Poblano Peppers with a Black Chickpea Filling

Looking at the picture, you might think that looks like a lot of work.

You would be correct. Stuffed peppers are a lot of work to do well.

They can be done poorly very easily: slap cooked rice and some other stuff, mostly tomato sauce, into a raw bell pepper with the top cut off; bake until listless and flabby. Remove from oven. Eat; regret eating.

A good stuffed pepper, on the other hand, needs to start out with a thin-skinned variety, needs roasting or frying to make its flesh savory and flavorful, careful work to open the peppers up, and a filling with some character to give the whole thing a reason to live.

Black chickpeas have that character. They’re truly nutty and have slightly tough skins that keep them from cooking to wan split starchiness, as regular chickpeas will if unattended. For that reason, they grind up well in bits once cooked, rather than easily becoming hummus. Their toothsome nature occurred to me as a good texture for this spot where ground meat is usually found.

When it gets hot in Fresno, and boy, is it getting hot in Fresno this week, I tend to turn to Mediterranean foods. I flipped through a few of my Greek cookbooks to get ideas for this recipe, and not having looked at them for a while, I remembered why they seem like such a good idea in the summer – all those cool flavors and vegetable salads.

So the filling is Mediterranean-influenced. Onions, both raw and cooked, make an appearance, as well as copious garlic, salty feta and olives, bright lemon juice and green notes from parsley and mint.

1 1/2 c. dried black chickpeas
olive oil for the pot
salt to taste

olive oil for the pan
10-12 poblano peppers

olive oil for the pan
2 white onions, chopped
2 T. minced garlic
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. paprika

1 red onion
1 T. minced garlic
1 jalapeno, roughly chopped
12 salt-cured olives, pitted
juice of one lemon (about 1/4 c.)
2 T. olive oil

1 c. crumbled feta
1 c. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 c. finely chopped mint
salt and pepper to taste

paprika and sesame seeds to top, if desired

Well in advance, sort the beans and discard any broken or shriveled ones. Rinse with cool water to dislodge any dust, then cover with cold water and allow to sit for eight hours or overnight, or quick soak by placing in a large pot with cold water to cover, bringing to a boil, turning the heat off and covering, then allowing the beans to sit, covered, for one hour.

Drain the soaked beans. If pressure-cooking, place in a pressure cooker with water to cover plus about a half-inch. Add a small amount of olive oil to prevent foaming. Add salt to taste. Place the cover on the cooker and bring to pressure. Once the pressure regulator starts rocking, reduce the heat to just above medium and cook for nine minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the pressure to drop on its own. When the pressure has dropped, drain the beans, reserving the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If cooking in a regular pot, place in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until almost tender – black chickpeas will not get as soft as regular chickpeas, and will take longer to cook – likely more than an hour. When cooked, drain the beans, reserving the liquid.

While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the peppers. Wash them and dry them well. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Have a splatter screen or lid handy, and place the whole peppers in the hot oil. Cover and stand back, as the peppers will splatter mightily. Let them splatter until they die down a bit, then remove the cover or splatter screen (away from yourself) and turn the peppers using long tongs. Cook, turning, until they are browned on all sides. When they are completely browned, remove them from the heat and place them in a plastic container to allow them to steam until cool.

In a large pot, sauté the two onions in olive oil until about half-tender. Add the garlic and give it a few turns around the pan. Add the cumin, paprika, and cooked chickpeas, and remove from the heat.

Place the red onion, 1 T. garlic, jalapeno, olives, lemon juice, and olive oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Add the chickpea mixture to the work bowl and pulse until the filling is coarsely chopped.

Turn the mixture back into the pan and add the feta and chopped herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste, and more olive oil for flavor if desired. Add about 2/3 c. of the chickpea cooking liquid back to the mixture, if needed.

Open the container containing the peppers. Make a lengthwise slit in each one in turn, then gently turn them inside out and cut out the seeds using a small, sharp knife. Stuff the peppers with the filling and place them in a baking dish.

When all the peppers are stuffed, dust them with paprika and sesame seeds if desired, and place in the oven. Allow to heat through for ten to fifteen minutes – do not allow the filling to get dry.

Makes four to six servings.

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