Bharwan or stuffed baigan or Shimla mirch (green peppers) are not all there is to stuffed vegetables today. The vegetables used are many and the fillings, varied, across cuisines, other than Indian.
Bell peppers stuffed with lamb mince, basmati rice, tomatoes and herbs. Sounds exotic? Indeed, stuffed vegetables are a great way of elevating the taste of simple vegetables.
Stuffed vegetables have been a basic and simple innovation in cooking and its variations, if restricted to Indian cuisine, are limited. Apart from stuffing; brinjals, bell peppers, bitter gourd, mushroom and tomatoes we have not ventured to experiment with other vegetables. And, what’s more, these vegetables need not be stuffed with vegetarian fillings only. One can unleash one’s imagination and create exciting fillings to up the flavour of the humble vegetable.
Chef Devender Kumar of Le Meridien, New Delhi opines that vegetables like zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, mushroom, chillies, lady’s finger, potato, brinjal, gourd and artichoke are perfect for stuffings as these are fleshy and hollow.
Vegetables once stuffed can become a perfect main course dish rather than being served as a side dish and in this form, with flavourful fillings, vegetables become more palatable. Indian cuisine is replete with stuffed vegetables. Chef Kumar adds, “The famous stuffed brinjal poriya (South), bharwan karela (Punjab), aloo firdousi, louki musallam (Awadh) and bharwan shimla mirch (Rajasthan) are part of our Indian cuisine.”
Bell peppers stuffed with tomatoes, beans, corn and spring onions, makes for a delicious side-dish, as does a tomato stuffed with paneer and potatoes mixed with spices. Again, bharwan khumb or mushrooms and bitter gourd or karela stuffed with dry masala are regular features in Indian meals.
Be Creative, Be Careful
There are a myriad ways of making a stuffed vegetable. One need not always fry these. Once filled these can be baked, roasted or chargrilled. However, Chef Sahil Arora, Executive Chef, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel, Powai, cautions, “All stuffed vegetables should preferably be roasted or fried so that the vegetable can be cooked from outside faster, in addition to that, all the vegetables which are being stuffed should be either cooked or should require minimalistic cooking.” One can be equally innovative when it comes to fillings for the stuffing of a vegetable. These can be diverse and one can combine several ingredients to prepare the filling. However, one must ensure that the filling is not too moist. Chef Kumar explains, “The stuffing should not have moisture. The texture of the main ingredient and stuffing should complement each other i.e. stuffing of bottle gourd (a tough texture vegetable) should be something relatively soft, like spinach and cheese or minced meat.”
Today, chefs have crossed all boundaries in cooking and the fillings for stuffed vegetables are not limited to a single cuisine. A global stuffed vegetable need not necessarily mean a Greek preparation only. Gemista or yemista, the traditional Greek dish of stuffed tomatoes and bell peppers that are baked in the oven, may be the most popular stuffed global dish one is familiar with, but there is more to stuffed vegetables nowadays. Verdure ripieni or stuffed vegetables, are popular in many regions of Italy and chefs here are also making similar preparations. Served with herbed rice or a salad, this can become a complete meal. A pepper maybe filled with quinoa, cheese and brown rice or a tomato may have a stuffing made of bulgur, kidney beans and spices. Cheese, potatoes, rice and other starchy ingredients are apt for a stuffing when combined with other ingredients as these help to bind the stuffing together.
Exotic is in and thus, unique combinations with exciting flavour profiles are making their way into kitchens for vegetable stuffings. Of course some opt for healthy fillings too. Chef Arora recommends quinoa, green vegetables like okra, spinach, bulgur, tabbouleh, chickpeas and kidney beans for the fillings. Chef Kumar on the other hand also makes use of nuts, couscous, polenta and other grains.
Rice maybe the easiest and versatile filling when it comes to grains, but couscous proves to be a welcome change from rice.
Interesting fillings in a vegetable not only taste good but also enhance the texture of the dish. Peppers stuffed with kidney beans, rice, cheese and topped with a sauce and sprinkled nuts can be a palate-pleaser as there are a mélange of textures in one bite. For a hearty vegetarian stuffing with varied textures, one may opt for quinoa, hazelnuts and spinach, spiced up with cumin. Chef Kumar quips, “The dish and the sauce or gravy should be contrast in nature to each other. For example bharwan gucchi generally has a mild stuffing and thus the gravy can be tangy in taste.”
It is a myth that vegetables must be stuffed with vegetarian fillings only. Meat in various forms, such as sausages, mince or pate, is an ideal choice as is sea food. Savoury meat with brown rice and mozzarella cheese is a simple but tasty filling for bell peppers or tomatoes. Cooked chicken breast, cilantro and parmesan can be a rich and hearty stuffing for grilled mushrooms. The versatile zucchini can be stuffed with a soft cheese like goat cheese or brie mixed with mince lamb which is well-spiced and topped with a herb sauce. A mixture of lamb, feta cheese and mint, proves to be a creamy filling which can be used to stuff various vegetables. Fish lovers can enjoy a tuna stuffing in peppers.
One can even keep it simple with stuffing tomatoes with turkey, with a layer of cheese and baking it like a gratin. Aubergine stuffed with ratatouille and soya mince, can become an exciting meal in itself.
So whether it is a simple stuffed bell pepper or exotic grilled vegetables stuffed Portobello mushrooms, unleash your creativity and make the most of vegetables, getting your dose of fibre, vitamins and more.
Written By: Mini Ribeiro