Monday, April 03, 2023

Stuffed Peppers, Kung Pao-style

Kung Pao chicken is commonly found in both Chinese-American and more traditional Sichuan restaurants, and it's the dish that Mr Minx and I use to judge the quality of their food. If their kung pao is to our liking, chances are good we'll enjoy everything else. (The original Szechuan House in Timonium had terrible kung pao. We tried it several times--normally carry-out or delivery--and found we couldn't get past the elephant cage smell. We didn't particularly enjoy anything else from that restaurant, but they had free delivery....) Our favorite version of  kung pao chicken is well-balanced, features chicken thigh rather than breast meat, and is not too sweet or gloppy with sauce. The dish should be spicy but not incendiary, and we prefer it without ma la, the numbing and spicy sensation produced by the combination of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns.

The earliest versions of kung pao chicken that I recall eating were usually cloaked in a thick brown sauce that tasted of hoisin. They also contained cubed celery and sometimes chunks of green bell pepper. I rather enjoyed the celery, but the pepper ruined the dish for me. Unripe bell peppers tend to make everything they touch taste like them. Ripe peppers, on the other hand, are quite delicious and versatile vegetables. I still don't want them on my pizza or in my Chinese food, but I like eating stuffed peppers quite a bit. And of course I love kung pao chicken. Why not combine the two? So I did.

Kung Pao Peppers

6 bell peppers
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons hot broad bean paste or sriracha
1 tablespoon black Chinkiang vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do in a pinch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped (divided use)
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
1 lb ground turkey or chicken
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 star anise
2 cups steamed rice, at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Sriracha or chili crunch

Slice the tops off the peppers about half an inch down from the bottom of the stem, forming caps. Scrape out the seeds and rinse and dry the peppers. Place both parts of each pepper on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 10 minutes. (If your microwave is small, do this in two batches of 3 peppers each.) Set peppers aside until completely cool.

Combine the hoisin, bean paste or sriracha, vinegar, soy, brown sugar, and oyster sauce in a bowl.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil and add the onion and 3/4 of the scallions. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, then add the ground turkey. Breaking up the turkey with a wooden spoon, cook until meat is no longer pink and any liquid given up by the meat and veg has evaporated. Add the garlic, ginger, and star anise and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat and onions are beginning to brown in spots. Add the sauce and a half cup of water and toss to coat. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, so the meat gets a bit more tender and the sauce is absorbed. Scrape the turkey mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cold.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Scoop 2-3 tablespoons of rice into the bottom of each pepper. Fish out the star anise and divide the turkey evenly among the peppers, adding some peanuts as you go. Cover the filled peppers with their tops and place into a 9 x 13 baking dish. If there seems to be too much room around the peppers, roll  up some aluminum foil into balls or snakes and insert these between the peppers so they stay upright. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and cover tightly with foil.

Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Serve with additional rice, if desired.

Serves 6.

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