Barley Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed-Peppers2We just got back from a fabulous (nearly) three week trip to Ireland and Scotland. It was wonderful and restorative time spent with good people, food, and… tea. Newly rested, I’m hoping to be a bit better at posting, but let’s face it–it’s summer–the sun is shining, and I’m feeling more whimsical than studious, so we’ll see. That said, my first trip to the farmers market and the bounty of stone fruits and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes left me inspired. Not to mention the fact that when I’m traveling I spend a lot time in grocery stores and peeking in cupboards and refrigerators, noting the differences between there and here, and it always gets my brain buzzing. Again, we’ll see.

For now, we are making a serious effort to get more whole grains and veg into our diets; to cut back on red meat and sweets (not that we eat that much of either). I served these peppers as a main course, and they were a hit. I forget about barley, but it is so good for you. It lowers your cholesterol and it’s packed with nutrients. It is worth reading up on this wonderful grain–elsewhere, as I am not nor have I ever claimed to be a nutritional expert. I used pearl barley, which isn’t a whole grain, but it’s still pretty nutritious, and it’s what I had in the cupboard.

Barley Stuffed Peppers (serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish)

6 medium sweet peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded*
1 cup barley, cooked according to package directions**
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
2 Tbsps. (30ml) olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup/240ml)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch or two of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 medium or 1 large tomato, chopped (including seeds and juice, but you can peel it if you like)
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup (60ml) grated hard pungent cheese like Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or a bracing white cheddar
Salt and black pepper

*The number of peppers you get depends on their size. The peppers I used were about 4 inches long and about 2-3 inches wide, and when cut in half the halves covered the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. If you can’t find sweet Italian peppers, bell peppers are fine.
**You want the barley to be al dente, not really soft or mushy, but not crunchy.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and zucchini and cook until soft and starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. If using, add the red pepper flakes. Add the barley and the tomatoes and cook until the liquid from the tomatoes is mostly evaporated. Add the basil and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350F/150C degrees.

Lightly oil the bottom of your baking dish. Fill the pepper halves with the barley mixture and line the bottom of the dish. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the top of the peppers, Sprinkle with the cheese. Add 1/3 cup (80ml) of water to the bottom of the dish (don’t pour it over the peppers, but around them).

Bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the dish at the halfway mark. The dish is done when the peppers are tender.