A Taste of Morocco

Moroccan-Spiced Farro Stuffed Bell Peppers

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

When I was a teenager, I feel in love with the deeply fragrant spice combinations of Morocco.  I had picked up a discounted copy of Paula Wolfert’s book, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, and began to curiously cook and eat my way through an ancient cuisine with strange but delicious dishes such as charmoula, bisteeya and tagine.

According to Wolfert, the Moroccan culinary landscape was influenced by many traditions, including that of the Arabs, who invaded in 683, and as Morocco continued trade and cultural exchanges over the years, Andalusia (Spain), The Middle East and other parts of Africa.  Even Portugal, Britain and France left a trace.

When I started cooking Moroccan food, it was absolutely exotic, and even though I lived in California I had to search for couscous and make my own harissa sauce (spicy red pepper seasoning) and ras el hanout (spice blend).  These days couscous is a pantry staple (whole wheat in my kitchen), spices such as turmeric and saffron are must-haves on the shelves of serious cooks and you can get a jar of ras el hanout at Williams Sonoma.

Occasionally I crave these robust seasonings and recently built them into a filling for red bell peppers.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

I served them with lamb kebabs, marinated for a day with red wine, pomegranate molasses and a few other seasonings, but these stuffed peppers could go it alone as a vegetarian entrée with a few more walnuts and a big salad.

Couscous would have been the natural choice for this recipe but I wanted more heft and chew so I chose farro. I use an excellent locally grown (Washington state) whole grain emmer farro, from Bluebird Grain Farms.  On their website they explain that farro is an Italian word for an ancient grain dating back 17,000 years to the beginning of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent Region of Mesopotamia. It is the mother grain of modern durum wheat, predating spelt and kamut. The species Bluebird Grain Farms cultivates is still grown in parts of Africa, Northern Italy, Turkey, and Germany.  It is a whole grain form of farro, with the hull (and all the nutrients) intact so allow at least 40 minutes of cooking time.

If you use semi-pearled or pearled farro, part or all of the bran and germ is removed in the pearling process so it will cook more quickly. While some vitamins and minerals are sacrificed, it is still a highly nutritious grain, rich in protein, fiber and iron, according to package of Earthly Choice Italian Pearled Farro.  Follow the package directions and adjust the cooking time and amount of liquid (broth).  I use plump dried cherries, another Washington state fruit, but dried figs or apricots would be equally tasty.

If your idea of stuffed peppers is grey ground meat and tomato sauce – try these colorful and flavorful gems.  It is perfect for spring and summer entertaining because they can be prepared early in the day or the night before and popped in the oven as friends arrive.  I like to minimize last minute cooking so I can party with my guests.

 Moroccan-Spiced Farro Stuffed Bell Peppers

You’ll need 3 to 4 green onions, depending on size.  The white and pale green part is sliced and cooked with the farro and the green tops are sliced and added before stuffing the peppers.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup thinly sliced white and pale green part of green onion

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Big pinch saffron (optional)

1 cup whole grain farro

1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

2 medium to large red bell peppers

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops (green tops)

2 medium red bell peppers

1/4 cup dried cherries, figs, apricots or dates

Kosher salt, optional

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts, almonds or pistachios

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large saucepan over medium or medium-low heat.  Swirl olive oil into pan.  Add white part of green onions, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and saffron.  Stir until fragrant and onion begins to soften.  Add farro and stir for about 30 seconds, to toast.  Add chicken broth.  Cover, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until farro is just tender. (If farro is cooked and liquid remains, drain off excess or simmer uncovered until dry.)  Set farro aside and prepare bell peppers.  Cut bell peppers lengthwise in half.  Carefully remove core and seeds to make a cup for the filling.  Place peppers, cut side up, in a 9-inch square or other baking dish; they should fit snugly so they don’t tip over when filled.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Stir green onion tops and cherries into farro.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Pack filling into peppers.  Top with walnuts.  Cover dish tightly with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes or until filling is hot.  Makes 4 servings.

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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