Simple Sides: Stuffed Mini-Pepper Appetizer Platter
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Hosting a backyard BBQ, picnic or summer party? Use the event to give your kitchen helpers some experience in the art of the appetizer platter, which is not a dish normally on the family’s dinner menu. Nice idea, but who has time for a cooking session with a houseful of guests arriving? This simple finger food recipe is the perfect culinary solution with a very short ingredient list and no-cook assembly that can be prepared hours or even a day in advance up to but not including the final bake. The stuffed peppers can then be heated just before serving during the festivities—served, no doubt, by the same young sous chef-turned-wait-staff who make it!
This is a great starter recipe for the beginner cook. There is just enough to do, so it feels like a “real” recipe, while in reality, the kids are just mixing two of Melissa’s most popular items, Steamed Lentils and Hatch Salsa, then spooning that blend into a third – our Veggie Mini Sweet Peppers. The only other prep is topping the measured lengths of string cheese to each pepper half – a task that will no doubt result in some of that string cheese ingredient mysteriously vanishing before it gets to the peppers! Of course, the best part of this dish is the culinary pride and confidence that does come with circulating this platter of tasty morsels among the guests and the resulting compliments as it becomes known who made the dish!
There is nothing “mini” about Melissa’s Veggie Sweets except their size. These tiny colorful peppers have a higher sugar content than a Bell Pepper and offer a fresh flavor as bright and vibrant as their colors. The pepper’s versatility makes it one of this writer’s favorite ingredients! In vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow, Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers can add color, flavor and a sweet, crunchy texture to any dish. Interestingly, all are the same pepper, no matter color! That is, green peppers left to harvest later turn yellow, then orange and finally red. Compared to green bell peppers, red peppers have almost 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more vitamin C. Veggie Sweets really do make the perfect finger food whether one chooses to serve sliced halves, as in this recipe, or leave the whole pepper intact for stuffing with a favorite filling by just snipping off the stem end where a small number of seeds are easily removed. Plus, tiny peppers are the perfect ingredient for tiny hands!
And since I am declaring favorite ingredients, I must also rank Melissa’s Steamed Lentils at the top of that list. As one of the first foods cultivated by early man, lentils are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, high in protein and essential nutrients. These steamed lentils are pre-cooked, ready to use right out of the package, either heated up or served cold. There will be plenty of opportunities for kids to learn how to cook lentils from scratch; right now, a herd of guests is coming, and there is no sacrificing flavor with this convenient package.
The combo of lentils and salsa was chosen for this dish’s simplicity of prep while also maximizing flavors. Though the kids combine just two components to make the filling, the resulting flavor profile will reflect our special Hatch Salsa’s ingredients. It’s the tastiest shortcut in a jar to the flavors of tomatillos, tomatoes, Hatch chile peppers, jalapeño peppers, onion, serrano peppers, garlic and spices! Again, there will be plenty of years in their own kitchens to make salsa from scratch. However, Melissa’s Hatch Salsa tastes just like homemade!
1 bag Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package Melissa’s Steamed Lentils
16 ounce jar Melissa’s Hatch Salsa
String cheese (topping)
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee the slicing and seeding of the mini peppers. Once your helpers have prepared the peppers, refrigerate until ready to bake—20 minutes at 350°F or until the filling is hot. Make sure your guest knows who was in charge of making this app!
What the kids can do:
Cut the peppers in half, through the stem. Remove seeds and ribs. Removing stems is optional, but they do make nice handles. Brush each half with olive oil, sprinkle with S&P.
Combine lentils and salsa in a bowl.
Scoop stuffing into each pepper, fill to heaping. Place peppers on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Then top with lengths of string cheese and pass off to supervising adult for baking.
Transfer cooked peppers to a large platter and serve.