The stuff that dreamy meals are made of

Stuffed Chiles With Two Sauces uses a version of the Cuban/Latin ground meat dish picadillo, and a mole and a walnut sauce.
Stuffed Chiles With Two Sauces uses a version of the Cuban/Latin ground meat dish picadillo, and a mole and a walnut sauce. (From "9 x13, The Perfect Fit Dish")
Posted: March 08, 2012

My husband and daughter do not get my emotional attachment to stuffed food, which I find to be as exciting as getting a package in the mail.

They like the culinary genre well enough, but roll their eyeballs heavenward when, on occasion, I deify pork chops, grape leaves, squash blossoms, vegetables, or any other type of food that performs as a duffel bag.

They take for granted the forethought, imagination, knife skills, and care needed to fashion packages of flavor, moisture, and texture.

The "stuffed" concept is old, much older than its first appearance in English in 1538 in reference to concoctions crammed inside chicken and other fowl. And the lines of demarcation that define "stuffed" are fuzzy.

My personal food dictionary defines "stuffed food" as anything that partially or wholly encloses representatives of other food groups.

For me, then, an omelet bursting with vegetables and cheese, a naan loaded with onions, and a meat loaf with hard-boiled eggs down its center (a favorite during my rural youth) are on equal footing in the category.

But the very nature of "stuffed" implies "heavy." Indeed, it is the definition of that uneasy feeling, the kind of food coma that many of us feel after, say, a Thanksgiving dinner.

To the contrary, "stuffed" does not always signify the American propensity to overdo it at the table.

A national pizza chain is touting its newish offering that has cheese tucked into the rim of its pies to probably double the calories and fat in every piece. The Berber Pizza here is also stuffed, but with onions and herbs that boost the flavor without doing so much harm.

Likewise, Emeril Lagasse's Stuffed Zucchini utilizes the boatlike shape of that vegetable to hold a bit of meat and cheese along with bread and herbs to make a package of almost every food group but fruit and nuts.

Stuffed Chiles With Two Sauces uses a version of the Cuban/Latin ground meat dish called picadillo, which does add fruit and nuts in the form of raisins and almonds. This may be served in a bowl. But why, when nature has provided beautiful poblano-chile serving dishes?

You may need a special trip to an Asian market to make Vietnamese Stuffed Crepes - you may have seen or had them in restaurants - and the cooking of the crepes may take a few practice runs, but they are worth the extra work.

Except for the use of fish sauce in the accompaniment, these are vegan, made with mung beans and not eggs, even though they have the look of an omelet.

The crepes are best served right out of the wok, which will require one person to cook and deliver them to diners.

In a perfect world, they'll greet them as if they are treasure chests.

Berber Pizza Stuffed With Onions

Makes 1 to 2 servings

For the dough:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour,  or more as needed

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil

For the filling:

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

Olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1 teaspoon powdered hot red chile

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons black pepper


2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. For the dough, mix the yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1/2cup flour together in a large bowl. When the mixture is foamy and active, add 4 more cups flour, the salt, olive oil, and remaining 1 cup water. Stir to mix, then knead until smooth, adding a little flour if necessary, but aiming for a soft dough. Cover and let rest for 2 hours, refrigerated, or overnight.

2. For the filling, in a large heavy skillet over high heat, wilt the onions quickly in 2 tablespoons olive oil and the butter, letting them color a bit but leaving them a little crunchy.

3. Add the cumin, coriander, red chile, paprika, and black pepper. Season well with salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning. The onions should be rather spicy. Remove the onions to a plate to cool and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and cilantro.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the dough into six 5-ounce pieces. Knead each piece into a smooth ball. Cover with a clean towel and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

5. To make the first pizza, roll out 2 dough balls into 8-inch rounds. Place one-third of the onion mixture on one of the rounds. Cover with the other round of dough. Pinch the edges together with your fingers. With the palm of your hand, press down on the package to flatten it, then roll out the filled dough to make a 12-inch circle (the onion mixture will spread inside the dough as you roll). Follow the same procedure to make 2 more pizzas.

6. Transfer one pizza to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake up to 2 pizzas at a time for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping the pizza halfway through baking to ensure even browning. (The pizzas may be baked up to 2 hours in advance and reheated on baking sheets in a hot oven.) Paint the tops with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cut into wedges just before serving.

- From A Platter of Figs by David Tanis (Artisan, 2008)

Per serving (based on 2): 1,572 calories, 34 grams protein, 241 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams sugar, 52 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 1,375 milligrams sodium, 14 grams dietary fiber.

Provençal-Style Stuffed Zucchini

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 cups (about 2 ounces)  diced French baguette or other crusty bread, preferably day-old

1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 small zucchini (each about 7 inches long and 11/4 to 11/2 inches wide)

4 ounces fresh lean pork sausage

3/4 cup minced onions

1 cup finely chopped peeled and seeded tomatoes (about 2 medium tomatoes)

1. Pulse the diced bread in a food processor until you have an even mix of fine and coarse crumbs. Add the Parmesan, parsley leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and process until evenly mixed. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the breadcrumb mixture for the filling. Mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil into the remaining breadcrumbs, transfer the mixture to a small container, and set it aside. (Alternatively, use ¾ cup of store-bought fine fresh crumbs and combine them with 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Set aside 2 tablespoons and mix 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil into the remainder.)

