I love peppers, I like meatloaf and I love the idea of stuffed bell peppers, so why am I usually a bit disappointed with them? The stuffed bell pepper recipes I have eaten my whole life from the States are usually stuffed with ground meat and rice and then topped with a can of tomato sauce. Bland! I never liked the rice part and have tried breadcrumbs as well as zipping it up a bit with oregano, chopped onion and parsley, but always in the back of my mind I was disappointed. This could be better! This could be bold and be packed with flavor! Ah, now I live in Peru, home of the pepper and potato and their rich culinary traditions. And, I’ve since met the Arequipan dish Rocoto Relleno. It is everything I always yearned for a stuffed pepper to be. Oh, I’m in love. One of, if not my favorite, dishes in all of the world.
The secrets that make this stuffed pepper dish so good are removing the starch from the meat mixture (and placing it on top in the form of a potato), enriching the meat mixture with ground peanuts and a very, very mild pepper paste (Panca Pepper Paste) and then topping the whole thing with cheese and a really good foamy cheese sauce that bakes into a crispy, drizzly, cheesy delight. If that wasn’t enough, every Peruvian cook has their own way of embellishing the dish and hiding little treasures inside the meat mass. So there is this surprise element. What will be in there? Egg? Olive? Nuts? Fruit? A wedding ring? Ha Ha. The juxtaposition of the potato wedge in there is brilliant. All of that excitement and the bland starchiness makes this a real comfort food for me. My favorite thing is to take a stuffed pepper the next day and slice it to fill sandwiches. The meatloaf sandwich just got better too!
Not that Rocoto Relleno is difficult to make or contains particularly elaborate ingredients, just a little prep, that is all that is needed.
Best Stuffed Red Pepper
By JK Peru,
August 13, 2013
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 14 Servings
21.6 grams fat
This is a classic Peruvian, baked, stuffed pepper, entree recipe that takes a bit of prep and a total of75 minutes to make, but is so over the top–great!–that it is worth the time. Kind of fun to make and is an ideal special occasion or prepare in advance and freeze meal. Guaranteed to not disappoint! Note: this is a double recipe, but doesn’t take double the time. So eat half, freeze half and you will have two special meals!
- 1.5 lb. Ground Beef
- 14 Rocoto Peppers (see Rocoto Red Pepper Alternatives)
- 1/2 cup roasted coarse ground peanuts (or pure peanut butter)
- 2 Large Red Onions, diced
- 4 cloves minced Garlic
- 1/2 cup Panca Pepper Paste (aji panca molido) or 1/4 cup mild chili powder (see Ground Panca Alternatives)
- 6 Hard-boiled Eggs
- 2 Raw Egg Whites
- 3/4 cup raisins, chopped dates or chopped dried prunes, or double and try two of these!
- 14 Kalamata olives, halved and pitted (Peruvians use whole, but I don’t want any broken teeth!)
- 24 whole roasted nuts like: hazelnuts, pecans or cashews or 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
- Two Large Potatoes
- 1 lb. Andean Farmers Cheese or mozzarella (see Andean Cheese Alternatives)
- 2 T. Olive Oil
- 3/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/3 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup Vinegar (any kind)
- 3/4 cup salt (for the water to boil the peppers)
- Optional: 1 cup cooked coarsely shredded beef or pork
- 1 T. Ground Cumin
- Black Pepper to taste
Prep the Peppers: First we need to render the Rocoto Peppers Mild and edible to most everyone! Using gloves and eye protection (I’m not kidding!) cut off the top of all of the peppers (leaving a nice little top hat, keeping on the stem of it has one) and completely deseed and devein them. Deveining removes all traces of the super hot white parts attaching the seeds to the outside pepper pod. A small teaspoon works nice to scrape everything out. When you are done, carefully wash everything down and don’t touch your eyes! Set aside two of the Rocoto Pepper bottoms, and boil the rest: 12 Rocoto Peppers bottom’s and 14 tops in successive salt and vinegar water baths for five minutes each until the peppers are mild enough for your taste.
Generally, I like two successive baths (a bit spicy), but three baths is usually good for everyone. Four baths and the peppers generally are really soft and super mild. The salt in the boiling water purges the peppers of their heat and the vinegar tends to keep them from disintegrating. If the peppers get super soft and lose their shape (or fall apart a bit) don’t despair! Finally, soak the peppers in a big bath of cool fresh water for at least 15 minutes to allow any salt to exit the peppers. Boil the potatoes (I do it in the second water bath) until done and set aside to cool and then peel (if desired). Slice the potatoes into 14, 1/2 inch round slabs (roughly the diameter of the Rocoto Peppers).
