Matti Paavonen

Twenty years ago, my mom’s “Stuffed Bell Peppers” were one of my favorite dishes. When I came home from football practice to the alluring scent of onions, ground beef and mom’s mélange of herbs and spices, I knew that in an hour or so the earthy-tangy deliciousness of this thoroughly Southern dish would be blossoming in my mouth. Sadly, when I made the transition to vegetarianism, this dish, among dozens of others, was one I had to give up. And I sorely missed it.

Fast forward to 2009: While I understand the importance of staying connected to ancestral foods as a part of my overall health and well-being, I generally avoid slavishly replicating old favorites. The “delete meat add tofu/tempeh/seitan/textured vegetable protein (God forbid)” ethos that I have seen in a lot of vegetarian/vegan cooking is, quite frankly, unimaginative. I find it much more exciting and creative to cut, paste, rework and remix the staples used in those dishes to come up with a new recipe that maintains the integrity and flavor profile of the original one.   

But remixing the vegetables in place of the meat doesn’t always do the trick. For this one, I just had to go there and use tempeh. Trust me. It works. I created these “Tempeh-Stuffed Bell Peppers” by substituting crumbled tempeh (fermented soy bean cake) for ground beef and using brown basmati rice instead of white rice. While this recipe calls for fresh plum tomatoes, unless they are in season, use canned ones.

Taking into consideration your tastes, desires, politics, ethics and health needs, I invite you to add, omit, or substitute suggested ingredients in this recipe and make it your own. If you want to work it out with some organic ground beef, go right ahead. But I guarantee that you’ll like these as is.

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