I’m a fan of random dinners, or what I like to call “garbage can meals.” Put together a bunch of forgotten ingredients, that would otherwise end up being thrown out, and you have yourself a resourceful garbage can meal. Although I find grocery shopping relaxing, which I know is kind of strange, sometimes I don’t have time for it because it’s kind of an event for me. I tend to get lost in aisles, staring at the different bread options, wondering if I should try that new cereal, or whether I should be adventurous and grab that intriguing curry sauce. Some nights my lack of focus intimidates me, so I choose to go home and see what I can do with what I have. Fortunately, my grocery store wanderings often result in a pantry that’s full, albeit random, but packed with edible things ready to be thrown in a garbage can meal.
One night I came home and looked at my fridge, and it stared back at me with red and green peppers, zucchini, and a yellow onion. Then I went to see what my pantry had to offer. A can of tomatoes caught my eye first, then I pushed it aside and saw the kasha that had been waiting patiently to be used since last summer. This past June I went through a brief gluten-free phase, and my mom, perpetually confused by me yet always supportive, bought me a box of kasha so I’d have a new gluten-free grain to try. This gesture, while kind in intention, left me unsettled. “I’ve never cooked with kasha!” I thought, “What is kasha?! Why don’t I know what kasha is? Am I failing at gluten free-dom?” You may find my reaction a bit intense for the situation, and it absolutely was, but a lack of gluten resulted in a high amount of crazy in this one. My sister even told me I was “tweaking out,” and looking back on it she was dead on. Once I started eating gluten again, I dove gleefully into pizza, pasta, and bread baskets of all kinds, and didn’t look back.
The box of gluten-free kasha sat lonely and forgotten in my pantry until this one fateful evening of no grocery shopping. On this night I decided I was going to use the kasha, gosh darn it, and I was going to like it. What is kasha, you ask? Just another word for buckwheat groats, and honestly if my name were “buckwheat groats” I’d probably prefer a fancy stage name too. Before you jump to the conclusion that buckwheat groats belong in an actual garbage can, not included in a garbage can meal, let’s take a judgement-free moment to learn about kasha. It has a hearty texture, nutty taste, and crazy nutrition. Even for us gluten enthusiasts, kasha is a grain worth trying: one serving (1/4 cup dry) boasts 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, plus a bunch of flavanoids and antioxidants. K enough with the learning, let’s get to the food.
Kasha and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers
My own special, randomly awesome garbage can recipe. Adapt to your pantry’s offerings.
- 1 cup kasha
- 1 egg white
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 yellow squash, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2.5 cups vegetarian ground beef crumbles
- 1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 4 peppers, I used a mix of green and red
- 1/2 cup white cheddar, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Bring two cups of water to a boil. Combine the egg white and the kasha. You’ll notice that the kasha begins to stick together (a bit eerily, actually) once it’s fully mixed with the egg white.
In a separate pan that is NOT the one in which water is boiling (there may have been a misunderstanding the first time I tried this….I don’t want to talk about it), add the egg-white coated kasha. Stir over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until you notice that the kasha kernels are separating. Reduce the heat to low, then add the boiling water. Cover tightly, and simmer for 7-10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
Sauté the garlic in 1.5 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until nice and fragrant. Add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the zucchini, squash, tomatoes, spices (including salt and pepper) and cook for about 5 minutes, or until your vegetables reach the texture you prefer.
In a separate pan, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, and add the beef crumbles. Cook until browned, then add to the kasha mixture. Taste a spoonful and add more salt if you so desire.
Wash your peppers, then cut in half vertically. Try to cut the top of the stem in half so you have some on each side (this will help hold in the filling). Scoop out the seeds and white parts (what are those called, anyway? anyone?), then place open-side-up on a cookie sheet coated with nonstick spray.
And then you stuff. You stuff like you’ve never stuffed before. I packed the filling in like I would brown sugar, because I like when my peppers overfloweth. Fill to your liking, then top with shredded cheese. I used white cheddar because it’s all I had in my fridge (ahem, resourcefulness) but I think you could top these with just about anything and they would still be just splendid. Once your peppers are filled to the brim (or higher), put in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
See what I mean? These peppers overfloweth.
Since variety is the spice of life, I served the boy and I each one green and one red pepper half. I couldn’t finish my second pepper, but someone who didn’t snack all day, or sample too much kasha filling, could probably take down both halves (which is exactly what the boy did). We’ve made stuffed peppers a few times, and this version was his favorite. How’s that for a garbage can success?
I’ve filled peppers in the past with quinoa, barley, and rice, and I honestly liked kasha better than all of these options. It has a chewy texture that holds its own against the other filling ingredients, and the nutty flavor adds to the dish, instead of just blending into the background. My only change to this garbage can recipe would be to top the peppers with more cheese, because the sprinkling I added melted into the pepper while in the oven, and I like my cheese where I can see it. It’s not a big deal though, because when you’re being resourceful you need to understand that sometimes fate just does not give you enough cheese. Or you may have just eaten too much of it last week. Or it could be a little bit of both. Who knows, really.