Prep the Filling: Saute onions until golden, then add the garlic, and when the garlic is golden as well add in the ground cumin and Panca Pepper Paste (or whatever alternative you have chosen) and continue to fry the sticky, red onion mass for about five minutes more. Add a few tablespoons of water if needed to keep everything from burning. Take half the cheese and cut into 14 slices, cube the other half and set aside. Separate the egg yolks from the hard-boiled eggs and cut each yolk in half, set aside and then coarsely dice the cooked egg whites. Mix the raw ground beef, fried onion-garlic-pepper mass, chopped parsley, ground peanuts, raisins, and chopped egg whites in a bowl.
Stuff the Peppers: To stuff each pepper start with a golf ball sized amount of filling and make a flat hamburger shaped patty. Place half a cooked egg yolk in the center, along with two nuts, the two Kalamata olive halves and a bit of any of the optional shredded meat and then form a ball of meat around the little goodies. Now press the ball into an empty pepper cavity. Note: if your peppers fell apart during boiling just reassemble the pepper pieces (jigsaw style) around the meat ball. Line up the stuffed peppers in a greased baking dish. There is usually some extra filling so I form two balls out of it and top them like the peppers. Top each pepper with a slab of potato, a slice of cheese and the little pepper hat. In a blender blend two raw egg whites, the two raw Rocoto Pepper bottoms (use only one or one half if you don’t like a little heat) the evaporated milk, and the remaining half of the cubed cheese until foamy (about 30 seconds). Pour and spoon this egg mixture over all of the stuffed and topped peppers.
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Baking: If your pan is crowded and not super deep, take some long strips of folded foil and create an extension to the sides to prevent the tops, cheese and potato wedges from slipping off during baking and out into your oven. Bake for 40 minutes in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven until golden brown and bubbly (or until the internal temperature of a stuffed pepper reaches 170 degrees).
Variation: Some Peruvian recipes don’t use the other half of the cheese in the egg white mixture, rather they use three egg whites instead. Also, I’ve included a great deal of items for variation in this recipe. The surprise little goodies each cook hides inside mean: Be creative!
FYI, we have included the nutritional facts for the recipe and the variation with no cheese in the sauce.
Rocoto Relleno Nutritional Facts
FYI – This is a big rich entree item. It is totally possible to slice each rellano, turning each portion into three. I’ve done this many times along with a nice hefty salad and some brown rice or a cooked vegetable. It makes a really striking presentation; the slice reveals all the layers. I usually embellish with a few olives, raisins and nuts thrown on top so the jewels are spilling out. If I freeze the dish and, then thaw it out, I slice each pepper into thirds and lie them out on a cookie sheet. Then, I remake the foamy egg sauce and spoon it over half the slice and then bake until bubbly. This turns the dish into 36 portions! In reality, one pepper is quite a lot.
This dish is high (or very high) in nutrients like: iron, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin C.
The main recipe scores a Nutrition Grade of “B+” and the alternative scores an “A-“.
FYI – For such a substantial entree item, this is fairly good for you. The key would be, based on the size of your peppers, to reduce the portion as mentioned earlier. A full portion is 426 Calories and a high proportion of those calories are from fat, 45%, so for added health serve with healthy portions of raw and cooked vegetables. Say a yogurt or vinegar based coleslaw and Asperigas or Green Beans. The good news is that this dish is high in iron, selenium, and very high in Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C. One of these Pepe’s packs three times the USDA RDA for Vitamin C. The not so great news is that it is high in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat. Being high in Cholesterol isn’t normally a big deal, but being high in Saturated Fat is, because Saturated Fat causes High Cholesterol in your blood. And, for the sodium conscious, I would caution you to rinse the boiled peppers well to reduce salt and to avoid adding salt as there could be a small amount of salt remaining in the cooked peppers.
Rocoto Relleno Nutritional Facts, No Cheese in the Sauce Alternative, Nutritional Facts
FYI – All of the nutritional info I have just given goes the same for this Variation. However, you do save about 11% in caloric content by eliminating the cheese in the sauce (the egg, Rocoto and Milk do fine on their own). Many Peruvians like it this way. What is key is that you reduce the Saturated Fat content by 26% this way and that is important for those watching their cholesterol.
BTW – This sauce is a very handy thing. Having learned it I now use it to top meatloaf (wait until I post my Rocoto Relleno Meat Loaf Recipe), and baked cauliflower (just this sauce and cauliflower florets in a baking dish and voila!).