Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Couscous Stuffed Peppers with Creamy Basil Sauce

I have to say that my pictures hardly do this dish justice, which is a shame because it is one of my absolute favorite vegetarian main dishes. It reminds me a lot of this Trader Joe's salad, only heartier, and without the chicken. I love this dish any time of year, but I find myself busting it out most in the spring and summer months, even though it involves heating up the oven. It's worth it! The peppers get tender and mellow, and the couscous filling with chickpeas and currants gets toasty and a little crisp on the top, but still moist in the center. The chickpeas are one of my favorite parts, especially the ones that toast up on the top!

The sauce. Oh, the sauce.  It's really a lovely green color (not sure why it photographed white...) and so delicious -- I could eat it all on its own! It's creamy and tangy and herbaceous, and obsession-worthy.  This makes a filling and healthy dinner -- I usually only eat 1/2 of a pepper and I'm full to bursting. But it still manages to be light and summery. I'm not big on side dishes, so I usually just serve this by itself, but it would be fantastic with corn on the cob, or a crisp salad of greens or marinated cucumbers.

Leftovers are also fantastic -- I like to cut up the peppers and have it cold or room-temp the next day as a sort of salad with plenty of the creamy, dreamy dressing over top. I get excited about lunch the next day when these roasted peppers happen at my house -- and that's saying a LOT, because I HATE lunch. Lunch is the worst.

But I digress.

Make these. Then eat them. You'll see what I'm talking about.

Couscous Stuffed Peppers
from Giada De Laurentiis

4 bell peppers -- I prefer red, but you can use any combination of colors you like best
1 c. vegetable stock
1 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 c. whole wheat couscous
1 c. canned chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c. dried currants
1 c. lightly packed spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 c. crumbled feta
1/4 c. oil, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste

Prep bell peppers: remove tops, ribs, and seeds.* Set prepared peppers aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat stock, cumin, and a pinch of salt until steaming or at a low boil. Remove from heat and add the couscous. Cover and set aside 5 minutes, or until couscous is tender. Fluff with a fork and let cool a bit before combining with chickpeas, currants, spinach,  feta, and 1/4 c. oil in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. (Feta is a salty cheese, so go easy on the salt at first, and be sure to taste before you add more.)

Spoon this mixture into prepared bell peppers. Place peppers in a baking dish and carefully add about 3/4" of water to the bottom of the pan, being sure to avoid drenching the peppers and filling. Drizzle filling with oil, if desired.

Bake at 400ยบ for 40-50 minutes for halved peppers or 50 - 60 minutes for whole peppers. The dish is done when the peppers have softened and the filling is golden. If the filling begins to brown more than you would like, cover the top loosely with foil and continue to cook until peppers are done.

Meanwhile, make the sauce (recipe follows).

*Note: I prefer to cut my peppers in half completely, rather than hollowing them out and leaving them whole -- I find they cook faster this way and I get a greater ratio of the tasty, toasty topping I crave. It also provides nice portion control, since getting through a whole pepper is a LOT of food. But you can certainly go the more traditional route by leaving them whole. I've given cooking times for both methods.
If you leave them whole, you may need to slice a bit off the bottom of the pepper to help it sit flat.

Creamy Basil Sauce

1 c. lightly packed basil leaves
1/2 c. creme fraiche (You can use sour cream in a pinch, but creme fraiche gives much better results. You can easily make your own, if you think ahead a day or two.)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste seasoning and adjust.

When ready to serve: Plate each pepper, then top generously with basil sauce and serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. FYI, and you can choose not to post this, but chicken stock is NOT vegetarian. It can be substituted out with vegetable stock.

    1. You are absolutely right! Thanks for catching that.

    2. I've updated the recipe. Thanks, again, for catching my mistake.


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