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By Melissa Clark
New York Times News Service
When you’re invited to a friend’s house for dinner, it’s impolite to gobble so many of the hors d’oeuvres that you have no room for the rest of the meal.
But the stuffed, roasted mini sweet peppers that my friend Meline Toumani made were so ridiculously tasty that I just didn’t have the will to resist.
So I didn’t, and emptied the plate at the expense of the grilled lamb main course.
The peppers were caramelized and fleshy, and slicked with good olive oil. Inside, they were crammed with cumin-spiced, tomato-spiked bulgur studded with flakes of good tuna and herbs. Perfectly balanced between sweet from the peppers and savory from the tuna, they were all anyone could ever want from a stuffed vegetable.
Not only didn’t Meline mind my excessive enthusiasm for her peppers, she even offered me the recipe. My only tweak was to add a spoonful of capers to add tangy bursts to the mild bulgur grains.
This wasn’t traditional. But neither was Meline’s recipe, which is her riff on a Turkish dish of dried pepper or baby eggplant dolmas, in which the dried vegetables are rehydrated in boiling water, then stuffed with a mix of highly seasoned rice or bulgur and sometimes meat.
For Meline’s recipe, the fresh peppers are roasted until they collapse in on themselves in an autumnal-hued heap. This dish is prettiest if you can get mini sweet peppers in a variety of colors — yellow, orange and red, which is how they are generally sold in bags at the supermarket. If you’re shopping at a farmers’ market, you might find some green and purple ones, too.
After roasting, you’ll need to stuff each pepper individually. It seems like a lot of work, but it goes quickly. Slice open the peppers, then use your fingers to add the bulgur and close them up — as opposed to trying to spoon filling into the cavities. Don’t worry about the peppers falling open on the plate; the bulgur filling binds them together. This sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Suffice it to say, you can make these in under an hour.
Meline offered the stuffed peppers to us as a nibble with wine. But I could also see serving them with a big salad and some warm flatbread for a light supper. In which case, it wouldn’t be at all rude to clean your plate.
Stuffed Sweet Peppers With Tuna, Bulgur and Herbs
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Preparation time: 45 minutes
2 pounds sweet small bell peppers, cored (about 24)
6 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt, more as needed
1 cup medium or coarse bulgur
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1 medium or 2 small jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chopped anchovy filets (optional)
Black pepper, to taste
1 (5- to 7-ounce) jar of tuna packed in olive oil, drained
2 tablespoons mayonnaise or plain Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, mint or dill (or a combination), more for garnish
2 1/2 tablespoons capers
Step 1: Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss peppers with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Roast, stirring once or twice, until peppers are tender, 15 to 22 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Step 2: Meanwhile, in a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add bulgur and toast, stirring, until it smells nutty, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, cumin and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté until tomato paste darkens, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in stock or water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until bulgur is soft all the way through, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain off any remaining liquid and set aside to cool.
Step 3: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until shimmering. Add celery and sauté until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add onion, green bell pepper, jalapeño, garlic and anchovies (if using). Sauté until vegetables are just tender but not soft (a little texture is welcome), 4 to 6 minutes. If mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a tablespoon or two of water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
Step 4: Put tuna in a large bowl and use a fork to break into chunks. Add remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons oil, mayonnaise (or yogurt) and lemon juice and mash until tuna is broken into small flakes. Mix in onion-celery mixture, bulgur, herbs and capers and stir well. Taste and add more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice as needed.
Step 5: Make a slit lengthwise down each pepper to open it up. Stuff the bulgur mixture into the open peppers, then pinch the peppers so that the stuffing holds the two sides together. (It’s OK if the peppers aren’t completely closed.) Arrange on a platter, sprinkle with lemon juice and garnish with herbs. Serve immediately or at room temperature.