Romanian Cuisine — Ardei Umpluţi, Stuffed Peppers

Romanian cuisine took its shape as a point of crossroads between western Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia.  Romanians over the years have created their own versions of some of the greatest hits of those regions, like Romanian borscht, dolmas, and polenta.  The geography of Romania, from the rugged Carpathian mountains in the north and center of the nation, the Black Sea coastline in the southeast, and the fertile Danube and Prut river valleys, have given the Romanian kitchen access to an ample supply of grain, produce, meat, and dairy that is reflected in the imaginative variety of the cuisine.

Romania quick facts:

  • Capital: Bucharest
  • Population: 20,121,641 (2011 census)
  • Notable Romanians: Nadia Comăneci, Dracula, Vigo the Carpathian

In our research it was tough to pin down a national dish of Romania, but the recipes that seemed to be mentioned most were stuffed vegetables of various kinds.  Neither of us having had a stuffed pepper in some time, we decided to use ardei umpluţi, a bell pepper stuffed with rice and meat and cooked in a rich tomato sauce.

Ardei Umpluţi

(adapted from Home Cooking in Montana and The Art of Romanian Cooking)

MAKES 2 PEPPERS

Stuffing:

  • 1/3 cup white rice
  • scant 2/3 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful celery leaves and parsley, minced
  • salt and pepper

Tomato sauce:

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Serving:

  • Sour cream

First, we made the sauce, starting by heating the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat.  Then we added the onion:

onionssoftening

…and cooked until the onion was softened, about four to five minutes.  Next, we added the tomato paste and water:

tomatopasteadded

…and stirred them into the onions thoroughly:

saucemixed

About a quarter cup or so of the sauce was removed:

saucereserved

…and the flour was added and whisked until fully incorporated:

flouradded

This mixture was added back into the rest of the sauce:

flourmixadded

The heat was turned down to medium-low and the sauce was allowed to simmer and thicken for about twenty minutes:

saucethickened

While the sauce was simmering we prepped the stuffing and the peppers.  First, we set the rice and water to cook, then we cut off the tops of the peppers:

pepperprep

and scraped out the pith from the insides.  Then we began work on the stuffing.  Once the rice was cooked, the ingredients were put together in a bowl:

stuffingingredients

…and mixed thoroughly by hand:

stuffingmixed

The stuffing mixture was scooped into the hollowed-out peppers:

stuffingthepeppers

Pressing down gently with the back of the spoon to fill the crevices of the pepper, the peppers were filled until flush with the cut:

peppersstuffed

A little bit of stuffing was left over:

stuffingleftovers

…but we’d rather have a little too much than too little.

Next, the peppers were placed in the smallest oven-safe vessel we own, a loaf pan, and topped with a few scoops of the sauce:

pepperscoveredinsauce

The remaining sauce was poured around the peppers, along with about a half cup of extra boiling water, and the tops were placed back on the peppers and pressed into the stuffing slightly to help hold them in place:

peppersovenready

The pan was put into a preheated 375 degree oven, covered loosely with foil, and baked for about 50 minutes until the peppers were tender:

peppersroasted

To serve, the peppers were cut in half, topped with some tomato sauce, and plated alongside some sour cream:

stuffedpepperplated

This is a dish that is deceptively nutritious and healthy for how rich it tastes.  You could even substitute lean ground beef or turkey breast and some kind of fiber-rich grain like barley or brown rice without sacrificing too much flavor, if at all.  We have made it twice now, and we are sure to try it again someday soon.

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2 thoughts on “Romanian Cuisine — Ardei Umpluţi, Stuffed Peppers”

  1. So glad you tried the Romanian version of stuffed peppers. They look great! The celery leaves… genius. Will need to try that next time:).

    Thanks for showcasing the Romanian cuisine. It’s simple but tasty:). Glad you enjoyed the peppers.

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