Do you recall festive buffet advertisements featuring what is known as a turducken as their centrepiece at Christmas?
Essentially, turducken is designed to be the poultry roast of your dreams - a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, then further stuffed inside a deboned turkey.
I admit I have not quite come to terms with the idea, so I have not yet tried the taste of the three poultry types roasted as one. And I have not tried to make one either. It seems more complicated than it is worth, to go through all the effort of deboning and building up the layers of meat from the three types of birds.
Still, I may be wrong and the temptation to taste-test will no doubt return next Christmas.
However, the idea of using one food item as a "container" for something else appeals to me, when the recipe is on a smaller scale and offers a base for an interesting mix of flavours.
Capsicum is one example of a useful "container". Lots of empty space inside means it can serve as a sweet, tasty holder for a quick and easy oven-baked dish.
I like to stuff it with a mix of spicy minced meat and rice, but other possible fillings are as unlimited as your imagination.
The rice base can contain anything you fancy. Meat or vegetables, and cheese - anything from cheddar to haloumi. The rice can be substituted too, with couscous, bulgur wheat or quinoa.
If you have a taste for cheese, try filling a capsicum with a thick bolognaise meat and tomato sauce with Italian parmesan cheese sprinkled on top to melt while baking.
Whatever your choice of filling, the end result usually looks and tastes good and can be a great one-dish meal. On the other hand, a stuffed capsicum also provides a good companion for a piece of baked or fried fish or chicken.
Alternatively, a salad can be thrown together in almost no time at all and is a good accompaniment to stuffed capsicum on a busy day, when cooking a complex meal is not possible.
The capsicum originated in South America and its seeds are believed to date back to around 5,000BC.
Different coloured versions all come from the same plant; the colours simply represent different stages of maturity. Most capsicums start off green and turn red on ripening, with orange and yellow stages along the way. The taste also changes as the colours change, becoming sweeter as they mature
The capsicum is also credited with having a range of nutrients including Vitamin C and beta- carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A.
But apart from the health benefits, I also like its taste.
Cut into slices, the capsicum is great eaten raw as "dippers" with cheese or hummus dips.
Roasted, peeled and sprinkled with olive oil, it adds interest to a green salad.
As with today's recipe, its shape is an excellent container to stuff and bake as a fast one-dish meal.
It may not be as spectacular as turducken perhaps, but it is definitely quicker and easier to prepare.
STUFFED BAKED CAPSICUM
- 4 red, orange or yellow capsicums (choose ones that are upright)
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 or one small zucchini, chopped
- 100g small mushrooms, peeled and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
- 300g lean minced beef
- 1 Tbs dried mixed herbs
- One 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 100g long-grain rice
- 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped
- Green or brown olives halved (optional)
- 4 Tbs grated cheddar or parmesan cheese, or chopped haloumi
1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
2. Slice the tops off the capsicums and scoop out the membranes and seeds. Rub the outside of the capsicums and lids with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and stand the capsicums in a baking tray lined with baking paper.
3. In a frying pan, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onions, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic and chilli. Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently or until softened. Increase the heat to high, add the beef and mixed herbs. Cook for about five minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon until the meat is browned.
4. Add the tomatoes, rice and 200ml of cold water. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until sauce starts to thicken (pictured) and the rice is cooked.
5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the basil leaves to the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Spoon the mixture into the hollow capsicums, top with the olives and bake for about 30 minutes or until the capsicums have softened and the skin begins to brown.
7. Remove the capsicums from the oven, sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for a further 10 minutes or until they are tender and the cheese is melted.
8. Serve with a green salad or as accompaniment to a piece of baked chicken or fish.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.