half an hour of active time.
Added bonus: it’s kid-friendly, adult-friendly, and even dog-friendly. Just ask Jackson. He moved mountains (aka a container of milk) to steal the final two peppers from behind my back. The only evidence was a scattering of cooked quinoa, like spilled poppy seeds, all over the kitchen rug.
I do wish to go back to Greece. One day I will….This time I’ll be sure to take my camera and photograph all of all of that Aegean beauty. I’ll eat Greek food, bask in Greek sunlight, bathe in Greek waters. And permit myself, once again, to drink too much Ouzo, knowing that if memory fails a fourth time, I’ll have a backup copy in megapixels.
Have a wonderful (and colorful) week everyone.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, diced and divided
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons oregano, divided
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 cup dried quinoa
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 6 large sweet peppers
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives
- 1 small handful of mint, chopped
- 1/4 cup of feta, crumbled
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sautee pan on med-high heat and when hot, add half of the chopped onions. Add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a teaspoon of the oregano and the chopped thyme. Sautee the onions until translucent, and then add both cans of tomatoes. Turn the what to high, just until the mixture starts to bubble vigorously, and then turn the tomatoes down to low. Allow the tomatoes to simmer while you prep the rest of the meal (approx 20 minutes). When the tomato sauce is ready, puree with an immersion blender.
- Prep your cup of quinoa according to the package directions, and set aside.
- Prep your peppers by coring the stem end of each pepper with a small paring knife, and pulling out the seeds. Set the peppers aside, and using the same small knife, remove any usable pieces of pepper from around the stem. Chop these pieces, and add them to the reserved 1/2 diced onion along with the diced zucchini. Set aside.
- Heat the leftover tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sautee pan on med-high heat and when hot, add the ground lamb. Cook the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go, until it’s no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper, and with a slotted spoon, transfer to a large paper towel-lined bowl, reserving the leftover oil.
- Drain the pan of most of the oil, leaving a scant tablespoon. Add your vegetables, and sautee, stirring every so often to prevent burning, until the onions are translucent and the pepper and zucchini have softened (approx 5 minutes).
- Remove the paper towel lining from the bowl, and add your vegetables, quinoa, and Kalamata olives to the lamb. Give the mixture a good stir, then add your feta and mint, and toss one more time gently.
- To assemble the peppers, ladle your tomato sauce in a 9x13 baking dish (you may not need all of it, I had about a half cup left over). Next, working one at a time, take a pepper shell, season the inside with a pinch of salt, and then gently stuff (overflowing a little at the top if you’d like), and place, stuffing side up, in one corner of the sauce-lined dish.
- Continue working with the next 5 peppers, lining them up so that they all stand up easily in the pan.
- When you’ve finished stuffing the peppers, cover loosely with foil, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. You want the filling to be warm, and the pepper shells heated to the point where they’re soft, not firm.
- Let stand for a minute or two, and then serve alongside a little of the tomato sauce.
- The peppers can be prepped a day in advance; add 15 minutes of cooking time if cooking directly from the fridge.