By Meghan Splawn

Tribune Content Agency

Stuffed Peppers

Serves 8

8 medium red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (about 4 pounds total)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (8 ounces)

1. Preheat the oven and prepare the baking dish. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375 F. Pour just enough water (about 1 cup) to cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside.

2. Prepare the peppers. Cut off the tops of the peppers. Remove and discard any seeds and membranes from both the cap and interior. Remove the stems from the tops and roughly chop the pepper caps. Set the chopped pepper caps aside. Sprinkle the inside of the peppers with the 1 teaspoon salt.

3. Par-cook the peppers. Place the peppers cut-side up in the prepared baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Uncover and let cool while you prepare the filling.

4. Make the filling. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and chopped pepper tops, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the ground beef; cook, breaking the meat up with a spatula as it cooks, until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the rice and the tomatoes with their juices.

5. Fill the peppers. Evenly divide the mixture among the peppers (use a canning funnel if you have one). Sprinkle the cheese over the peppers.

6. Bake. Bake uncovered until the peppers are softened, the filling is hot, and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe notes: The peppers can be stuffed and refrigerated up to one day ahead. Add 10 minutes baking time. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Stuffed peppers are what dinner dreams are made of. They can be filled with any combination of starches, meat, beans and sauces, making them the ultimate leftover vehicle. The peppers get a quick steam in the oven before filling and then are baked into supple submission, making them a mostly hands-off dish.

All leftovers welcome

Stuffed peppers were clearly born from a need to use up leftovers. Most recipes call for at least cooked rice and often cooked beans. Frozen rice and canned beans are welcome to be used as needed to fill these peppers. The beauty is that you can easily substitute leftover quinoa or couscous for the rice, or use leftover roast chicken in place of the ground beef. The canned tomatoes can be replaced with salsa -- just don’t skip the tomatoes all together, as they bring the moisture that is responsible for steaming the peppers.

Prepping the peppers

The most critical factor in making stuffed peppers is, of course, the peppers themselves. Par-cooking the peppers means the filling will not overcook and the peppers will finish cooking faster. You can do this by steaming them in the preheated oven while you prepare the filling, or you can microwave the peppers for a few minutes to soften slightly.

Tops are tops

Some recipes call for saving the pepper tops and using them as a lid for the peppers. This recipe calls for dicing them and tossing them into the filling, which prevents the peppers and filling from overcooking by allowing moisture to escape.

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