2. Lay the zucchini on a flat work surface. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top quarter of each squash lengthwise. Next, slice a sliver off the bottom of each squash to help keep it stable. Using a small melon baller or spoon, remove the inner flesh from the zucchini to form a small boat shape, leaving a shell that is approximately 1/4 inch thick. Cut the zucchini pulp into a 1/4-inch dice, and reserve it separately. Lightly salt the inside of the zucchini shells with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set them, hollow side down, on paper towels to drain before you prepare the filling.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the sausage and saute until it is golden, using a spoon to break it into small pieces, about 6 minutes. Add the onions and cook until they are soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chopped zucchini and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the remaining 1½ teaspoons garlic, and cook, stirring, until the moisture has evaporated and the filling comes together, 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the reserved 2 tablespoons of breadcrumb mixture and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5. Rub the outside of the zucchini with the remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Turn the zucchini hollow side up and lightly pat the insides with paper towels. Using a tablespoon or other small spoon, fill the zucchini with the warm filling. Top with the reserved breadcrumbs. Lay the zucchini in a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on top.

- From Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh by Emeril Lagasse (Harper Collins, 2010)

Per serving (based on 8): 156 calories, 7 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 11 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 348 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Stuffed Chiles With Two Sauces

Makes 6 servings

1 pound ground, uncooked pork, turkey or chicken

1/3 cup (1 small) chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups chopped peeled apples and/or pears (2 large)

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

6 large fresh poblano chiles

For the walnut sauce:

1/2 cup walnuts

3 ounces cream cheese, cut up

1/3 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

For the mole:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large red tomato, chopped

3 tablespoons canned diced  green chiles

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon chile powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. For the chiles and filling: In a large skillet cook ground pork, onion, and garlic until meat is browned and onions are tender, stirring to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat. Stir apples, tomato sauce, raisins, salt, cinnamon, and cumin into meat mixture in skillet. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir in almonds.

2. Meanwhile, cut a lengthwise slit in a side of each chile and remove seeds and membranes. In a large saucepan cook chiles in boiling water about 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well. Cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon meat mixture into the chiles. Place stuffed chiles in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake about 25 minutes or until heated through. Meanwhile, prepare the sauces.

3. To make the walnut sauce, place the walnuts, cream cheese, milk, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor, cover, and blend until smooth.

4. For the mole: Heat the oil over medium heat in a sauce pan, add the onion and garlic. Cook for 4 minutes or until onions are tender. Stir in the tomato, chiles, cocoa powder, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.

5. To serve, spoon each sauce into its own bowl and serve on the side, or spoon one sauce on each side of a serving platter and top with the hot stuffed chiles.

- Adapted from 9x13: The Perfect-Fit Dish (Meredith, 2010)

Per serving (with ground turkey): 594 calories, 32 grams protein, 62 grams carbohydrates, 37 grams sugar, 29 grams fat, 94 milligrams cholesterol, 741 milligrams sodium, 20 grams dietary fiber.

Vietnamese Stuffed Crepes (Banh Xeo)

Makes about 12 eight-inch crepes, or 6 to 8 servings

For the sauce (nuoc cham):

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons rice or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 bird chile, minced

Several shreds of carrot  (optional)

For the crepes:

1/4 cup yellow split mung beans, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained (see notes)

11/2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk

½ cup water

1 cup rice flour (see notes)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

Vegetable oil for cooking

Fillings: (see note)

3 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained

1 cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves

1 cup minced scallions


2 large heads leaf lettuce or Bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and separated into leaves

Mint and/or Asian basil  leaves

2 cups Vietnamese nuoc cham

1. Make the nuoc cham by blending all of the ingredients. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.

2. Place the soaked mung beans and coconut milk in a blender (or use an immersible blender in a deep bowl) and process to a puree. Add the water and rice flour and process until smooth, then add the sugar, salt, and turmeric and process briefly. Place a fine sieve over a bowl and pour the batter through to strain out any lumps. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.

3. Before starting to cook set out the filling ingredients near your stovetop, as well as plates to serve the crepes on and a lid for covering the wok during cooking. Arrange the accompaniments on one or more platters and set out the dipping sauce in individual condiment dishes.

4. Stir the batter for several minutes. It will have thickened but after stirring it should be quite liquid, not thick and heavy. Add water if it seems thick. Place a large wok over high heat. When it is hot, add 2 teaspoons oil, swirl to coat the wok well, and then pour off the oil. Place the wok back over high heat. (If using an electric stovetop, turn on another burner to medium heat.) Scoop up 1/3 cup of the batter and pour it into the wok. Lift the wok and tip it to swirl the batter around thinly into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Place the wok back on the heat. There will be small bubbles and holes in your crepe; don't worry, these give delicious crispy edges. Sprinkle some bean sprouts, coriander, and scallions onto one side of the crepe. Lower the heat to medium or move the wok to the electric burner set at medium. Cover the wok and let the crepe cook for about 3 minutes until the edges are brown and the underside is crispy; the top, having steam-cooked, will be soft and pale yellow. Use a spatula to ease the edges of the crepe off the wok, then fold the crepe in half and slide it onto a waiting plate. Serve immediately. These are absolutely best cooked to order, hot from the wok for each diner, who should place a piece of the crepe with filling into a lettuce leaf, garnish with the herbs, and splash with sauce before rolling the leaf up to eat it.

- Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2000)

Notes: Mung beans and rice flour are available at Asian markets - the beans especially available at Indian ones - and may sometimes be found at better groceries or health food stores. Any relatively dry filling or stir-fry concoction, meat or meatless, may be used to fill these crepes.

Per serving (based on 8): 312 calories, 8 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, no cholesterol, 860 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

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