I have something to confess. For someone who co-authors a blog about eating well and cooking creatively with limited funds, I am terrible at limiting my grocery budget. I do not cook based on what I have and need to use up – but instead tend to prepare whatever strikes my fancy, purchasing whatever ingredients are necessary along the way. Now, this doesn’t include sushi, pheasant or sirloin steaks. … but I do try to purchase organic meat and dairy whenever possible, and unless times are really tight, it’s one aspect of my spending that tends to be relatively unbridled.
But every good era comes to an end – and as the London School of Economics has been sending me threatening notices about paying my tuition and I must heed them, I currently have less than £50 to last me till the month’s end. Luckily, starting tomorrow work is sending me to Manchester for five days (allowing me to save money AND eat well – stay tuned for restaurant updates!), but until then I have pledged not to buy a single thing from the grocery store, having ascertained that I have more than sufficient stocks to last between now and then.
However, this means I couldn’t make dak galbi for dinner yesterday as I desperately craved, and if I want spaghetti carbonara tonight, it’ll have to be without parsley. To describe this situation as unsatisfactory would be an insult to descriptions everywhere – to cook with what I have seems to be contrary to my whole nature!
But, as I said, last night I persevered and took inventory: one frozen pack of ground beef, three bell peppers, one zucchini (courgette), 10 cherry tomatoes, one carrot, four stalks celery, a tiny piece of cheddar and some clamato juice. And of course, I already possessed plenty of spices and regular carbohydrate staples such as pasta, rice and couscous to supplement these perishables.
I decided on stuffed peppers with couscous and ground beef, with a stuffed zucchini thrown in for fun. I would substitute tinned tomatoes for fresh, throw in a bit of onion, garlic, cumin, mint and cinnamon to give it some Middle Eastern zip and round out a tomato sauce with whatever tomato-based sauces and beverages I could find.
In this case, that meant clamato juice mixed with ketchup and tomato paste, with a bit of water thrown in (definitely not my finest hour). Since this mixed up to be a pretty salty bowl of surprisingly tasty preserved tomato-ness, I went easy on the salt when seasoning the ground beef and couscous mixture going into the peppers.
I wouldn’t call the results one of my finest culinary creations, but perhaps that’s just because I didn’t want to eat stuffed peppers that day. … I just had to. What I did like about the recipe was that it was relatively all-encapsulating. In one small stuffed pepper, I got carbs, protein, veggies and dairy in an easy to eat container – it was like a food of the future.
Couscous-Stuffed Peppers with Beef
400 g ground beef
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 bell peppers, cored and cut in half
1 zucchini, cut in half with flesh scooped out and reserved
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp mint
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup couscous
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
For the Sauce
125 ml Clamato juice (or Tomato)
3 tbsp tomato chili sauce
3 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp water (optional)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a skillet, heat olive oil fry ground beef with the garlic and onion. When browned, add salt and cherry tomatoes and fry until tender. Add the finely chopped zucchini pulp, then spices, tomato paste and couscous. If necessary, add water to moisten. Cover and wait 15 minutess, or until couscous is light and fluffy.
In the meantime, boil a pot of water. Blanch peppers in boiling water for 1-2 minutes to soften slightly before placing them in tinfoil-lined baking dish with the 2 zucchini halves. Add couscous mixture to the peppers.
In a bowl, mix the sauce ingredients and season to taste with pepper and salt. Pour sauce over the peppers and zucchini and sprinkle grated cheese over the stuffed vegetables. Cover with tinfoil and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes until cheese is nice and crispy.